Proptech was at the forefront of Cityscape Global (CSG) in Riyadh last week. The 4-day gathering of the whole world of city making, held for the first time in Saudi Arabia, saw more than 160,000 visitors from 170 countries and more than 10,000 international investors. More than 300 exhibitors filled three halls with their stands.
Much discussion hinged on the rising importance of new technologies in the real estate sector. The host country’s commitment to them is evident in the key role that technology plays in its remarkable giga-projects.
But the many new and emerging technologies in the form of AI, metaverse, smart cities, and more, were prevalent in discussions throughout the event.
Discussions occurred in diverse forums, including the NEOM Future of Living Summit, the Property Portfolio Forum, the Real Estate Institutional Investor Forum, CityscapeWIRE (Women in Real Estate), and at the Design and Architecture Stage.
Among these, the PropTech Stage was the scene of remarkable conversations among real estate innovators and technologists. It featured two days of panel discussions, an innovation challenge, and a hackathon, across the four-day CSG event. The second day’s interactive panel discussion ‘Twin Sisters: Proptech & Fintech,’ really got to the heart of the question. It opened the floor to young entrepreneurs from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, who uncovered the close relationship of these ‘twin sisters’.
They argued that proptech and fintech are closely related, ultimately for the purpose of improving customer experience. And while they draw on emerging technologies such as blockchain, AI, and virtual reality, they mainly require a lot of work and innovation by small companies to make the technical connections functional.
The great promise, to open up and monetize property markets in new ways, and property markets in Saudi Arabia in particular, is already producing benefits.
LATE TO REAL ESTATE
“Digitization is coming late to the real estate sector, although real estate is the largest asset class,” said Omar Abu Innab, co-founder of Keyper, a proptech-supported real estate investment vehicle.
He continued that real estate investors will expect more of the type of services now expected by equity investors, transparently, as part of their larger financial portfolios.
Coming from investment banking, he believed that the majority of wealth is in real estate. Therefore the technology his firm has developed provides live valuation of properties, allowing them to serve as forms of equity more like a bank account, to borrow against. For example, landlords can borrow on future rents, allowing renters to transition to monthly payments.
Another young entrepreneur coming from the financial sector is Khalid Aldossari, CEO, Soumtech, who worked for years in accounting as an auditor. His firm provides a proptech solution for property auctions in the courts in Saudi Arabia, for individuals and corporations.
“Tech is all about convenience,” he said. “We’ve seen this in our business of real estate auctions, which is a very traditional business.”
He saw a need in Saudi Arabia, opening electronic channels for property auctions to many more people in different parts of the country.
Another Saudi entrepreneur who is opening property sector markets to new investors is Khaled Alhumaid, CIO at Aseel, a crowd investing platform that is authorized by the Capital Market Authority of Saudi Arabia.
“We are dealing with investors in private, closed real estate funds,” he said, as he discussed the challenge of trying to bring thousands of smaller investors into specialized fund investing.
“We couldn’t do it without advanced technology,” he said.
The solution provided by Aseel, launched in 2020, is a crowd investing – not crowd funding – platform. It is enabling retail investors to reach real estate funds in Saudi Arabia, accepting investors from a base level of 1000 SAR. He said that they are now serving 19 funds, and have enabled the new investors, and the funds they have invested in, to be successful.
SMALLER IS BETTER
James Sam Daniel, who is founder of RentalShield, a company concerned with building a platform for management of tenants’ security deposits, said that marrying fintech and proptech is no easy work.
“Our experience is that real estate is often operating on small margins, 1-2%, and it is the same with fintech,” he said.
He emphasized that finding value in this field really requires creativity and takes years, but it is coming.
“Bigger companies won’t be able to compete with the smaller, stronger teams,” he said.