Will COVID-19 catalyse adoption of PropTech in developing economies?

Stepping into this new reality of digital transactions and remote work demands for more transparency than we are used to.

A time to let go of decades-old real estate practices

If we believe that every cloud has a silver lining we must accept to learn and embrace the lessons from tough times. The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us to examine many of the practices we have until now taken for granted.

The majority of Ugandans are not known to take time off to rest and reset. Holidays are a luxury. Little wonder we incorporate so much relaxation into our working time.

The forced holiday and time at home during this lockdown has gifted many the opportunity to slow down and reflect on their aspirations, and how to realize the targets. Many, who at the beginning of the year resolved to buy property would want to use this time away from work to catch up with their brokers to search for their dream property. Alas! We are stuck at home because of the limitation of free movement to avoid spreading the virus.

This downtime has me pondering how professionals in the field of real estate can work smarter and continue to serve the market needs while confined to our homes. The question that is top of my mind is whether it is possible to start and complete a property transaction without leaving the confines of my home? This lockdown, and its aftermath, will negatively impact the income of agents, brokers, surveyors, valuers, lawyers, bankers, and civil servants who earn from transacting in property.

PropTech – a new reality of transactions in the digital space

A little foresight shows us that we must embrace remote working and execution of transactions in the digital space. Can marketing, site inspections, valuations, contract execution, payments, and conveyancing, happen electronically? Of course, it can happen. It is already happening elsewhere.

Different technologies are being applied to the field of property. Internet of Things (IoT), connectivity and cloud computing, big data, smart buildings, block-chain, virtual reality, access to information and many others are successfully being used in the developed world – in “a fusion of technologies that blurs the line between the physical and the digital self” (Klaus Schwab, Founder, and Chairman of the World Economic Forum}.

Virtual property tours are being used by agents to facilitate remote property viewing by prospective buyers and tenants before they commit to in-person inspections thus saving time to both the client and the agent. Leveraging blockchain, smart contracts are facilitating fast, transparent, risk-free exchange of property without human intervention. Robots are being used for surveillance, inspection, and cleaning. If it is already happening elsewhere, why not Uganda? Are we ready to step up to this new reality?

Embracing property market transparency

Stepping into this new reality of digital transactions and remote work demands for more transparency than we are used to. The Ugandan property market is notoriously guarded and opaque. My neighbor will sell that property next door that I have always wanted but I may never know about the sale, let alone the price. Only the buyer and seller know with certainty the actual price at which the property changed hands. Though we tend to use only those valuers and lawyers that are personally known to us, we still don’t offer them full disclosure. Strange though that we are quick to anchor prices on the brokers’ knowledge of inflated asking prices and hold onto that as the gospel truth of the sales price.

Real estate professionals cannot afford to transfer this attitude of hoarding information into the future and hope to thrive, let alone survive, in the fourth industrial revolution. If we do, a younger, agile and tech-savvy generation of upcoming professionals, that has grown up in the age of democratized information, will grab the opportunity to overtake the conservative old guard.

Therefore, it is imperative that we embrace PropTech; the convergence of property and technology, specifically innovations that deliver solutions for the collection, use, exchange, access, utilization, research, and management of real estate. According to JLL’s Global Real Estate Transparency Index 2018 “Proptech is taking steps towards being one of the most powerful drivers of improving global transparency”. 

Uganda’s current PropTech needs revolve around user-friendly access to information. Our choice of technology must be defined by the needs at hand. Let’s not rush to apply first world solutions to third world problems. It is with this in mind that the idea of a Real Estate Data Analytics Hub (REDAH) was born.

The Real Estate Data Analytics Hub (REDAH)

REDAH provides a platform to monitor value and risk in real estate markets. It helps valuers, lenders, land acquisition consultants, and governments to optimize property information to generate reliable market insights, monitor and de-risk transactions, fast-track compulsory acquisition, and maximize revenues. The solution makes it easy to assemble and analyze property information to derive market intelligence and risk profiles for property.

It will take real estate professionals opening up to such innovations, that whilst initially making us uncomfortable will increase our professionalism as industry experts; raise our integrity as we deal with all stakeholders; and, avail much needed information while ensuring confidentiality for this new reality to gain widespread acceptance and traction. One must, therefore, ask of themselves, what is my contribution to availing information that enables me to build the credibility of my profession so that I can thrive in industry 4.0?

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