Proptech, or the combination of property and technology, is the hot new word of the day after the Business Times reported on its disruptive potential. Proptech is not something new in Singapore, and the first major milestone would be the launch of PropertyGuru in December 2007.
PropertyGuru remains as the leading search engine for property sales and leasing today. Along the way, we have seen other players such as SRX, iProperty and Nestia who emerged.
As an entrepreneur, disruption always opens up new opportunities for those with the expertise and first-mover advantage.
For one, there is no lack of funding if you choose this space – given that it had grown from $451 million in 2013 to $2.7 billion in 2016. Singapore’s leading landlord, Capitaland had also set aside $100 million to invest into Proptech companies last year, in a fund known as C31 Ventures.
You can be the next Steve Melhuish if you decide to play the game.
For your reference, here are some disruptive proptech companies that you might not have not heard of.
Wooba VR – Virtual Reality House Tours
If you are looking for a futuristic application of Proptech, Wooba VR would be the leading player.
Unlike the 3D walkthrough that is taken by your property agent these days, Wooba VR allows you to look at your architectural and construction plans with an immersive VR googles.
WoobaVR uses 2D and 3D images, and stitches them together with their proprietary software.
For now, Wooba operates only in Singapore and provides visualisation videos on for your Android and iOS devices.
Wooba is currently being used for interior design, but its capabilities can eventually be extended to the construction of buildings too.
Given the emphasis on productivity locally, Singaporeans can appreciate the convenience of VR while building their homes or even entire estates. An architect staying in Ang Mo Kio can see the same plans that one at Jurong East can, by wearing the VR Googles.
For the client, what used to take weeks can be done in one afternoon.
They can have a spatial understanding of details like how the sunlight flows in, and how the layout of furniture feels like in the house. At the estate level, the planners can see how the traffic will flow, how rain will cause floods, and even model human traffic flows.
All these can only happen because of the 3D nature of VR, and this could severely disrupt the interior design and architecture industry.
InvestaCrowd – Crowdfunding Property Investment
Coming right on the heels of the magic of virtual reality, let us look into something more practical for most people – money!
As an entrepreneur, if you design a product that can provide a realistic promise of return, you will gain some traction.
Crowdfunding for the property space is about adding fintech to property. Crowdfunding for loans, products, equity and even donations have been the norm these days.
As with all crowdfunding platforms, they solve the problem of expertise and provide diversification through variety. In any property development, you will need to know your developer, location, term of contract, local market conditions and so on.
We have the markets with clear rules (e.g. Singapore, Japan) but the high prices mean little returns and there are messy markets (e.g. China, India) that allow for high returns but also hard to execute.
Therefore, many choose to invest in Western markets such as Australia, United States and United Kingdom.
InvestaCrowd solves all these problems for investors who want to invest abroad in leading cities such as Melbourne, New York, Sydney and so on.
It does the sourcing, structuring, developing, and selling of properties. Investors come in to fund the projects and get their money back over time.
This is a form of business financing which has evolved with the emergence of proptech.
StudioMatch – Discovering and Booking Studio Spaces
Online marketplaces and proptech are not mentioned frequently in the same breath but it should not be neglected.
Singapore is a high density city which requires special facilities to accommodate certain activities. For instance, you can’t sing your lungs out in your HDB flat without irritating your neighbours and bringing the police to your door.
Musicians would have to go to a jamming studio which is sound-proof and equipped with the right instruments.
This market is highly fragmented and studios tend to move when their landlords were to increase their price after the lease is up. For musicians, it can be a pain because the new location might not be easily accessible, and they are unsure about the reliability of a studio nearby.
StudioMatch aggregates the music, dance, art and yoga studios in Singapore to make it easy for these users to discover the right studios in a short period of time.
The studios manage their own live calendars, which allow their clients to book the available time slots immediately. For these artists, StudioMatch provides much needed convenience and assurance with their rating and review system.
In other words, StudioMatch provides a trusted discovery platform for studio users and sub-leasing service for studio owners. This is a win-win solution for both parties and it opens up a whole new market for the creative industry.
A Brave New World
Property is the largest asset class in the world, and it has seen multiple disruptions in different forms.
Established brick-and-mortar companies such as Sears and Macy’s have shut down hundreds of stores in the United States as they face stiff competition from online stores. People can buy everything from shoes to computers online.
PropertyGuru had emerged to disrupt traditional newspaper listings, but even then, there is still the Classifieds section in The Straits Times after 10 years.
The jobs of lawyers and property agents would probably have to evolve in the next 10 years, but if the PropertyGuru experience is any guide, such disruptive technology will be complementary rather than truly threatening.
These changes can be frightening especially for those PMETs in their 40s who have been in the industry for the past 20 years.
So to these individuals, I have a suggestion. Instead of waiting to be disrupted, why not stand up to brave the storm and be the one disrupting the industry?
After all, we are in the year 2017.
This article was written by Kai Kiat Ong.