Proptech: the AI taking the rental world by storm

Kate Hughes
Friday 15 February 2019 14:50 GMT

From compatibility algorithms to bin-day reminders, technology is transforming the rental experience

In a world where dating apps have transformed the social lives of discerning singles and property prices have pushed home ownership into the distant future for a generation, it was only a matter of time before tech began solving the tricky problem of flat-sharing.

Forget this week’s slightly nauseating romantic matchmaking festival; for many, a far more important match is the one between landlords, tenants and sharers.

Tinder for tenants

“Using smart algorithms, we’ve paired landlords with renters by developing a recommendation engine for listers,” says Carol Jiang, global managing director at room rental platform badi.

“AI can also eliminate any initial bias when meeting people, providing an arguably more accurate match than perhaps our first impressions.”

Tom Gatzen, co-founder of the tenant-finding service ideal flatmate, developed a similar technology to help match tenants who are a good fit with existing residents: “We became frustrated with existing flatsharing sites as they focus solely on the property when the most important factor in whether you are happy in your home is that you get on with the people you live with.

“Since launching two years ago, we have had more than 10,000 landlords use ideal flatmate to advertise their properties and take advantage of our matching technology.”

The boom in property-related technology, known generally as proptech, shows no sign of slowing as new companies try to disrupt the traditional rental norms to take advantage of the growing number of affluent renters – priced out of buying their own home but with high expectations for the homes they rent instead.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the number of UK households in the private rented sector jumped 61% between 2007 and 2017 – from 2.8 million to 4.5 million.

The cost of renting in the private sector is rising; rents rose by 1 per cent in the 12 months to January, according to the latest official data. Yet as tenants pay more, they expect more, meaning landlords – particularly those trying to attract the most lucrative tenants – are also looking to technology to transform and improve the experience of their customers.

And, despite a growing customer base, there’s increasingly fierce competition between traditional letting agents and online alternatives. That’s likely to be exacerbated when the tenant fees ban comes into force later this year.

Love your landlord

“Tenant expectations are also quickly evolving,” says Aaron Short, of the online-only agency

“Generation Rent can order food, taxis and literally anything they want with a few clicks and yet reporting a maintenance issue or signing a document can take days or even weeks due to the slow and murky processes that currently exist.

“People just want to be able to manage their tenancies from an app or online platform just like they can with other services.”

That expectation for a smooth and technologically advanced rental experience begins at the viewing stage, but increasingly, tenants expect smart facilities in their new home as well.

James Morris-Manuel is spokesperson for Matterport, a company that helps landlords create 3D virtual tours of their properties.

He says expectations are rapidly rising: “Smart doorbells, smart meters and hi-tech security, for example, are becoming increasingly popular. To thrive in today’s market, where competition for the best tenants is fierce, landlords should be embracing technology – it acts as a differentiator and allows landlords to respond to the changing needs of renters.

“The tech coming to market [can be] game changing for landlords. If they embrace the way the market is changing then technology can enable the entire rental cycle and connect them to discerning tenants.”

High-tech expectations are also affecting how new rental homes are being built. Christian Armstrong has the very modern job title of chief experience officer at Get Living, which rents out 2,000 homes in London.

In his experience, tenants expect tech: “We’ve introduced keyless locks, parcel lockers and the highest speed broadband currently available. We’re also testing an app that will further take the hassle out of things like making payments and reporting maintenance requests.

“Internet speed is a key deciding factor when choosing a home. Millennials are online for much of the day. A report we ran last year revealed that 63 per cent subscribed to streaming services such as Amazon Prime, Spotify and Netflix.”

Get Living has trialled 10Gbps broadband at one of its communities, which allows a film to be downloaded in four seconds. He believes this level of service is likely to become the expected norm for prime renters and that landlords will need to keep up.

The internet has profoundly disrupted how tenants browse, view and apply for new homes, putting a strain on businesses that did not move as fast.

As agents compete for the lucrative landlord market, and landlords compete for the most desirable and profitable tenants, it’s likely that technology is going to transform the daily living rental experience in the UK too.

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