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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

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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Real Estate Technology

What you need to know about no-code vs low-code (and what it means)

(REAL ESTATE MARKETING) The no-code movement is putting more power in the hands of folks with zero programming skills. So what makes it different from low-coding, and what choice is right for your business goals?

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An overhead look at a person working on a no-code website on a laptop on a desk.

It is tricky to grasp the distinction between no-code and low-code. The two terms are often lumped together, but considering the disrupting influence these ideas have had in the tech world, the modern marketing professional ought to understand the difference if they want to explore this movement for themselves.

Both styles of programming are about expediting the app creation process, and enable the creation of surprisingly sophisticated code for your business without requiring any coding expertise.

Rather than focus on what these two styles are, they are more clearly distinguished by who they are for.

Jason Bloomberg of Forbes put it succinctly: “In the No-Code corner are the ‘citizen developers’ – business users who can build functional but generally limited apps without having to write a line of code. The Low-Code corner, in contrast, centers on professional developers, streamlining and simplifying their work – delivering enterprise-class applications with little or no hand-coding.”

Low-code refers to more complex tools that rely on the user having some understanding of programming to utilize. Stripe, a payment software, is an example of a low-code program, and seamlessly integrates with third party tools. Excel could even be considered low-code, considering how certain actions can be easily automated with some coding and math knowledge. But getting the most out of these programs is a challenge for programming outsiders and newcomers.

Enter no-code – much like Google Translate can help you communicate in a foreign language, the no-code movement is bridging the gap for innovators who have ideas but little to no coding experience.

As the name suggests, no-coders don’t have to learn a language in order to get started building automated processes. With tools like Zapier, creating a program relies on a simple graphic interface rather than written lines of text (which means no typing!)

That simplicity comes with tradeoffs, though. No-code expedites the process of writing more basic apps, and its offerings are fairly industry-specific.

(And just to add another layer of confusion, there are also “hybrids” like that sit somewhere in the middle between no- and low-code.)

You aren’t going to instantly turn into an expert hacker or anything, but if you want to build simple functions, like automated sequences based on incoming emails, no-code is a perfect choice.

All this to say, there are plentiful options in the codeless world for curious people of all skill levels. Yet ironically professional developers may stand to benefit the most from the no-code movement. Having these tools be widely available means potential clients are also able to explore, on their own, how their ideas translate to the app environment.

Or, as creator of MakerPad, Ben Tossell, puts it: “[No-code means that developers] won’t be wasting their time on projects that don’t work. People should have more conviction around the thing they’re trying to build before they speak to the developer.”

The potential for this technology still has yet to be fully unlocked but as it matures and becomes more well known, it’s sure to keep changing the tech game. If you’ve ever been curious about the power of code but are hesitant to spend months studying a programming language, there has never been a better time to dive in.

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