Episode 15: Nikki Greenberg – Technology and the Future of Real Estate
Erin Davis: Welcome to REAL TIME, a podcast especially for and about REALTORS® brought to you by the Canadian Real Estate Association. I’m your host, Erin Davis. Today we have a guest who’s going to open the doors and open our minds to the possibilities of PropTech. Think you don’t use it? Think again. Nikki Greenberg is a PropTech entrepreneur, architect and real estate futurist. She joins us now on REAL TIME. Welcome, Nicki, joining us from Sydney, Australia tomorrow.
Nikki Greenberg: Thanks so much for having me. Yes, it’s tomorrow from me already with the time differences.
Erin: You’re in Sydney, Australia, and we’re in Sydney, British Columbia. We’re just one wrong airline ticket from being together.
Thank you so much for joining us. I know this is going to be enlightening. You’re a passionate advocate of property tech. Let’s start by defining it. What is PropTech?
Nikki: That’s a great place to start and I am very passionate about PropTech. It really is an emerging field and to some of the listeners, if they haven’t heard about it before or if they’ve only started hearing about it recently, there’s a reason for it because the term actually really came to its own maybe about three, four years ago. There were different versions being thrown around. Is it Cretech, is it Retech, is it PropTech? PropTech is the term that essentially stuck around being short for property technology.
Now, there’s a few things that I just want to explain to your listeners just to essentially set the stage because there are concepts that I will be referring to later in just understanding exactly what PropTech is. The thing about PropTech is that it’s really made up of three different verticals. You have real estate, you have technology and you have venture capital and where those communities converge is where you have PropTech.
What’s quite interesting about this is that because you have these three different communities, they also come with different languages and different ways of working. That’s one of the challenges, especially for real estate professionals coming into this industry and trying to understand the whole PropTech ecosystem is not necessarily a language or a way of thinking that we’re used to because we’re often used to talking to engineers and real estate agents and other real estate professionals. That’s one of the things that is often a barrier to people initially becoming involved, is that it is quite a different ecosystem.
The second thing that I want to just point out is that purists believe that PropTech does actually need to be a technology, which means that it’s something that is a hundred percent pure tech, no hardware, no spaces. It’s not about the physical, it’s about the digital, but for most people within PropTech, there’s an understanding the ecosystem essentially has two sides.
There’s the technology itself, pure technology and then there’s another side which is essentially tech enabled real estate. What that means is that it’s real estate that is operated through technology and that it wouldn’t be able to operate in such a way if there wasn’t this new generation of technology that’s come out. Examples of this co-working or co-living because these are actual spaces, but it’s the technology that allows them to work.
The third thing that I want to just point out also is just an understanding about PropTech versus regular technology in real estate and why there’s a bit of a differentiation. We have obviously working in real estate, there’s always been technology at our disposal. This is nothing new. Then we pose the question about, okay, well, if we’ve always had technology, then why is this whole area called PropTech? Why is there a whole different field? Is it just a buzzword or what’s going on?
The thing about PropTech is that PropTech really describes this new generation of technology that’s come out using AI or machine learning or very user-friendly interfaces that’s not talking together, that work on the cloud that embrace IOT. It’s essentially this new generation of tools that we get to use in our industry that just has a fresh approach is user first and is super smart. I know there was a very long explanation that I just really wanted to set the stage for your audience.
Erin: Thank you for that. I appreciate it, especially with the focus on the real estate industry and the relationship of PropTech and the real estate industry. How does real estate influence other aspects of PropTech?
Nikki: With real estate, what we’re talking about it’s really about having fixed assets. What you’re talking about in PropTech is you’re talking about technology. We’re having this relationship that goes on that’s symbiotic and reliant upon each other. As I described before, what we can have happening is that you can have take enabled real estate that relies on the technology, but then on the flip side, you also need to understand that the technology itself and technology providers also need to have space around them. In the real estate industry, we also want to be thinking about the needs and the spatial requirements for those tech companies.
Erin: How has PropTech evolved over the last decade or so? You’ve even talked about the different conversations. Well, what are we going to call it? It’s so new that it’s still got that new baby smell to it. How have you seen it evolve over the past decade or has it been with us longer than that? Now we just have a name for it and we’re able to put it in a column, Nikki.
Nikki: I think that’s great. I love the idea of the new baby smell. There’s a few things that have happened in the past few years that really differentiate this new generation of technology. Some of them being the move to us using smart phones for everything and having these as devices. Our traditional technology has been operated through a desktop computer and it might be on the windows operating system, for example, whereas with PropTech, what just starting to do is understand that a lot of the technology is working off our smartphones and devices.
