Is the Australian real estate industry leading the world or falling behind?

Is the Australian real estate industry leading the world or falling behind?
Is the Australian real estate industry leading the world or falling behind?


For 50 years, the Australian property industry has led the world. Australia was the first to create listed property trusts and has proudly blazed the trail for building sustainability. Our industry is world’s best practice. 

Our future—a future of technology-enabled solutions for big problems in the property industry—is less certain. From Singapore to Shenzhen, Dubai to Silicon Valley, proptech is transforming the property industry. 

In Australia, a dangerous air of complacency among our industry's key players threatens to hold us back, despite noticeable 'talk' in recent times. Without that talk converting to bold action, we'll lose our crown as other markets invest in the future. If we do not lead on proptech then we will no longer lead in property. It’s as simple as that. 

Industry challenges

Traditional property businesses, such as construction, development, asset ownership and agency, have been tremendously successful over many decades. However, proptech is new and at least somewhat unknown to the incumbent players. As industry value has started to shift away from a traditional ownership and service layer toward a technology-enabled service layer, it is uncertain how the incumbents intend to retain value.

For example, WeWork provide 'office space as a service' without owning any assets. They’re eight years old and are raising capital right now at a $35 billion valuation. That makes them more valuable than Airbnb or SpaceX. 

The second factor is aversion to risk. Success in real estate is a direct function of risk mitigation. From a feasibility report prior to green-lighting a development through to due diligence when purchasing an asset, every element of risk is considered methodically. A proptech knowledge and capability gap, combined with an inherent aversion to risk, inhibits necessary action. Today, the greatest risk of all is to do nothing. 

Add to that the ultra competitive nature of the property industry. A lack of collaboration among key players holds these organisations back as it restrains new solutions. This ‘anti-collaboration instinct’ within the industry must change, for the benefit of all.

The time for action is now

Great challenges walk hand-in-hand with great opportunities.BlueChilli is Australia's largest tech accelerator, the linchpin between corporates keen to innovate, investors hungry for deal flow and tech startups with bold solutions to big problems. A proptech-themed, corporate-backed accelerator bringing together these three sectors to tackle big juicy problems with breakthrough solutions has a tremendous opportunity to make a difference in this space.

And we’re certainly seeing the industry awaken to the need for and power of collaboration to serve proptech. In conversation with corporates from across the industry, we note there’s a growing hunger to walk the innovation talk as the threats and opportunities of proptech become clearer. 

At a recent proptech lunch we brought together senior executives from real estate heavyweights such as CBRE and Stockland with some of Australia’s most promising proptech startups and other corporates with an interest in proptech including ANZ, which has identified housing affordability as a key strategic pillar. Together, we shared problems, assessed trends and started a dialogue for what action might involve.There are already green shoots of that action among corporates.

The investment piece

In the context of Google’s 70-20-10 innovation model, the business case for proptech is apparent. The model sees 70% of innovation investment devoted to the organisation's core business, such as optimising traditional real estate assets or services for customers; 20% to adjacent areas, for example an online telehealth service for tenants in aged care facilities and; 10% towards R&D for transformation in markets that don’t yet exist, like a technology solution that automates real estate valuations making existing valuation services redundant. 

HBR research has found that companies who follow this 70-20-10 innovation investment model are out performing their peers with P/E premium of 10% - 20%. The same research found that the return ratio is roughly the inverse of the innovation allocation. Adjacent and transformational areas of innovation accounting for roughly 20% and 70% of returns respectively, with 10% coming from innovation in the core.  

The speed of change, and the fact that transformative innovation is by its nature often beyond the capabilities and risk appetite of large organisations, makes this the sweet spot for collaboration with agile, risk-inclined startups that bridge a corporate’s tech knowledge gap.

Neighbourlytics, for example, is a hyperlocal social analytics dashboard that gives real-time data on a neighbourhood. It was born from a realisation that Census data collection once every four years is too infrequent and too shallow a dataset. In addition to businesses in the property industry – for example developers – government agencies and facilities managers find Neighbourlytics data useful for meeting current community needs.

Proptech is the next frontier and the Australian ecosystem is as well placed as any in the world to lead the way.

As an investor in and accelerator of tech startups, we have trained our attention on proptech. We see deep entrepreneurial talent, hunger for corporate innovation and rapidly increasing investment activity. All the ingredients are there, but the question remains: will the Australian property industry step up?

Chris Ball is Head of Partnerships at BlueChilli, a company that invests in startups and entrepreneurs. 

Property Industry Proptech

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