Gaining access to properties has always been a fine art. Providers are having to balance the most efficient way to do the visit, the resident’s availability and keep customer satisfaction in mind. Over the years we’ve seen a surge in technology adding impact to our everyday lives, allowing for online transactions and access to information. In real estate, there has been an increase in what is known as PropTech - digital solutions to improve the delivery of services.
For repairs, use of Standard Minute Value against Schedule of Rates can help schedule the workforce to maximise the number of jobs they can comfortably deliver in a day. This has vastly improved with the use of technology:
- Dynamic scheduling makes the process of delivering the repair more efficient - both in terms of trade and location. This saves through the reduction of travel.
- Virtual stores mean that supplies can be ordered ahead of a visit and be collected from the nearest point when they are needed. This again reduces travel and also removes the need to carry stock.
- Uber-style repair jobs delivered through a marketplace approach by a network of approved workers increases availability.
The use of technology has also given tenants a voice. They can now report repairs digitally, provide the best times for an appointment and even self-serve where appropriate. Providing know-how videos on tenancy portals and the prevalence of Youtube guides means that simple tasks like changing a toilet seat can now be done by the tenant. In general, people are more flexible when it comes to an appointment if they have booked it themselves. It is a staple of modern life - be it an emergency dentist waiting room or waiting for the plumber to arrive to fix the heating. The bigger the need the more likely, as a consumer, residents are to be flexible and accommodating. The same applies to accessing properties. Access has always been more successful if the visit was requested by the tenant. After all, it’s relating to something they want or need to be resolved. Whether that is a property repair or a survey for much-needed aids and adaptations. When the visit is instigated by the landlord, however, (e.g. 6 weeks post tenancy visit, compliance safety inspections or income management) because the tenant wasn’t aware of their need - access isn’t always easy.
There are some great PropTech and CRM solutions which can help. Some can record residents preferences or times to avoid. The problem is that this is usually done at the start of a tenancy and not often revisited. Worse still, comments can often change depending on the month - for example, avoid school runs only applies in term times. Some analytics tools can track past visits and use this data to help predict the likelihood of first time successful visits. This can be useful for offering future appointments but this often comes as a stand-alone package. In the modern era, however, layered with resource scheduling solutions, appointments are suddenly starting to be intelligent. There’s less chance they need to be rescheduled by the tenant - saving time and increasing customer satisfaction. What if you could take this to the next level. Could there be a fusion with this and property data without human intervention? Do you even need to physically access the property to do the task in hand?
How Tech-Enabled Solutions Can Help
Drones - over 5 years ago, WHG was the first housing association to get permission to use drones to inspect their properties. Three years later, Oxford City Council surveyed the roofs of over 7,800 homes through the use of drone technology. This made the task more efficient and meant surveyors could potentially get a more rounded view of a property. Before this, they were limited to viewing the part of the roof that they could see. Access restricting them from seeing the whole picture. Now drones form a very perform a very important function in the arsenal of most surveyors.
Augmented Reality (AR) - AR is a way to view the real-world environment but with objects enhanced by computer-generated information - usually in the form of visual overlays. We have been seeing AR in the high street for a while - Specsavers allow you to scan your face and virtually try on their array of glasses before purchasing. Ikea’s app allows you to virtually place their products in your own room in order to see how they would look. In the last year, however, we’ve seen AR begin to arrive in Social Housing. As expected the most common use for AR technology is for repairs. Both in tenants helping to report an issue, but also by trades ‘sharing’ knowledge without having to be in the same place.
Internet of Things Sensors - IoT and sensor technology is clearly also another area of growth. In January this year, Aviva reported that there has been a 26% increase in internet-enabled devices in UK homes since 2017, with an average of 10.3 devices now in every home. Doorbells and security cameras have seen real growth as consumers increasingly rely on them to be notified when they’ve been activated. IoT and sensor technology is also helping to look after the properties, from demand-controlled ventilation (which controls the humidity levels) through to smart thermostats. In a report from this year, around 71% of the households put owning a smart thermometer at the top of the list of the smart devices they would like to own. Switchee have been a little ahead of the curve as we’ve been delivering this IoT technology to housing providers and residents since 2015. We offer Landlords real-time insights and alerts on how their properties are performing, and providing residents with a smart thermostat, enabling them to benefit from technology to help reduce energy consumption and heating bills.
Other Technologies - There is a myriad of different technologies being used in social housing to address these issues. Tenancy sign-ups can be tackled with the help of technology with applicants using online portals to bid for suitable properties for a number of years. Their digital applications have been processed without any sign of paper or pens as well. Hive PRS, part of Your Housing Group used technology to give potential new tenants a glimpse of what the properties that are being built look like without taking a step outside. Tenancy sign-ups can now also be more digitally engaging through the use of video calling. Virtual viewings of a property can be done by giving any applicant the ability to view a property at a time that suits them (without the landlord having to be present). The tenant on-boarding process can also be done without any physical meeting having taken place. Digital signatures and smart locks are beginning to complete the process, meaning the only onsite presence on a new letting could be the mandatory safety checks.
So How Do You….
Know they have Moved in?
Property analytics can provide Landlords with up-to-date information that can help verify that there have been changes within the property - such as air pressure, movement or even that the heating system has been turned on.
Ensure residents receive all the info they need?
Smart digital communications, such as tenancy portals, can push messages and key information out to those who need it.
Get the main contact numbers they may need?
Property communication methods, such as Switchee, can push messages to the control unit for the tenant to verify they have understood or received information, or even process appointment requests.
Do You Still Need Access?
There will always be times you need to access the property and this can’t be avoided. What you can do is mitigate the time you need to be there, make sure you have all the appropriate information or materials needed and ensure you’ll be able to gain access. Intelligent analysis of property performance such as demand for heating or changes in air pressure are already being used to help inform residents on how to optimise their heating. It is also providing alerts to landlords and carers when, during occupancy, the property isn’t heated to a minimum of 18 degrees. So, when a visit is absolutely necessary, why not use this to also help optimise the probability of a first-time visit?
Use property analytics to let you know when someone is most likely to be available and book the appointment at a time most convenient for the resident. Combine this with digital communications and additional property messaging to ensure that the appointment is still suitable. Finally, verify if it is safe to attend the appointment - and if anyone is shielding for example.
The way we all work and do things changed in Spring 2020. This has hit those who were cautious in adopting new technologies and changing processes hardest. Never has there been a time when ‘doing things differently’ and looking at ways to deliver services has been so important. This time has given us an opportunity to introduce tech-enabled solutions to help all stakeholders in an organisation. To replace and add more value to processes and tasks. There is a clear message that the rapid adoption and technology progress will continue to shape and enhance the way we deliver services and tasks.