Neil Harvey, CTO of Kirona, explores how housing providers can turn periods between tenants around more effectively and use IoT technology to minimise void periods.
Void. It’s an unpopular word in most sectors and settings, and the housing industry is no exception. Empty properties equate to immediate lost revenues since no rent is collected, but they can also be costly over time, with empty homes even depreciating the value of entire neighbourhoods. According to the latest government figures, there are approximately 200,000 long-term vacant homes across England, which means those that have been empty for over six months. This is an undeniable waste of real estate in light of the ongoing demand for new housing.
However, void properties are also prime targets for regeneration. Without tenants in situ, changes and improvements can be made far more efficiently – it’s the ideal time to carry out renovations and installations. Furthermore, if these enhancements are made in a strategic way, the property can be made far more attractive to tenants, so as to reduce void time in the future.
A holistic approach, drawing on the internet of things and automated technologies, and thinking from the tenants’ perspective, is key.
Effective repairs and maintenance
One of the most common complaints from those living in rented accommodation, whether privately or through a housing association, is that landlords take too long to carry out requested repairs or that repairs and maintenance tasks are carried out to a poor standard, and sometimes not at all. As such, running an effective repairs and maintenance programme is a powerful way for landlords to attract tenants and position themselves as proactive leaders in their field.
By carrying out comprehensive programmes of improvements during void periods, landlords can complete multiple jobs in a short amount of time, reducing the chance of further works being needed once there are tenants in place. Indeed, messy or disruptive jobs may only be possible during voids.
However, it’s vital that such works are carried out as efficiently as possible so that the property isn’t forced into a longer void period than necessary – and in turn, this requires extremely tight project management. Works can easily spread beyond one or two properties too; after all, if a particular specialist tradesman has been called out, it makes sense to cover as many properties in one go as possible. The same rules regarding efficiency apply, of course, once tenants are in place.
Better energy management
The internet of things is powering a drive towards smarter homes, whereby tenants can better understand how their home is performing and what it costs to run. By introducing such technologies, landlords can actively respond to market demands, and empower and therefore attract future tenants.
Smart meters, which intelligently analyse the energy use in a property, are one of the most commonly-reported aspects of the IoT. Yet smart meters have had a slower than anticipated take-up in the housing sector because there is no direct onus on housing providers to install them, although doing so can enable their properties to run more efficiently and attract tenants who want to manage their energy costs more closely.
There are numerous advantages of using void periods to install smart meters – there’s no risk of the tenant being out at the appointed time, so installation is more effective, the move-in process for the new tenant is smoother because the utilities are up and running straight away, and electricity is available for other maintenance and repairs during that void period. It really is win, win – and win again. In short, as with repairs and maintenance work, void periods are the ideal opportunity to install smart meters.
Improving the insulation throughout properties is another powerful way in which landlords can make their properties run more cost-effectively both for themselves and their tenants and, once again, this is an ideal job for carrying out during void periods.
These suggestions might sound compelling, but they also result in a long list of tasks to be managed precisely when landlords are hurriedly searching for new tenants to move in. Certainly, void periods might be the most efficient time to carry out certain jobs but if those tasks take too long or interrupt each other, then the whole thing becomes wildly inefficient, cumbersome and costly.
If void periods are to be truly optimised, then it’s not enough to simply choose a list of proactive improvement works; those works also need to be undertaken in a logical and time-sensitive manner; decorators after electricians and joiners, for example. This approach not only keeps that specific void period to a minimum, but it also makes it easier to manage the multiple trades that take a property to peak condition, thereby reducing the likelihood of future void periods.
This is where field service automation technologies can be a powerful ally, enabling housing providers to optimise the planning and scheduling of complex projects and logically sequence resources. Throughout void periods, work can be completed as efficiently as possible, while also providing a single top-line view of all works. In this way, bottlenecks on specific projects can be identified and fixed, and performance against different project targets can be tracked clearly.
Maximising productivity during void periods is about first understanding the enhancements and installations that can make a significant difference to tenants, but which are best introduced when the property is empty. And secondly about managing those enhancements in a logical sequence, best achieved through field service automation software.
Neil Harvey is CTO of Kirona.