The right moves
About 15 years ago, concerned about the possible negative impact of the internet on estate-agency, my firm took a number of initiatives. One idea, not realised, was to employ some young computer programmers with freedom to deliver the best property related technology they could dream-up.
It's a pity we didn't do that because not long afterwards, someone came up with the blindingly simple idea of putting all of the houses on the market on one website. By 2007, that portal, MyHome.ie, had been sold for €50m - which was exactly the price Savills paid for my firm, a long established market leader, with fee income of €50m pa. It pays to be first to market and make life simpler for people!
I was reminded of all this by a flurry of news on the technological side and CBRE has come up with a way of accessing the best potential new ideas, and promoting innovation.
The CBRE PropTech challenge is a global initiative, now in its third year, and recently launched here at CBRE's Dublin offices. The scheme is a competition in which anyone can pitch their property tech idea to a panel of independent judges.
Those deemed to have the best potential to disrupt the market can go through to the European finals, where finance can be made available, together with market-testing on a global scale.
Paddy Conlon, executive director at CBRE, told me that office-space and mentoring can be made available here, for the very best projects.
He told me that they are considering bringing a roadshow on the scheme to the universities, as they feel that they can best help those who are at "concept-stage", and before they have begun talking to venture capitalists.
To launch the competition here, CBRE invited property players such as Glenveagh Properties plc and Green Property to discuss technological change in the industry. Paddy Conlon told me that the general agreement at the meeting was that the commercial property market in Ireland is "quite an old-school industry" and has been relatively slow in adopting new technology." He believes that there is great potential to improve Ireland as an "eco-system" for technology start-ups, and that networking is a good start.
A frustration in the industry is the lack of integration of data-sets, meaning that producing research or market analysis is slow. The meeting also found common ground in the area of delays in conveyancing.
The nature of clients has changed, for example institutional clients and developers, and commercial law firms need to embrace that.
Coincidentally, last week also saw the launch of Offr, which is an online platform designed to make the buying and selling of residential and commercial properties faster and more transparent. Robert Hoban, CEO and founder, told me that the philosophy is that "everyone's connected, and can update each-other in real-time".
Selling-agents carry the platform and by signing-up, buyers can see title documents, make bids and see other bids, the agent can "pre-qualify" the bidders to ensure they have funds, and vendors can watch the process happening. The platform works for private treaty sales, the "best-bids" process, and auctions, and successful bidders can sign contracts and pay their deposit online.
A number of agents are already using the service, which for small to medium sized firms costs €600 per month, plus, point 1pc of the sale-price for auctions.
All agents are well advised to keep up to speed with changes in technology, or risk being bypassed.
It's also worth considering that you could earn more money from a good technology idea, at lower tax rates, than you could earn through years of your routine professional work.
As Robert Hoban summarised it; agents can fall into the trap of assessing technology against today's clients. "Imagine the clients in five or 10 years' time. They will want everything on a device."
He's dead right. I wish I'd thought of that one.