Another move is also using the cloud increasingly. That means that we’re not having to be storing our documents in a fixed location. Then of course around the cloud, there’s all that hard infrastructure that’s needed in terms of data centers. This new generation of technology is– and as the internet has really come into its own is that it’s all internet first. We’re not talking about local technologies, we’re talking about networks and devices and information being able to connect across geography, which is something that’s quite interesting and definitely wasn’t part of the earliest software.
One of the other big trends we’ve seen over the past especially over the past decade is the rise of the shared economy. This tech enabled real estate that’s come through. A lot of it has existed before but this is a formalization of some of it such as before there was co-living, there were roommates and before there was co-working, there was sharing an office space, but now what it is it’s about really formalizing the brands and creating productizing what’s available to benefit the consumers
Erin: Just to dumb it down for me anyway, Nikki, what is the difference between co-living and roommates since you brought up that example?
Nikki: With co-living, there’s some great brands around it and essentially what’s happened there is that the operators have created consistency. There’s always been a demand and a market to share a space with someone for various reasons, an obvious one being students wanting to share the costs of renting a place where they could get a nicer three-bedroom place rather than a one-bedroom place to have a sense of community.
Now there’s always been these benefits, but what happens is that when you do have an informal setup, there’s disadvantages to it. Number one being consistency. You don’t know what you’re going to get, being able to find what you need. Again, in informal economies, you might be able to find a flat-mate, but where are you really going to look? You’re looking at a few different places.
In formalizing and productizing some of these concepts such as co-living, there’s certain advantages that come out and then by building brand loyalty and understanding the customer and creating beautiful products that compete with each other and do so in an elegant way that puts the customer first. Then there’s also ways of then expanding upon the offering to keep getting better and better and better. The flip side of that is that if you have a share house with say, five people living in it, there’s no incentive for the share house to get any better, but when you have a co-living situation, there’s always learnings and data that comes through to be able to offer a more and more optimal experience.
Erin: When you talk about embracing PropTech for the workplace and sharing workspaces and that sort of thing, how much do you think PropTech has been fueled by so many people working from home during the pandemic? Is this it’s moment? When you look at zoom, for example or the technology that you and I are using today to be talking to each other from different hemispheres, how important has that been in pushing forward PropTech into the 21st century and into this decade?
Nikki: You’ve absolutely recognized the trend that’s happened. A lot of the conversations that I have, have been with both real estate operators and owners and with technology companies. What the technology companies were finding is that with lockdowns that have happened and the move to working remote and this need to work in a more digital way that some of the barriers to adoption of their technology were removed and that clients that they’d been speaking to for quite some time suddenly came back to them and said, “Aha, now I get it.”
The interesting thing is that this has actually happened across a few different types of technologies. One of the first to really feel the upside of that was around tenant management apps and being able to communicate with people in workspaces because there was a need, a recognized need that if you do have a class, an office building, for example, you want to be able to communicate with the people within the building, whether it’s messages around how to use the lifts, different hours of access, also to be able to let them know about new procedures and also community activities that might be going on. They definitely felt an upside.
Another area that felt an upside very quickly was really around health and wellness providers because again, with the return to the office, there were concerns around indoor air quality, for example, and a need to start understanding some of the health ramifications of these spaces. They certainly came into their own.
Then of course, within the venture capital landscape, there’s been a lot of investors that have either been in the area for a while or are starting to enter the area. Again, there’s just been this reckoning of understanding. Well, real estate is fundamentally changing as a result of the pandemic and technology can provide a lot of the solutions that we need.
Erin: Coming up, fun with Nikki, as she looks at advances in the world of architecture and digital construction design. First, we are super excited to share that Canada’s number one real estate platform, REALTOR.ca, now has a brand-new app Rebuilt from the Ground Up and designed to reflect the needs of today’s home buyers. The app helps REALTORS® get connected to more potential clients, download it on the app store or get it at Google play.
Now back to our guest on REAL TIME, futurist and PropTech entrepreneur, Nikki Greenberg. Let’s talk about construction because this is one of your many wheelhouses, Nikki, as an architect. What can you tell us about advances to the design process?
Nikki: This is a fun one, and I honestly, I wish some of these tools were around when I was working as an architect some years ago, but there’s been a lot of advancements that have been happening especially in automating and generating designs. There’s a few tools that come to mind and I apologize to listeners, I don’t tend to mention companies by name. Often that come across as a recommendation and I don’t want to do a disservice to anyone because there are different companies working within the space.
There are certain tools for example where you can find a building site and then essentially plunk on digitally a model and then figure out, okay, well, what happens if there’s retail? What happens if there’s commercial? What happens if there’s apartments? You can start actually moving this model around within the envelope of what’s permitted by the building code to start getting actual feasibility studies.
