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Boost your web productivity with Motion, now available on Firefox

(REAL ESTATE TECH NEWS) Motion, the acclaimed time-saving browser app, is now available on Firefox. Keep yourself organized and accountable, right in your browser.

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Motion the browser app open on a neatly organized white desk.

If your attention span is anything like mine, all of this screen time over the last year has been brutally difficult, especially when it comes to simple things like staying on task and not checking Twitter 100 times in one hour. Luckily, a productivity app called Motion might help you get that time back.

Motion is an in-browser app originally designed for Google Chrome. The team behind it recently launched a Firefox version as well, effectively doubling your browser choices. While it isn’t free for long-term use, you can give the app a try for five days without paying a cent.

The call to action on Motion’s landing page is bold, yet oddly corroborated by those who use it: With the right settings, you can reclaim up to 2 hours of lost time per day. This includes, but is not limited to, time spent browsing social media, looking through complex file management systems (we’re not naming names, but Motion happily will), and negotiating with your planning app of choice.

In fact, given permission, Motion throws away most of your daily annoyances and replaces them with its own reimagined versions thereof. For example, Motion can replace your Google Drive and Gmail interfaces with a lightweight, easy-to-navigate version that—in theory—cuts down on navigation time. Motion also gives you a smart scheduler to automate at least some of your calendar tasks, and it won’t fail to hold you accountable for clicking onto a social media tab.

Actually, the social media behavior exhibited by Motion might be the most endearing (or most frustrating, depending on your level of addiction) aspect it offers. The app has settings that can hide newsfeeds, remind you (politely) to hurry up when you absolutely must check Facebook, and display an announcement that tells you how much time you have spent checking your socials for the day.

There are a ton of nuanced and personalizable features that Motion includes that aren’t covered here, but the end takeaway is this: Motion can save you a ton of time if you’re willing to let it do so. Whether you use Chrome or Firefox for your various nefarious deeds, this app is a must-try if you’ve been struggling to stay on-task.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

Real Estate Technology

Is Internet access a basic human right? T-mobile thinks so

(TECH NEWS) Last year, T-Mobile announced a plan to bring free and at-cost internet access to 10 million homes in the US; 2020 has made this mission crucial.

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Student viewing internet on tablet.

Modern classrooms practically require students to have access to the internet in order to succeed. This was the case well before COVID forced a national switch to remote online learning.

It’s hard enough to rely on public computers and WiFi networks to complete school work under ordinary circumstances — and I speak from experience there. But campuses, libraries, and cafes are still closed or limiting access in most places. The school year is already a month in progress, yet the struggle to get online is still too real.

This was captured perfectly in a photo that received viral attention on Instagram when the fall semester started: Two teenagers seated on the ground outside of a Salinas Taco Bell, using the restaurant’s internet for their schoolwork.

Fortunately, in their case, the girls’ school district was able to help them obtain a Wi-Fi hotspot. And they’re continuing to distribute hotspots and laptops widely to its student body.

In light of this, T-Mobile is investing $10.7 billion dollars over the next 10 years into ensuring youth are no longer put into situations like that. The company is partnering up with school districts to provide students with a free wifi hotspot and 100 GB of data year (or roughly 8 GB of data per month).

An estimated 16.9 million US youth currently lack internet. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Matt Staneff cites his concern that a majority of school-age kids consider homework to be a major source of stress in their lives.

Of course, telecommunications companies are clearly aware of how much our educational systems depend on the internet. It is unquestionably the most comprehensive collection of human knowledge and culture ever. It can no longer be considered just a luxury or a novelty. It’s a critical tool for academic and career success.

While he acknowledged the potential business opportunity in providing schools with internet connectivity, Stanek claims T-Mobile’s intentions are good. He stated, “We recognize there’s a problem in society of kids not being connected. We want to do more than just try to win customers. This is a huge problem.”

Staneff concedes that suitable Internet access extends to hardware, too: “[sometimes students] need a bigger screen, which is why [T- Mobile is] also offering at-cost, larger-screen devices.”

