Why agents shouldn't fear automation and technology
The pandemic accelerated the take-up of automation - and here are six reasons why estate and letting agents should continue to embrace this trend.
A few years ago, using Proptech solutions to automate lettings processes was a forward-thinking decision, and helped to give agencies a competitive advantage. Now, having a streamlined, online journey has become an expectation of tenants and landlords alike - meaning that agents sticking to a paper-based process should consider whether they're falling behind.
Where can technology and automation help agencies the most?
Goodlord's 2021 State of the Lettings Industry Report highlights that referencing, administration, and compliance are the key areas of the lettings process that agents believe can be helped by technology and automation.
Here are six reasons why agents shouldn't fear but should instead embrace this type of technology and automation, and the opportunities it offers.
1. Gain visibility over your business and its processes
Some agencies worry about relinquishing control when automating their processes. However, the right automated solution simply helps you to do things more quickly and with more visibility over the entire process - which can boost the customer experience that you offer.
"If someone rings our office and asks for information, they'll nearly always get an answer because anyone in our team can log in and see the latest on that particular tenancy," says Luke Thirkettle, Director at Stratfords Residential Sales and Lettings.
"Having that visibility across any of the systems we've got, whether it's the CRM software or Goodlord - we can see the updates in real time, to answer the questions that come our way."
You can also choose which steps in your process would benefit most from automation and that extra visibility. For example, James Conway, Director at David Conway Estate and Letting Agents, highlights his agency's use of Goodlord's automated rent collection process, which takes away the task of chasing tenants, while giving more transparency over the whole process.
"We simply log in to see how many days it may be overdue, what the outstanding balance is, and what transactions have or haven't been made," says Conway. "We can confidently let it run in the background - it sends out the reminders to our tenants in a regular cadence, so that we don't have to."
2. Help your staff to do more
Another fear for some is about staff members being replaced by robots. However, technology is intended to support your existing team to do their jobs in the best way possible, so they can focus on new and more important aspects of the business.
This is a benefit that Mike Robson, Managing Partner at Avocado Property, sees with Goodlord. "I don't have to worry about the wording of my contract or banking," he says. "Everything's done for you, in the background, which is exactly what Proptech is supposed to do: to make your life easier and not make it more complex."
3. Avoid "dashboard fatigue"
The best way to take advantage of systems that automate your processes is to consider how to link all of your processes up, rather than taking a piecemeal, task-based approach.
“We knew we weren’t giving our customers the best service that we could, and our staff were struggling with the number of logins and different companies that we were working with,” he says.
Robbie Hearn, Lettings Manager at Bonners & Babingtons, felt the same way, and has kept an eye on how everyone in the industry has transitioned over to using more integrated solutions.
"It's about getting everything under one digital umbrella," he says. "It's been interesting to see how everybody originally used different platforms or different ways to go through the lettings process. Whether it's the referencing, the ID checking, offer letters, drawing up the tenancy agreements."
4. Ensure growth with automated processes
Introducing automation into your agency can do more than help maintain the status quo. David Thomas of Liberty Gate believes he was able to grow his agency twice as fast thanks to technology like Goodlord that can help automate processes. “I’d probably be about half the size I am now, easy,” says the Nottingham-based agent.
Before adopting Goodlord, the agency's time was consumed by a very manual, administration-heavy process for lettings. “When you’re trying to do 20 lets a month, it was late evenings, it was early mornings, just prepping for move ins all the time,” says Thomas.
“The minute Goodlord came along, we knew it would take all of that away. So that alone freed up time so we could go out and get more business, we could go out and get more lets - so it’s massive. You can scale up your business twice as quick if you’ve got that automation.”
5. Alleviate the stress of compliance
It's well known that compliance is a serious consideration for all landlords and agents. The State of the Lettings Industry 2021 asked what agents were most concerned about in the coming year, and legislation and compliance came in joint top place, alongside lack of stock, at 32% apiece.
“It’s difficult to keep up with the changes so anything that can automate that for us - so if there is a change, it changes - is brilliant and it means staff can’t get things wrong," says William Walsh, previously director at Venture Residential.
"Take calculating a five-week deposit - Goodlord does that automatically, whereas previously we were working that out on our own. That’s a massive help, he says.
6. Enhance security and data protection
Data security is often highlighted as a potential drawback of automating systems, but simply asking the right questions around the data protection in place for your chosen supplier can help assure agents that an online set up can be much more secure than a physical paper trail.
Take referencing, for example. There's a lot of sensitive information passing through the hands of agents that do referencing in-house, but an external supplier becomes the data controller, to help limit the amount of sensitive data your agency has to take ownership for.
Plus, these third parties often use the latest technology, such as open banking. The one-off connection required means documents aren't sent back and forth via email, where they could be intercepted, and the automated process makes it easier to check only the most relevant data.
"I said to one of my colleagues 'trust me - those documents are safer on our CRM than they are on our shared drive'," says Hearn.
"Don't get me wrong - I was one of these people that fought against getting rid of the paper diary at one point. I was a bit scared of technology but, once I embraced it, I realised that it was the only way to go."