Proptech set to reinvogorate the COVID-stricken residential property industry

The global upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a spike in the adoption of technology by the mass market. Remote working and video conference meetings became the norm literally overnight as the clock ticked over into government-imposed lockdown, and placing orders and making purchases via app has become an essential, rather than a luxury – making it the ‘new normal’.

In the property world, traditional ‘real estate’ firms are shedding jobs and cutting back dramatically in the face of restrictions which have effectively made traditional property viewings impossible. That means that proptech is primed to change the way people let and rent residential property, forever – and effectively create a new global rental industry. It’s been one of the fields seeing mass adoption in the face of the lockdown, with ‘Generation Rent’ seeking new rental properties without the option to visit them in person – and conclude deals for new homes which they can move into when the world returns to ‘normal’.

Co-Founder and CEO of proptech platform Flow, Gil Sperling, says that the pandemic has offered many industries the opportunity to leapfrog adoption challenges, with the rental industry showing some of the highest levels of digital adoption. “We project that tenants and agents will continue to try and avoid close contact with each other for at least 3 months beyond the lifting of lockdown restrictions – and nobody can say, for sure, when that will happen,” he says. “The property industry is ripe for change – it hasn’t seen major technological advancement since the emergence of some portals, more than 2 decades ago. Ordinarily we would have only seen the first adopters embrace new tech like Flow to conclude leasing deals but with the emergence of COVID-19, we are seeing an acceleration of adoption as a wider base of the population is forced to use technology as their only way to safely engage with each other”.

When Flow launched in 2019, it was one of the first platforms in the world to reward people for their largest monthly expense: paying rent. In leveraging behavioural economics, Flow started out rewarding tenants for good behaviour such as registering, adding their property details, paying their rent on time and looking after their homes. Tenants can earn points every month, improving their Flow Tenant Profile and allowing them access to tiered rewards. The rewards are offered in partnership with a number of leading brands in the lifestyle, entertainment, homeware, fashion and travel space, plus a selection of airtime and electricity providers, all of which are valuable within the lives of millennials – a group which makes up a large portion of renters in South Africa.

Flow has since grown and evolved, introducing a unique tenant journey which allows landlords to pre-qualify tenants for an apartment before they set up a viewing, and offers a messaging function that gives tenants the ability to ask questions and get to know more about the apartment without having to take the risk of going on a physical viewing. Sperling says that the next step for Flow is development which allows for online contracts, payments, and contract signing, which will significantly reduce the amount of in-person contact required notwithstanding the efficiencies that come with such innovation.

The newly-introduced ‘Behavioural Search’ element of the Flow platform aims to make finding the right property even easier, matching highly-profiled renters with the right properties and giving landlords the tools to retain good tenants. “The app matches pre-profiled tenants and landlords whose stock has been curated by Flow around customisable search criteria, to deliver an array of the most suitable, available options – minimising face-to-face interactions,” says Sperling.

Sperling says it’s important for tenants and landlords who already have existing lease agreements to maintain open communication during the current challenging times. “For example, tenants and landlords can sign up for Flow at any stage during their lease agreement, which gives tenants the ability to score Flow points and improve their Flow Tenant Profile, which allows them to access increasingly-valuable rewards from essential supply partners like Woolworths, Checkers and Dis-Chem, which can help if their financial situation is constrained by the lockdown”. Flow also offers tenants prepaid discounts on electricity, data and airtime, which are all valuable at any stage – but more so now during lockdown.

“Our vision for Flow is to create a ‘full-stack’ journey for renting which allows for easier and cheaper renting for tenants and a more rewarding investment for our landlords,” says Sperling. “We believe the time is absolutely right for the property industry to make the leap to adopting tech more quickly to deliver value and innovation for both sides of the tenant-landlord equation – and helping define the ‘new normal’ in a post-pandemic rental world”.


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