As an architect, when I used to have to do these things, it would take hours and hours and hours and hours because one little change would affect everything. To be able to just do an automated model is fantastic. There’s other models that are out there that can look at a city, for example, and identify opportunities for investment sites, just realizing that they’re underutilized.
There’s tools that now can generate, for example, an office layout. You can just give the tool essentially a full plate and the parameters and then in the background, the robots do the work and before you know it, you can have different options of office layouts. There’s a lot that’s been happening in that regard. For me personally, I think it’s fantastic because what you’re doing is you’re taking out a lot of the repetitious work and you’re able to give more options quicker which is something that I think is very exciting and then essentially frees us architects out to do some of the more fun and creative stuff.
Erin: Well, as someone who can look at a layout for a house that’s going to be built or go and stand among the studs and the construction workers and not have a clue which room is the powder room, which room is the living room, I think that this has to be a really wonderful thing even for home buyers, quite apart from the commercial applications of this, just to help somebody like me recognize, okay, that’s where the master bedroom should definitely go.
Nikki: Yes, absolutely. There’s been fantastic 3D renderings and software to create 3D models of spaces that have been around for a while. The technology has always been there. It’s just been around adoption and just for there to be somewhat of an education around the developers, for example, on understanding why it is worth investing in these tools, but also a comfort level for our real estate agents and their clients to be able to look at digital models and to be able to read them.
We’re so used to, especially in residential real estate, for example, that you can go into a house or into a new development and I spent most of my career working in new developments off the plan. There was always this desire to go into a newly built building or a newly built apartment to get a sense of what it feels like, what it looks like to see the finished product, and that if you were looking at computer-generated images, that you couldn’t really get a sense because as people, we’re so tactile, we love being in spaces.
I think with the pandemic because we’ve gotten more used to doing things front of the computer that being able to watch a 3D tour or a video tour of a space, we’re starting to get more comfortable with understanding what it means or what it feels like and being able to interpret things in a video or in a digital way, and letting that at least be that first point of interaction.
I think even just over the past year, the changes that we’ve seen with 3D tours with more 3D models and that being widely adopted by residential real estate has been absolutely fantastic. I honestly think that it is going to continue on for quite a while because for customers there’s such a huge benefit in that being the first way to view a space before you get in your car or get on the subway and go over there.
Of course, also for the real estate agents to be able to get more qualified leads that understand the space, they’ve seen it before, and then you’re only taking somebody in for a walkthrough that already has a sense of, “Okay, this looks to be what I want.” There’s only a few factors that had really need to get a sense of. I think it’s really been a game-changer.
Erin: While we still have our virtual hard hats on here. Let’s stay with construction for a moment, Nikki, and I’ll ask you, are there new materials or processes that didn’t even exist 10 years ago?
Nikki: Yes, look, there’s technologies and processes that have been around but not adopted. One of the emerging areas that I’ve seen a lot bit of attention given to is around 3D printing. Now, 3D printing has actually been around for quite a long time and it’s been experimented within construction applications, but now what’s happened is that it’s been seen on some live projects around the world. That one’s getting a little bit of attention. Modular is getting a bit of attention, prefabrication, factory fabrication is getting some attention there as well. Now, again, these are technologies that have been around for a while, but the benefits and the cost-benefit of using them or the appetite for risk wasn’t quite there.
I think there’s certain things that we can definitely keep our eye on. Some of the processes have been changed around a little bit. I get quite excited about the number of companies that are now using drones to do building surveys and they can do site surveys so they can measure the site levels and they can actually also fly these drones around buildings looking for defects, seeing if they’re being built as per the drawings, being able to document these buildings in three dimensions all through an operator that’s sitting essentially with a joystick being able to do this. There’s incredible stuff that’s coming and I think it’s exciting that we are on this adoption curve to see where we might land up.
Erin: While you’re talking about 3D printing, just a little sideline here because I find it fascinating. What is the first thing comes to mind when you think of a construction site and something that has been 3D printed? What’s most common out there, Nikki?
Nikki: I’ve seen 3D printed buildings that have happened. Personally, I think that the buildings that I’ve seen, they’ve been single-family dwellings in low-cost situations. I’ve seen those popping up in little communities as test cases. Personally, I think in those applications, I don’t think that printing by a 3D printer is something that necessarily needed to happen. I think that those same dwellings could probably have been constructed at a lower cost, quite honestly, through traditional construction.
