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Op/Ed

Artificial Intelligence (AI) in real estate: Negating or monetizing an agent’s experience?

There is a growing interest and concern regarding the role of artificial intelligence in real estate, but most arguments miss the core of what makes an agent appealing.

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Have you ever emailed or texted someone, and subsequently opened Facebook on your phone to immediately see that person in your news feed?

You read the entire terms of service when you downloaded that app, right? So you remember agreeing to every bit of your phone’s hardware and software recording and interpreting the signals that your everyday actions are creating (just nod your head yes—it’s watching you right now).

Artificial Intelligence is seeing tremendous growth in consumer-driven industries. It is the ability for software to learn and adapt to consumer behavior via live feedback. Cars, websites, wearables, and apps are becoming more intelligent and adaptable.

We’re seeing huge advances in the affordability of AI software that match the exponential growth of hardware’s computing power.

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Simultaneously, human labor in developed countries is increasing in cost. Minimum wage laws, increasing liability, and rising health care costs are pushing employers to replace labor with technology. McDonald’s employees become kiosks that order Big Macs. Chase Bank tellers are replaced by apps that scan and deposit checks. Companies like Circuit City and Borders Books shutter their stores as websites more efficiently serve their customers.

How AI intersects with RE

Intelligent software has massive potential for creating technology that changes labor markets. Real estate labor is a natural target, and a couple of recent pieces got the ball rolling this past week. Russ Cofano penned a broker outlook that viewed “cognitive computing” not as a threat to labor, but an asset to the baseline of real estate’s agent intelligence:

“So here’s the question. What if cognitive computing enables agents to be better professionals and make better recommendations to their clients? What if access to cognitive computing power, and the data necessary to power it, becomes the 21st century equivalent of the MLS utility?”

Further, Cofano states, “Cognitive computing has the potential to add massive value to the real estate brokerage value proposition and do for agent professionalism what no other initiative could touch.”

While the piece focused on the superior delivery mechanism (Upstream vs. the MLS), it provided support to the idea that brokers could adopt intelligent data systems to improve agent capabilities industry-wide.

Not surprisingly, a different take came from Rob Hahn, focused on the costs of repetitive labor and the likely evolution:

“The $6 billion question is where real estate brokerage services fit in the spectrum of services if we put McDonald’s order-taker on the one extreme and the Chief Engineer of Nuclear Fusion Reactors on the other extreme in terms of specialized skill and knowledge.

I think most of my readers know the answer. Real estate is far, far closer to McDonald’s than it is to McDonnell-Douglas.

…rote procedures and manual inputs are being displaced by technology. Why would it be any different for the rote procedures and manual inputs in the real estate business?

Answer: it won’t.

Those real estate agents who survive will have to be ‘upskilled’ and focus on niche areas or ‘be equipped to handle smart systems.'”

Comparing two views on AI

So we have two very different views of software intelligence’s effect on real estate agents. In one, brokers might adopt cognitive computing measures to improve agents’ core capabilities to serve consumers. They improve and survive as a unified group of forward-thinking adopters.

In another, AI wipes away the entire foundation of repetitive services performed in real estate. This debases the masses of agents and eliminates the need for their services. It leaves only the specialized practitioners above water when it’s done.

It would be remiss of me to gloss over the McDonald’s analogy. The skills that allow agents to survive in their occupation can’t be crammed into a single linear comparison. It seems prudent to point out that the comparison of rocket scientists, real estate agents, and Egg McMuffin order takers should be complex.

In recent real estate history, replacing a repetitive procedure in the sales process with software has simply changed the sales process. It hasn’t removed the sales person. There are graveyards full of real estate labor would-be disruptors who have a poignant understanding of that history.

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The intrinsic skills that keep real estate agents strongly entrenched in the industry seem to center on two things:

  • Personalized intelligence (unique local knowledge, negotiation, transactional experience)
  • Personal relationships (emotional IQ and sphere building)

The latter is almost invariably ignored in real estate labor disruption conversations, yet it’s probably the single greatest barrier to disruption. People list with people. Sellers’ top three requirements for a listing agent are reputation, honesty, and trustworthiness.

