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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.

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

Need a scheduling tool that can do it all? SavvyCal has you covered

(TECH NEWS) There’s new scheduling software tool that helps people schedule meetings with you and doesn’t put the burden completely on the recipient.

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Computer on a desk in open office with SavvyCal, a scheduling tool, open on the computer.

One of the worst parts of meetings is setting up the meeting itself. Figuring out who’s free and when can sometimes be a time suck. In the past, we’ve written about several scheduling tools that say they will make things better. Now, here is another new tool that says it can do more than what other meeting software tools had to offer.

Meet SavvyCal, an indie SaaS company whose “mission is to cut the friction and awkwardness out of scheduling time with people.” Founded by Derrick Reimer, a full-stack developer and co-founder of Drip, the company is solving the age-old problem of scheduling meetings.

“There are a hundred and one scheduling tools to help you avoid the awkward dance of finding a time to meet. While most of them are convenient for the person sending a link to book a time with them, are they actually convenient for the person receiving the link?” said Reimer.

Unlike other apps, the scheduling tool makes it easy for both the sender and the recipient to schedule meetings. It also has valuable features that other tools do not.

So, what features set SavvyCal apart from other scheduling software?

Personalized Links
SavvyCal says it’s an alternative to Calendly because it’s picking up where the pioneer left off. While Calendly lets you schedule appointments, it doesn’t offer the personalization that SavvyCal does. SavvyCal prioritizes personalization by letting you create individual scheduling links for your recipients. For instance, instead of having a string of numbers that don’t offer much information, you can add names to the link titles to create custom URLs.

Overlay Calendar
The scheduling tool quickly lets you find a time that works for everyone, and the company says it does more than what Doodle can do for you. Doodle is great for group scheduling, but it falls short when scheduling 1:1 meetings. SavvyCal improves upon Doodle by allowing your recipients to overlay their calendar over yours so a mutual availability slot is easily found.

Multiple Calendars
SavvyCal says it wasn’t just made for internal meetings, like scheduling software Woven. With Woven, you can keep track of your digital calendar by tagging and labeling events. However, all the events live in the same calendar, and it doesn’t take into consideration external meetings. SavvyCal solves Woven’s problem by having multiple calendars that can be cross-checked for conflicts.

Ranked Availability and Limit Scheduling Frequency
With the tool, you can set preferred times and rank them in a certain order so people are encouraged to pick a time that you secretly want them to choose. And, the tool protects you from having a “meeting overload” by letting you set booking limits. For instance, you can set limits on the number of meetings that can be booked per day, week, or month.

In addition, SavvyCal offers more features like availability presets, multiple meeting durations, and customizing availability on the fly.

Overall, the company says the scheduling tool makes “scheduling collaborative instead of a nuisance.” It’s a good alternative to start getting people to schedule meetings with you while not placing all the burden on the recipient.

So far, it’s getting good reviews. If you’d like to check it out, the interactive demo on their website is a good start.

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Real Estate Technology

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.”

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Real Estate Technology

No sympathy for cancelled app encouraging ‘rebellious’ pandemic parties

(TECH NEWS) Apple and TikTok cancel Vybe Together’s accounts to prevent the secret party organizing app from promoting pandemic parties, while its founder cries foul and backpedals mightily.

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Group of people celebrating and cheers-ing with beverages, an example of unsafe pandemic parties.

Where can you find a fun secret party during COVID-19 restrictions?

Vybe Together: We’ve got you, party people! Check out these videos of wild, private bacchanalia you can join or throw! Be a rebel.

Apple and TikTok: Not on our watch.

Vybe Together: Waaah. So unfair, jk, we were talking about small, intimate get-togethers that are totally COVID-safe.

Vybe Together, an app promising to help people find secret parties in their area, in the era when parties are a bad idea, had the proverbial rug pulled out from under them when both Apple and TikTok put the kibosh on Vybe Together. Apple pulled the app off of its platform, and TikTok banned their channel. They cited that it goes against their community guidelines and COVID-19 regulations in several cities. Founder Alexander Dimcevski and the official Vybe Together Instagram account and website are currently backpedaling to beat the ban.

Taylor Lorenz of the New York Times tweeted the app into greater public awareness on Dec. 29, reporting the large secret pandemic parties they were promoting for New Year’s Eve. Alas, the tweet and likely numerous reports of the party app going against community and recommended COVID-19 guidelines, led Apple and TikTok to ditch Vybe Together before New Year’s Eve.

Despite Vybe Together’s founder’s cries of poor, pitiful me, and the app’s claim to the contrary, the intention to help people find and attend large scale private/secret parties was what they seemed to be showcasing. For example, on TikTok, the account showed videos of unmasked partygoers, attracting more of what the founder deemed, in an LA Times article, “the coolest people in the city.”

The official word on the Vybe Together website is that they are sorely misunderstood and innocent of any wrongdoing. Vybe Together’s current Instagram account hints at what the LA Times called “its outlaw intention” with its tagline “Get your rebel on. Get your party on.” According to various sources, the TikTok account featured videos of unmasked partygoers. The mere fact that app users had to submit their social media profiles and photos of them partying to vet appears to indicate they were trying to make their partygoers prove they wouldn’t report the illegal (or at least ill-advised) parties.

The official website now claims that it was merely an error in branding, and nothing more, and that of course they were only promoting small gatherings in people’s own homes. However, they had already promoted a rooftop party for NYU students prior to getting hit by the big Apple and TikTok ban hammer. This particular party was cross-promoted on Eventbrite (another platform notoriously promoting pandemic parties).

Dimcevski claims in the LA Times that he was “canceled by the liberal media.” The word from the app’s team seems to be a mix of feeling sorry for themselves, backpedaling because they got caught out, yet still promising to come back soon. In any case, it’s a mixed message and an unwelcome one, when cases and deaths are still surging in both New York City and Miami, where the app was promoting these private parties.

Apple and TikTok are privately owned companies with some responsibility to keep potentially illegal activity off their sites, a massive and ungratifying task. Are Apple and TikTok making an example of the app? Perhaps. Is Vybe Together the only platform out there promoting pandemic parties with the potential to be super spreader events? Certainly not.

However, their flaunting and promoting parties seems reckless, callous, and dangerous in the face of CDC guidelines. With thousands of doctors, healthcare workers, local officials, and infectious disease experts worldwide pleading with the public to avoid gatherings with people outside their own household, even small ones, it’s difficult to muster sympathy for the app’s founder or team.

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