Only developers and property owners with flexible and relevant offerings are likely to stay ahead in a very competitive and demanding market. The 2020 pandemic has done more than change the way people work; it’s changed the way they live and what they expect.

The business of owning, developing and renting property has been severely affected by the pandemic. People don’t want to share spaces with strangers or take unnecessary risks, or invest when markets are challenging. Household names like Airbnb, Hertz and Sandton City have been hit hard. However, as restrictions lift and markets recover, it has become critical that the commercial and residential property markets look to new ways of capturing customer attention and developing offerings that are relevant and engaging.

“With people thinking twice about investing and three times about developing, it’s time for the market to look at the must-haves for tenants and how to add value,” says Michael Franze, Managing Director at Citiq Prepaid.

“The property industry is not alone in looking for sustainable answers to complex questions. Rental rates and occupancies have dropped significantly. There has been an increase in vacancies and rental arrears. Companies are looking for fresh ideas and approaches to shore up sustainable foundations within the current market.”

A nimble approach to the business of property

There are examples of how companies have made impressive shifts in their approaches to property development. One example is where retirement homes have attached basic healthcare services to their property rental services and have made it easier for retired tenants to pay for utilities and manage their admin. This takes the market’s specialised needs into consideration which, in turn, increases occupancy and how desirable the property is for the occupants.

“It’s all about taking a nimble approach to the business of property,” says Franze. “It’s about looking at existing assets and value-added services and refining them to meet specific market requirements. It also allows for organisations to recoup the losses incurred from arrears and lost business during the pandemic and to adapt to the new needs of customers. People want safety, health, access, and limited contact with the outside world. They want their processes online and their experiences streamlined.”

Adapt to the post-pandemic era

It’s also about choice. Property owners and developers can choose to continue with traditional approaches to tenant, market and solution, or they can adapt to the post-pandemic era. The question is – how?

“People have recognised that there are things that they don’t actually need or want in their lives right now,” says Franze. “Their spending patterns have changed and their approaches to personal safety and wellbeing have altered their behaviour and investment patterns. This is the new normal. This is the wall that the property market has to climb.”

It’s important to become agile, nimble and adaptable to cope with the future. Property owners need to look at simple solutions to legacy problems and find innovative ways of dealing with them. Utilities are often the most painful part of any tenant and property owner’s life. They are complicated, difficult to manage, cause tension, impact on budgets, and add admin. Often, properties share utilities from one meter across multiple properties and this can cause conflict if tenants disagree with how the billing is managed or split. These conflicts then impact on tenant budgets and time, estate manager admin and expenses and they’re not the most effective use of time or money. It also won’t endear the customer to the developer or owner.

“The 2020 pandemic is defined by change, awareness and accountability,” Franze. “Tenants don’t have money. Budgets and time are tight. People aren’t keen on unnecessary physical contact or engagement so they can pay bills or manage their admin. What they want is clean premises, accessible utilities and reduced touchpoints.”

One very simple solution – prepaid sub-metering

Unfortunately, one of the biggest headaches for most property owners and managing agents is the management and collection of utility bills. The municipal utility bills are often based on estimates rather than actual readings and they can be out of step with the billing cycle and therefore payment collections. The monthly variance in bills and invoicing dates can make budgeting extremely difficult for tenants. And if they fall behind the payments or withhold them due to a dispute, then the owner is out of pocket because they still have to pay the bills to ensure that everyone else continues to receive their utility services.

“The answer to most of these challenges lies in one very simple solution – prepaid sub-metering,” says Franze. “Prepaid sub-meters cut down on disputes because the tenant retains control over their meter usage and payments. It offers everyone a pay-as-you-go solution so the tenant can pay, use and repeat in alignment with their budgets and their requirements. It’s far less time consuming and expensive than disputes.”

In addition to simply removing the obstacles that lead to disputes in utility billing, prepaid sub-metering minimises conflict and relationship damage. Tenants don’t argue with one another or management, and everyone just pays for what they use. The other advantage of using a prepaid sub-metering solution like the one provided by Citiq Prepaid is that it provides trackable data via the online portal. This is secure and accessible and it provides managing agents and property owners with reports that help them to analyse purchases and plan accordingly. By tracking purchases owners can adjust lease agreements over time so that their pricing remains competitive and secures long-term occupancy.

“Property owners and developers should consider investing in prepaid sub-metering solutions not only because they cut out conflict, but because they minimise touchpoints for customers,” concludes Franze. “With our prepaid sub-metering solutions, people can make use of online platforms and mobile devices to purchase their tokens so they don’t need to stand in queues or go to physical stores to manage their utilities.”

Citiq Prepaid works with property owners, developers and managing agents to create prepaid sub-metering solutions that add value, deliver exceptional service and transform engagement. We have reliable solutions, a sterling market reputation, and we know what you need to build the property experience of the future.


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