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Adapt and apt! A guide to useful apps for agents

laptop, tablet, phone, pen, glasses and postit notes on a wooden desk

Long before most people had even heard of coronavirus, savvy letting agents were already harnessing new technologies to take the drudgery out of routine tasks, enhance their customers’ experience and reduce costs. But lockdown forced even the most technologically reluctant to find new and innovative ways to continue to fulfil their duties in a virtual world.

 

Adapting to the ‘new normal’ – the role of technology and apps

Although the property industry was one of the first to be given the green light to reopen its doors as lockdown relaxed, the message was clear – this was not a return to normality as we knew it – where possible agents were urged to continue to carry out business remotely. Fortunately, technology is rising to the challenge, enabling letting agents to adapt. Increasingly, agents are offering virtual viewings as they look to reduce face to face contact and physical interaction. And more and more agents are communicating with customers through video calls via services such as WhatsApp, Facetime and Zoom.

 

With dozens of smartphone and tablet apps available on the market, we’ve cherry-picked a selection that are most likely to be useful to letting agents as they adapt to the ‘new normal’, from the pre-coronavirus tried and tested, to those emerging in response to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

 

Managing the office remotely

In a typical working, letting agents have always spent significant periods away from their desks on the move between appointments. But now, colleagues are likely to be more dispersed than previously, with many continuing to work from home and much agent business having to be carried out remotely. Some of these apps, which turn your mobile phone or laptop into a mini office, have been on the scene for a while, but are likely to become even more popular as agents adjust to new ways of working.

 

  • Drop Box – A multi-platform storage drive accessible from laptops, smartphones and tablets running iOS, Android or windows operating systems. A place to safely keep application forms, tenancy agreements, correspondence and other documents that you might need to grab on the go. Alternatives include Google Drive, One Drive and Amazon Drive.
  • DocuSign – The market-leading app for signing documents electronically. Landlords and tenants can read and sign tenancy agreements, inventories and other documents online
  • Cam Scanner – Uses a smartphone or tablet as a document scanner and auto connects to cloud storage
  • Evernote – Keep organised with a note-taking and reminder app for to-do lists, memos and day-to-day jottings that stores text, images, files and other data in the cloud
  • Hootsuite – A social media hub and dashboard where you can see all your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other accounts in one place. Allows scheduling of posts
  • WhatsApp – The instant chat and messaging app that lets you set up one-to-one or group chats with colleagues, landlords, tenants, contractors and other business contacts.
  • Movebubble – An app that links renters, landlords and letting agents in London and Manchester postcodes.  

 

Managing properties remotely

The Fixflo Contractor App enables agents to report and record minor to moderate maintenance issues and track repairs. With this app, the tenant can describe the issue, take a picture of it with their device and send it straight to the landlord or agent’s device.

 

Kaptur Inventory Pro is a property reporting app and management suite, designed to help agents collect, prepare, manage and report information. The app allows you to create detailed inventories on the go, and you can book, allocate, track and invoice jobs and store reports online to ensure a robust compliance trail.

 

Carrying out mid-term inspections is tricky to do without attending the property in person. Enter KPR, who launched a new self-assessment tool to enable tenants to conduct a midterm report without any contact with an agent, during the COVID-19 pandemic. KPR’s new software, available as an app, reduces the need for agents to enter tenants’ homes whilst allowing them to fulfil their obligations to landlords, comply with regulations and maintain a good relationship with tenants. The agent sends a simple template report link to the tenant to self-assess their home online and, once completed, the tenant sends the report back to the agent, producing a midterm inspection report.

 

Inventory Hive offers software on desktop, table, mobile or app to help agents and landlords create, manage and store property inventories and right to rent reports. With 360  photos integrated into its platform, remote ‘virtual visits’ allow tenancy compliance standards to be maintained, documented and communicated remotely.

 

Yuno describes itself as ‘data led property expertise and compliance, on demand’, and provides specific details on every property in your portfolio, alerting you to any compliance issues. This platform also helps to identify where you can increase yields and determine any associated costs, ultimately aiming to reduce risk while increasing revenue.

 

Carrying out virtual viewings

Under government guidelines to minimise physical contact, the number of agents offering virtual viewings rocketed. Recent analysis of Rightmove listings shows that the pandemic caused a surge in portal listings carrying virtual viewings. The number of lettings listings with videos increased by 280 per cent between mid-November 2019 and mid-May 2020.

 

As the Government’s guidance to minimise contact wherever possible is likely to be in place for some time to come, letting agents who are not already tapping into apps and technology available to carry out virtual viewings should make this a priority.

