Proptech is the latest buzzword that seeks to pull lots of ideas, projects and innovations under an umbrella aimed at identifying uses for technology in the property sector. There are many offshoots of property that can be affected by proptech; investment, property management and conveyancing for example, but also the area of buy-to-let landlords.
The property sector has been largely resistant to change in terms of technology in recent years, with websites for estate agents seemingly a glass ceiling. After all, you have to physically see a property, meet banks and sign legal papers. Or do you? Well some of these are a long way from being automated, but technology is advancing to bring radical change to the property sector.
Technology is being fine-tuned and little details of processes and operations are coming under the scope of advancing technology, and we are finding that more and more elements of the property process can be aided by technology, and indeed, technology is being designed and tailored specifically for the property industry.
It is true that 3D technology and virtual reality (360˚) video is expanding rapidly at the moment, and this is one area that can help buy-to-let landlords, in terms of considering investments online and then allowing people to view a property online. These are the more obvious uses of emerging technologies, but overall it is clear that being a buy-to-let landlord, particularly if you have multiple properties, or have designs to, can become a full-time job. While some elements of it can easily run out of control – such as collecting and chasing rent, energy management, safety and security and managing viewings – it is these periphery but critical tasks that technology is looking to help with.
So let’s look at the five most useful technology aids for buy-to-let landlords and assess how they can make life easier:
1. Smart locks
Lost your keys? Soon it won’t matter. A well-connected 21st century landlord will soon be able to control access to the property through a smartphone, and of course this ease of security will pass onto the tenants also.
The best smart locks currently available vary in terms of what they allow you to do, and certainly you can choose a product that suits what you are comfortable leaving in the hands of technology. You can use phones to open and close doors, assign certain privileges to certain people, ie. tenants or maintenance personnel, and you can use voice activation to authorise certain actions. Some packages can also be hooked up to CCTV, so that you can see who is at your property and decide yourself whether to allow access.
In terms of security, this also offers the possibility to be alerted when someone approaches the property after a certain time of day, or any time when nobody is there. The possibilities are endless, and it really depends on how much physical control you want to retain and how much this technology will help you when you are trying to manage a portfolio of properties.
Some packages have built-in Wi-Fi while some rely on Bluetooth connectivity, and hence you have to be within a certain range to be able to communicate with it. Another useful feature is ‘geofencing’, whereby you can set up a perimeter distance around your property and use smartphone location technology to pinpoint a person’s location. Therefore when that person or persons leave the perimeter distance, the lock on the property automatically engages, and hence you never need to worry about absent-minded tenants not locking the door. Similarly, an auto-lock feature can engage the lock if it has been unlocked for a specific time. Notifications can also tell you who is coming and going in real time if you have certain security concerns. And you can also integrate other smart technologies from around the property, such as CO2 or smoke detectors, fire alarms or simply Google Assistant.
Of course these packages are more expensive than a traditional lock and key, but balancing cost against the help it offers you is the deciding factor.
2. Smart Energy
Smart energy management can start without technology, but technology brings greater benefits. For example, it is common sense to have an efficient, well-maintained boiler that runs cost-effectively. It is common sense to manage heating and hot water sensibly in the winter and to not leave electrical devices on 24/7, which can all be done manually, but technology makes it easier and offers us better information upon which to base decisions.
Tenants are generally impressed if a property is well-managed from a carbon footprint point of view, and so it will help the marketability of the property if it has a good EPC rating, increase its value if you are looking to sell and will also offer an improvement on your monthly rental yield through the energy costs you save. You might even find that some tenants are happy to spend a little more on rent if the EPC rating of a property is good.
Smart meters are common in many homes now and are useful for seeing where you are spending most money and how you can adapt your practices to save money. In rented accommodation it is useful for all tenants to see this information in a visual representation. And of course smart meters give real time readings and mean your bills are not derived from estimated usage.
An extension to this are smart heating controls, as they allow you to control your thermostat remotely using your phone. This allows the user to turn the heating on and off, control the temperature, set heating preferences based on routines the system has stored in its memory, and turn the heating off in certain rooms if they are unoccupied. A smart heating control allows you to manage the property better and control usage to save money, for example, by turning the heating off if you are unexpectedly going to be home late or staying away overnight. And again, these systems also store real time data to allow you to monitor usage and make informed decisions.
Other ways technology can help with energy usage is with smart light bulbs and smart plugs, which allow you to control electricity usage remotely or set timers to reduce wasteful practices.