I think what’s more exciting though, is that you do see some 3D printing of different design objects and different ornaments, for example, because when it comes to 3D printing, it’s endless. As soon as you can create something in a CAD program or Rhino or whatever it might be, to be able to produce that straight away and let it come to life without having to think too much about the construction or the materiality of it is something that’s just can be rapidly prototyped and tested and come to life.
Erin: Oh, it’s fascinating and limitless really, which I hesitate to ask you this because everything has been growing so exponentially, Nikki, but what do you think is in store for the builders, planners and architects of tomorrow?
Nikki: That’s a good question. I think with building and construction, it is still a very traditional skill-based industry. Even with the advances that we’ve had with the internet age and with material science and everything else that’s come through, the way that we build hasn’t really changed all that much. It’s still very much manual process.
Also, because it’s often based on both skilled labor and also unskilled labor to an extent. There tends to be that cost trade off, which is something that’s looked at as an essential priority. I get excited about different processes that can be digitized or roboticized, I suppose you could say. One of the technologies that I heard about recently, it sounds so vanilla, but I think it’s absolutely brilliant is that again, it was a drone that could render and paint the outside of buildings.
The reason I find this quite interesting is that one of my next-door neighbours went through the exact same process these past couple of weeks. I just saw how the how the trades people had to put up scaffolding and then they had to come in and they had to do put the first layer of render, then they had to scrape it then two days later, come in and do the second layer and then they had to come in and do some painting.
They were there for about two weeks doing a very simple process and, of course, constructing and dismantling the scaffolding around and then the cost associated with that. To be able to just have a robot that can come in and is using its “laser beams” to be able to assess and measure the building surface and where there were defects and where it needs to go next to actually analyze it and essentially do so in a very robotic manner without being burdened by scaffolding or by gravity is something that I think is absolutely brilliant.
I think we’ll start probably seeing more chunks taken out of the building process that are very labor intensive or have safety concerns. In terms of the whole construction process, being completely overhauled is something that I think we’re not going to see for quite a few generations if at all.
Erin: There is no place like home and there have been incredible advances that Nikki looks at in a moment. Want the latest scoop from news and stats to trends and happenings in the industry? Well, make your way to CREACafe.ca, a cozy place for REALTORS® to connect on the latest info and industry developments. That’s CREACafe.ca.
Now back to PropTech, entrepreneur and futurist, Nikki Greenberg on REAL TIME. Let’s bring it on home here for a little bit and talk about home ownership. What technologies, Nikki, have significantly impacted the way we interact with our homes?
Nikki: Look with technology in the home, it’s something that’s really evolved through the ages. Let’s not forget, electricity hasn’t actually been around all that long. There’s many people ordinarily live in New York. The building that I lived in for quite some time predates electricity. You have to remember that even that it was an advancement. Of course, then we’re coming into having the internet. The changes that we have in the home haven’t been all that significant even though the opportunities are there. There’s some people in the home, all of us we have appliances and we have TVs. We might have a clicker for our garage, if you’re in a detached dwelling. That’s all commonplace.
The next generation then it becomes okay, well what about automated blinds for an example or what if I can start to control my lights from my phone or voice command? The adoptions haven’t been that significant in our homes themselves, but there are few exceptions.
First exception obviously is with the cloud and all of that information being stored there, we’re now able to work from home, we’re now able to access everything from anywhere, our photos, no matter where we are in the house, for example, for us being able to, if we wanted to do everything from our phones. There is a whole generation of IOT, the internet of things, different appliances that you can control through your phone. Again, being able to control your stereo or control the lights or being able to change channel on the TV. You can do everything from your phone.
The next generation that we’re already moving into, is voice control. This is, again, increasing on the adoption curve. Anything from, I can’t say its name aloud or you’ll hear my phone responding on an apple device. Hey, S… These smart hubs that let us control our smart appliances by using voice such as asking for a timer to go on or a TV to go off, a light to go on or light to go off and so on and so forth.
This is very rudimentary in the way that most of us use it if at all and this is where it starts getting exciting, it’s when we start moving up that adoption curve and where the technology is heading. With voice command, and this is something that I find to be incredibly exciting is that the way it’s moving is that at the moment, it’s a little bit in our face. We know if there’s a Google home or something to that extent in the room, and we’re very self-conscious of it. We’re worried if it might be recording us or listening in on private conversations.
What’s going to start happening with a lot of this technology is that it’s just going to be omnipresent and it’s going to be part of our lives. You won’t be thinking when you walk into a room, you won’t be searching for light switch anymore. You’ll just know to give that command of turn on the lights. You won’t expect to interact with switches, you’ll expect to interact with technology in our most natural way, which is through a conversation. The technology is there and again, it’s about the adoption.