AI is the intrusive stalker in your phone. Thelma is the amazing woman who comes to book club and walks with you on weekends. H.A.L. 2000 can’t touch her in terms of trust. This should be the overriding theme of every disruption conversation.

On to bottling knowledge

In the future, personalized intelligence might be a different story. If part of the value of exceptional agents comes from what they know from experience, the way they negotiate, and how they interact with clients, how much of that could be learned by an exceptional AI platform?

Could exceptional agents allow themselves to be profiled by their devices and capture that intelligence to monetize it? Would brokers be able to conglomerate the practices and intelligence of their best agents to provide a unique set of processes for their agents and answers for their clients that aren’t available to the general public?

It might not be as crazy as it sounds. Think about the vast amount of information that could be gleaned from one agent over a single year with all of his/her devices in “AI learn mode.” Spoken word, tone, movement, visual cues, timing, location data, digital communication, social engagement, contract negotiation—all of these and more could be processed into a database describing when, where, and how top agents interact with their environments to close more sales transactions.

Who owns the AI?

While the aforementioned could be done on an industry-wide basis to inform brokers as a whole, it might also be led by savvy top producing agents or brokers who would profit from it as a differentiator. Melded with predictive analytics on consumer behavior and market statistics, the right set of personalized intelligence could tell an agent when and where to meet a consumer, and how to begin interacting with that person to provide a greater likelihood of a client and a sale.

Of course, until personality can be direct-ported into the agent’s brain, we still need a human with emotional IQ to show up and close the deal. The creation of a relationship might be initiated by data, but it’s going to be sealed with emotion.

ThelmaRealtor software version 2.5 could be an AI profile that’s sold to brokers or new agents as a foundational of intelligence for their careers. Whether these benefits and profits go to the real Thelma, her brokerage, or the industry depends on who adopts the technology first.

Back to the people

If that’s all a bit too much sci-fi, let’s get back to the basics. There are huge opportunities for the brokerage community to leverage greater technology and AI to improve how they do business. Those that do will have valuable differentiating tools and skills.

Still, Thelma v. 2.5 isn’t going to wipe out the physical agents on the ground. Technologists with armies of software agents will continue to stare at screens, while real life agents are cementing unbreakable relationships with real people. Consumers will work with agents they view as trustworthy, no matter what amazing intelligence is dangled in front of them by H.A.L. 2000 Realty.

It’s true that consumers want more intelligent real estate transactions. Before that, though, they want trust. AI has great prospects for helping brokers and agents improve their business intelligence, but it’s not going to take the human element out of the transaction any time soon. The real Thelma’s role may change, but she still owns the most valuable, subjective, and defensible portion of the real estate transaction: the relationship.

#AIinRE

Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth, and 2016 president-elect of Seattle King Country REALTORS®. You can find his team at SeattleHome.com and BellevueHomes.com.

Op/Ed

Morning rituals of highly successful people – do you have one?

(EDITORIAL) From start to finish, the daily life of each successful person is very much dictated by their family and job. But there are definitely some patterns that we can all incorporate into our own morning rituals to achieve higher success and order.

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Fleximize took a look at the morning habits of 26 of the country’s most successful individuals to include the President of the United States Barrack Obama, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steve Jobs and even Oprah Winfrey.

What was discovered? Well, each of the men and women on their chart start their day early with time blocked out for exercise and meditation, breakfast and family. In short, things that are important!

Someone, somewhere coined it best: “If it has to happen, then it has to happen first!” Everyone has an “it.” Anyone who has managed to find professional success is surely embracing this philosophy. The first hour(s) of the day are used doing whatever is one’s top-priority activity. And no sooner do you start you risk the priorities of everyone else creeping in.

Interestingly enough, exercising in the morning is one of the group’s top priorities. It’s been said many times that exercise helps keep productivity and energy levels up and better prepares us for the everyday challenge of achieving all we can.

From start to finish, the daily life of each successful person is very much dictated by their family and job. But there are definitely some patterns that we can all incorporate into our own lives to achieve higher success and order.

An Insider article found that “the most productive people understand how important the first meal of the day is in determining their energy levels for the rest of the day. Most stick to the same light, daily breakfast because it works, it’s healthy for them and they know how the meal will make their mind and body feel.”

