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Real Estate Big Data

5 ways AI is shifting real estate and how to capitalize on it

(REAL ESTATE BIG DATA) Artificial intelligence is bringing a seismic shift to commercial real estate in everything from investing to sales to property management. Hold on!

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Woman working at desk with multiple desktops open to AI tools.

Forget about that location thing. Now real estate – especially commercial real estate – is about data, data, data. As in, Really. Big. Data. And AI is owed a large part of the credit for that.

A dizzying amount of data is being crunched and sorted and searched by artificial intelligence-enabled tools that are changing how deals get done and who will still have a job in the future.

The promise of AI to use data to predict the future is massive – and it promises to do that with more accuracy and efficiency, greater productivity, and less cost for commercial as well as residential real estate.

So, what, exactly, can AI do for commercial real estate? Let’s break it down.

What AI is

To put it simply, artificial intelligence is what lets Amazon’s Alexa talk to you and cars drive themselves. Its algorithms use data to mimic human intelligence, including learning and reasoning. Then there’s machine learning, where algorithms analyze enormous amounts of data to make predictions and assist with decision making. We’re putting them both under the same AI umbrella.

There are four main areas where AI is remaking the commercial real estate industry: development and investing; sales and leasing; marketing; and property management.

Development and investing

With its ability to quickly analyze a staggering amount of data, AI lets investors and developers make better data-driven decisions. More responsive financial modeling helps identify ideal use cases and project ROI under multiple scenarios using real-time data. Pulling in alternative data – say, environmental changes or infrastructure improvements – goes beyond traditional data points and can identify investment opportunities, such as neighborhoods beginning to gentrify. In fact, alternative, hyper-local data has become even more important as COVID-19 continues to upend property valuation models.

AI’s crystal ball comes from recognizing patterns in the data and continuing to learn from new information. It can forecast risk, market fluctuations, property values, demographic trends, occupancy rates and other considerations that can make or break a deal.

And it does all of this more efficiently, more accurately and less expensively than manual methods.

Sales and leasing

There’s a big question looming over AI and automation: Will technology put real estate brokers out of business? The short answer is, “No, but brokers need to step up their tech game.”

Keeping up with – and being open to – tech trends is essential. Clients’ ability to use online marketplaces to search for or list property will only grow, but there still is no substitute for expertise and the personal rapport that builds trust. Chatbots can’t negotiate (yet). Robots can’t show a space and weave details about the property into a story. (If you want to know more about using storytelling in real estate, check out this great marketing guide.)

But Big Data is such a powerful tool that brokers need to know how to harness it for themselves. Having more, and more nuanced, data about clients and properties means brokers can better match the two. They can be more confident in setting sales prices and rental rates. Becoming a “technology strategist” to help clients design an automation strategy for a property would be a great value add to their services. Even just starting out with a website chatbot to answer common questions would add a level of tech-savvy efficiency to communication with clients and prospects.

Marketing

Also a boon of Big Data for brokers: more sophisticated, targeted marketing for themselves, as well as for client properties.

Integrating AI with customer relationship management (CRM) tools brings a richer understanding of clients and prospects that can make choosing marketing channels and personalizing targeted content more precise.

Then there’s data-driven lead scoring. Property intelligence firm Reonomy says its commercial data mine – 52 million properties, 100 million companies, 30 million personal profiles, and 53 million tenants – can be searched in multiple ways to create custom prospect lists. (Check out Forbes.com’s “5 Ways Artificial Intelligence is Transforming CRMs” for a fascinating list of what AI can do, including analyzing conversations for sentiment analysis.)

Property and facility management

The Internet of Things (IoT) is already helping property and facilities managers control and predict energy costs, as well as proactively address maintenance issues. Integrating smart technology like thermostats and sensors with AI also means more efficient space planning. Smart security cameras and wi-fi tracking can create “people heat maps” that can identify underutilized or overcrowded areas.