The next step after that is about our home starting to learn from us. Rather than me coming home every day at the same time, turning on the lights, my home will know that I tend to come home at a certain time and come in with the settings and the music and the scents or having dinner ready for me just intuitively. That butler service that you always wanted to have, that invisible helping hand that’s there for us. When that starts to happen, we start seeing this ease of use and this incredible level of dare I say, customer service, that’s being provided by the technology and that benefit, then there’s going to be a greater comfort in us.
As I mentioned, at the moment, there is a little bit of a fear factor around giving up some of the privacy to some of these devices and them listening in our conversations. When we start getting the benefits back, then we’re going to start living in a dare I say, a more seamless, integrated way with the technology that we talk to or the technology that’s just there for us in the background, just being part of our daily lives in our homes.
Erin: It seems to me that what we’re heading into now is far less passive than what we’ve been through before. We’ve all got the devices that we talk to and give us timers and the song and the time and the weather and all of that stuff that we want. Now, if you want things that are going to bring the lights on or do the things that these devices can also do, you have to go out to your local high-tech store and buy the parts and learn how they operate.
Is that holding us back at all do you think, Nikki, because it’s like, I’m going to have to spend some money, I’m going to have to figure out how this works and it’s not just like suddenly having your home connected to the internet.
Nikki: I think yes and no. Yes because as you’ve described let’s use smart lights as an example, you do need to go out to the hardware store and you need to make some changes and learn to use your light in a different way. The reason I say no is that so much of this technology is designed to be incredibly user friendly and consumer friendly. If I just use the example of the light bulb, what’s happening now is that if you want to have a light that you can control from your phone, you’re not having to go there and buy a fixture to go into a ceiling, take out your existing fixture, put it in, rewire it, get the electrician in and lo and behold, you have a new setup.
All you’re doing is you’re going into just any store that has consumer goods and you can just buy a smart bulb and you just put it into existing fixtures. There’s an understanding about making it easy and working with what’s there already.
Now, what we tend to see a lot when we have technology improvements coming along and we see it on our phones, is that when something comes, then it’s already built in, you start using the features. An example is the health trackers on our phones. I never needed a pedometer, I’ve never wanted a pedometer, but there’s a pedometer on there now that I know it’s there, I actually do every day I go and I check how many steps I’ve done. Some of the stuff’s going to be increasingly commonplace and it’s just going to essentially slip into our lives.
Erin: That’s more of the passive that I’m talking about. That if it’s there we’ll go, yes, okay, maybe I’ll try this. Let’s talk about embracing and adopting PropTech. Do you think that the real estate industry truly has embraced PropTech, Nikki?
Nikki: I think it’s still early days and there’s a lot more that can and will be happening but real estate hasn’t changed that much. Buildings are buildings and the way that we use buildings hasn’t changed very much. If you look at photos from the 1920s, you’ll see people coming into office buildings in suits and ties and sitting down at desks. There might be the typists pool, meeting rooms, boss has his corner office, that hasn’t changed all that much until recently.
What’s happening is that even though the way that we live and the way that we work and the types of activities that we do, even though that is changing and becoming more technology first and the way that we shop is another example, the way that we order food, the way that we cook, the way that we work out, we can work out or using Pelotons or doing a yoga session with an instructor in San Diego, live and working out at home.
Now, the way that we live has changed much and we’ve been very accepting of our spaces very much being the same as they’ve always been but what’s happened now is especially with the lockdowns and people having to work remotely and our way of living being so fundamentally different, there is going to be a larger push from the consumers for the real estate industry to engage more with technology. It’s going to go from a nice to have add-on to something that’s being essential.
Erin: Nikki’s traveled and worked worldwide but how do countries compare when it comes to grabbing on to and implementing property technology? We’ll find out in a moment.
We’re all looking for connection these days and I don’t just mean a great Wi-Fi signal when you’re working, but real heart connection. REALTORS® across Canada are committed to supporting the causes and charities closest to their hearts. Get inspired by incredible stories and follow REALTORS Care® on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and by sharing your own using #realtorscare. Thank you for what you do for us all. Now back to our chat with architect, entrepreneur and real estate futurist, Nikki Greenberg.
You’ve lived and worked around the world. Right now, as we’ve said, we’re speaking to you in Sydney, Australia, you’ve been everywhere, you’ve lived in Manhattan and many more stamps on your passport, Nikki, how does adoption vary globally?
Nikki: It’s a good question. Look, I do believe that across geographies, there are differences some of them cultural differences. We know that Asia has always had a reputation for being very technology first — Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Shanghai, there have been these cities that are just very techie by nature. The general population has just always had this great embrace of technology. Those countries tend to be the leaders.