The Fleximize chart demonstrates that successful people consider the quiet hours of the morning an ideal time to focus on any number of things: important work projects, checking email, meditation. And what’s more, spending time on it at the beginning of the day ensures that it gets complete attention before others chime in.

So check the chart and find someone you can relate to.

BI points out that planning the day, week, or month ahead is a crucial time management tool designed to keep you on track when you’re in the thick of it. Using the mornings to do big-picture thinking helps you prioritize and set the trajectory of the day!

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Op/Ed

Amazon kills HQ2 in NY, Austin and Toronto should gloat

(EDITORIAL) Amazon is breaking up with NY, and Toronto and Austin are in a position to say “told you so.”

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Amazon has decided to abandon its plans for its much hyped and much maligned second headquarters in New York City. The location had been chosen after a lengthy (and embarrassing at times) bidding war between cities across the country after local politicians like Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio offered the $1 trillion company over $3 billion in economic incentives.

Amazon’s flip decision comes after increasing frustration and resistance from existing residents in the Long Island City and Brooklyn neighborhoods where the campus was supposed to be built. Many believed that the influx of tech workers from Amazon would drive rent prices higher, crowd an already at-capacity public transportation system, and lead to gentrification of the area.

Reactions to the reversal are mixed. Some see this as a David-versus-Goliath story where communities were able to rally and scare off arguably the biggest corporate monster possible; others lamented the loss of economic opportunity, particularly the 25,000 jobs that Amazon said the HQ would bring to the area.

Amazon itself blamed these small groups in its statement, stating, “[A] number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City.”

It will be interesting to watch and see what the fallout (if any) of this is for New York City. As Tech Crunch reports, it’s all a bit complicated.

According to Amazon’s announcement they will not be reopening the search for a second headquarters. Instead, they say that they will focus their efforts on expanding their existing operations in Virginia and Tennessee. They have not said whether they plan on expanding either campus by the 25k employees that NYC was supposed to offer.

Despite this proclamation, many cities are already reaching out to Amazon to try and entice investments.

Cities across America initially fell over each other, begging (I mean propositioning) Amazon to grace them with their HQ2, offering free land, massive tax breaks, bootcamps at major colleges and new schools to spinoff talent specifically for Amazon, interest-free home loans for employees, massive grants for hitting employment targets, employment relocation reimbursements, and employee tax incentives.

But two cities openly stood above the fray – Toronto basically said, “come here if you want to,” without offering incentives, while Austin said in a friendly Texas voice, “y’all come here if you want to, everyone else in tech does!”

While everyone else fawned over Amazon, it turns out that HQ2 is dead in the water, and Austin plus Toronto are likely patting themselves on the back right now.

Among all of these dizzying revelations, it’s important to note that rather than try to work out a solution with the local residents Amazon thought would be so eager to have them, the tech giant simply pulled its resources and left.  One wonders whether the next city can reasonably expect to have any sort of sway in negotiations with the company at all. 

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Op/Ed

5 ‘lies’ HGTV tells viewers that impact the housing market

(HOMEOWNERSHIP NEWS) HGTV has long been a fan favorite for renovations and home searches, but is the information they portray accurate? What influence does this really have on consumers?

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It’s no secret that reality television very often does not, in fact, depict reality. One of the most frequently viewed “reality” television networks is HGTV, which features a wide range of home renovation and DIY shows that cater to a variety of home improvement enthusiasts.

While HGTV wants you to get lost in the latest episode of House Hunters, you may be surprised to know that these episodes are in fact, at least partially scripted.

Although there is nothing wrong with enjoying a good home improvement show, especially those ever-addicting home flipping shows like Fixer Uppers, there are a few things HGTV portrays that are less than accurate. Here are five of those things you may want to consider, or have your clients consider before embarking in the home ownership process yourself (or with a client).

Consider the following…

1. Realtors work a lot harder/longer than people think

Unfortunately, HGTV often portrays real estate agents as people who do the bare minimum for their clients, when in fact most Realtors® go above and beyond for their clients.

