Rayhan’s proptech latest: Is technology making agents worse than lazy?

I first noticed this four years ago: estate agents stopped getting up to greet customers walking into their office. They just sat there, as if the person was disturbing them.

It bugged me so much that I conducted some research. We targeted Stoke Newington, Battersea and Ealing Common – yes, all in London.

The results: only one out of ten agents got up to greet people as they walked in.

And it was obvious why: the job had become about listings and answering email and phone enquiries. They were tethered to their desks, the internet and ‘process’.

Agents used to get a new instruction and know which applicants to call.

Now their CRM software automatically emails every applicant regardless of whether the property is suitable for them.

This laziness is not new, but it is getting worse.

How little time is now spent training staff to deal with people, as opposed to training them to use systems?

This past week I saw the really lazy and evil side of this behavioural shift.

My wife had my phone, so I grabbed my son’s phone to call an agent for a valuation visit we had booked in to sell our home.

The person on the other end said the number I was calling from wasn’t my number. I said yes, this is my son’s phone so please don’t store it.

I should have known better.

He now gets an almost endless amount of unsolicited calls from not only that agency, not only that agent’s contact call centre, but also from random third parties.

There is a cost to laziness.

It doesn’t just cost credibility and customer satisfaction. It poisons the whole well for an industry that is increasingly attracting the ire of the public, politicians and outside commercial threats from venture-backed proptech companies.

It’s saddening because the next step isn’t for agents to wake up and better train their staff. It’s to replace those staff entirely with yet more ‘dumb’ automation.

We have a lot more pain yet to feel as an industry, and it’s all self-inflicted.


Savills invests in Proportunity

This story is light on detail. The company claims to have data on half of UK residential property from three out of the top five agents – sales, rentals and valuations.

By my maths, that would leave them with less than 20%, but it’s difficult to verify such claims.

What was interesting is that Savills are rumoured to have put their own money into Propurtunity.

Here is a video pitch of Vadim, the founder, pitching at the EF Demo Day: https://youtu.be/uitrLFqUupY

They boast of ‘knowing the future today’ when it comes to real estate investing, calling current techniques to forecast future value as primitive.

Thinking of Savills’ investment into YOPA, I’m thinking we’re going to hear about more deals from ‘the UK’s largest real estate advisory’. Although I’m thinking CBRE might have something to say about it.


Ex-Countrywide and Connells head of digital joins CBRE

Alex Bailes has left Connells to join the world’s large real estate advisory firm. Alex will be CBRE’s head of product engineering and will help the firm “build on the innovative collaborations” they have already put in place.

Notable recent news included CBRE acquiring Floored – a platform for floor plans, interactive 3D tours and data on general property layout information – and project management software company Skye Group.


A look at Emoov’s tech by Mike DelPrete

This candid look at Emoov’s platform should be of interest to every agent.

While the symbolism is greater than the end result of helping people sell their own homes, the fact that the software looks and feel modern is a big advantage for Emoov over traditional agents – who largely have websites that look dated and unhelpful.

Compared to Purplebricks, neither have anything special. But what they do say clearly to the public is that they are offering a modern, appropriate for 2017 service.

Have a look for yourselves: http://www.mikedp.com/articles/2017/3/21/the-winning-formula-of-an-online-real-estate-agency-lessons-from-emoov

A word on Mike – he’s quickly shaping up as one of the more interesting experts in the Proptech space. You’ll likely be seeing more of his work as time goes on.


The hybridisation of UK estate agency – not so easy after all

So Will Packer – the equity analyst who covers Rightmove and Zoopla in more detail than any other – wrote his opus on the future of the portals and how hybrid agents could pose a risk to their business models (but probably won’t for a while).

It is a really interesting read as it lays out how simple and resilient Rightmove is as a business. For those who still think Rightmove will replace agents, look at how hard Purplebricks are finding it to turn a profit.

