We’re halfway into 2020, and still trying to navigate the uncertainties of a COVID-19 world. This is no less true for businesses and industries, as new developments necessitate immediate operational changes and unprecedented levels of flexibility in order to keep the doors open and the lights on. The human impact of this pandemic–both in terms of customers and employees–has been a particularly complex and urgent problem to contend with.
The real estate industry has been faced with a variable spread of positive and negative developments as a result of the coronavirus, such as demand in certain areas (such as retail real estate) falling sharply, while demand for commercial real estate (particularly warehouse and fulfilment centres) shoots up as businesses adjust to the new normal.
In light of uncertainly, it can be difficult to chart a course forward especially when a return to full operation is contingent on external factors entirely outside of a business’ control– namely, elimination of the virus’ spread, counterbalanced with the possibility of future outbreaks and resumption of drastic health control measures.
From the outset of the pandemic, the three factors governing a business’ ability to weather the rest of this year (and the foreseeable future) quickly became apparent:
- Flexibility–the ability to quickly reconfigure processes and procedures to cope with a changing business landscape.
- Technological integration–utilizing technology to reduce reliance on outdated processes, archaic systems, while enabling better efficiency and access for employees and customers.
- Human-centric values–keeping a clear focus on helping people (customers and employees) navigate this crisis.
All three factors are especially relevant to the real estate industry, but technological integration directly affects the ability to address the other two–and that’s where PropTech comes in! The industry has been stubbornly lagging behind the adoption of PropTech for a few years now, but embracing technology (in conjunction with the other factors) is absolutely key to real estate’s success going forward.
Here are some of the ways PropTech can help address the challenges of the pandemic:
Contactless solutions and the internet of things
The core solution to combating the spread of infection has been social distancing and minimizing/eliminating nonessential contact between people. PropTech has been leveraging the technology to enable that for some time now, allowing for ingenious applications such as:
- Smart/Keyless entry systems which eliminate the need for a physical key to gain access to a property, or allow remote authorization are really demonstrating their worth at the moment. For example, they’ve enabled viewings for prospective buyers without needing to be physically present (and having to sanitize keys/locks after every viewing), while retaining precise control and records of access.
- Providing more efficient package delivery (especially in condo/office buildings) with smart lockers. Instead of exposing front desk staff, mailroom staff, tenants, security personnel, and employees to potential infection, smart lockers with unique (and one-time use, if desired) access codes may be used.
Advanced data analytics and consolidation
This crisis has created a need and opportunity for businesses to re-evaluate how they approach analytics. Savvy firms were already using data to inform their business decisions, but current circumstances have shown that it’s important to take the next step in that process. Those disparate data sources need to be collected and combined in a centralized location and analyzed using sophisticated analytics to answer questions (both complex and simple) such as:
- Where and how is the pandemic (or any drastic shift in circumstances) affecting business the most?
- How many people have entered/left a property during a given time period? What was their temperature upon entry/exit?
- How many people can a space safely accommodate based on changing social distancing requirements?
- When was the last time a room/area was cleaned? How can we optimize usage taking cleaning schedules and time into account?
Virtual tours and 3d modelling
Virtual and augment reality has already made some headway into real estate, but its applications for facilitating remote viewings (even in the midst of a lockdown) have become increasingly more relevant:
- Instead of visiting a physical model home from a property under construction, prospective buyers can view detailed renderings of the same space from the comfort of their own homes, while still getting a reasonable idea of what the final product will look like.
- Virtual/Digital models also allow people to visualize what renovating/remodelling their homes will look like in real time – an important considering, as things such as home offices, become necessities rather than nice-to-haves.
Robotic and Cognitive Automation
Harnessing robotic and cognitive automation allows a company to automate repetitive, time-consuming processes while freeing up valuable employees who can be reallocated to performing more important tasks. As working remotely has become the new standard, this sort of technology enables all manner of applications, such as:
- Digitizing extensive (and frequently frustrating) paperwork involved in real estate transactions, allow businesses to continue operations even without access to physical records
- Rapidly changing contract or policy terminology across a company’s operations to remain in compliance with swiftly-changing regulations and requirements while maintaining accurate records
The most important thing to bear in mind is that while many of the restrictions and changes stemming from the pandemic are temporary, the post-COVID-19 world will reflect an entirely different “normal”. Taking bold strides with technology now will not only help businesses survive the rough times we’re living through right now – it’ll also position them to thrive in the years to come.
Freelance writer and communications professional at the University of Toronto. He’s an avid cinephile, voracious reader, and a terror at karaoke bars.