Covid-19 and residential proptech


Personal and community health and wellbeing have become more significant drivers as a result of the COVID-19 public health crisis. Greater use of technology can be a way of satisfying these requirements for buyers and support greater efficiency for developers of residential property. Here I consider how some aspects of technology could be applied to greater effect.

Big tech, which includes China’s Tencent and Baidu, is almost certain to emerge from the crisis in a stronger position than it entered it. Various indications are for a deeper bigtech foray into a range of previously vertical industries, such as healthcare, but also real estate. In July 2019, ‘…Amazon announced a partnership with real estate firm Realogy Holdings, offering homebuyers up to $5,000 in Amazon products with the purchase of a home(1).’ Alliances between space providers and product brands could represent the future of real estate. Amazon, Apple and Google all see the smart building sector as a platform on which to test and network their respective technologies. There is no reason why a primary focus on residential smart homes cannot morph into a reimagining of the industry itself, as well as provide a template for moving into commercial or retail real estate.

Although most commonly associated with smart cities, digital twins are likely to emerge in housing and establish themselves as a key component of the industry. Digital twins developed to ‘aggregate, manage, analyze, visualize, and predict information,’ can provide a unique information management solution for buildings, as well as the smart cities digital twins are most associated with. If every building was to have a digital twin and be IoT connected, data from a home’s physical assets could create a real-time solution for mapping and mitigating not just COVID, but perhaps even alerting the relevant emergency service should something happen to somebody inside the home or even to a home system itself.

Early adopters for such a system could be in senior living communities. Developers, building owners and facility managers are likely to lean on PropTech in order to meet the shifting needs of an ageing population(2). Ventilation has emerged as an issue during the COVID-19 crisis and extends, of course, to other infections and respiratory conditions. Smart environmental products, smart air purifiers for example, could be part of a technological response. Other products can be introduced to help mitigate issues such as dehydration that may lead to falls and also report such falls in real-time to the relevant care provider or authorities. Some 33 percent of seniors, 65 and older, slip and fall each year, indicating the need to create safer, more responsive and even predictive environments that could pick up on some of the health signals – shortening of gait, changes in breathing patterns as just some of many warning signs – that can predicate upcoming health issues.

PropTech led investment could also shift how investors access the market. There is significant room for PropTech to expand into and create new finance vehicles. Tokenisation, ‘…defined by many insiders as the process of representing fractional ownership interest in an asset with a blockchain-based token(3),’ could be used to allow bite-sized investments, allowing real-time trading of such assets and spreading the ability of people to get onto the property ladder. Some P2P platforms, such as Blend Network, are already exploring the concept of fractional investment, by connecting investors with small and medium developers while offering average returns of around 12 percent. Such property investment can start with a minimum investment of just £100(4). Although the numbers appear small, the impact of a changing market structure could provide the space and impetus for scales of investment that shift the market more decisively.

For further information please contact Gemma Leonard.


(1) Source: Said Business School, 2020
(2) Source: PropModo, 2020
(3) Source: Said Business School, 2020
(4) Source: Enterprise Times, 2020

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