Embracing PropTech: Technology in the property game

Over the last 6 months, knowingly or not we’ve all been developing our ability to be remote and digitally proficient, allowing distance or inexperience with technology not to be a limiting factor in our ability to carry out our daily routines, jobs, interactions and more. From the seemingly overnight popularity boom of video calling applications, to the fast reactions of companies implementing ways to allow us to work from home, it seems its easier today to keep in touch and be part of everything than ever before.

Working in the construction and property industry (specifically surveying), we have seen the movement of formerly ‘in-person’ roles and services move to a distanced or remote application for some time now. Be this for safety reasons, speed, cost, or just preference – many instances within these sectors have looked to employ PropTech to improve resources, reliability, safety and information gathering or distribution.

Maybe one of the most familiar applications of PropTech comes in the form of online estate agents. Today it’s only a few clicks away to see potentially hundreds of properties within a defined search area of our choosing and filter by our specifically desired criteria. However, the application of PropTech goes a few steps deeper here too. The falling price and increased usability of digital capture devices such as 360 cameras and virtual tours allows prospective purchasers or tenants to virtually walk through a property without leaving home. These can also have beneficial applications in a commercial setting, allowing management teams to have a relatively high detail and immersive view of a portfolio of properties without needing to incur the environmental or time costs of having to travel to and from each time. The progress happening in the software behind these applications means that besides physically taking the photos, much of the processing & stitching can happen automatically in the cloud, with options to automatically generate floor plans and 3D models too. Combining these with VR (Virtual Reality) or AR (Augmented Reality) can really bring the viewer into a property and provide much of the information that would be gained in person.

Another key area for the application of PropTech  is the use of drones. Not the Christmas present toys that surface annually, but survey grade tools designed to collect data safely and reliably in many forms. Safety is always a big consideration in the construction of buildings - not only from the point of view of the end user, but throughout the construction phase also. The application of drones to record images of properties and developments negates the need to have people go up and inspect roofs, pay for costly scaffolding or MEWP’s (Mobile Elevated Work Platforms) to get someone ‘eyes on’ and up close and therefore helps to alleviate the cost associated, but also omits the need for someone to be put in a position of risk at height when they could be stood firmly on the ground. Videos from drone cameras also provides viewers with a vantage point formerly unavailable – an interesting extra for the domestic buyer but also a powerful tool for developers allowing for scaled imagery demonstrating progress over time, highlighting defects or issues and offering a repeatable inspection throughout the course of a projects timeline. Drone are also regularly equipped with LIDAR (laser scanners), thermal imaging cameras, or a multitude of other data collecting sensor equipment, teaming them together to meet the needs their industry or specific application.

The data that much of today’s technology allows us to capture is only as good as our ability to be able to use and utilize it efficiently. It’s no good to much of the market if access to it is limited to the largest of enterprises who can afford a high price-tag. BIM (Building Information Modelling) is a useful platform to contain all these strands of data about a building, from measurements, materials & location, to information about fittings and their manufacturers, etc. a BIM model is no longer just a design and construction tool but an evolving ‘document’ detailing everything about a building that is use to the end-user as much as the contractors putting it together. Having a ‘live’ reference model of a building (especially those on the larger or more complex end of the scale) allows users to quickly reference otherwise buried packages of information allowing ease of maintenance and management that would otherwise be complicated by antiquated and oftentimes misplaced records.

The implementation and adoption of PropTech and technological development in general will of course continue to evolve over time. While there is no doubt that all of our experiences of COVID-19 has changed our lives in many ways, it has prompted the rapid development and implementation of industry specific technology in an effort to allow us to keep going while adapting to a new normal.