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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.

Real Estate Technology

Your office could benefit from a more open floor plan

(TECHNOLOGY NEWS) Science proves that open floor plans are more conducive to office productivity, but will it work for everyone?

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open office

If you walk into a tech startup, nine times out of ten you’ll find an open seating/bull-pen style seating. Whereas traditional work environments are divided up into departments with individual offices and cubicles, open office floor plans put all employees in the same room. Studies have shown that cubicles don’t increase productivity. As a matter of fact, people are more productive when they are sitting close together, but can see each other.

Pros of openness

Some of the advantages of an open office floor plan are obvious. These kinds of offices are economical because you can fit more people and more desks in less space, and because it is more efficient to heat, cool, and light one large room than several small rooms.

Open office plans also facilitate communication between managers and their employees, and between departments.

Rather than taking the stairs or hiking down the hall to collaborate with another person, you can simply holler across the room.

Cons of openness

Unfortunately, all of that hollering can sometimes be pretty distracting. A University of Sydney study found that half of workers in open offices say that the most frustrating part of their workplace is the “lack of sound privacy.”

Open offices are not only noisy, but are also less secure, since everyone can overhear one another.

Employees may get peeved if they can’t concentrate because of all the noise around them, or can’t make a phone call without being overheard.

Dr. Who inspired solution

A startup called Framery Acoustics offers a solution.

They create soundproof phone booths and meeting pods designed to complement open office floor plans.

One of the founders, who previously worked in an open office, complained that his boss talked too loudly on his cellphone. His boss replied, “Well, get me a phone booth.” Thus, Framery Acoustics was born.

Simple solutions

Framery Acoustics is just one company that offers a product suited to appease open office dissenters. Framery Acoustics isn’t ready to give up on openness and neither should you. So, when it comes time to return to your office (if you haven’t already), look for ways to make your office more flexible. Whether it is by providing a quiet capsule for private meetings and phone calls or just having a designated section for meeting, the solution is out there.

Compromising allows you to reap the benefits of an open office plan, while still ensuring that you and your officemates have privacy and quiet when it is needed.

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Real Estate Technology

3D printed homes are now gaining traction outside of the US and China

(TECHNOLOGY) Other countries are now using 3d printing to build homes to underscore their infrastructure. This shows the viability of the technology!

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3D printing

Recently, we reported that Lennar was using 3D printing to build homes in Austin. In 2014, the BBC reported that China was printing up to 10 homes a day at the low cost of $5000 per home. This trend is making strides in the real estate market, even though there’s still a long way to go. In a move that should give the industry confidence in 3D printing, Indonesia’s Public Works and Public Housing (PUPR) Ministry announced that they are using concrete 3D printing to build homes in rural areas. Eventually, plans are in the works to construct schools.

Using 3D printing to build an infrastructure

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country. As with most countries, housing expenses are climbing in both urban and rural areas. According to Habitat for Humanity, 11.3% of the population lives below the poverty line. For comparison, in September, the U.S. Census Bureau released information that the U.S poverty rate increased to 11.4%, one percentage point over the same time in 2020. Affordable housing is a problem in Indonesia.

“This technology really helps us, so we can build faster, more accurately, and with precision,’ explains Kusumastuti, Indonesia’s Director General of Human Settlements.” The PUPR reports that 3D printing reduces waste and improves construction quality. Considering that up to 70% of housing is built by individuals, not private developers or the government, using 3D printing under the PUPR Ministry is an upgrade in a country that deals with many types of economic disasters, due to its climate.

3D printing’s potential for real estate

As 3D printing is used in more construction projects, not only in the U.S. and China, it’s hoped that the real estate industry embraces the technology. Indonesia isn’t the only country that is trying out 3D printing. 14Trees constructed a school in Malawi using this method already, with the project taking around 18 hours. The company is undertaking more projects in Africa using this technology and more companies are building houses using 3D printing in the United States. It will be exciting to watch how this plays out in the various markets.

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Real Estate Technology

Why everyone and their mother own spy machines (aka smart speakers)

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Regardless of privacy issues with them, what does information about smart speakers, ownership, and usage tell us about future trends?

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smart speakers scare me

I don’t trust smart speakers, but even I can (begrudgingly) admit why they might be convenient. With just a simple wake word, I would be able to do anything from inquire about the weather or turn down my own music from across the room. And the thing is, plenty of people have bought into this sort of sales pitch. In fact, the worldwide revenue of smart speakers more than doubled between 2017 and 2018. And it’s projected that by 2022, the total revenue from smart speakers will reach almost $30 billion.

With over 25% of adults in the United States owning at least one smart speaker, it’s worth figuring out how we’re using this new tech…and how it could be used against us.

First things first: Despite the horror stories we hear about voice-command shopping – like when a pet parrot figured out how to make purchases on Alexa – people aren’t really using their smart speakers to buy things. In fact, in the list of top ten uses for a smart speaker, making a purchase is at the bottom.

Before you breathe a sigh of relief, though, it’s worth knowing where advertisements might crop up in more subtle places.

Sure, people aren’t using their smart speakers to make many purchases, but they’re still using the speakers for other things – primarily asking questions and getting updates on things like weather and traffic. And I get it, why scroll through the internet looking for an answer that Alexa might be able to pull up for you instantly?

That said, it also provides marketers with a great opportunity to advertise to you in a way that feels conversational. Imagine asking about a wait time for a popular restaurant. If the wait is too long, it creates the perfect opportunity for Alexa to suggest UberEats as an alternative (promotion paid for by UberEats, of course).

Don’t get me wrong, this is already happening when you search Google on your phone or computer. Search for a tire company, for instance, and the competitors are sure to appear in your results. But as more and more consumers start turning their attention to smart speakers, it’s worth being aware that they won’t be the only ones.

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