Proptech hailed as a game-changer for the real estate market

After Covid-related health and safety concerns propelled the use of proptech to new heights, technology is now primed to revolutionise all facets of the property sector.

Thanks to a wide range of smart technologies, mobile applications, digital dashboards and data analytics tools, real estate technology can greatly speed up transactions, streamline property management and reduce paperwork.

During this year’s edition of MIPIM, the world’s biggest real estate event held in Cannes from March 15-18, we asked various industry professionals for their thoughts on the rapid expansion of property technology, both in Central and Eastern Europe and globally.

“The use of technology in real estate has increased dramatically because of Covid,” said Nicklas Lindberg, CEO of Echo Investment, Poland’s largest property developer. “You don’t travel for meetings anymore, you do Teams meetings. People used to spend days travelling to meetings, no point in returning to that.”

Tim O’Sullivan, head of investment properties at CBRE, believes the pandemic merely accelerated such changes.

“Real estate companies already had powerful IT systems before Covid, which only really empowered our IT departments to be able to do more.”

According to Sergii Stoliarchuk, CEO of Maxify, a company founded in Kyiv but now operating from London, proptech is one of the region’s most exciting growth markets.

“If you are going to invest your money in real estate in Central and Eastern Europe these days, two of your best options are green technologies and proptech,” Stoliarchuk said.

Know your property

And yet, there are some who believe any such discussion should start with a disclaimer.

“I think to some extent, the advent of proptech has not matched pace with the needs of the industry,” Andrew Phipps, head of business development at Cushman and Wakefield, told us in Cannes. “Too often, in proptech as well as across many other arenas, we have the very annoying positioning of a technological solution without fully exploring and understanding what question needs to be addressed.”

The key, according to Phipps, lies in the ability to interface with the building management system (BMS) in order to operate at optimum efficiency.

“We know the challenges we face with the need to be more sustainable and to get our buildings to net zero. This is made so much more achievable if we understand exactly how the building operates,” Phipps added.

Trust your data

Bartosz Dobrowolski, co-founder of Warsaw’s Proptech Foundation, believes this sentiment is now shared by many real estate companies, which are increasingly turning to big data to inform their decisions.

“Real estate companies are expanding their in-house teams of data scientists, a strategy which has allowed them to add data-driven services to their portfolio,” Dobrowolski told Emerging Europe.

“We are also witnessing a similar transformation in property buyers and tenants who rely on data to a far greater extent than they did just two years ago. Clients of real estate companies now look for apartments on the Internet and they expect to be able to manage their properties with online tools and mobile apps,” Dobrowolski said.

The market is also teeming with businesses offering to help real estate companies step up their tech game. One such company is MRI Software, a US company with a presence in the CEE region.

According to Maxine Dursham, MRI’s head of marketing, property companies now have access to unprecedented amounts of data, but that alone doesn’t make their decisions any smarter.

“There’s been a lot of talk over the years about smart meters and the Internet of Things, but it all really boils down to whether you’re able to use all that data at your disposal intelligently,” Dursham told us during MIPIM.

Smart buildings

According to Ursel Velve, CEO of Estonia’s Mainor Ülemiste, one of the most important types of data in real estate development is mobility data.

“Before we build or design anything, we try to understand how people may move around the building or area, which places are likely to get crowded and so on,” Velve said. “We make detailed projections regarding mobility and then we actually design spaces on the basis of these projections.”

As for existing buildings, many smart buildings are now equipped with building management systems which manage their lighting, air conditioning and heating systems. On the basis of available mobility data, the BMS learns usage patterns and knows when to dim lights in specific areas, which areas to heat, and at what times.

Tenants can enter such buildings with a virtual key, such as a smartphone app. They can also invite guests by sending them a QR code which lets them use the building’s car park and opens all the right passageways for them.

One such app is Poland’s Zonifero, a workplace application which allows users to interact with a building and its many assets. With the Zonifero app, office amenities such as hot desks or intelligent flipcharts can be controlled with just a single interface. Users also gain access to a marketplace of external services, for instance food delivery or vehicle rentals.

Feels like magic

Jacek Ratajczak, CEO of Zonifero, said that while such technology relies on a sequence of trivial actions, for instance signals sent to devices to operate at specific times, the result still feels magical.

“There isn’t any groundbreaking R&D behind all this. We simply connect existing systems into a coherent logic,” Ratajczak told Emerging Europe.

“You book a conference room for a private meeting at a specific time. There’s a sensor at the door so when all people arrive, the door and shutters close automatically, the glass partition turns milky and becomes a gigantic display screen. It’s one of those moments when, in the words of Arthur C. Clarke, technology becomes indistinguishable from magic.”

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