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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

Secret list of reasons why your Facebook ad was rejected

(SOCIAL MEDIA) Save your marketing team time with this secret list of Facebook ad rejection reasons.

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facebook ad rejection

You read the rules, spent time optimizing target audience, double checked all the visual elements, and your Facebook ad is finally ready to go to market. You’re expecting the latest email from Facebook to be about billing details, and instead receive the dreaded (albeit common) rejection letter.

You’re left wondering how your your content have possibly violated the Community Standards. Turns out text like “Meet other seniors” or “Depression getting you down?” violates a “personal attributes” rule.

Directly addressing the user with terms like “you” or implications about identity like age, race, and gender aren’t permitted. So you remove that, only to find your ad rejected from the ad auction once again. There are hundreds of reasons the site can reject your ad.

You can quite literally spend hours pouring over Facebook’s Advertising policies, but we have a shortcut – Jane Manchun Wong put has together the most extensive list we’ve ever seen (click to enlarge).

facebook ad rejection reasons

Understandably, illegal content is rejected. You won’t find ads for drugs or counterfeiting services. Likewise, anything even kind of sexual or potentially offensive (like someone flipping the middle finger) violates the standards. No ads for mail order brides or anything the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would regulate either.

Okay, so obviously you can’t advertise illegal things on the mainstream internet. Especially not when Facebook is asking users to respond to surveys about if the company is good for the world.

However, there’s some grey area once you move past obviously unacceptable content. QR codes, a popular ad novelty, are a reason for rejection. Likewise, if your ad features a picture of Mark Zuckerberg, it’ll get slapped down.

Feel like mentioning the spy cameras? Nope. Have an ad about lasers? Nah. Animals? DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. