We all know PropTech and the hype that has been generated about it in recent years. Some of us consider it to be as good as over and done with, but I don’t count myself among them. Even if the major players have meanwhile jumped on the band wagon and PropTech seems to have arrived in the real estate industry, I still see much room for development. That is why it makes me very happy to see the continually mounting interest with which an ever greater number of startups have been dedicating themselves to this subject and are now slowly arriving in the work phase, thanks to the growing degree of acceptance. The initiative launched by EXPO REAL’s Real Estate Innovation Forum is helping to foster these highly promising approaches.

Whether new construction or renovation – only with smart technologies will we remain viable

As regards construction technology (ConTech), however, a different topic will play an even greater role at this year’s Real Estate Innovation Forum. Proceeding from an economically necessary view of the entire property life cycle, ConTech will automatically become the focus of interest. The construction industry is booming throughout Germany, construction costs are exploding and tradesmen are booked out. Yet we will need them in the future, not only for new construction, but also and more than ever in existing buildings. How do we want to deal with this problem? The tradesmen currently working on our construction sites are, on average, more than fifty years old, and we have recruited most of them from other countries. In other words, we are dependent on adopting new smart technologies both in new construction and in rehabilitation in order to remain viable in the future. Or am I in error and suddenly all our youngsters want to become electricians, roofers or plumbers?

Google, Amazon and Tesla are already showing us how to do it

From my perspective, the (need for) change is already upon us. The question is only whether we as a real estate industry are going to take up the topic of ConTech proactively or, as occurred in the banking sector, abandon the playing field to the others. In the USA, companies such as Google, wework, Facebook, LinkedIn, Amazon and not least Tesla are already showing us how to do it. Tesla, for example, is showing how roofs and houses can look after being rethought, taking into account smart material selection, autonomous energy concepts and innovative technologies. Other future-oriented topics include modular construction employing prefinished components, 3-D printing of concrete, new composite materials such as carbon concrete and intelligent connection technologies.

Numerous initiatives are moving ConTech to the top of the agenda

When we founded our RETechDACH Association three years ago, the buzzword PropTech was not yet on everyone’s lips. Stimulated by talks with one of my role models and mentors, Bernd Heuer, and studies such as those by Prof. Russo, one thing rapidly became clear to us at that time: the subject of ConTech had to be moved to the top of the agenda. Our objective was and is therefore to give innovative minds with good ideas a platform for discussing the entire property life cycle. We want to take the initiative, and others are already going along with us. There are many exciting associations, initiatives and technical committees that have formed in recent years to shift the focus to the property life cycle and thus on construction itself. To me, it seems that the time has come to declare ConTech the “next big thing”.

Dramatically reducing time and costs

I am firmly convinced that in the future we will be unable to make do without new technologies and smart materials. They will not only make it possible to reduce the workload placed on tradesmen and construction workers, but will also facilitate the employment of less qualified workers. In future, modular construction, we will be able to pre-fabricate major elements, use new, safe connection technologies and resort to simply trained system tradesmen. By doing these things, we will dramatically reduce building time and costs. In view of recent years’ exploding construction costs, I think this aspect should excite the interest of absolutely everyone. But how, precisely, should we now tackle the subject?

In my opinion, ConTech startups will play a leading role in advancing the development, and we should support them in doing so. In my imagination, future project developers will buy licenses to use a technology or a process from startups that would otherwise be unable to implement scalability. Big construction companies and real estate developers will participate as venture capitalists in the development of the startups or found their own incubators within their companies in the same manner as other industries such as the SAP and BASF groups have done.

I look forward to discussing these topics with you at EXPO REAL 2018. I dare to present the bold hypothesis that, with or without us, new construction in fifteen years’ time will look different and more flexible. Keep being curious, and let us foster new startups in the ConTech and PropTech fields.