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Realtors and agents, take advantage of your proptech

(TECH NEWS) As the pandemic makes proptech even hotter, savvy real estate pros need to know what tech tools can do for their business.

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Realtor outlining a home using Proptech to potential homebuyers.

Real estate industry experts have a message for Realtors and agents: Get with the proptech program.

Yes, the industry reacted to the pandemic-fueled market crash in the spring by jumping on video conferencing platforms and ramping up virtual tours, but there’s a lot more tech that real estate pros could be taking advantage of.

“Videoconferencing technology isn’t new, but we’re slower to adopt technologies than we’d like to admit,” Nick Bailey, chief customer officer for RE/MAX, LLC, said during this week’s 2020 REALTORS® Conference & Expo. “The reason is that we don’t want to see or hear ourselves. We have to get over that and use it.” (Pro tip for Zoom users: If you don’t want to see yourself, use the Hide Myself feature. Then you won’t be distracted by any pandemic weight gain.)

The pandemic has made a couple of things sparkling clear. As panelists in the “COVID-19 – Transforming How Realtors® Do Business” session agreed, technology was a huge driver in the industry’s V-shaped recovery after lockdowns. They also said trends spurred by COVID-19 aren’t going away.

Consumers love the efficiency and flexibility of being able to virtually tour 10 homes and visit only 3 or 4 top candidates. Also, many people will likely be uncomfortable touring houses for quite awhile.

Now the pandemic has helped demonstrate the value of proptech tools for Realtors and agents, who can use them for keeping in touch with clients, as well as for marketing and prospecting.

“If every agent can take away two pieces of technology to be more efficient, it will improve their business,” Bailey said.

Just a sample of the panel’s recommended tools:

It’s remote online notarization (RON) integrated with e-signatures that could be the biggest efficiency game-changer. However, there are few hurdles, which the Texas Land Title Association outlined in April: Many lenders and county clerks will not yet accept documents notarized online; there are a limited number of RON vendors and registered e-notaries; and consumers as well as industry professionals simply don’t understand how it works.

Still, integrating a tech ecosystem to create seamless, fully-digital transactions appears to be where the industry is headed. “Embracing title companies and lenders who have that ability for full electronic signings and closings will be important,” said Andy Ambrose, practice lead at DocuSign Notary.

For all that tech can do to save time and money, panelists agreed that nothing can replace the value of personal relationships for consumers – and for agents.

“For many real estate professionals, the pandemic reminded them about how much they love working with people and not just to sell real estate, but to check on their customers and families,” said Marilyn Wilson, managing partner of WAV Group and president of RETechnology.com.

For Bailey, the proptech surge has one really bright spot: “It has reminded every agent that they are the most important part of the real estate transaction, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.”

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 Technology

Struggling with storage? This app connects you to solutions, AirBnb style

(REAL ESTATE TECH) Neighbor has been called the “Airbnb of storage” – here’s why they can provide you a comfortable and cheaper solution for your storage needs.

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Warehouse storage space with

Paying for storage is one of those adult issues for which one is never quite prepared, if only financially. Amidst a pandemic, new complications have invariably arisen for both people looking to store their goods and people trying to make use of newly empty space. Fortunately, there’s a solution to connect the two: Neighbor.

Neighbor, a startup that launched back in 2017, has been touted by some as the “Airbnb of self-storage”—a fitting title for the service—and it stands to bridge the gap between the aforementioned storage-bound demographics. Neighbor’s function is simple: People who have space, be it a garage stall or a whole floor of offices, list it; anyone who needs to keep their stuff somewhere else can then pay a monthly fee to do so in listed spaces through Neighbor.

Insurance for both the owner of the space and the renter is also included at no additional charge to either party, and Neighbor allows other terms (e.g., access rules, hours of operation, etc.) to be negotiated through their app. This makes it a convenient, relatively low-risk service for the times—no need to maneuver around a face-to-face meeting or exchange cash that has been God knows where.

