Digital disruption in property management: is the “Uber Moment” coming?

The world of property management software has been traditionally slow to adopt new technologies.

Is this necessarily a bad thing, though? Once the dust settles, it is probably easier to see which technological advancements worked and which ones didn’t.

With the onset of Uber-like platforms, different sectors have seen apps take over the work of middlemen, changing business models in the process.

But in property management software, it seems that the most radical change that we have seen so far is the migration from computer-based to cloud-based technology. The function of the technological aid remains pretty much the same, though, and so does the role of the property manager.

So are we going to see a radical disruption in the form of an Uber platform that, for example, gets rid of property management companies altogether? Perhaps there is, after all, an important value in the role of the property manager, one that cannot be replaced by technology.

A property manager in Australia explained the need for their role very well: “Owners do not employ a property management service because they lack the technology to do it (to manage their properties’ daily affairs). Instead, they lack the ‘willpower’ and do not want to do it”.

This is so true, but the reasoning is based on a couple of facts that are probably changing: 1) that owners have the money to outsource the management of their property portfolio; and 2) that they lack the time and interest to do it themselves.

Younger generations are used to relying on technology for most things, especially when they cannot afford middlemen. More than that, they have grown used to questioning any intermediaries who do not provide the expected value for their services.

Yet we still haven’t seen the Uber of property management become viral.

Before a new platform is developed and becomes ubiquitous, the real revolution will start with the philosophy to tackle the problem. It is a change in the way of thinking and in the way of looking at the issue.

With property management software, it is unlikely that real disruption will happen before technology addresses users’ pains from a different perspective. In this sector, technology has so far been there to serve the needs of management companies.

But what happens if there is a shift towards satisfying the needs of homeowners as the main stakeholders? This would be particularly useful in the case of multi-family residential communities with shared facilities.

Imagine an app that allows owners and tenants to compete for pending jobs and spotting faults in their communities. They get rewarded for it in some form, perhaps paying less fees at the end of the month. Now the platform also allows to vote remotely, to access all sorts of documents, to “blockchain” agreements and notifications, to automatically process accountancy for the community. Suddenly you realize that you only need external human intervention for things such as painting, maintenance of elevators, security guards, basically external services.

Does this necessarily mean that property management companies end up without work in residential communities? Maybe what happens is that they take on a new role, becoming, for example, a staffing agency for cleaners and security guards.

This is similar to what has occurred to taxi syndicates in markets where Uber has penetrated. They have had to adapt and focus on providing a service where they are particularly efficient.

There is also the area of human interaction and conflict, where technology still has a long way to go. Platforms like TripAdvisor and Airbnb have shown that review-based trust can be mishandled. Although in cases like these, the focus and powerful resources of the company have turned towards finding a solution to the problem, concentrating significant efforts into developing the right technology to reach their outcome. Chances are they will get it right sooner rather than later.

If you live in an apartment block or in a community with shared facilities, do you know how much your property manager gets paid to handle the affairs of the community? If so, have you seen a list of the tasks that they perform, how much time and money they have spent on each of them? If you haven’t, then there is a transparency issue with the management company, one that technology can definitely improve.

Even if they have been provided with a detailed list of expenses by management, do you think that perhaps with the right incentive, YOU could complete some of the tasks and get rewarded for it? Imagine a chunk of the management company’s fees getting redistributed among homeowners willing to do some of the work themselves.

That owners don’t have enough time or interest? Let them decide after trialing the technology and see how much money they can save with it and if they see long-term value in its adoption.

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