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Regeneration, not revolution, takes to the stage at CREtech London


By Ben Monteith

London is at the heart of the proptech revolution. So declared Michael Beckerman, CEO of CREtech, as he opened the first day of the European edition of the leading global proptech conference.

For two days last week, I was commuting into Magazine London on the Greenwich Peninsula (by boat, which is a dreamy way to start the day) to attend the second edition of CREtech London. The event, to which SEC Newgate UK is proudly media relations partner, brings together leaders and innovators from European real estate for two days of fireside chats, panels, networking and enough coffee to make the peninsula an island.

It felt particularly important this year. The pandemic accelerated technology within real estate: every organisation had to put in place measures to work from home successfully, while many others had to adopt their approach to how they handle the world of bricks-and-mortar. From online auctions to virtual leasing experiences, technology has – by necessity – been turbo charged within a sector known for being as set in stone as its principal commodity.

Yet, taking a look around CREtech London, it’s abundantly obvious that things have changed. Property companies are becoming proptech ones.

There is a real growth in companies that not only offer digital solutions to real estate’s challenges, but also a sizeable increase in what Michael Beckerman calls “hybrid companies”: those that feature both physical and digital assets. Indeed, in a few years’ time, it’ll be hard to imagine a real estate company that doesn’t have technology at the core of its product offer. Perhaps the only new organisations to open their doors that exclusively feature asset investments will be those that focus solely on the metaverse.

Meanwhile, in his fireside chat with the British Property Federation’s Melanie Leech, GPE’s Toby Courtauld spoke, about the changing skillset required in the sector. In line with GPE’s increasing focus on the customer, including end user (i.e. its customers’ employees’ experience), Toby spoke on the importance of embracing people with customer experience skillsets. With all the talk about how offices, at the very least, are becoming more like hotels in their focus on hospitality, it’s hard to disagree.

So are we seeing revolution? Not so much revolution as evolution as real estate catches up.

But, although slow to start moving, could it be that real estate is now going to go above and beyond? That was the call from Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive of UK Green Building Council.

In her keynote, Hirigoyen called for the sector to focus less on sustainability – “doing less bad” – and more on regeneration. Less about net zero and more about net positive.

As the originator of 40% of emissions, real estate professionals have a historic responsibility to get a grip on tackling the climate crisis. Not just in mitigating the worst of it, but in actively working to improve and rejuvenate our planet. That includes examples cited by Hirigoyen such as Urban Sequoia and living concrete.

In much the same vein, given the built environment’s influence and impact on our home and work lives, the sector has a chance not only to mitigate the worst, but to actively make things better. That’s presumably the drive behind what the likes of GPE are doing to improve the user experience in their buildings, moving far beyond the role of the traditional landlord to focus on enhancing spaces rather than just serving as custodians.

Regeneration then, rather than revolution, is the future of proptech – and the future of property.