It should be noted that Neighbor isn’t just for “standard” storage spaces like garages and sheds. Spare rooms, attic space, driveways, and pretty much anything else that can house goods stand to be listed—it’s at the renter’s discretion to determine whether or not your listing is sufficient for their needs. This means that anyone from new empty-nesters to actual Airbnb hosts who find themselves devoid of business is free to move their space onto Neighbor.

While Neighbor isn’t new, their services offer a strange, rare relief during the present day. With huge chunks of buildings almost entirely devoid of use in the wake of COVID-19, businesses large and small alike are poised to lose unfathomable amounts of money.

It may not be sexy, but using that space as storage through Neighbor might be the solution businesses need to stay afloat—and, with an increase in downsizing and moving, renters may come flooding in.

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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

Apple HomePod Mini: Good at speaking, better at listening

(TECH NEWS) Apple is making another push into the world of bluetooth enabled always-on speakers with a revamped HomePod Mini, which is a fantastic listener (and why that might be bad).

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Apple Home Pod Mini, raising issues of privacy.

Apple just keeps doing stuff. And more stuff. They release new M1 chips and new iPhones and a bunch of other things. One of the newer options is their HomePod Mini, which is sure to be a big seller this holiday as companies continue to push always-on Bluetooth-enabled home speakers with promises of ease of use and improved quality of life.

It’s an easy sell for Apple, especially if you’re living in their product ecosystem of mobile devices, messaging apps, smart watches, and all the other bits of technology that can easily communicate with each other in a seamless fashion.

It’s a beautiful thing from a consumer perspective – the ability for your photos to be instantly accessible and easily shared across multiple domains and devices, to stop a podcast in your car and immediately resume it at your work desk, and knowing that your data is always backed up and retrievable.

At $99, the HomePod Mini further tightens this web of accessibility – it brings Siri access into the comfort of your home, you can pair two of them together to provide stereo sound with your AppleTV, and it can hook into your iMessages contact list to let you dictate texts quickly. While other devices can do this as well, the AppleTV carries more versatility by offering access to more streaming services than Amazon’s Fire devices (though in the world of streaming, this most likely gets evened out over time).

And all of that is great on the surface – the device is delivering on its promises and consistent use would easily justify a purchase. There is no question on utility and whether or not it is delivering and performing as desired from a consumer’s perspective. To suggest otherwise would be unfair and suggest that someone has an axe to grind – anecdotal evidence or other similarly unfounded premises stretched far and painted with broad strokes. I had an iPhone that broke years ago and in my frustration, I switched to Android. Still, that’s not much of a reason to
denigrate a new speaker from Apple. Reviews are glowing and rightfully so.

Perhaps the only true thing that should be questioned relates to user privacy. Apple has gone on record and stated on numerous occasions that they are committed to user privacy – that their devices do not record everything that is said, nor that audio data is stored forever to be mined for monetary purposes. CEO Tim Cook even stated strong convictions about privacy as a fundamental human right.

Go to their site and you’ll find a really snazzy page that tells you how your data is protected – that messages are encrypted end-to-end during transmission, identifying information is not included in the transmissions to Apple’s servers, and their Apple Pay system means you never divulge credit card information. Let’s be clear – these are excellent, wonderful things, and Apple should be applauded for doing what it has done. Such actions are at least a step above other tech giants in this realm.

Consumers should know, however, that despite these claims, Apple has been caught listening in on personal matters, and that privacy controls may not be enabled by default (and could be difficult to track down for an average user). I found a rather intense and detailed breakdown of such issues through this wonderful post by Ian Bogost, who discusses the controversy in a clear and concise (if alarming) way. The short answer – Apple gets a lot of public support and approval for its stance on privacy, but should be admonished for still providing several avenues of intrusion and for working with companies that may be actively violating privacy.

Where does that leave us with the HomePod Mini? It is a fantastic device, sure, but as with anything that is always-on and always listening, consumers may want to first consider how much utility is gained for potential privacy sacrificed. Although, the pessimist says we’re all being tracked anyway, but I want to end this on a positive note.

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