The lettings market has been evolving rapidly in recent years due to a number of factors. Firstly, it has continued to grow in size, now accounting for around a fifth of all households nationwide, with forecasts for that figure to rise to 25% by 2025.
During this time, the expectations of consumers have become more reliant on technology. With renters able to carry most transactions and activities online, they now expect to be able to manage large parts of the rental process on the go from their smartphone.
Another factor changing the face of the industry is an increasing number of regulations for letting agents and landlords to follow, from mandatory immigration and electrical checks to a ban on upfront fees and caps on security and holding deposits.
This year, the industry has also had to contend with the wide-ranging impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which prompted an enforced seven-week shutdown of the market during the height of lockdown. All these changes mean that agents' time is more precious than ever, while at the same time they are under pressure to provide an efficient service to tenants and exceptional customer service to landlords.
Thankfully, evolution in the rental sector has been complemented by a rise in PropTech products and services, helping agents to save time and provide a more streamlined service.
This is evidenced by a £995 million investment into UK PropTech companies in 2018, according to Future: PropTech - a figure which is likely to have increased in the years since. Meanwhile, there are now over 600 PropTech companies focusing on residential property in the UK, according to industry directory Unissu, providing agents withmore choice than ever before.
As the need for PropTech continues to rise, below we take a look at some of the innovations that are revolutionising the rental process for agents, landlords and tenants.
The rise of virtual viewings
The ability to view properties remotely has been available for quite a few years now, but its success has been limited. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and people being advised to stay at home,the popularity of virtual viewings has rocketed in recent months.
Currently, the government is still advising prospective renters to carry out a virtual viewing first and only visiting a property for an in-person viewing if they are very serious about renting the home.
Therefore, the vast majority of agents are now offering virtual viewings and promoting them as a first course of action. Moreover, reports are now emerging that properties are being sold and let directly from virtual viewings, with consumers committing to transactions without visiting the property.
In the past, virtual viewings have been criticised for not giving prospective renters the same feel as an in-person visit. While this may be true, virtual viewing technology has improved so much in recent years that viewers can see the property in all its glory from the comfort of their own home. In the future, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality viewings are also likely to grow in popularity.
If possible, it is still advisable for tenants or buyers to visit a property before committing, but virtual viewings are here to stay as they save agents a significant amount of time and allow them to see who the most serious applicants are.
Automated payments increase efficiency
Another side of PropTech which is benefiting agents and landlords across the country is the ability to manage rental payments automatically online. This type of software means agents no longer have to reconcile payments manually, saving them a huge amount of time and also increasing accuracy.
Agents can also now chase arrears and payments using automated messaging, which is proven to increase payments without taking up valuable time. What's more, with increasing scrutiny on agents when it comes to compliance, managing rental payments online provides them with a secure way to document activity and provide a paper trail of evidence where necessary.
Automated payment management increases efficiency and allows agents to provide landlords with a more comprehensive service and the opportunity to view the status of their portfolio in real-time. Agents can therefore increase landlord satisfaction and retention rates, while also freeing up more time to focus on business growth.
Online repairs management becomes the norm
When tenants report a maintenance issue, it's vitally important that it is dealt with quickly and efficiently. Not only does responding to repairs quickly improve tenant satisfaction, but it can help landlords and agents to fix problems before they escalate. Property issues which are left to get worse over a long period of time could end up costing the landlord a significant amount of money.
These days, most repairs requests are dealt with using online systems. Not only do these systems allow tenants to report issues at any time of the day, but tenants who don't speak good English can also report problems in their own language. Online repairs management helps to protect landlords' investments, while also creating a more efficient and clearer system for all parties to follow.
Thanks to technology, gone are the days of tenants having to wait until a letting agency is open to report an issue, while agents can keep track of all reports in one place and gain abetter understanding of the issue from the outset.
