The changing role of…property managers
As PlaceTech continues to explore how different roles within the property industry are changing, we spoke to industry professionals and tech experts about the new skills property managers will have to learn, what a daily routine in 2040 will look like, and the innovations already impacting the role.
PlaceTech spoke to:
- Piers Chapman, partner at Workman
- Curran McKay, CCO of Askporter
- Tim Robinson, head of consultancy and chair of the tech board at Knight Frank
- Michelle Buxton, CEO of Toolbox Group
- Polly Plunket-Checkemian, senior executive director at MJ Mapp
What are the new skills that property managers will have to learn?
Workman: In the short-term, property managers will need to help pool data in a consistent manner and potentially learn new systems to ensure details of new properties are all captured. Once loaded, access to the data by them or clients should be entirely intuitive and require no training. IT and system skills will have to be a given. There will be so much more autonomy with day-to-day processes and tasks, and as a result, the more valuable skills will be people-based such as hospitality and customer service.
Askporter: For property managers, the increase in technologies like Artificial Intelligence presents more opportunity than threat. The mundane, low-value tasks, from taking notes on blocked toilets and juggling times with plumbers, can be replaced with higher value service. In doing this, property managers can comfortably increase the number of units in their portfolio without doing the same for headcount, resulting in higher productivity, wages and profits.
Knight Frank: Robots will have the potential to undertake more mundane tasks but won’t be able to learn the human elements of empathy and emotional intelligence and that is where the very best ‘personable’ property managers will excel.
Toolbox Group: Property managers now need to be looking at real estate as engagement space, places where any user receives a seamless and pleasant experience. They will need to look further than just the physical building and space and focus on how people can spend quality time in their places; the environment, services, attraction, comfort, personality, and connectivity.
What will a property manager’s daily routine look like in 2040?
Knight Frank: Checking various technology platforms for performance levels and accessing and understanding key data will allow property managers to make insightful decisions in order to improve service levels and satisfaction. By limiting time spent on more mundane tasks they will have more regular face-to-face interactions with clients and customers, perhaps also using technology to facilitate these conversations and the increased level of engagement. We will also likely see a scenario where a major part of a property manager’s day will be used interacting with robots or AI integrated technology. As technology often allows for more flexible or remote working, largely by mobile apps, property managers will likely find themselves on the road or on site at least 50% of the time, maybe more. The use of mobile technology will be key.
Workman: A property manager’s daily routine will include: property inspection, meeting the tenants, ascertaining physical condition and level of occupation, discussing customers’ needs, adding commentary and insight to auto generated reports, coordinating drone inspections, monitoring performance of supplier Service Level Agreements based on stats received on daily basis, desktop review of plant performance for all assets based on stats and data, more physical interaction with occupiers and clients, and quicker analysis of rent collection performances.
Askporter: With smart locks prevalent and digital assistants doing the heavy lifting, property managers are likely to be doing a lot more of their core job winning instructions and landing deals with tenants. Much of the work will be oversight rather than admin and it is, ironically, those agents who engage most with tech who will be best sheltered against job losses.
Toolbox Group: For property managers, a lot more focus will need to be spent on the tenant relationship. Tech will enable more efficient operations; content, attraction and experience will be increasingly important areas that property managers will concern themselves with in their daily role. Property management roles might essentially include a chief concierge and customer experience manager, similar to that of hotels or major attractions. A lot can be learned from this user-centric approach to real estate, and that’s why companies like Ikea are spending time in places such as Disney World to learn customer experience from the best in class.
MJ Mapp: It’s a little crazy to look beyond five years! Perhaps the only prediction we can make with confidence is that the majority of companies will be occupying space on short leases. Consequently, the property manager’s role will have changed from enforcing long-term lease covenants, to facilitating short-term occupation and driving loyalty through great experiences in order to maximise retention. The reason for coming into the office will have fundamentally shifted as well. Knowledge processing will have been increasingly automated, and for that reason the workplace will be focused almost entirely on knowledge creation.
This will be taking place in a variety of settings. As tech continues to redefine the workscape (whether at home, in the office or all of the places in between), the office will no longer be a passive place where work is done, but it will gain a more influential role as an enabler. Its purpose is morphing into a place for extraordinary creativity, brand immersion, new partnerships and collaborations, learning and team work in ways we don’t yet understand. The property manager will be managing resources and spaces to suit dynamic, real-time requirements, and users will be in control of data and the tools offered by the space, such as thermal conditions, light levels, air quality, amenities and services. The space will be augmented with technology to provide employees with a physical-digital experience we have yet to understand. Employers will choose their offices with an enhanced sense of responsibility to their brand and their employees. Physically, this means choosing environments which enhance wellbeing, health and neurological performance. The office won’t just be a manifestation of brand, but will underpin values.
