Carol Tallon : “Innovation is key, technology is only the tool”

Innovation is key, technology is only the tool

We really enjoy talking to our customers. It’s how we ensure that our product actually meets all of their needs. Building on our discussions with customers, last year we started interviewing interesting personalities from the worlds of PropTech and ConTech. After an informative interview with Nikolai Roth, the chairman of the GPTI (German PropTech Initiative), we now have an interview with Carol Tallon

Carol has been flying the flag for innovation in the property industry for more than 15 years now. With Property District Ireland, she actively bridges the gap between ongoing work in the construction and real estate industries and innovative ConTech and PropTech solutions. Carol also draws on her extensive expertise to bring investors into the mix too. Through iPropertyRadio, Carol provides a much-needed media platform for the PropTech scene which, although growing, is still relatively young. It was iPropertyRadio that led to us learning of Carol’s work. PROPSTER was the guest on an episode called: Proptech for automating architecture and customising off-plan homes.

Carol has a wide and varied knowledge but has a particular interest in the digitalisation of the real estate industry – we were, therefore, eager to ask her a few questions of our own! Our discussion covered the ongoing digitalisation of the real estate industry and also saw us take a look into the not too distant future. We hope you enjoy the interview as much as we did.

PROPSTER: Please introduce yourself briefly? What is your background and expertise? 

CT: I initially studied Law and Business, with a focus on European Law. Over the past 20 years, I have studied a range of subjects from Mediation to Psychology. I am the eternal student, I love learning! The common themes of my career to date have been innovation, technology, communications and advocacy. Over the past decade and a half, I have been delivering these – in some combination – for the built environment.

PROPSTER: What do you currently expect from the digitisation of the real estate industry from your point of view?

CT: I have high expectations of, and for, the digitisation of real estate. When we [the Property District team] started PropTech Ireland more than six years ago, the innovation we saw was primarily consumer-led i.e. people who didn’t like the process or the product designed solutions to improve it. At that time, the industry was stubbornly resistant to the benefits of technology and appeared to view it as a threat. There was quite an antagonistic dynamic between innovators and the industry. This has largely changed. Data; the understanding of what it can do and, a genuine appreciation of the value that the efficient use and leveraging of data can yield, has enabled the transformation of the industry. 

PROPSTER: What role do PropTechs play in digitisation from your point of view?

CT: The B2B proptech providers and innovators of today play a role that is significantly different to those that were selling into the market a decade ago, who had to educate a stagnant sector and influence an apathetic audience. Providers today benefit from that decade of education and influence. Today’s innovators can focus solely on creating and adding value. Luckily for them, there’s an infinite number of problems to be solved. The real skill of any successful entrepreneur is to identify the problems that people (industry or consumers) are willing to pay to have solved. These problems run the ESG gamut, from the creative to the convenient. Innovation is key, technology is only the tool. The industry is waking up to the fact that it cannot be the gatekeeper of innovation. 

PROPSTER: What pain points do you solve with Property District Ireland?

CT: The Property District team founded PropTech Ireland back in 2016 as a one-year CRS initiative; it was our way of giving back to the industry. The aim was very simple, to act as a bridge between innovators and industry – and sometimes investors. In most cases, this was a simple introduction or facilitating a demo. For others, our work involved sector-specific client discovery to correct incorrect assumptions and ensure product-market fit. Today, our team works with PropTech innovators, potential investors and with the wider planning, construction and property industries. Our PropTech work has evolved from assisting with products to the distribution of the right solutions to the right market. A lesson we’ve taken from our work: Procurement and positioning are two sides of the same coin.

PROPSTER: How did the iProperty radio show come about? What goal are you pursuing with it?

CT: By 2018, I realised that proptech innovation was happening in a vacuum, albeit a global vacuum. So-called ‘influencers’ were talking to themselves! There can be no movement, no meaningful progress, without people. ‘Property Matters’ was the first weekly property radio show in Ireland when we started back in January 2019. After it airs on Dublin South FM every Tuesday evening from 6-7 pm, the podcast airs internationally via iPropertyRadio. It started as a way to share real market information without an agenda. We also showcase Irish and international innovation every week to a largely traditional construction, property and consumer audience.  

PROPSTER: What advice would you give to a young start-up that plans to digitise the PROPERTY scene in Ireland? What are the pain points that need to be solved?

CT: There are many, many problems or pain points that, if solved, would improve the experience of people buying, selling, renting, leasing, occupying or even visiting properties in Ireland. Real estate is becoming increasingly less geography-specific and technology is both driving and benefiting from that; however, experience working on both strategic positioning for providers and separately, industry procurement, tells us that culture is important. When expanding into new markets, it’s imperative for solutions providers to take the time to build a genuine understanding of how business is done in that marketplace. Startups are understandably frustrated when a real estate company opts for a lesser offering, but it is usually because the lesser offering is being delivered by a known and trusted entity [the one we know is the one we trust]. Technology does not do away with the need for trust and relationship building, arguably, it heightens it.

PROPSTER: How far has digitisation progressed in Ireland, or to be more precise, how high is the degree of digitisation?

CT: Urban planning in Ireland has been unquestionably slow to embrace digitisation, despite plenty of political rhetoric. The public sector has not been adequately resourced to upgrade and align – this is starting to change, slowly. Our construction industry has taken massive steps towards digitisation, particularly over the two years of the pandemic – survival is a great driver of innovation! Across the property industry, there’s a gap between those who are fortifying their offerings through digital and those who aren’t. That gap is now widening to the extent that laggards may not be able to catch up.

PROPSTER: What challenges do property developers in Ireland face?

CT: Property developers, like all players across the built environment, face challenges around housing affordability issues that have a knock-on impact on project viability and delivery.  Also, policy has not been kind to Ireland-based property developers in recent years (a political overcorrection!) and public trust in the sector has been very badly damaged. Trust and transparency are of the utmost importance right now and technology facilitates this.

PROPSTER: How do you think building and living will change in the future? Let’s say in 10 to 15 years.

CT: Progress over the 1990’s and 2000’s was measured in terms of convenience and how it made our lives easier. Over the most recent decade, the focus has shifted to community and this is very exciting to me. It feels sustainable and worth improving on. I’m particularly excited about the future of both residential and commercial property outside of the main urban areas. The unanticipated realities of remote and hybrid work are beginning to present a whole host of new challenges and opportunities that have yet to be recognised. 

How we live and where we work has been changing for more than a decade. Now, post-pandemic, where we live and how we work is being transformed – the possibilities are endless. For so many years, real estate was all about location location location, which involved many sacrifices. Technology might actually turn out to be the great leveller that it was promised to be many decades ago.

PROPSTER: You have already gained a good insight into the needs that PROPSTER solves with its customer platform. In your opinion, is there a need for this in Ireland?

CT: The construction industry has done a good job at eliminating ‘busy work’ on sites. The same cannot be said for the property industry, however, where poor procedures are often being supported by poor systems (tech and non-tech). There are many pain points that are ripe for digitising but the margins have been so reduced in recent years that the financial and other tangible benefits would need to be made clearer. This is arguably the best (easiest!) time in recent history for PROPSTER to enter the Irish market as the consumer audience is now used to evaluating spaces digitally; new homes developers and their agents now understand the need to communicate their offerings in a digital way, and the mismatch of supply and demand means that homes will be selling off-plan for the immediately foreseeable future. 

PROPSTER: What is your closing word? 

CT: Not all innovation is tech-driven, and not all technology is innovative. Learn to recognise the difference. Innovation is key, technology is only the tool.