Floorplan apps show the power of technology
When prospective tenants look at the details of an available rental property, one of the first things they will want to see is a floorplan. Floorplans allow consumers to get a better idea of the layout and space available in a property, providing them with a quick and easy way to discount properties which aren't suitable.
Therefore, it's vital that floorplans are included on all property listings and details. Long gone are the days of agents drawing their own floorplans and thanks to technology, there are now a range of apps which can draw up accurate floorplans instantly.
These apps use the latest technology to create attractive floorplans in both 2D and 3D. They also allow agents to draw up floorplans while they are out and about, which not only saves time but can be an instruction winner with landlords.
Accurate floorplans can also be a deal-breaker for tenants and encourage them to commit to a virtual or in-person viewing so the importance of using PropTech floorplan solutions should not be underestimated.
Inventory software speeds up the moving process
Alongside tenant screening,organising an inventory is an important part of the rental process. Inventories document the condition of a property at the start and end of a tenancy, allowing the landlord to decide whether deposit deductions or insurance claims need to be made.
Traditionally, the inventory process has been manual, requiring an agent, landlord or inventory clerk to go around the property taking notes and pictures. They would then present the paper inventory for the tenant to sign.
However, there are now a range of PropTech solutions which provide the ability to automate branded inventory reports with photos while also gathering online signatures from tenants, which can significantly speed up the move-in process.
Taking inventories online also means reports can be stored securely and accessed easily. Alerts for mid-term inspections and check-out can also be set and real-time task lists can provide agents and landlords with a clear indication of everything that has been done and what needs to be completed.
Inventories which are generated and managed online are more appealing to tenants as they can view and sign them from their phones. Ultimately, a higher engagement with tenants at this stage of the process reduces the chances for disputes at the end of the tenancy.
How is Canopy using PropTech to revolutionise rentals?
Here at Canopy, we are helping agents provide a better service to tenants through a range of PropTech innovations, including Deposit-Free renting, instant tenant screening and RentPassports.
Over the last few years, there has been a rise in the popularity of no-deposit renting, which means letting agencies which offer a deposit-free option are more likely to attract a wider pool of tenants to their available properties.
Canopy's DepositFree solution can save tenants a significant amount of money. It typically costs around £340, equivalent to around 10% of eight weeks' rent,saving tenants in London up to £1,900 on a security deposit.
This fair, affordable and transparent alternative also covers rental arrears for up to eight weeks if tenants lose their job or become seriously ill, providing a heightened level of protection and peace of mind for all parties.
All agents will be aware of the importance of the tenant vetting process. The traditional way of carrying out tenant referencing, however, can be slow and cumbersome. That's why tech-enabled screening processes are allowing agents and landlords to let properties faster with the same level of protection.
Our free and unlimited tenant screening solution is powered by Experian and Open Banking. It’s an instant process which enables you to let properties without endless requirements for payslips, photocopies and paper IDs.
Not only does online instant screening save you time, but it will also mean landlords' properties are let quicker and you won't lose out on eager tenants due to slow referencing.
One of the biggest issues for long-term renters is not having their rental payments reflected in their credit scores. Having a poor credit score can limit tenants from getting finance for a large future purchase such as a home. As a solution to this long-standing problem, Canopy's RentPassport allows tenants to track their rent payments through Open Banking. This means every time a rental payment is made, it is reported to Experian and contributes to a tenant’s credit score.
The transparency of PropTech solutions such as this means tenants are no longer punished for paying rent on time and benefit from more of a level playing field with owner-occupiers.
PropTech facilitates a personal service
So, there we have it, some of the best innovations helping to save time for agents and improve the rental process for tenants and landlords.
Ultimately, lettings will always be a people business and it's important that agents don't lose sight of that. Successful adoption of the best PropTech can allow agents to provide a more streamlined service and give staff the opportunity to spend more time doing what they do best - interacting with clients and customers.
As technology continues to influence more parts of our lives on a daily basis, expect the number and quality of PropTech products to keep on rising in the coming years. Watch this space!