But even if T-Mobile has the best intentions, the fact remains that they aren’t a charity. Service providers like T-Mobile would probably not be too happy about the lost “business opportunity,” should tablets and internet access be made freely available to every student. The schools are public, and they rely on the internet, yet the internet is privatized.

The responsibility to solve the civic issues brought on by the pandemic is increasingly falling onto the private sector. If T-Mobile is willing to offer the money and infrastructure to help kids get an education, that’s a step in the right direction.

Yet it prompts the question: Should we consider internet access to be a human right? Because as long as the web remains corporately controlled and commodified, the access gap will persist and our schools will pay the price.

This article was originally published in 2020.

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Real Estate Technology

Realtors, you should be using AI – here’s how (and how not to)

(TECH NEWS) AI is changing the course of the real estate industry on a seismic scale. What does that mean for real estate pros?

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Man looking at phone, showing advancement of AI technology while searching for housing.

Artificial intelligence is hot everywhere, but it’s more than just hot for real estate – it’s poised to reshape the entire industry. To stay relevant, Realtors, brokerages and agents need to know how to use AI to their advantage and understand how it’s empowering consumers.

So, let’s break it down. What, exactly, can AI do for real estate pros?

“AI can be a complete game changer and give you an edge against your competition,” David Conroy, director of Emerging Technology for the National Association of Realtors, said at November’s 2020 REALTORS Conference & Expo.

That competitive edge can come from using Big Data to work smarter: being more efficient + closing transactions more quickly + cutting costs + marketing more strategically = more happy clients and more money for agents.

The term “Big Data” can be intimidating to non-techies, but don’t worry. No one needs to add “data scientist” to their LinkedIn profile. But even as venture capital is pouring into proptech startups, the real estate industry as a whole still seems to be lagging.

Actual data scientist Julianne Heller of NAR says some companies think it will be too costly and take too much work. They don’t understand or trust it. There’s also a fear that AI could replace people and cut jobs.

“AI does not equate to replacement, but it supports human work and makes our lives easier,” Heller said at the National Association of Realtors’ conference. “AI can improve the buyer and seller experience.”

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.

What AI can do

As AI continues to learn and evolve, the benefits for real estate professionals and consumers are getting easier to see.

Access to data lets consumers feel more in control. Researching properties on sites like Zillow and Trulia lets consumers feel like they can make smarter decisions. Now marketplace sites are using AI to better understand consumer preferences to improve their search experience. On sites like HomeLight, AI lets buyers and sellers find agents with specific experience who are likely to make them or save them the most money.

More nuanced pricing is more accurate. The incredible number of data points lets agents go beyond pulling the usual three comps from MLS. By analyzing past data, AI can put a value on things like proximity to Starbucks, local Yelp reviews and what buyers with similar preferences have paid for similar properties. It’s AI that lets Zillow’s Zestimates “read” listing photos, identify features like granite countertops and adjust pricing based on the value they add.

Buyers get better matches with potential homes. AI can go beyond the usual filters and tap preferences of similar buyers to narrow potential candidates or expand the search area. Zeroing in on the closest-to-perfect properties saves time and money and lowers clients’ stress as transactions close more quickly.

Chatbots offer 24/7 communication between clients and agents. A client who just thought of a quick question before bedtime might be able to get an answer while her agent is sleeping peacefully. Consumers can also get answers to common questions about topics like property tax valuations’ relationship to market values. (Pro tip: Agents can also take advantage of useful communication and other proptech tools.)

Prospecting and connecting with past clients get more efficient. Some examples: Re/Max’s First app analyzes an agent’s contacts to predict who might be ready to sell soon, leading to well-timed “just checking in” calls. Homesnap Pro’s Likelihood to List feature predicts which homeowners might sell in the next year.

Marketing budgets work harder when they’re data driven. AI can show who’s buying, where they “live” online, including their social media, and what digital and offline marketing channels are the best way to reach them with paid ads or organic strategies.

Trends big and small stand out. Not only can AI forecast the future for cities and neighborhoods, it can predict future property values or the best time to sell for a particular house on a particular street.

