In the ever-changing world of technology RLA Content and Brand Executive, Matthew Davies, looks at the way digital innovation will change the way we rent.
In less than a generation digital technology has fundamentally transformed the daily lives of millions up and down the country.
The March launch of Google’s assistant Google Home, represented a landmark point in the UK, as the world’s second most valuable company offered the opportunity to install a talking, listening algorithm at the heart of your home. Specifically, for a landlord: your property, your tenant’s home.
Bricks and mortar may seem almost invulnerable to some of these web-based influences. However, we are offered a compelling snapshot of that potential in what digital disruption did to personal transportation with Uber, television and film after Netflix and even accommodation, through Airbnb – a seismic shift in the way a property can be sub-let that many landlords are already wrestling with.
The landlord/tenant relationship receives its digital makeover with several apps promoting better communication.
American company, Tenant Loop, has developed an elegant system combining instant messaging with broadcast messages and document storage.
This allows both landlord and tenant to manage all communications and evidencing, without ever having to leave the comfort of their phone.
Another neat feature the app boasts is the opportunity to survey all tenants, so an enterprising landlord can quickly build up some great feedback from everyone living in his properties.
Most apps offer some form of property management, as the cloud offers the savvy landlord the chance to further centralise and manage their documents and information.
While most landlords can no doubt find use for helpful apps, it’s some of the most technologically-advanced demands of luxury-seeking tenants that can surprise.
It’s fair to say most tenancies won’t offer a robot butler, Charley, like one LA development does, but increasingly the technophile tenant is looking for full apartment sound systems, home automation and even on-site cinema rooms.
For many years student landlords have known the benefit of a 40+ inch TV and a SkySports subscription but we’re fast approaching a time where a portion of your market is going to be swayed by seeing Amazon’s Echo in the middle of the dining table.
How do you manage a little black cylinder that one potential tenant sees as a godsend and another equates to a monolith of 1984’s Big Brother?
Is it off-putting that Amazon will end up knowing more about your tenant than you do? In their attempts to court the most technologically advanced tenants, landlords might find themselves balancing very contrasting appeals and fears.
Below the highest bar for the most demanding of tenants, wi-fi ranks as the single most important priority in a property. HMO landlords should be mindful of the pitfalls of a creaking router as young tenants rely on ever higher speeds to access the majority of their entertainment content.
We face a time where a severed connection to Netflix might be raising just as much ire as a broken-down washing machine.
Repairs are another aspect of property management set for a digital overhaul, with apps presenting new platforms to contact, manage and track suppliers.
Whether it’s from the tenant’s end of submitting a request or the landlord’s communication with suppliers, apps promise to make the process, easier quicker and more transparent.
There’s even a chance to eliminate some worry for the landlord with pioneering technologies that can better record, with increased certainty and reliability, things like critical safety inspections.
Gas Tag Ltd, a Liverpool-based company, offers an app that a gas inspector can sign-in to an inspection with, based on a tag at the property, that gives a true record of inspection dated and geotagged, even with photographic evidence.
It’s easy to imagine technologies like that becoming standard and the uncertainty of “did they come, did they not come?” being banished with just a swipe.
The landlord’s own inspections can benefit greatly too, as mobile-friendly inventories, like Inventory Plus, allow for the digital cataloguing and recording of a property’s condition in updatable, storable and easily replicable reports. Never more than a couple of taps from a home screen it’s going to be easier than ever to keep an eye on utility usage for both tenants and landlords.
Smart electricity and gas meters will allow tenants to easily judge how much power they might be using, with user friendly dashboards on digital panels and phones.
Eliminating the need for meter inspections the smart meter allows the tenant to get more accurate bills and be kept up-to-speed all month long, reducing the likelihood they’ll need to dig into that month’s rent.
It’s an attractive prospect for a tenant who wants to understand their usage too, either from an environmental or purely financial perspective, and in many cases, makes for an easier task when wanting to switch energy suppliers in future.
Alongside smart measuring, other devices like smart thermostats allow tenants to precisely control temperature even remotely. The tenant who complains about coming home to a cold house, might only be a Nest away from a cosy setting, that automatically turns the heating on 45 minutes before arrival.
Another key development area for the smart home is the inevitable necessity of smart security.
With motion detectors, door and window sensors, cameras and even more extreme solutions like sirens and water sensors all webbed into a central hub, awaiting user instruction.
This is where it gets truly customisable – motion detected inside when you’re away and the property is vacant? Roll the camera, turn on the lights and get video of the perpetrators uploaded to the cloud.
Smoke detector going off? Automatically unlock all the doors in the property to give your tenant and their family the best chance for a swift and safe exit.
The most advanced systems can even alert the authorities, meaning potentially you or your tenant don’t even need lift a finger to foil a robbery.
It’s another careful bargain with tenants that may love this technology or hate it. There may always be the fear that if you can open a door remotely, then unfortunately so can someone with less pleasant intentions.
But with proper consideration and moderation the opportunity to have a smart lock for the tenant that keeps losing their keys, so you can just let them in remotely, may prove beneficial to some.
So far though technology has only landed the thinnest, glancing touch on the Private Rented Sector.
The changes within the next generation could be stark. ‘Big Data’ could present both tenants and landlords in increasingly searchable, deeply-profiled ways.
Peer reviews and algorithmic learning might become the major influences on the gatekeeper-in-the-cloud’s “yes” and “no”.
Beyond that, automation of the workforce could have incredibly significant impacts on the makeup of your tenants.
Will the repairs of the future be carried out by men and women or robots? Even the landlords you’re competing for tenants with – what are the odds they’re aided by programmatic learning algorithms calculating millions of contingencies per minute before setting rents?
Already American start-ups, such as Rentberry, are experimenting with platforms where tenants, after submitting checks, can bid to rent, trying to one-up each other with higher rent amounts.
If digital technology is to reshape and warp the PRS in the way it’s already disrupted retail, health and advertising so much of what we can see in the bricks and mortar of today could just be archived curiosities in the ones and zeros of tomorrow.
For now though we can see small gains of usefulness in almost every area as apps and communication technologies continue to evolve our experience as both landlords and tenants.
Right now, it’s up to the landlord to decide how far down the technophile path they push, with no particularly intense requirements demanded of them just yet.
But make no mistake an unstoppable convergence of processing power, storage capability, process development and innovative digital experimentalism is pushing us significantly towards a totally interconnected, measured and customisable experience.
The future will still have its landlords and tenants – but it’ll have cloud assistants, smart analysts, automated managers and algorithmic researchers. Sooner or later – it will even have robots.
HOME AUTOMATION SYSTEMS
The concept of the smart home has been around for a while, with the main players in home automation being Amazon Echo and Google Home. Amazon Echo was the first on the scene as early as 2014 for Prime members, with Google Home now launching in the UK. In layman’s terms both systems allow you control smart home devices such as lightbulbs, washing machines and thermostats, lock your doors and run security systems – as well as listen to music, access the internet and shop online. The ‘hubs’ are activated by voice commands which virtual assistants respond to, and can be used remotely via mobile phone. Amazon Echo is on the market at £149 and Google Home at £129.