IBM’s TRIRIGA does that and more. Part of the Watson project, TRIRIGA offers AI-driven insights to show how people are actually using a space and ensure a company has the right amount of space in the right areas. It can also analyze common questions from a chat log, then use that data to create an AI virtual assistant to automatically answer those questions – and update itself as it learns new data. Maintenance requests, room reservations and more can be fully automated.

Strategic space planning has become even more important during the pandemic, as work-from-home trends and safety concerns reshape offices as workers return. (Need ideas for your office? IBM’s Returning to the Workplace guide might be a good place to start.)

Barriers to adoption

There’s no question tech-enabled commercial real estate companies will have a competitive edge. The question is, when will more of them agree enough to adopt AI more widely?

PropTech with and without AI has exploded over the past few years – and that’s part of the problem. In an Altus Group survey, 89% of CRE executives said the PropTech space needs significant consolidation before it can effectively deliver on industry needs; 43% said that is already underway or will occur within 12 months.

Then there’s the undeniable learning curve that comes with any tech tool – an investment of time as well as money. The survey also showed concerns about regulatory requirements for data collection and management, having enough internal capacity, and nonstandard data formats.

Despite those perceived barriers, there’s also no question that innovation and disruption from AI are moving at a dizzying pace – and that commercial real estate needs to keep pace.

Lisa Wyatt Roe is an Austin writer and editor whose work has been featured on CNN.com/Travel, in Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine and in the book “Seduced by Sound: Austin; 100 Musicians on Why They Make Music.” Travel and live music feed her soul. Volunteering with refugees feeds her sense of purpose. And making friends laugh feeds her deep (yet possibly sad) need to get all the laughing emojis on Facebook.

Real Estate Big Data

Supply crisis hits housing – starts and permits fell in September

(REAL ESTATE) New data from the Commerce Department shows a dip in permits and starts, but if you look closely, multifamily is carrying that weight, so how is single family production going?

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housing starts

Last month, housing starts fell 1.6%, which is only a slight dip, but permits fell 7.7%, and the gap between units completed and those still under construction is the largest on record, according to reporting from the U.S. Commerce Department.

While starts and permits hit a year low and while labor shortages, supply chain issues, and rising prices of raw materials, it should be noted that single-family starts actually remained unchanged, and permits for single family homes only fell 0.9%, so what we’re looking at here is a slowdown in the multifamily sector as sales heat up in single family housing..

Another factor at play here regarding still-tight inventory levels is the federal mortgage forbearance program as a response to the pandemic. As the program wraps up, more inventory will come online.

Dr. Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist at the National Association of Realtors (NAR) explains: “The current mortgage default rate of at least three months is running high at 3.5% compared to less than 1% before the pandemic. However, foreclosures have been at historic lows so far due to the forbearance support. The default rate will certainly fall as long as the economy continues to generate jobs, but the end of the federal support program inevitably means some homeowners will need to sell. This will be another source of housing inventory.”

Because tight inventory levels have kept the market restricted and sales below what demand is, the residential real estate sector should see hope in this analysis.

But there is no sector safe from the supply chain crisis or prices rising again on raw materials. Reuters reports that many materials like windows and breaker boxes are in short supplies while the cost of building materials have surged, like copper which is up 16%, and lumber prices are jumping back up to record highs set in May.

Homebuilder confidence is up, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), but their most recent survey also indicates that “builders continue to grapple with ongoing supply chain disruptions and labor shortages that are delaying completion times.”

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reported today that mortgage applications for new home purchases are down 16.2% compared to September 2020, and applications are down 4% compared to August. It is notable that the average loan size hit $408,522, the highest on record, and another indicator of increasing construction costs.

Going forward, analysts expect the backlog of starts to continue as labor and supply chain issues persist. And although the news isn’t overtly positive, single family housing on its own is actually performing better than in 2020. There is light at the end of the tunnel for hopeful homebuyers.