According to CheatSheet, Sissy Lapin, author and co-founder of ListingDoor, stated shows like House Hunters “make the agent look like they’re just these lazy people who show two houses and negotiate $1,000 off the asking price,” rather than showing the whole host of duties a good agent performs for their clients.

Good agents tackle the whole home buying process; informing clients about what they should consider when selecting a home, negotiating a better deal, and making sure that they do their very best to ensure nothing goes wrong throughout the entire process from start to close.

This is not the impression a potential homebuyer would get from HGTV alone. Realtors® are an amazing asset to have on your team when you’re considering buying or selling a home, and they do a lot more than HGTV portrays.

2. Over-emphasizing the importance of new features

HGTV shows make a production out of showing homeowners frantically searching for the “perfect home” with all the “must have” features. In all fairness, sponsorship from the latest and greatest in home innovations is how they make some of their money. While it’s certainly understandable that most homeowners have a list of things they want in a new home, worrying sellers into thinking they won’t be able to sell their home unless they have these highly coveted features is an entirely different thing.

Lapin commented, “I can’t tell you how many times that I go into a house and they’re like, do you think it would add more value, or do you think it would sell faster if I put in granite countertops?” In fact, like many other trends in homes, consumers are moving away from granite to other sustainable materials. But you would never guess this if you believe everything HGTV is promoting on their shows. Again, the key is to do your own research. Consult a professional and inquire as to what would increase your home’s value.

3. Downplaying the expense of renovations

If you took what HGTV shows to heart, you’d be inclined to believe that major home renovations can be completed in mere hours for a few hundred dollars. If you’ve ever seen Property Brothers, you know the brothers function on extremely fast renovations schedules and very low budgets. This is likely not the situation you’ll encounter if you decide to renovate your own home (or a project home). Even contractors have complained that these types of shows are giving people an inaccurate picture about renovation expectations.

“Remodelers say that shows such as Love It or List It and Property Brothers, which often cram whole-house remodeling projects into too-small budgets, give clients the wrong impression regarding pricing and time constraints,” notes Tim Regan, writer for Remodeling.com. Also, according to CheatSheet, some renovations may not even be up to code.

One couple who appeared on Love It or List It are suing the show’s production company stating their home was “irreparably damaged” and a that a licensed architect was not hired.

To ensure your next project goes smoothly the best thing you can do is consult with a licensed, bonded, and insured contractor. They will be able to give you a time table and price range that is more realistic than what you see on HGTV.

4. Location, location, location

While not as important as the other factors on this list, in my opinion, it is certainly something to be considered. HGTV shows like House Hunters very rarely focus on the importance of location with the home buyer.

Lapin stated in one episode, she watched as a couple chose a home because of its stylish features even though it meant they would have to make a 45 minute commute to work. While everyone is entitled to make their own choices, Lapin makes a good point in stating that she would have “made [her] client make that drive to work three days in a row” to see if they would still enjoy the location of their new home.

This is one of the many benefits to having a Realtor® on your side: they know the ins and outs of home values, location, and more. Getting your information from a Realtor® will take you a lot further (and very likely save you money) than the information you can get from HGTV programming.

5. Buyers know more than some think

Contrary to what HGTV would like you to believe, buyers are not naïve. For the most part, buyers are real-world savvy and have a good idea about what they need and the price range they can afford. This is the age of digital technology, and most buyers are putting that technology to use, researching before they set out to buy something.

Sites like Zillow give buyers an idea of what’s available for how much, and they can even see what the home looks like without getting out and driving to the location.

HGTV tends to show buyers that don’t know what they want or how much they can spend.

This is likely done to make their professionals seem more knowledgeable, but in reality, as Lapin states, “the buyer, the consumer, is very savvy and I feel like that’s not portrayed. Buyers have a lot of confidence now.” This isn’t to say most buyers don’t still welcome guidance from a professional, but they do have a general idea of what they want and what they can spend, by and large.

Instead of viewing HGTV as an example to follow, or representative of the market as a whole, it should be treated as entertainment.

While there are some aspects of the show that may be useful to some viewers, such as window replacement and selecting new flooring, it definitely shouldn’t be held as the gold standard for service or the home buying experience.

Consumers’ best bet is to consult an industry professional who can give you a more realistic picture of cost and time.

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