Now, China is quite interesting. There’s a lot of technology that’s coming out of there as they become entrepreneurs and huge companies that are coming out from there. Hong Kong has always relied on technology to a huge extent but then when you look towards the other extreme such as Africa, I actually, I was born in and grew up in South Africa. I can definitely speak to their context as well. When you’re looking at developing countries where people are working very hard just to put food on the table and a roof on their heads but yet everybody has a mobile phone.
There’s a lot of what we refer to as leapfrog technology, where it’s technologies that may have been invented in developed countries, and then over time, as it becomes more accessible and less expensive, is then available to these emerging economies, that the adoption rate is incredibly high because the technology’s there to solve problems. At that end of the spectrum, there’s an expectation from consumers, again, just in line that the properties and the offering is in line with technology. Then in between, we have Europe, you have the US, and the technology, adoption in real estate is now increasing, increasing and increasing.
Now, having said that, of course, there’s certain personalities from different ages, different demographics, different locations, et cetera, that do tend to embrace technology earlier than others. There’s always been a product adoption cycle, and that’s still there but what we’re seeing now is that the comfort level around what technology is and as the technology evolves also to be easier to use, and a lower adoption curve.
We’ve now removed the barriers or some of the barriers or perceived barriers rather, to the adoption, which means that the use of it is broader and more commonplace. We’ll see that increasing and increasing across the globe, wherever there’s internet and there’s greater internet at greater speeds being offered to more and more people everywhere.
Erin: What do you see as technological and socio-economic trends that are forming today, Nikki, that are going to impact our living and working spaces over say, the next decade?
Nikki: This one trend that I love to talk about, and it just summarizes a lot in a very simple statistic. What we’re finding is that by 2030, 75% of the workforce will consist of millennials and Gen-Z. What you’re seeing here is that it’s a group of people that really embrace technology and expect technology to be part of the way that they live and that they work and are uncompromising.
They expect that the physical in-person experience and the digital experience will work together. What we’re really going to see and what we need to realize is that, as we’re looking at workplace as an example is that we need to be designing for them, we can’t be designing for generations gone past or ways of working gone past because that has fundamentally changed.
My advice to anybody that’s in commercial real estate, for an example, is to if you have kids or if you have grandkids or friends or whoever it might be that all between the ages of 9 and 25, just get a sense of what matters to them and get a sense of how they’re using technology and what attributes are they looking at in places? You might find, for example, that they sit on the sofa and that’s where they do their work. I’ve definitely seen that if you’re doing homework with a friend, that even if the friend’s in the same room, that they’re still communicating with them through their computers, which is just something that comes naturally to them.
Definitely keep an eye on what they’re doing and how they’re thinking about technology and also some of the attributes. Another status power that I also like to throw in and trying to think about is that within the group of Generation Z, I believe the statistic is that 46% of them plan to become entrepreneurs and 57% of them, if I’m not mistaken, plan to invent something that will change the world. This is really who we need to be thinking about as our future customers and also our future workforce that is going to be changing the way that our spaces operate.
Erin: That is fascinating. When we think of the younger generations like Gen-Z and millennials, we think of more eco-conscious, are we becoming so as homeowners and buyers that you’ve seen, Nikki?
Nikki: I’d like to think so. We’re definitely seeing in consumer goods that there’s more that appeals to the eco-conscious and sometimes it falls into the category of greenwashing, that it’s presented as being better for the environment, but isn’t necessarily such. It’s a tricky one because by nature, a lot of us do care about the environment and say that we care about the environment. However, the sad thing is that on the flip side, and I’ve definitely seen this through my career is that consumers aren’t necessarily willing to pay more for a greener solution, which becomes one of those tricky obstacles to get around.
One of the exceptions is again, coming back to Generation Z, and they are these like eco-conscious climate warriors, we saw them definitely with the climate protests is that they see global warming as something that is very real and something that is affecting them directly because the consequences are happening within their lifetime.
For them, you’ll find a lot of them will actually come and they will ask about the sourcing of materials, they will ask where the electricity is coming through. They will actually look at the origins of certain things. They do want to have vegetable patches and sustainable materials and it’s something that’s not a passing fad, but something that is really important to them and their livelihoods.
In terms of attracting and appealing to Generation Z renters and buyers, this is something that does interest them, does appeal to them, but they’re also pretty savvy and they understand when something is just being used as a marketing ploy or when it’s something that really is ingrained and is something that is of benefit to the environment.
Erin: Savvy, is the key word there. How about life in dense urban cities where smaller homes are more affordable? Are you seeing people using PropTech to live simpler or with less? The Marie Kondo idea has been around now for probably, I guess about five years, is PropTech in line with that idea of minimalism?
