How Proptech Is ‘Mobilizing’ Affordable Housing

An exciting new era has begun, but caution is still advised, writes John Welsh of the NHP Foundation.

John Welsh on proptech
John Welsh

Much has been written lately about the promise of proptech, which is information technology designed to help individuals and companies research, buy, sell, and manage real estate. The question is: Is it coming to help or to hinder?

It is likely that you (or members of your team) are using proptech tools now such as CRM and project management software platforms to enhance efficiency, streamline operations and free up time to focus on important “soft skills” like improving communication and interpersonal skills, negotiation, leadership, problem solving, work ethic, time management, and teamwork.

However, before we contemplate life after the robots take over, let’s consider what some proptech advances can do today and consider them with some healthy skepticism.

1) The latest in blockchain capabilities.

Providing a transparent, decentralized, secure transaction platform, the newest blockchain technology overcomes many challenges and inefficiencies in affordable housing finance. For example, smart contracts are tamper-proof as they run automatically, with actions “triggered” as the parties to an agreement enter pre-determined terms. Automated contracts, payments and document transfers reduce the need for certain intermediaries, streamlining many parts of the affordable housing equation.

2) AI-assisted assessments.

Companies using AI algorithms collect market data from various sources, including sales and rental history, transportation, retail and school proximity and quality, and crime rates, to accurately gauge future property prices. Some companies look at an even longer horizon, collecting and combining unique data sources to help developers set the prices for their new construction and rehab work. The potential benefit is that “big data” is collected and analyzed so quickly that it can empower effective decision-making.

3) Incorporating virtual reality.

Long the domain of gamers, virtual reality can revolutionize and greatly enhance the affordable housing experience. Through virtual reality property showings, unit stagings and architectural visualization, time and resources can also be better managed. The global VR market is projected to reach $252 billion by 2028, signaling untapped potential for our industry. VR tours realistically customize a vision of our proposed apartments before they are built, thus shortening lease-up time and making property management/leasing staff more efficient.

4) Advanced property management solutions.

Software solutions that aid property owners and managers provide several features including contact management, billing and invoicing, maintenance tracking, and management of insurance, leases, taxes, and expenses as well as landlord and tenant databases, rent tracking and late fee calculation. These time-savers are part of financial management packages that can automate move-ins, certifications and compliance and make LIHTC and HUD reporting simpler.

5) Leveraging green tech.

Solar panels and energy-efficient construction materials often help affordable housing builders attract new and different funding sources and make for very appealing properties to eco-conscious residents. Developers also advance their causes by integrating green technology to help meet government incentives like the  Sustainable DC plan, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption by 50 percent by 2032 creating the sustaining affordable housing of the future.

6) Where does the Internet of Things fit in?

The creation of truly “smart homes” continues to transform affordable housing. By connecting appliances, devices and systems to the internet, residents can better control their surroundings, and ideally improve aspects of their lives. Remote controls, monitoring and data collection lead to increased security, better managed energy use and efficiency, and cost savings in many areas. Operation Pathways, NHPF’s resident services subsidiary, also noticed measurable improvements in overall quality of life when seniors were provided Amazon Echos in their homes. Additionally, property managers can use IoT’s real-time data and monitoring to more quickly and efficiently handle maintenance issues thereby resolving potential resident problems. Asking Alexa to message management immediately about the drippy faucet worked better for residents and for operations.

7) Going mobile can enhance both the owner and the resident experience.

New apps for affordable housing developers, property managers and residents come online all the time. These essential tools help with applications, property marketing, financial services, rent collection and more, all with a tap on a smart phone. Facile and full of useful features, today’s mobile apps help potential renters, digitizing the entire leasing experience.

As we learn about these new technologies, we may identify certain programs or applications that benefit owners and residents. And there are likely others that may claim to replace and improve human interaction but fall short. Stay informed when adopting any new proptech tools and, as with any new advances, proceed with caution.

John Welsh is senior vice president of development, for the NHP Foundation.

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