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Are property professionals threatened by tech?

By Juliet Helmke
24 April 2024 | 11 minute read
Thom Richards reb

Thom Richards, CEO of proptech Cohabit, understands why innovation isn’t always welcome.

Some of the industries that have been on the cutting edge of advancement have also seen some of the greatest resourcing changes alongside the adoption of new tools.

“There are industries that have tried to remove the people. I mean, if you look at banking, for one, you walk into a branch and there’s very few people left, the experience is completely gone,” Richards acknowledged in a recent episode of Secrets of the Top 100 Agents.

But throughout his experience in the tech sector – Richards is also the co-founder of automated rental payment platform Managed – he’s seen enough to convince him that property is different.

While money has become increasingly separate from the idea of a physical object, property never will, the CEO explained.

“A transaction is just a transaction. But when you deal with property, there’s emotion, there’s deals. Property links with people’s lives very closely. So having the human element is always going to be an important thing. You touch it, you feel it, it’s physical,” he stated.

In addition, he noted that housing circumstances and the financial aspects of property – whether a residence or investment – can have a huge impact on people’s health and wellbeing, so while human interaction is as important as ever, there’s also space for tech to improve on labour-intensive, analogue processes that can negatively impact property and the people it touches.

With Cohabit, he set out to see if there is a way to speed up the delivery of information, particularly in residential buildings, where real-time data can help strata managers do their jobs, and investors and buyers make decisions based on the best possible information.

“Cohabit is an information tool. It’s designed to be a data partner for anyone that touches a building. Essentially what we do is we use the existing building data and create a digital version – a digital twin. That can be something as simple as information or a full, detailed 3D plan of a building. So we sit somewhere in the middle to allow people to access more information in real time about a building,” he explained.

That benefits the people living in residential buildings, as well as the people buying, selling and transacting those sales. Gone are the days of wading through hundreds of pages of strata reports, let alone waiting weeks to access them, with this system that aims to present a real-time overview of building health – which could be shown to a buyer during the sales process.

But when it comes to the agency cohort, Richards said it has taken some convincing to get them to embrace the idea, even while the platform shows clear efficiencies when it comes to closing a sale.

When launching the business, he explained, there were agencies that embraced the idea, as well as some who didn’t.

“When you talk about access to information for the buyers, the top-of-their-game agencies, [say] ‘We want that information. We understand that will help, it will make the experience better.’ But then you get to the other end, who say, ’Oh, no, it might impact the sale. We don’t want to do that. We want to keep that information as close to our chest as we can.’”

Richards understands it – integrating new technologies can mean changing the way you do business.

But while technology is not out for property’s jobs, he does see it having a big impact on access to information, and he believes the sector is becoming more transparent as a result. The transformation that agencies need to make, in his eyes, is adapting to this new reality.

“It’s not only just getting comfortable with the tech, it’s getting comfortable that buyers and people that interact with the technology will get that information,” he explained.

From his side of the equation, he realised that industry education is key to showing how the tool can add to the business, not serve as a threat to the people who have made it successful so far.

“It’s not so much the technology, it’s very much in the thinking. And that’s one of the challenges that all proptech businesses face,” he explained.

“It’s education about the benefits and trying to make it seem not as scary for people that might not be too comfortable with it.

Listen to the full episode here.


Juliet Helmke

Based in Sydney, Juliet Helmke has a broad range of reporting and editorial experience across the areas of business, technology, entertainment and the arts. She was formerly Senior Editor at The New York Observer.

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