PropTech 3.0: The Future of Real Estate

Andrew Baum
Andrew Baum
Professor, Said Business School at University of Oxford

This guest post comes to us from Andrew Baum, Visiting Professor of Management Practice, Said Business School, University of Oxford

Will we soon be able to buy a house with the click of a button? My report, PropTech 3.0: the future of real estate, published by Saïd Business School, University of Oxford on May 10th, takes an expansive look at property technology (proptech), and its findings detail the dramatic changes facing the real estate industry. The 95 page report uses data from proptech venture capital firm PiLabs and interviews with over 50 real estate professionals.

The beginnings of PropTech

Proptech came from fintech (financial technology), which brought us online banking, peer to peer lending and the crowdfunding movement. Why have we not seen a similar revolution in real estate? We all know that real estate tends to be conservative and closed off to innovation. Following the internet’s growth spurt in 1995-8, I think we saw the brief flourishing of what I have called PropTech 1.0 during the dotcom boom of 1999-2000, followed by crashes, disappointment, mergers and a few large survivors (CoStar and Argus, for example). Crawling tentatively from the wreckage came Rightmove, Zoopla, Trulia and Zillow.

A second wave

Right now, thousands of extremely clever people backed by billions of dollars of often expert investment are having another go, working extremely hard to change the way real estate is traded, used and operated. It would be surprising, to say the least, if this burst of activity – let’s call it PropTech 2.0 – does not lead to some significant change. No doubt many proptech firms will fail and a lot of money will be lost, but there will be some very successful survivors who will in time have a radical impact on our slow-moving, conservative industry.

The report describes how proptech is opening doors within the industry. Real estate has typically lacked diversity, but that is now changing because of proptech, and we are seeing people from a variety of backgrounds breaking into a sector that was previously inaccessible to them. Also, underlying this huge capitalist and social endeavour is a clash of generations. Many of the startups are driven by, and aimed at, millennials. Sometimes they look to baby boomers for advice; more often, they look to them for money.

It is not surprising, given this, that there is some disagreement about the level of disruption that PropTech 2.0 will create. In this research I interviewed 50 real estate professionals, entrepreneurs and capital providers. From one side, I heard that none of these startups know what they are doing and that young entrepreneurs regard real estate as a sure thing. From the other, we heard that real estate people are not good at strategy, always extrapolate the present and miss turning points.

In the report I suggest that there are three main proptech movements:

  • Smart Buildings describes technology-based platforms which facilitate the operation of real estate assets. The assets can be single property units or entire cities. The platforms may simply provide information about building or urban centre performance, or they may directly facilitate or control building services. This sector supports real estate asset, property and facilities management.
  • The Shared Economy describes technology-based platforms which facilitate the use of real estate assets. The assets can be land or buildings, including offices, shops, storage, housing and other property types. The platforms may simply provide information for prospective users and sellers of space, or they may more directly facilitate or effect rent- or fee-based transactions. This sector supports the real estate occupier markets.
  • Real Estate Fintech describes technology-based platforms which facilitate the trading of real estate asset ownership. The assets can be buildings, shares or funds, debt or equity, freehold or leasehold. The platforms may simply provide information for prospective buyers and sellers, or they may more directly facilitate or effect transactions. This sector supports the real estate capital markets.

PropTech will have universal implications

The findings are not just relevant to real estate professionals – the proptech revolution is likely to impact us all. It might be that in five to ten years’ time we will be using cryptocurrencies to buy and sell our houses. Not only that, but the cost effectiveness of vertical living means we should be prepared to live in high-rise towers in which vertical commuting to shared working spaces in the same building replaces expensive lateral travel – or to share cars, if only to avoid the awful prospect of driverless Ubers. Smart buildings will continue to develop, and there will be new property types to invest in – like waste disposal plants, data centres and power pads.

Proptech has been building such mass and momentum that it will change the world – maybe not as fast as the millennials think, but faster than is comfortable for the conservatives.

PropTech 3.0: the future of real estate, by Andrew Baum, is a report published by the Saïd Business School.

Andrew Baum
Andrew Baum is the Visiting Professor of Management Practice, at Said Business School at the University of Oxford. Professor Baum is also is chairman of Property Funds Research, a real estate consulting and research business, chairman of Newcore Capital Management, a fund manager, and advisor to several other real estate organisations including CBRE Global Investors, Redevco and Ashby Capital.

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