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  • Jan 14, 2021
  • Stacy Holden, Sr. Director, Industry Principal, AppFolio Property Manager
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What’s next for 2021? Key learnings & insights from IREM’s Innovator-in-Residence, James Scott

As 2021 unfolds, many in the real estate industry have been looking for insights and advice on how to plan for the year ahead. We recently had a chance to sit down with James Scott, lead researcher at MIT’s Real Estate Innovation Lab and IREM’s Innovator-in-Residence, to get a better understanding of how the property management world is evolving and what property management businesses can do to stay competitive in 2021. Below are some of the key takeaways from our conversation.

The industry has embraced technology — and it’s here to stay

In the past year, COVID-19 and social distancing have acted as a catalyst for the rapid adoption of technology in the real estate industry. As people now rely more on technology to complete daily tasks, maintain operations, and attract leads, they’ve experienced the added flexibility and accessibility these mobile tools provide.

This departure from the usual wait-and-see, slow to adopt approach most real estate businesses have taken in the past has been monumental for the industry as a whole, “What people have started to really realize within this new adoption period because of COVID-19 is that there are huge amounts of inefficiencies within their business, and it’s inefficiencies within specific tasks, not their job,” James says. “The fears that people have when they hear words like automation, AI, and machine learning, and the notion that a machine is going to take their jobs is beginning to subside… they’re now realizing these technologies can actually help them achieve their goals, create greater efficiencies, and make their jobs easier.”

Smart building innovations are the next big thing

This greater openness to exploring how technology can improve efficiency, combined with the need for continued physical distancing are likely to pave the way for new real estate innovations, such as touchless and smart building technologies. James believes the adoption of these types of innovations will lead to healthier, more adaptable communities, “I’m a big believer of smart buildings and wellness technologies that are integrated into the building structure itself. If there's an underlying element to the technology that it can be utilized once the pandemic is over and immerse itself within the building to create a healthier or smarter building, I think they're the ones that you're going to see the best value of over the next few years.”

In addition to the environmental benefits and structural efficiencies these smart buildings provide, property managers can also create a better resident experience, “The ultimate goal I think for any multifamily business is to better understand their residents and create a great customer experience. Having a smart building that is also sustainable can help drive towards that goal and create a far higher-quality environment for residents in the long term.”

Residents have become accustomed to more flexible work lives

As many companies went remote this year, we saw residents flee from urban environments, such as New York and San Francisco, in favor of more affordable, spacious accommodations in the suburbs. Now that people have experienced the added flexibility remote work provides, along with the benefits of a better work-life balance, it could have a lasting impact on the way we work and live. “We've literally taken everybody out of the city and sent them home,” says James. “I think a lot of people have enjoyed that aspect of being able to work from home. It doesn't work for everybody, but the biggest thing that we've seen from everybody is that they would love a choice.”

Artificial intelligence is going to continue to advance

A couple of years ago, we couldn’t even imagine the role that artificial intelligence would have in our lives today. However, as many property management businesses have begun to leverage conversational AI Leasing Assistants, like AppFolio’s Lisa, to quickly respond to prospects and maintain their leasing operations, we’ve seen the interest in AI grow exponentially.

James sees this as a great opportunity when it comes to evolving the industry to the next level, “The chatbot technology within true natural language processing and voice recognition, which are aspects of AI, have really, really improved. The humanization aspect of chatbot technology has really evolved to a place where... you don’t necessarily feel like you're talking to a human, but people are starting to recognize that the technology works at a far higher level. That technology in itself for property managers is hugely helpful because ultimately, it reduces a significant amount of very mundane tasks in their day-to-day operation, be it scheduling for maintenance, scheduling for showings, lead generations, and things like that that take up a tremendous amount of time. AI can really funnel down all of that to give yourself a much better, more productive day.”

To listen to the full interview with James and to hear other experts in the industry share their experiences and advice for preparing for the year ahead, listen to AppFolio’s latest podcast episode on The Top Floor. 

Stacy Holden is the Sr. Director, Industry Principal at AppFolio, a leading provider of cloud-based business software solutions in the real estate market. Stacy has over 20 years of experience in the real estate and property management industry and is an expert on how customers can leverage technology to solve some of their greatest business challenges.


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