The property manager will be reporting against trustworthiness, not just in terms of the tech architecture and its resilience, but also in terms of working conditions and ethical behaviours because their activities are being rated by users in real time. Property managers will be relying on technology to measure, report and improve. New buildings will have greater attraction, existing stock will need retrofitting and better condition management requiring interventions by property managers.The property manager will still be responsible for delivering efficiency, flexibility, adaptability, sustainability and wellbeing but it is likely that they will be looking ‘outwards’ connecting businesses into the communities and ecosystems around them for social impact and community cohesion.
Are there examples of tech already impacting the role?
Askporter: Staggering growth in the number of proptech solutions in the market in the past few years has allowed property managers to arrange viewings via a third party like Viewber, have references and Assured Shorthold Tenancies generated and signed electronically by products such as Goodlord and reconcile rent payments whilst automating rent collection and chasing through a platform, say PayProp. Companies like ours at Askporter are providing a 24/7 concierge for every renter and a digital assistant for every PM. It is possible today to set up a new agency with these digital tools and operate almost completely remotely from what has been a very person and interaction-based industry.
Knight Frank: The technology coming into the space is vast. These range from drones to undertake surveys, VR to show how spaces will look post-refurbishment, enhanced BIM integration to accurately estimate running costs and automated payment systems that use sophisticated matching algorithms. Complex data sets that enable managers to make informed and insightful decisions are also a powerful tool. Tech enabled keyless access for example through smartphones, how people use a space, how much time they spend in the office, and understanding which additional services are needed to enhance the workplace are becoming more mainstream through the use of technology.
MJ Mapp: Blockchain or future generation software will underpin operational costs. Initially these will be service charges, but as service charges are replaced by inclusive rents and net operating costs (well suited to shorter leases), these will provide transparent and useful structures for future owners and occupiers alike. It offers an alternative route to traditional audits and reconciliations; these are manual processes which currently take weeks and months. Building access technology is providing customers with greater functionality such as booking of facilities, and control over thermal and environmental comfort. It is anticipated this trend will continue as we move to greater individual control. It is expected that geofencing will provide employees, visitors and contractors with selected information and functionality as they come into the vicinity of the building, content and services shaped for the day, and for individual preferences. Technology is providing an opportunity to transform engagement, not just in terms of pushing content or enabling access to services and facilities. Apps to capture perceived satisfaction are helpful, but as facial recognition software develops, we will have the tools to capture customers’ moods – enabling managers to understand the impacts of guest experience teams, interventions or place-making. Personalised content and notifications will be refined as we get better at respecting individual choice and data.
Workman: Clients now have direct access to portfolio data at their fingertips but don’t necessarily have first-hand dialogue with the tenants of their properties as recently as the property managers. This is where the surveyor will continue to add value by putting hard data into context and filling in the gaps. Drone surveys, sensors and data feeds to track information, whether that be footfall or car park analysis, and trends for performance or sensors installed on plant to wirelessly collect data on performance such as temperature, CO2, humidity and more sophisticated security and access control devices e.g. use of video concierge.
What will be the benefits of going digital?
MJ Mapp: Too early to evidence. Some of these interventions support product enhancement and differentiation which helps developers achieve target rents or reduces voids. Some of these interventions simply enable the workplace to remain relevant in an increasingly dispersed workscape. Speed of conversion of interest in space, to conversion into a signed document flags up the risk of disintermediation of agents, but their role is also changing from broker to advisor. Today we are starting to see glimmers of this, as tech is helping the BTR sector to process prospective customers through a well-designed workflow which captures key information, implements credit checks and converts interest into a tenancy agreement and self-selected suite of services. Tech has yet to transform the commercial leasing process, current packages like VTS and other online transaction platforms will continue to develop. It will follow though. Combined with blockchain, transaction speed will shorten immeasurably with liquidity transformed in a way which could never previously have been imagined.
Askporter: The benefits are clear, less time and higher returns. Whether it’s freeing up time to spend more time nurturing landlords or tech allowing full management at a lower %, every PropTech solution is designed to improve the bottom line of an agency’s business. For example, more than 50% of viewing request leads come to the portals outside of office hours, first response is crucial so companies like LeadPro can instantly follow up with a prospective tenant meaning they never get ignored or missed.
