As featured in the Raconteur ‘Future of Proptech’ report in The Times
Times are tough for landlords in the UK as they face reduced margins and rising running costs, coupled with increasing legislation and tax hikes. Issues are coming thick and fast. At the same time letting agents are being squeezed by the tenant fee ban and, for tenants, rent prices continue to rise. The result is a crisis of confidence, in what many view as a dysfunctional market.
“There’s been huge change in the rental market over the past few years in an attempt to make it fairer and better regulate it. But in reality, the rental market is as broken as ever. It’s arguably the last industry yet to grasp digitalisation and it’s ripe for disruption,” says Tom Woollard, co-founder of Bunk, a digital lettings service.
Landlords across the country are growing increasingly frustrated. A poll earlier this year found that almost half are planning to reduce the number of properties they own or exit the market entirely, according to the Residential Landlords Association.
“Currently, the biggest problem is that landlords aren’t in control of the letting process, agents are. Yet many of the services offered by the high street can now be rendered obsolete by technology and innovation,” explains Mr Woollard, whose company is backed by the world’s largest building society Nationwide.
Research has indicated that up to 16 hours of work is required by letting agents each time a new tenancy is set up, from credit referencing to signing agreements and processing payments. Something Bunk’s co-founders believe can be made a thing of the past with technology.
“When developing our platform, we found most of the administration to do with letting a property can be automated and that’s what we’ve done. You don’t need a high level of skill to deal with many of these tasks, but you can’t afford to get it wrong. So we’ve made the whole process transparent and data-driven,” says Jack Widnell, fellow co-founder of Bunk, which launched in June.
More than £3 billion was spent on letting agents by landlords and tenants in 2018, according to Bunk’s research, and the co-founders believe their technology can help level the playing field and reduce costs for all involved.
“Over the years, letting agents have profited nicely, sitting in the middle without ever really improving their service, and we’re shining a light on this. What we’re doing is making the process more efficient and easier, as well as driving down costs for the only people that matter in this equation, the landlords and tenants.”
Bristol-based Bunk has created an all-in-one property app offering landlords and property managers the ability to let and manage their property from as little as £10 a month. Properties are automatically advertised on sites such as Rightmove and Zoopla, and property owners can handle offers and manage the entire tenancy online. Tenants have an app to pay rent and Bunk has partnered with Experian so all payments help contribute towards their credit history.
Since its launch, Bunk now operates nationwide and aims to be active with landlords and property owners in every town in the coming years. “It is crucial that we reduce the current friction in the rental market. We want to put landlords and tenants back in control. Our job is to make their life easier and our sole focus is to continue doing that. Bunk empowers property owners to manage their properties and remain compliant with ever-changing legislation,” says Mr Widnell.
“We’re not here to render agents obsolete; our service revolves around retaining that human element. But we use technology for the right reasons so we can provide value to our customers. Proptech solutions like ours are driving change by building trust and transparency. In the next decade, we’ll see a revolution in the property market, as we have in other sectors. Property professionals will have to up their game or face the perils mirrored in the rest of the high street.”