Who will Uberise property rentals?
Recently, my personal experiences enabled me to realise that the real estate industry is ripe for an upheaval similar to how Uber has disrupted the taxis industry.
My navel-gazing was fuelled by a recent decision to sell my home and move into the world of renting. As a tenant, it has become obvious that change is on the way, and will arrive fast. At the same time, as a real estate professional, am I concerned about change? The answer is yes, and no. I’d be delighted to be at the forefront of the revolution.
However, without a trusty crystal ball, I don’t know the direction from where change will come, or the form it will take.
The plight of the tenant
Renting a house can be a challenging experience. Now mind you I own a property management company that rents houses, shops, offices and factories, and has just ventured into student accommodation. So, you’d think I’d know a thing or two about the rental industry and I have a few contacts to help. Sadly, I found I was wrong on all fronts.
I’m not sure what I was expecting. However it wasn’t an automated system that drives property managers to correspond by email and text. Then there are the online forms, bank account details and your rental history for the past umpteen years. But wait there is more. Property managers want passport numbers, copies of driver’s licenses, and Medicare numbers. Then to top it off, you get a small window of 12:30 to 12:40 pm on a Tuesday to inspect a property. This is a 10 minute inspection time – that is communicated, by, you guessed it, SMS. Every agency is the same, some even cancelling the appointment via text when you were on your way, while others simply ended the open for inspection just as I arrived. It seemed that nobody wanted to talk to me in person!
Over the years I have tried to communicate to my commercial and industrial landlords that real estate and property management is the same as retail. It’s about balancing the needs and desires of potential tenants with your own, and servicing them as you would clients or customers.
Change is near
In a world where customers talk freely over social networks, you’d think that the tenants would speak up and complain about the real estate rental industry. However, they are so attuned to this poor experience that it has become the norm. Now, I have experienced it first-hand, property management is ripe for an Uberesque upheaval. The silent masses of disgruntled customers are ready for change, and the industry is responding by automating itself with easily repetitive tasks.
Over the last couple of years, I have rented houses and apartments in St Louis Missouri. In twoweek blocks, I was able to source them and pay for them over the web, occupy them and return them to their owners without ever meeting a soul. All the landlords were concerned about was the rent payment and that it was left in a tidy state – if not they had the right to debit my credit card. There was no passport, driver’s license, rental history or referees required and I wasn’t even a US citizen. I was staying in quality neighborhoods, in properties with nice furnishings and appliances. All I needed was the access code for the keypad.
Making moving house simpler
Through the process of moving homes, I have recognised my generation’s propensity for accumulating stuff we don’t need. Today, books can be electronic, and the boxes of photos and albums can be digitised. Meanwhile, in the US, I found that all appliances were supplied, which meant I didn’t need to carry them into an apartment. Then there’s bed linen, towels, laundry appliances – again all provided. My digital address and presence were not disturbed by a change of property, and high-speed internet Wi-Fi was available.
So, I ask you, why when renting in Newcastle do we need to carry all this stuff with us?
It seems to be that we are too preoccupied with stuff and too tied to physical addresses. We already have the likes of Go Get that enables city dwellers to hire cheap autonomous vehicles, and I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to see that home will be wherever you place your phone.