Knight Frank: There will be a number of benefits to the increased use of technology such as a reduction in cost, increase in efficiency and possible reduction in fee levels. However, this would work on the basis that fees are completely reassessed and based on customer satisfaction and retention rather than on a fixed basis.
When do you expect to see the tipping point for adoption?
Askporter: Within two years I believe we’ll start to see the implementation of tech for all parts of property management as a necessity rather than a helpful tool.
Workman: With the introduction of client and tenant portals we are already seeing a position where information is made immediately available in real time so clients/tenants can self-serve for much of the information they need. We are already a way down this road at Workman with the systems we have introduced with Mojo Client Portal and Dwellant Tenant Portal. Industry is still really only scratching the service on technology and most firms still finding their feet – there is a lot of smoke and mirrors out there and it will take time for the industry to really see the benefits. Advances in Facilities Management technology are easier to achieve and are a lot more progressed than property management.
Knight Frank: I think it’s already here, we are seeing a number of more modern approaches coming to market that are in the process of being adopted. It takes time for technology to take hold and for people to adapt. Within two years the landscape will look very different with the most mundane tasks being automated as standard practice. Within five years property managers will play a very different role to the one they do today.
Toolbox Group: The tipping point has already come. Proptech is the focus on most owners and managers minds right now, and you can see this from the huge increase in proptech activity in the real estate sector. More and more real estate companies have created the CIO role, they are investing in startups and tech companies, they are actively hunting down tech at industry events. We have seen a real change in the last four years, people we talked to then and who didn’t adopt, are now our latest customers.
MJ Mapp: It’s within our grasp. The industry isn’t going to change the fee structure that is used to remunerate property managers in the next 10 years. There is still an institutional expectation that fees will be fully service charge recoverable. Consequently, to change the roles, invest in the future, and move towards a focus around customer experience, the property managers must harness technology to find efficiencies. If tech has been an option for the forward-thinking, it’s about to become the only solution for survival.
Who will be the winners + losers?
Knight Frank: The winners will be clients, customers and occupiers. The losers will be those firms which are reluctant to change or don’t have the funding to take on the technology. Some companies may struggle due to their size as change management is very difficult to effect in a large organisation, and takes time, in some cases this can be years rather than months. The mid-sized firms with the cash flow to adopt the technology and mindset to make the change will benefit the most. The implication is that it could create a two-tiered offer in the market: smaller firms who cannot afford the technology and offer an excellent but traditional service; and larger firms who adapt and offer a new level of service with the aid of great technology. A reduced cost base will allow this latter group to consistently invest and continually improve. Some very large organisations who offer a ‘vanilla’ service could lose market share.
Workman: With greater levels of automation there ought to be much less reliance on administrators and processors who are repeating data gathering or other routine tasks for reporting purposes. The way in which data is presented however will remain key as there is a danger of data overload or ‘snow blindness’ unless time is invested to ensure the information supplied is analysed and targeted in such a way as to be just what’s necessary to make the decisions that need to be made. Difficult one. Advance in technology is rapid and there are too many knee-jerk reactions and wasted investments. The winners will be the ones that get the balance right in terms of learning from the mistakes made by others in the industry and having an open-minded flexible approach – in this industry there will never be a one size fits all approach.
Askporter: This is simple, from Kodak to Blockbuster, the winners will always be those looking at the longer term and combining the latest technology with their industry experience. The implications are stark – running an agency today without at least one of Rightmove, Zoopla or OnTheMarket is virtually impossible regardless of your skill or hard work. Over the coming years this will be true for much more of the proptech coming to market.
Toolbox Group: The early adopters are already a step ahead, but others are catching up as they don’t have to go through the startup phase. The real estate industry needs to keep up with changing, more complex needs of consumers and occupiers. The winners will simply be those that change their mindset, and business models, to be more user-centric. The key will also be to adopt the right technology in a streamlined, integrated approach.
MJ Mapp: The winners will be those who offer technology which solves problems, saves time or offers something meaningful. Tech with a cynical purpose or which pushes content will be seen for what it is. But we cannot kid ourselves. The built environment comprises a majority of stock which will have limited tech investment. This suggests increasing obsolescence as these cannot compete with smart buildings. Property managers who can help investors develop Internet of Things strategies and harness engagement and other apps to drive service and their own business efficiency will keep themselves relevant.