Nikki: Absolutely. There’s a few different ways that it’s been done and where there have been benefits that I’ve seen. One of them that I absolutely love and it’s basically is the shared economy and the idea of as a service, you don’t need to own, you can share. Obvious examples of this being, we all know Uber, you don’t need to own a car, you can just call an Uber to get around. There’s basically and especially in New York, there’s a service for everything.
As I described earlier in my apartment, I don’t have a washing machine, so I send my laundry out, somebody else does it for me. There’s rent the runway, I don’t need to keep buying beautiful outfits, I can loan an outfit. There’s solutions where I can actually store my winter clothes somewhere else and then on my app, I can order my clothes back into my apartment when I need to change between my summer and winter gear, for example.
There’s on-demand cleaning services, there’s on-demand pet walkers, there’s on-demand toolboxes so that you don’t need to own your own tool collection for something that you only use maybe once or twice a year. There’s on-demand everything, so very much this getting away from needing to own things and instead being able to share and just pay for things as a service and as you need it.
One of the other things that I quite like is going essentially to another extreme is that there’s been a resurgence of robotic interiors that let you reconfigure spaces such as having a bed fall down from the ceiling and it’s stored up in the ceiling during the day so that you have more usable space during the day or being able to slide wardrobes backwards and forwards to change the configuration of a space in a small setup.
There’s a lot of different things that are coming or rather they’re already here, but the adoption is increasing or what it means is that we can own less, have more space, be able to be more mobile. If you’re renting and you’re moving fairly often to be able to come into furnished apartments, for example, or there’s services that you can hire furniture packages that are pre-styled instead of going out of buying every single item. There’s this wonderful rise of there being a service for everything and whatever your heart desires, there’s a technology that’s there to just make your life simpler.
Erin: Of course, commercial properties have kept up with this evolution too, haven’t they?
Nikki: Oh, yes absolutely. Co-working spaces or flexible offices being a prime example, tenants apps, where you can order every single amenity, ghost kitchens where you can have food being delivered up to your office from restaurants that don’t even exist, everything just done on the click of an app. Now that’s really where things are heading is app first, own less.
Erin: Did you catch that? App first, own less. Back to Nikki in a moment about repurposing buildings, mall meet school and more.
Speaking of apps, we are so excited to share with you that Canada’s number one real estate platform, REALTOR.ca now has a new app, Rebuilt From the Ground Up and designed to reflect the needs of today’s home buyers. The app helps REALTORS® get connected to more potential clients. Download it on the app store or get it on Google Play.
Back to, Nikki Greenberg, now. She’s been incredibly enlightening as a real estate futurist, entrepreneur and architect. Here’s the rest of our talk. Are there opportunities to repurpose these spaces beyond traditional work environments?
Nikki: Yes. This is something that’s been discussed at length in New York especially. With the pandemic that’s been happening, the occupancy in Manhattan has really dropped. The statistic that I heard is that the peak of 2020 saw office occupancy sitting at around 15%, which is very concerning for great industry. There’s been talk about for office buildings that haven’t been developed having a change of use to residential. There’s a housing shortage in Manhattan, so that being an option. There’s been talk around repurposing offices to again, residential or to logistics centers.
It extends beyond offices as well. I’ve recently heard about some shopping malls that were being repurposed as schools, which I thought was actually quite a nice idea because you still have a public space for the community to gather and in a shared space and also some of them being repurposed to as logistic centers for e-commerce.
There’s discussion around repurposing and changing spaces for use. I’m absolutely a big believer in it. It’s easier said than done. There are zoning requirements, there are building codes, you do have fixed infrastructure and mechanical workings, piping, et cetera that’s not that simple to move, but there is opportunity, I think by just putting on a bit of a creative lens and having a sense of simple supply and demand.
If you have falling demand for something, but you have a rise in demand for something else, then wouldn’t you want to shift over to the area that’s in higher demand if it’s at all possible?
Erin: Your vision and your excitement and your enthusiasm for everything PropTech is really contagious. I’d like if you could, Nikki, offer any advice to REALTORS® to help them better understand new PropTech trends.
Nikki: I will say that it’s a journey. Technology and especially PropTech, it’s new to everybody. None of us were born knowing about PropTech. It’s only something that’s emerged in the past few years and it’s changing constantly. If you’re coming into it fresh and this is very new to you, don’t worry, we’ve all had to learn. Right at the start I said when it comes to PropTech, we’re really talking about these three communities or real estate, investors and technology coming together.
Now, the technology crowd didn’t know anything about real estate either when they came in. It’s learning process. I think the first thing is realize, if this is new to you and you don’t quite get it, you’re not alone. It’s been the exact same thing for everyone.