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Real Estate Big Data

A ridiculously easy way to combat bad reviews from non-customers

(MARKETING) Some ratings and review sites don’t verify reviewers, so what happens when a nasty comment about you is left on a ratings site?

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reviews Woman seated on ground writing cold email to clients.

Have you ever found a business through Yelp that you wanted to like but just couldn’t make up your mind about because of the contrasting reviews of the place? Like a restaurant with the best service but had cold soup and an unresponsive hostess, or a B&B that was warm and clean but had an owner who did not provide the second B come morning time?

Some of these outlying negative reviews can be telling of the business, and I always make sure to read them in case I set my expectations too high (like I did for the eggs benedict from that diner up north).

However, while most reviews do reflect a genuine experience and are useful to would-be customers, others can be exaggerated or even outright falsified.

One such encounter one of our team members had was when searching for a private firearms trainer. Her online search had taken her to a trainer she liked. However, the comments on Yelp for the trainer were horrible.

Before she ran the other way, she saw comments from the trainer that simply said, “This person is not a verified client of [Company Name].” Apparently, he made a tv news appearance advocating for a specific gun right, and people from all over the globe made negative comments.

The fact that they weren’t his clients made her totally disregard their comments, because those reviews weren’t based on his professional performance. Guess who she hired?

Sites that allow anyone to review an unlimited number of businesses naturally risk exploitation. Such review sites make it possible to communicate quick, personal experiences about any business out there, and that also means an easy dig from a disgruntled customer to the place that hurts a company most.

It is up to the business to stay vigilant about what is being said out there and seek out ratings and review platforms that verify customers.

Since customers rely on sites like Yelp, businesses need to maintain their profile in the same way they would maintain their storefront. Just as they would fix the broken lighting in their lobby, they need to acknowledge any unreliable reviews a cranky customer may write about them. By having a human presence on these sites, businesses can breed a sense of integrity and accountability that others will pick up on.

If those scathing and seemingly random reviews had been acknowledged by the supposed perpetrators, I would have had an easier time overlooking the more exaggerated claims, just like my team member did.

By responding, the business provides context for the incident, but more importantly, it shows that they care.

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Real Estate Big Data

Global market panic over Chinese real estate bubble subsides slightly

(REAL ESTATE) Chinese real estate bubble fears shook markets last week, but Evergrande made a big move today to temper the panic.

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chinese real estate

Last week, stock markets internationally plunged due to fears of a real estate bubble in China as their largest real estate developer, Evergrande struggled to make their interest payments on their outstanding bank loans as well as their bonds.

Analysts pointed to the interconnected nature of markets, reminding people that when the housing market crashed in the U.S. back in 2008, all global markets were impacted.

We asserted that the panic was overblown given that Evergrande has a tremendous amount of physical assets ($340 billion to be more precise), and that a restructure was possible which could put them back on track (rather than crumble – which was what markets seemed to imagine last week).

There has been a lot of speculation that the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) would begin pressuring state-owned businesses to prop up the developer.

Today, Evergrande’s stock is actually up as they have raised $1.5 billion in cash to meet their financial obligations.

How did they accomplish this? By selling their 20% stake in Shengjing Bank to the state-owned Shenyang Shengjing Finance Investment Group.

The money will only be applicable to their outstanding interest payments that are past due, and the Chinese government has not made any statement to the effect that they applied pressure or intervened.

The government has been pouring cash into the financial system to assuage fears, adding $15.5 billion to keep liquidity moving.

In a statement this week, the People’s Bank of China said they would “maintain the healthy development of the real estate market and safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of housing consumers.” The statement did not specifically reference Evergrande.

It is important that real estate practitioners keep their eye on this story as it has stoked consumers’ fears, especially when people don’t read beyond a headline.

There won’t be a pop quiz on how much cash Evergrande has on hand, but consumers may mention the Chinese real estate bubble elbowing markets here as a factor in their decision making. Understanding the bird’s eye view of what is going on will help Realtors better address the topic while in the field.

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