Shaping the future of property management through technology

When property managers look at their to-do list, Rafael Niesten and Jon Stul want them to be short, focused and targeted towards the most productive, highest human touch point tasks.

The PropTech Labs co-founders say creating tech solutions that eases both a property manager’s mental and physical load, is what gets them out of bed in the morning.

“There’s a great saying we heard from a property manager when we started the business, and it’s that she viewed maintenance tasks like a glass of water,” Rafael explains.

“She’d take a sip, set the glass down and it would immediately be full again.

“What we want to do is empty that glass.”

Technology meets real estate

Jon and Rafael set about creating tech solutions to property management’s biggest pain points about seven and a half years ago when they started Bricks and Agent.

The childhood friends, who have known each other since primary school, found themselves at loose ends at the same time, and finally decided to create the business they’d always talked about.

Rafael, with extensive software development experience, and Jon, who had worked as a real estate sales agent for more than a decade before running a frozen yoghurt business, knew the real estate industry was ready for their solutions, especially the property management sector.

“Property management is probably one of the most ignored industries,” Rafael says.

“We started as a product called Bricks and Agent, which was a maintenance platform. 

“At the beginning of 2023 we acquired Maintenance Manager, then in May 2023 we acquired Inspection Manager and we had a product called Invoice Automate and we had another platform that’s called Key Automate.

“So in mid-2023 we decided to rebrand as PropTech Labs.”

Rafael says PropTech Labs have about 1.3 million properties that use one or more of its platforms and its team has quickly grown from two, to almost 100.

“We’ve got more than 5.1 million owners and tenants, 90,000 trades and 19,000 property managers,” he notes

“So we grew very, very quickly by organic growth, but also acquisition.”

A refreshing industry approach

Jon believes part of the reason clients turn to PropTech Labs is because they know the brains behind the platform have real life real estate experience. 

“I worked in a multi-department real estate office that had residential, commercial and strata sales and management,” he says.

“In this time, I was exposed to all the different areas of real estate, as well as construction and working with and alongside tradies.

“People from the industry find it refreshing that someone who has worked for a significant amount of time in the industry is helping lead a solution for the industry. 

“There are a lot of solutions that have come and gone that have been built looking for a problem, rather than being purposefully built to resolve real-world problems for property management departments.

“Property management is often neglected and overlooked as people tend to focus on the high transaction value of sales.

“PM is the engine of most real estate offices and has been underserved by technology for a very long time.”

A seamless process

As well as automating maintenance, inspections, invoices and keys, Rafael says PropTech Labs’ solutions all connect and talk to each other, including pre-filling data and other time-saving features.

“In the Inspection Manager platform, a PM will do an entry or exit inspection, they note the water meter number and that immediately feeds through to our invoicing platform,” he says.

“We then create a tenant invoice automatically, so it creates that flow. 

“It’s the same with maintenance… While they’re at an inspection, they can take (down) maintenance, they can see what maintenance happened there before and everything is linked. 

“So all the platforms start to join together, which makes it very seamless.”

Rafael says as well as saving property managers time, the platforms linking together also makes onboarding more efficient.

“The more tabs you have open, the more things people need to learn,” he says.

“And in the world of property management, we know staff turnover is a problem.

“What happens when you bring on a new person is they have to pick up the pieces of what happened with the last person and understand all the systems they’ve got running.

“So if we can connect everything, it just makes logical sense… and rather than having to train people in all of these different systems, everything is connected and that makes life much easier.”

Using AI to make life easier

Jon and Rafael says PropTech Labs is also currently overlaying Artificial Intelligence on its platforms to make life even easier for PMs.

“We’re using the very large volumes of data (we have) to assist with decision-making,” Jon says.

“This frees up the team’s time to put their focus on their customers and engage with them, rather than following repetitive processes that can be augmented by our solutions.”

Rafael notes that one of those solutions is a chatbot that tenants can engage with via multiple platforms, including WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook, Messenger, SMS and email.

Tenants can converse with the chatbot in 18 different languages and everything is communicated back to the property manager in English.

“What that does is reduce the language barrier and help people to use technology because, ultimately, people are scared,” Rafael says.

“They think, ‘I don’t know how to (write in) English properly, so I’ll call someone’.

“But that ends up being more complicated because, a lot of the time when that happens, you send the wrong trade out. 

“It should have been an electrician, but you send a plumber and then they go, ‘I can’t do anything but here’s my bill for $200’.

“Then you have the owner asking, ‘Why am I paying that?’

“What we are trying to do is use technology to reduce that noise and create a frictionless experience for the tenant and the property manager.”

Saving time and money

Rafael says another key way PropTech Labs have helped PMs save time and money is when it comes to council or water invoices.

What once took some customers days to manually process hundreds of invoices is now done in just 10 minutes and the automation also helps avoid errors, paying the wrong person or accruing late payment fees.

“One of our customers was spending more than $60,000 a year in late payment and interest charges,” Rafael says. 

He says they are also have AI that is able to surface useful insights that can help property managers make decisions in the best interest of their landlords and tenants.

This includes things like being able to recommend which trade is most likely available to do a maintenance job, how much fixing a power point traditionally costs in their location or the fact that the electrician was at the property three months ago about the same issue and today’s visit should be covered under warranty. 

“AI and the technology we build should be able to assist people to get to that next level, to be able to manage more properties, to have better relationships with their owners and tenants and to be able to do the high value tasks rather than menial, grinding the keyboard, tasks,” Rafael says.

What the future holds

Both Rafael and Jon remain a little tight lipped about what they’re building next, but Rafael did say an automated asset management capture, which automatically records the assets in a property, such as an oven or air conditioning system, and can help a PM or tenant troubleshoot any technical issues and ensure they send the right trade on a maintenance job, is one area to watch.

Jon also suggested solutions for the real estate sales side of the equation may not be too far away.

Either way, both say every new platform or tech release will be with their customers in mind.

“We’re focusing on the future and focusing on what our clients will look like in one year, in three years or in five years,” Rafael says.

“We continually ask what tools they need to be successful and to thrive.

“This is why we get out of bed in the morning, we want to make a difference.”

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Editor at Elite Agent.

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