Is Uganda’s real estate ready for digital transformation?

By Carolyne B. Atangaza | Monitor

The real estate market is getting a digital makeover and for the past several weeks, the term proptech has become a buzz word.

The acronym is the collective term used to describe the wave of technology innovations that have already started to disrupt real estate markets. It refers to the implementation of technology in real estate to streamline processes, enable transactions, planning, building and management among others.

George Lugunda, a property manager, says digitilaising the sector will give competitive advantage and inspire innovation. The property manager says he was introduced to property technology at a conference held for real estate stakeholders in 2018 in the UK. “I was blown away by all these available tools that can make our industry more efficient and more profitable,” he shares.

Lugunda reveals that the current crisis has pushed what started as a trickle with the introduction of online search portals into a viable alternative way of doing business in the real estate sector. “Proptech is taking front position in the way we work now.

“Many companies have caught on and are able to give virtual tours of both residential and commercial properties. Some companies have activated chatbots that are available round the clock to give clients information they need at any time they need it,” he says.

The most used proptech in Uganda is property portals and marketplaces that are ultimately changing the way people buy, sell, and rent a property. “We will begin to see an even quicker rate of innovation during the next few years and it is therefore imperative that property professionals begin to familiarise themselves with these concepts as those who learn to adapt to the rapid changes will have a significant advantage over those that don’t,” he predicts.

Globally, there are now more than 6,000 proptech businesses and, last year, more than $4.6 billion (about Shs17.4 trillion) of investment was invested into their growth.

Virtual tours
Other digital strategies in real estate include platforms that connect tenants and landlords, augmented virtual home tours, which are far from a novelty, but are becoming far more accessible these days and building information modelling platforms (BIM). BIMs are cost estimation tools, and modular construction tools used for buildings made from pre-produced modules that are put together on-site, making the whole process more efficient and eco-friendly.

Robert Bwayo, a real estate agent, is so far impressed by the invaluable contribution the use of technology has brought to the industry. Bwayo, who belongs to the traditional mould of property brokers, has had to invest in learning how to use the available technology for the good of his business.

“In the past, it was difficult managing contacts of clients, information about different properties and pricing. But now I have all that data at just a click of a button. I have clearer insights on pricing, residential and commercial trends and buyer demographics, as well as the potential value of neighbourhoods. I know which client lives where and their preferences and price ranges. This has made my operation more efficient,” Bwayo shares.

Millennial effect
Is the Ugandan real estate sector ready for digitilisation? Emily Khainza, a property developer, says it depends. The technology revolution has disrupted all industries and from past experiences, early adopters often get the biggest opportunities. But as it is always the case, there will be those reluctant to change the status quo and risk being left behind and so the threat of becoming obsolete is real.

“With or without the coronavirus crisis, digitalisation in real estate was bound to catch up for a number of reasons but the biggest being a maturing millennial market. These millennials find anything that cannot be found on their mobile devices inconveniencing. A shrewd business model would therefore include the use of technology to access this market,” she shares.
Khainza adds that digitilisation will also help plan and build new infrastructure in a world that is fast becoming a global village.

“The biggest change needed is not that of hardware or software, but that of mentality and mindset, most notably from the ‘traditional’ brokers and firms. I am excited to explore the possibilities it brings for flexible working, business expansion and how it will help us innovate our products and services in ways we could only have dreamed of in the past,” she shares.

How to embrace proptech
Proptech is here and it promises to challenge the status quo in real estate and disrupt it completely. By streamlining age-old processes of renting or buying real estate, managing and maintaining properties, it will ultimately improve the lives of its users. It is therefore beneficial to adapt and adopt your business to the new reality. Here is how to embrace the real estate digital transformation.

Set aside budget for investing in technology. Be sure to develop a good base understanding of PropTech before assigning funds but make sure this is considered a priority in your business. The answer to that question really does depend on exactly what you do and who your customers are.

For real estate investors and developers, streamlining projects to optimise profitability should be the first port of call.

Software that connects staff and contractors, automates project management and handles finances (including Return on Investment calculators for your portfolio) adds tremendous value and serves as a good base upon which other technologies can be adopted further down the line.

Define your goals
Now, your first priority when developing your real estate digital marketing strategy is to assess what your goals are. Your business goals should be specific and measurable. It starts with establishing yourself online using blogs, ebooks, polls, pictures, videos.

Social media
What better way to establish your brand than through highly public social media profiles. Not only will you be using your social media accounts to interact with your real and digital community, but others will turn to social media to find out more information about their potential real estate agent.
Having a social media presence will gain you credibility by individuals being able to connect a real person to your business. It will also help you gain traction through content marketing on multiple platforms.

Your Website & IDX
Your website is going to be the face of your online business. Social media and third party content platforms are important. But these are all in place to funnel people towards your website. With nearly more than half of home buyers using a mobile device to scout homes, you do not want to miss the mark with having a poorly optimised website for mobile. Not to mention how this will bite you in the back when it comes to SEO. Sometimes it’s not enough for your theme to be, ‘mobile optimised.’ Do the due diligence and run through your mobile site to see it from your client’s eyes.

You want your website to reflect yourself. Because real estate is all about captivating the buyer think about including quality photography on your website. A picture is worth a thousand words. So you don’t want to come across as a spammy, crowded site with information overload. In fact, most realty websites employ this tactic. While you shouldn’t just go with the flow in a highly competitive market, pick apart some design cues that have become the standard. Using photography of your community or listed properties is a great way to show off your catalog of work.

Because most home buyers/sellers will start their respective real estate processes with a Google search, SEO is an area where you will need to pay special attention. The internet is where your competition lies and the search engine results page (SERP) is your playing field. Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of optimising your website so that it ranks higher on a SERP and gains more visibility. SEO is not a one size fits all approach and it is an ongoing process.

Additional reporting from

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