Purplebricks will find their fortune in Australia and the US, where they earn more than three times their fee per listing than in the UK.

That pays for a lot more TV advertising.

But the real indication of why Rightmove will never ditch their profits to go direct to consumer is every other online agent.

Emoov hasn’t ever put out a press release about their amazing profits and high margins, while easyProperty – despite the highly recognisable branding – lost almost £11m on revenue that wasn’t even in the millions.

These numbers should make a mockery of Countrywide’s strategy to go hybrid.

For the sake of all their staff and shareholders, I sure hope their senior management and board members are reading.


Expert Agent weren’t really adding any competition

So the Competition and Markets Authority is questioning ZPG buying up yet another property CRM software provider.

While I’d usually be a voice against removing competition, I don’t think that’s the case here.

Jupix and Expert Agent had an opportunity to be different – to offer agents something better than the stale experience offered by all property software providers.

But instead they gave the world something that looked and operated just like every other piece of property software. This is the trap Goodlord are trying to spend money avoiding.

There isn’t any choice already for agents. What does it matter if the revenue goes to a private equity company or Zoopla – neither are interested in innovating for a better agent experience.

The CMA should wave this one through.


A new Proptech fund: Concrete gains Starwood, JLL and Seedcamp as founder partners

Taylor Wescoatt will be heading this new fund which will be investing in early stage proptech companies. You can find more information at ConcreteVC.com.

What’s really interesting is Taylor’s journey.

He had this to tell me:


“This started with a recognition that the interest in the property tech sector – I’ve worked in many sectors, and sector interest has waxed and waned – and in proptech this interest has been consistent and there’s a long interest ahead for this to increase.

“There is a gap in R&D funding between the real assets sector – the vast majority of world wealth – and the Fintech sector where the global value of all equities is a fraction of the value of real assets.

“The investment in Fintech is in the order of ten times over proptech. But it’s a gap and I see it as a rising tide.

“You don’t see the real estate world being counted in those investment numbers – our pitch is ‘don’t let other people come in and eat your lunch’.

“With any sector that is trying to think about technology – this new world of technology is impacting it – it always takes a little bit for people from that sector to get their head around what that means, how the rules are changing, why and how they are going to adapt to that.

“What I’ve seen from the proptech side of things is entrepreneurs who do not bring a real estate background. They speak in techy terms that show they aren’t necessarily aware of, respecting or addressing the pain points of the sector.

“It’s hard to get a conversation on the same level when you have someone from the tech sector speaking on why big data is important, without how that influences the day to day of the real estate space. It doesn’t help and discredits the proptech movement. There’s an opportunity to change, which is what I’m trying to do with my investors.

“From a Seedcamp perspective Concrete is an opportunity to use their really strong brand and reputation to delve into a vertical investment strategy, in a way that they haven’t and others like Techstars have done. Seedcamp’s fintech exposure is staggering, but they haven’t done a fintech fund or accelerator. It’s an experiment to see how to do this.

“For investors it’s an opportunity to get access to the early stage of the tech sector – partnering with someone with a long-standing strong reputation for making early stage choices in the tech sector.

“The goal is to make Concrete as a must-see funding opportunity by building partnerships of world-class real estate brands.

“If you’re going to raise money, you should want to talk to Concrete because of the introductions they can make. Good advice from deeply experienced real estate people, and cut down the time it would take to build relationships.

“I think there is more of a case for Concrete to expand globally more than Seedcamp has done – real estate is global by nature and the partners are global.

“We’ll look across the entire sector – build, transact, operate, and in resi, commercial, industrial, retail, leisure. Although not farmland per se.

“My background is all tech, while I work with partners who have a deep understanding of real estate.

“There’s lots of money out there – but Concrete’s goal is to be the best partner for proptech start-ups. An easy way to build partnerships.”


My take is simple: these guys are experienced and what they invest in is probably worth keeping an eye on.

They certainly won’t invest in software that makes people lazy, or worse.


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