A company which offers robots to undertake viewings of rental properties is hoping to branch out into the UK. American-based Zenplace Property Management says it operates hundreds of robots carrying tablets in California. The robots are actually video monitors which are movable and can ‘show’ potential tenants around properties. Letting agents or landlords would then operate these automatons or moving devices.
Firstly, prospective tenants will text Zenplace with a vacant property that they like. They then have to send some form of ID as a background check through their smartphone. Once approved, the prospective tenant is given a unique code giving them a smartlock, so they can enter the property. Once they unlock the property, the robot is activated. This is connected to a live person, either an agent or landlord. They then double-check that this is the same person who sent the ID and the property tour begins. Not only can the robot show them around, but it can also show them images of local attractions, such as parks, and give the latest figures on rents in that area. If the tenant wants to rent the property, the robot can help them fill in the application forms.
Zenplace CEO, Rahul Mewawalla, said that he has already had a lot of interest from landlords in the UK. He said they see it as a more efficient way to handle part of the rental process. He said it greatly increases productivity for both letting agents and landlords. As Mr Mewawalla points out, landlords can realistically only book three or four viewings a day, because of traffic or parking problems in many areas. His robots can easily carry out up to 18 viewings a day and so are much more productive. However, one drawback is that the robots do have a problem with stairs. At present, they can handle a few steps, but Zenplace is working on a new model which can climb a flight of stairs.
He believes that it is in line with today’s macro trends and with tenants wanting to do things which are convenient to them. They want instant results and are happy to use their mobile phones for appointments or purchases. So they benefit from the use of robots, as do landlords who can reduce the time a property stands idle and get them off the market more quickly.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the prospect, however. Viewber cofounder, Ed Mead, felt security was an issue. He argued that it seemed unlikely someone would allow a prospective tenant access to a lock box, to take out the key and let themselves into a property. He also wondered why they couldn’t just do virtual viewings at home on their smartphone and then decide if they actually want to view the property in the flesh. Other companies, such as Spotahome, are also backing the trend for tenants to see properties virtually, rather than physically. They send their agents to a property to inspect it, produce a video and write a report. The tenant will then book on the basis of their findings.
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