 

In addition to allowing agents to comply with coronavirus restrictions, virtual viewings offer a number of benefits: They can open a property up to a larger set of potential renters, such as those based overseas. A virtual viewing can help to filter out viewings from customers who aren’t sure whether the property is right for them, minimising unnecessary disruption to residents. Potential tenants can also view properties at a time convenient to them; and for agents virtual viewings cut down on travel time. There are a number of platforms and apps to help agents with virtual viewings and this market is likely to see considerable growth in the post-coronavirus property world.

 

Smart Viewing is an online platform that allows agents to show properties remotely. The platform offers detailed analytics and insights and can accommodate multiple people in one viewing, so agents can conduct viewings with one or more potential applicants at the same time and potential tenants can invite family or friends to viewings wherever they are.

 

Vieweet 360 is a ‘do it yourself’ photography tool that creates full 360 degree interactive virtual tours. It is simple to use with no previous photography skills required. The app assists in taking the photos and ‘auto stitch’ software creates 360 tours within minutes.

 

EyeSpyLIVE allows property agents to join one or more customers inside a virtual tour, where all parties can see and hear each other. It’s like experiencing FaceTime or Skype inside a 360-degree virtual tour. This way you can learn about the property and ask questions whilst being shown around. The customer can also conduct a similar experience with family or friends, by simply sending them a link in exactly the same way you would with a property portal listing (e.g. Rightmove or Zoopla). Fully immersive virtual tours are available on the app, which up to 70 per cent of Rightmove’s online traffic funnels through.

 

Floor planning is another area that is well supplied with apps – zPlan is designed to draw and store an app in places without an internet connection. The app can also render plans in 3D.

 

Magicplan draws up a plan from a photograph of a room. You can then add doors, windows and other features.

 

Managing social distancing

An app measuring social distance is being marketed at letting agents to help them manage the requirement to socially distance. Staff would wear the device on site or during property viewings while the industry recovers and the social distancing guidelines remain in place. There is no personal information required but the app, called iTWOsafe, would alert when a two metre distance is breached, and has traceable contact history and reporting. Should a member of staff test positive for the virus, it would be possible to identify whether their device came into close contact with anyone, helping to track and trace and avoid closure of the entire business.

 

Finding those need-to-know answers

As well as helping agents get back to business in a post-lockdown world, established letting agent apps continue to be a very useful tool for providing instant answers to questions from landlords and tenants.

 

Check My Street and Streetcheck list details about the jobs and age of people in the neighbourhood.

 

Web apps can also show data about schoolscouncil tax and crime in an area.

 

Broadband speeds can also help tenants decide whether to rent a home – and government regulator Ofcom has an online broadband speed and mobile phone coverage checker.

 

Comparison site USwitch has online and telephone contact numbers for finding out which company provides gas and electricity to a home.

 

Some of the apps are free, but most come with a trial period at no charge followed by a small or enterprise business subscription when the trial period comes to an end.

 

Other business areas, such as property management and accounting, come with their own software packages that are browser based, which means you can access them on the move across the internet.

 

It is of course always important to remember that while using technology such as apps can provide valuable support to you and your business, you should always ensure that you remain GDPR compliant and are aware of your legal obligations.

 

Of course, it is also vital that the apps and technology that agents use ultimately enhance the experience for the customer – happy tenants make happy landlords. Taking a tenant-focused approach to all you do will be good for your business in the long run. This is a particularly worrying time for tenants, who are juggling the increasing costs of renting and may also be worrying about the long–term impact of the coronavirus on their finances.

 

A newcomer to the market, Ome offers deposit free renting using Ome’s deposit replacement membership. Tenants who download the free Ome app also benefit from access to a new free Rental Wellbeing Helpline. The launch of the helpline was accelerated in response to the coronavirus pandemic and provides expert advice on legal and debt related matters, as well as free counselling for those who may be suffering with their mental health. Run by deposit experts, mydeposits, Ome is part of the Hamilton Fraser family of companies.

 

The legacy of the coronavirus pandemic will impact our lives in so many ways, including how letting agents manage their business. Like many other industries, as we move forward there is likely to be greater flexibility around how people work, using virtual meetings and viewings where feasible. Many agents are turning to apps and other technologies to embrace the changes, transforming what could have been a devastating situation into an exciting opportunity to evolve and adapt to more efficient ways of working.

 

This is not an exclusive list of useful apps available and there are many new ones coming out in anticipation of the ‘new normal’ Agents should do their own research before committing to any particular service.

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