The second thing I’d suggest is go out there, look on Google, subscribe to different newsletters. You can always go onto my website, nikkigreenberg.com, keeping it very simple, I have some fun ideas there. There’s great conferences that happen, there’s a lot of webinars and just start getting a sense of what’s out there and what’s the conversation that’s happening? Very soon, you’ll start to notice some of the patterns and the trends that emerge. You’ll start being able to piece together an understanding of the ecosystem.
If you do have particular needs that you’re trying to solve and you know what they are, go on to Google, see who’s providing those solutions and hop on the phone or organize a meeting with some of the technology providers. The sales reps, they’re fantastic, they’re very happy, a lot of them, to give up their time and expertise to really explain not just their own technology but why the technology is needed and the benefits to you.
They’re there as a resource, they’re very interested in adoption of their products and a lot of them, they’re very patient because they do have the enthusiasm to get their products being used. They also do have an understanding that there is a learning curve for the users of their products as well. Use them as a resource and just be okay with taking a risk. Try something out. You might find, for example, if you’re using a technology in your office operations, if there’s something that you want to try, test it, see if it works.
A lot of the technology that’s out there, they’re done on subscription models, which means that you’re paying month to month, so you’re paying a small amount every month instead of investing tens of thousand dollars in setting something up and then being locked into it.
In summary, it’s new to everyone, don’t be scared of it, start educating yourself, familiarize yourself with some of the products and be okay speaking to the sales reps to help them bring you on this journey. Then finally, just be okay testing stuff. That’s the way that you learn. If it’s not the right thing for you, try something else. It’s not a one size fits all. It’s a process and the technology keeps changing and it keeps getting better. It’s designed more and more to be more user-friendly and easy for both you and for your customers.
Erin: Oh, thank goodness. I’m glad to hear that. Just a tip or two, if you have them, Nikki, on how REALTORS® can educate their clients on what to expect.
Nikki: I think what I’d say is my top tip would be to let them know that the technologies that are coming out are designed to be user-friendly and to be useful. I like to use the example of the butler that’s there in the background just attending to every need.
Secondly, again is just letting them know that sometimes there is a learning curve and that even if something is a little bit clunky at the most because it’s an emerging technology, it will get better in time, but it’s fun to just test something out and learn from it. It’s all a growth process. The beautiful thing about the technologies coming out now is that you’re not necessarily locked into it. You don’t have to put in a whole new light fixture to get a smart light, you can put in a light bulb. You can have a subscription service to a software instead of buying a whole enterprise package. There is flexibility to just try things out and let your customers know that it’s just better to just start dabbling and learning. It’s exciting too, to get a sense of where the technology is, where it’s headed and how it can be helpful to us.
Erin: You have been amazing because coming into this, PropTech, I thought were some kind of EDM, Electronic Dance Music or something. This has been absolutely fascinating and it’s opened all kinds of doors and windows to opportunity to just look and see what’s next and give it a try, be like a toddler with an iPhone and push all the buttons and see what happens. We did and we reached Sydney, Australia. Look at that, but before we let you go, you’ve done all this looking into the future, Nikki, we’re going to ask you to take one look ahead a little bit and think how you would like to describe 2021 when all is said and done.
Nikki: That’s a good question. I think when all is said and done because our world has been so fundamentally disrupted by the pandemic, we have an opportunity right now to build back better. I think 2020 was about dismantling and 2021 is about repairing in a better way. I just hope that we, as an industry, do seize upon this opportunity because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do things in a better way.
Erin: That is a great metaphor for all of us in all ways, the dismantling and the rebuilding. What did you want your life to be? Because here you’ve got a chance to start again from the ground up. Nikki, thank you so much. This has been wonderful, and we are so grateful to you for taking the time and sharing your wisdom with us here today on REAL TIME.
Nikki: Thank you so much for having me as a guest. I love talking about technology and I hope that your listeners and yourself will have found my insights useful and that you’ll just go out and buy some smart bulbs and just start dabbling in your time off. It’s a lot of fun, there’s so much we can do and it’s been an absolute delight joining you. Thank you so much for having me as a guest.
Erin: Thank you to Nikki Greenberg and to you for making time for REAL TIME. Join us on Episode 16, when we’ll talk about the psychology of real estate with Dr. Winnie Shen. She’s got a lot of great information and ideas to implement in your work and home lives.
CREA REAL TIME podcast is produced by Rob Whitehead and Real Family Productions and Alphabet® Creative. We invite you to our previous episodes. Thanks for sharing these REAL TIME podcasts with your coworkers, your friends and fellow REALTORS®. I’m Erin Davis.
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