05 June 2017

The impact of technology on the real estate industry for as long as one might remember is huge, going all the way back to the invention of wheel, the plumb line, the hammer and chisel, and in more recent years the use of software for the generation of highly accurate and detailed construction drawings, even 3D renderings enabling end users to experience near final built environment experiences, long before they have been physically constructed.

As an extension of these software technologies, Building Information Management (BIM) is being talked about more and more in the real estate industry, with this relatively new technology allowing real estate professionals to design fully coordinated solutions and calculate full capital investment and life cycle costs of the project, something that until recently, was a manual, highly complex and time-consuming process, often flawed due to the limited processing power of the human brain. BIM is with us today, albeit in the early stages of its evolution, it has the potential to radically change the way we design, construct and operate building assets in the future. This should be considered “current” technology, and not so much “future” technologies with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) having already published a number of research papers on the topic.

What is coming next though in terms of new technologies and how they might drastically change the way we consider all things in real estate, and the impact on the tradesmen and women, highly skilled and qualified surveyors, architects and engineers will be, in my opinion, the greatest shift in the industry since the construction of the pyramids.

Most people have heard of drones, 3D printing, robotics, Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI). But how many have thought about the applications of these technologies in the future, specifically in regards to property, real estate, construction and operations? Here are some examples of what we might expect as we start to see these newer technologies being deployed in highly creative ways in our industry:

Drones - Combined with GPS and high definition camera technology, land surveying, building condition surveying and other similar surveying trades can all be achieved quicker, cheaper and better without the need for traditional boots on the ground, theodolites and tripods, or, in the case of high-rise buildings, gondola’s on the outside of a building to check the building condition.

3D Printing – Several firms from different parts of the world are experimenting with 3D printing technologies to construct everything from component parts, all the way to fully printed buildings. In Beijing, HuaShang Tengda managed to 3D print a 4000 sq ft villa in 45 days; INNOprint in France are experimenting with printing emergency shelters which can be ready to deploy in 30 minutes.

Robotics – Might well be thought of in conjunction with 3D Printing and the mechanics that the 3D printing technology was connected to. A fully automated process, driven by software, manoeuvring the 3D tech into position to enable the next round of printing the preceding component or location. Robotics might well also be considered in more traditional construction technologies like earth movers and cranes. Imagine having these types of equipment automated, without a human driver or operator, all driven by data and code.

Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality – Another technology that could easily be combined with something else such as Drones. This technology to be fair has existed for some time in the likes of the military with fighter jet pilots and tank operators functioning in an environment where they cannot see with their own eyes. Within the real estate industry, imagine a prospective buyer or tenant inspecting future purchase or rental locations remotely, without the need for a human broker to pick them up in a car, drive them around town and spend hours showing them only a handful of building options for their consideration. Other opportunities with this technology are within the building design trades, to help designers visualise their designs, to help them coordinate various building trades and installations before finalisation and to help their clients see what their investment can achieve before committing to the build.

Artificial Intelligence – IBM first gave the world a taste of the forthcoming technology when they ran their Deep Blue platform against Garry Kasparov, the world chess champion in 1997, defeating him in the process. IBM has since gone on to further develop this platform to achieve a highly powerful AI platform called Watson.

AI is something that has been in the market for a couple of decades but it has recently become a very real threat to the legal sector with the launch of the world’s first AI law platform called ROSS. Using OCR character recognition technologies, and accessing extensive databases of historical court rulings, ROSS can assess and offer opinions on old rulings and their relevance to the current case in hand. So what does this mean for the real estate industry? Imagine what something like ROSS could do with leases and sales agreements: What are the implications for the brokerage industry today?

We have only touched on some of these technologies and the possible applications within the future real estate industry. Through a combination of these technologies, plus others not mentioned in this paper, the speed, quality, accuracy and ease with which all real estate functions will be performed in the very near future, if not already happening now, will be significantly improved compared to what we know today.

Is this evolutionary process a threat to the industry? In the short term, I think not. In the medium to long term, I believe we are going to see a reduction in some of the workforces that we are used to seeing today, and the creation of new professions penetrating the real estate market. Trades such as drone operators, VR & AR operators, operators of 3D printing technologies, coders, engineers, people who can create and develop technology solutions, and people who can operate, collect data, analyse and interpret the data to offer human advice and opinion to real estate owners and occupiers, will be the professions that only human can perform.

It is not the end, but it certainly is the beginning of the next evolutionary phase of the real estate industry. Are you ready for it?