Although Brexit may have the property industry feeling as though it is hanging over a knife edge, it could prove to be the making of the proptech movement.
While the whole sector waits for the effects of the UK’s decision to really hit the market, in reality now is the best time for intelligent firms to recognise the huge wave of technology that is starting to engulf the industry. Citing Brexit as a reason to keep a business in limbo risks a business missing out on the - now vital - efficiencies that many proptech companies can offer.
In short, if Brexit does prompt the industry to cut costs and become more efficient, everything that proptech offers will become even more desirable. There are start-ups developing tech that will streamline each bit of the mechanics that make a deal happen, from tools that harness data to simplify how we find office space, to virtual reality that could replace traditional viewings and software aimed at easing the process of taking a lease.
As has happened in almost all other industries, tech has the power to make traditional costly, lengthy business operations redundant. The property sector has long been crying out for such change and there’s absolutely no reason this change shouldn’t happen now. In fact, Brexit could be the shove that firms that have been slow on the uptake need in order to wake up to the modern world.
Even if a downturn does materialise, proptech offerings will continue to hit the market for some time. Although investors might pause for a period, funding for many start-ups will have been secured long before Brexit and many operate on such lean platforms that they can continue for some time without further investment.
We know of several technologies that are nearing completion and now could be the perfect time to launch. What better time to tout the money-saving efficiencies they offer than when the property industry is focused on tightening its purse strings?
Confidence in the growth of proptech comes with an undertone of uncertainty, of course. While there are many technologies on the way to fruition already, more fledgling start-ups could face a period of dry funding if venture capitalists also wait for the Brexit storm to pass.
Start-ups in general, including those involved in proptech, could look to set up in other countries instead of the UK, slowing down how quickly we benefit from innovations. Already the escalating costs of living and securing workspace have been inhibiting people’s desires to come to London.
If the UK leaves the EU, the increased paperwork involved could pose an even greater obstacle. Part of London’s attraction has been the UK’s transparent business practices that have enabled strong networks in Europe and across the globe, but if cross-border collaborations become trickier tech firms could look elsewhere.
However, this could also be an opportunity for property. Several of Kontor’s clients have offices in the UK as well as in other European countries and we are often approached by firms with multiple requirements in different countries.
While we wait to see exactly how Brexit will change the market, there is time to cement our networks in mainland Europe. In the past week, we have already seen increased enquiries regarding opportunities across Germany and in Ireland, for example.
All businesses and sectors have to evolve, and although Brexit might force an evolution earlier than some might have planned, this is not a reason to ignore the inevitable rise of tech in the property industry. It’s always possible to find a silver lining, and the savvy operator will search during this period of change for opportunities to adapt more effectively than the competition. There is no better time to learn to be efficient than when a downturn threatens.
James Townsend is co-founder of Kontor