What it can’t do

For all of the amazing things AI can do in real estate, there are a few things it’s not great at.

Pocket listings don’t pop up. It doesn’t have access to private listings that agents hear about through various grapevines. (Although NAR and local Realtor boards have banned them as unfair, pocket listings seem unlikely to disappear in fiercely competitive markets.)

Chatbots aren’t all that smart – yet. They can answer basic questions or get newsletter sign ups, but “Sorry, I don’t understand” can add frustration.

Bias can be baked-in. When AI output is based on data that reflects systemic housing discrimination – such as redlining and higher mortgage interest rates for minority groups – it can perpetuate those issues. (Pro tip #2: Agents, NAR’s new Fairhaven training simulations are a great way to make sure you aren’t part of the problem.)

What only humans can do

AI’s data powers can put agents in front of the right buyers and sellers at the right time, but it will always be up to humans to close deals.

There’s no substitute for personal relationships. Chatbots can’t negotiate. A C-3PO can’t show houses. Data can’t intuit anything from the look on a client’s face when she first walks into a house. Sellers and buyers want to work with agents they trust to advise them.

Only people know the stories. Agents with hyperlocal expertise know the history of the neighborhood or maybe the story behind the local mom-and-pop grocery store that’s been there for 50 years. Storytelling skills can close deals.

What’s next

As advanced as AI is, it’s still in its infancy. The amount of data will grow. Chatbots will become smarter and answer more complex questions. Projects like the IBM Policy Lab will focus on how public policy should make sure AI helps, not hinders, the common good.

Most importantly, innovation in AI will continue to sprint ahead. If real estate pros want to stay in the game, they need to bring both Big Data and personal expertise to the table.

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Real Estate Technology

Power up your daily checklists and task organization with Macro

(REAL ESTATE TECH NEWS) Got a lot of tasks and lists to organize? Macro lets you streamline your repetitive tasks and checklists with its “powerful checklists”.

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Front web page for Macro, super powered checklists, supercharges your team's processes.

If repetitive tasks and checklists are part of your daily workflows, there’s a new tool, which says it can “supercharge your team’s processes.” Macro is a product that lets you create checklists to document workflows, assign tasks to team members, and automate common actions.

Macro checklists are designed to let you complete various tasks in a single tab. Once you’re signed up, you can view and create all your checklists in the “Library” section. To create a new checklist, you simply select the “Create New” button on the top right.

In the Checklist Editor, you can configure your checklist to fit the process that best works for you. You can build a comprehensive workflow by adding a task-type menu, form, or file upload field.

Macro checklists let you use variables to set up custom fields that will be filled out by anyone who runs your checklist. This helps enable templated actions you can use over and over again. For instance, you can create a variable called “Name”. If you’re sending out a Welcome email for your subscription service, you can add the “Name” variable to it, and the name of the new subscribers will then automatically appear in the email.

After your checklist is ready, you can hit save and start adding automation to your checklist by defining a trigger and its action. For example, you can pre-define which tasks are assigned to a certain team member. So, when a checklist is run, it will automatically be assigned to that person. You can even specify dependencies for each task. If Task A and Task B need to be completed before Task C can begin, they will remain inactive until the dependent tasks are marked as complete.

When your checklist is polished and ready, you can invite people to view or edit it. And, after you start running your first checklist, you can use Macro’s built-in reporting to keep track of your progress and view metrics in the Tracking section. From there, you can see what tasks are completed and which ones are pending. If needed, you can also set deadlines for each checklist and reminders for each task.

Macro also offers templates for common use cases, such as employee and customer onboarding, podcast workflow, and new candidate on-site process. Right now, it is still in public beta so it’s free to use. On the company’s website, it says Macro “will always offer a free version.” However, what features the “free plan” will include aren’t clear, but enterprise plans will be announced soon.

Overall, Macro is easy to use, and it packs a lot of punch in a neat little tool. If you’d like to give it a test drive, you can sign up on the company’s website.

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