Increasingly, sensor information drives many of the decisions we make in day-to-day life. People use their Apple Watch or Fitbit to help improve their fitness and sleeping habits. Sensors in our cars alert drivers to a number of different conditions including engine temperatures, fuel capacity and oil pressure. More modern cars go even further with sensors for tyre pressure, parking, exhausts and so on. The automotive industry is not alone. Many of today’s cafés and pubs have successfully implemented IoT to help their owners manage their supplies and monitor equipment. Using remote sensory information, large café chains are practising predictive maintenance by sending operatives to run maintenance checks on their coffee machines prior to them breaking down. This saves them thousands because no coffee equals no money. Likewise, pubs and breweries are able to reduce waste, spoilage and improve supply chain efficiency using information provided by sensors on kegs. These are just a few of the many successful applications of IoT in our everyday life.
Housing is lagging behind
However, there is one notable admission from these examples – housing. To date, much of the housing market has been priced out of the benefits provided by IoT technology. Typically, smart home appliances (which can range from lighting to washing machines and fridges to cookers) have been limited to affluent homeowners willing to pay a hefty premium for what many consider to be ‘gimmicks’. To use the car analogy, there is just as much benefit to a homeowner knowing their appliances require attention as a driver knowing their tyre pressure is low. Furthermore, being alerted of potential issues prior to them becoming full-blown faults can save hassle and money. For instance, an automatic alert could be sent to a resident to show that a boiler is nearing its service expiry followed by an automatic message to schedule a boiler service. For housing providers, there is a significant advantage in understanding how their properties are performing. Supervising the 1,000s (if not, 10,000s) of properties owned by housing providers is an almost impossible task, made more onerous by the recently instated Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act. It specifies that all tenancies starting on, or after, 20th March 2019 must start, and remain, fit for human habitation with a significant list of criteria that dictate this. This gives residents the power to claim disrepair in their properties under an expanded set of qualifying factors. You can find out more about the Homes Act in our blog Why the Fitness for Human Habitation Act is a big deal.
Some might argue that the Homes Act gives residents more of an incentive to seek advice from a solicitor regarding their mould, boiler or ventilation issue than reporting it to their landlord. In one instance, a housing provider client of ours was unaware of mould issues in properties that, according to the residents, had persisted since the day they had moved in. In some cases, this was over 15 years (luckily Switchee was able to help them diagnose these problems across the entire estate and resolve the issue). Typically, we find that around 30% of any given housing provider’s stock it at a ‘high risk’ of condensation, damp and mould. This problem can scale exponentially - for a housing provider with 10,000 properties, this represents 3,000 potential mould disrepair claims. At an average cost of £10,000, this amounts to £30 million of exposure to potential disrepair claims and this only accounts for mould disrepair cases.
So how do we try and ensure that a solution is found that benefits landlords and residents alike?
IoT devices are likely the solution to these problems as they can provide remote real-time data insights to landlords and highlight properties at risk of disrepair from faulty boilers, mould, overheating, poor ventilation. These devices (like Switchee) are also capable of providing an in-home communication channel as well. Using this information, landlords are given the ability to clearly understand the scale of the issue and can then make informed decisions on whether to send a maintenance operative to the property or simply to advise small behavioural changes to an individual resident. In doing so, the housing provider has simultaneously:
1) avoided a disrepair case;
2) avoided a wasted visit for their maintenance operative;
3) improved the living conditions of their residents and;
4) given their residents a voice.
The application of the above process can be replicated across a number of different situations including carrying out remote boiler tests, ensuring gas safety compliance, validating retrofit works and identifying fuel poverty. The cost savings of implementing these processes can be huge but the softer benefits of communicating with residents and improving digital inclusion should not go unnoticed. HACT’s social value bank attributes a £1,977 increase in wellbeing for each person that is able to ‘obtain advice locally’. You can read more about this topic in our blog Lessons in Digital Inclusion from our own Social Isolation.
So I raise the question – if you are a landlord managing thousands of properties, would you rather stick to business as usual, risking higher disrepair bills and disillusioned residents, or, would you rather make informed decisions on property maintenance based on remote insights, much like you do with your car? If it’s the latter, we would love to have you join our mission to give landlords the tools to provide exceptional homes and transform the way housing providers manage their portfolios.