The role of real estate tech innovation for today’s top brokers

The global pandemic has accelerated tech take-up in the property industry, but the brightest brokers were already wise to the importance of real estate tech innovation, according to the latest webinar in the Leaders’ Perspectives series from Propel by MIPIM.

The event’s expert panel was moderated by Duke Long, Founder of the Duke Long Agency, and included Shimon Shkury, Founder and President of Ariel Property Advisors; Kathleen Cahill, Head of Global Innovation, Cushman & Wakefield; and Ravi Patel, Managing Director, Newmark Knight Frank.

Marking the third online conference in the Leaders’ Perspective series to date, the discussion concluded that technology could “help brokers direct their time to high-value activities”, according to Cahill, whose daily interactions with start-ups gives her a unique insight into the significance of real estate tech innovation. She said: “Ultimately, the message is that technology is moving from a nice to have to a must-have.”

Pandemic effects

All panelists agreed that the coronavirus crisis was a fearsome crucible which was accelerating change in the industry. Said Shkury: “One of the unique aspects of Ariel Property is that we have some of our sales support people overseas. So we were lucky enough to already work remotely with them; when we were forced to work from home, that was a relatively easy transition for us.”

Added Cahill: “Our core tech strategy has remained the same, but there has been a reprioritizing based on the trends we are seeing in the market, because of the rapid acceleration in the adoption of technology across real estate categories.”

In terms of the leading trends driving the uptake of real estate tech innovation, she noted: “There was a lot of initial interest in buildings tech – how to get people back to the office safely. But now what we’re really starting to see is an emphasis on digital tools and engaging with clients remotely. Whether that’s virtual tours, or how Covid really impacts the transactions process, and how that will be conducted diligently in the future – interest is broadening.”

Long agreed: “There was definitely a push before to create greater efficiencies in the transaction process, because, you know, why stay inefficient, but there is also no choice now.”

Patel summarized: “Wants and needs are evolving, and we’re trying to understand how do we as brokers adapt to the new normal.”

What does real estate tech innovation mean?

The debate sought to define what real estate tech innovation means for brokers today. Shkury suggested: “The broker business is about information and relationships, so we’re interested in harnessing innovation to drive a culture of collaboration backed by data. We have established a centralized database for our brokers which helps them better serve clients. We are also trying to automate the signaling of for-sale properties via email to the right user groups, based on past response patterns.”

Said Patel: “A good product today is better than a perfect product tomorrow. Real estate tech innovation for us is about releasing, innovating, and staying ahead of the curve. You aren’t really going to know what will work and what will stick until you get it out into the market. With new products, we start with getting them out and teaching them to users, as bridging the gap between a tech idea and its actual user base is so important. That’s what start-ups are good at.”

Cahill said that real estate tech innovation often involved ripping up old processes and starting from scratch. “We’re not necessarily looking to automate of apply incremental changes to internal processes; it’s more about taking a step back and thinking about a new way to do what you’re already doing today,” she said. “We call that thesis-driven innovation – having a clear hypothesis about the future state you are trying to drive towards, and understanding how you are going to get there today.”

Achieving that requires new and better ways of collaborating with proptechs. “In the past, you might meet with a start-up, and think they are going to solve all your problems. You might then force them to integrate with your company, stifling their natural innovation. So we’re interested in making sure you are articulating the right path to real estate tech innovation,” Cahill noted.

Patel agreed that feedback was crucial to determining the right path to innovation. ‘We need to ask what are brokers’ pain points, what are their problems,” he suggested. “We’re not trying to build painkillers, but vitamins.”

Selecting innovation routes

Shkury said that the focus was on making Ariels brokers “a lot more productive”. He explained: “Our clients are the brokers. We are trying our own tech and investing time, energy and money into what we need – what works then goes company-wide.” He said that approach was augmented by “strategic calls to work on priority process chains” and that a willingness to adapt was crucial.

Added Cahill: “As we are evaluating proptechs, we’re not looking at a single company to solve all of our problems, we are often coming to them with a clearly identified set of requirements and outcomes we need to achieve. That makes those start-up interviews ten times faster. We have a ‘partner first’ model when it comes to tech – we are a real estate company, not a tech company, so we rely on these partners to deliver expertise, which also allows us to have multiple partners that we work with simultaneously.”

Noted Ravi: “When we invest in a company, we want to see that company grow. It can potentially be another revenue stream. Sometimes we invest in something not directly for our brokers – it can be tangential.”

Concluded Cahill: “in terms of real estate tech innovation, I think we will look back at this time as an accelerant – we are in a unique position to really drive tech-forward at this time. Coming out of this environment, our brokers are going to be demanding more flexibility and more capability in the tools that we give them, to help them deliver for clients. One of the biggest changes will also happen in the transaction field – closing deals virtually is going to be crucial for the future of our business.”

Want more insights from the discussion? Listen to the Propel Insights podcast episode:

Or watch the full webinar replay here

About Author

Isobel Lee is a real estate reporter and editor, with regular contributions to PropertyEU, the Wall Street Journal and MIPIM's official publications. Based in Rome, Italy, she is also a food and travel writer.

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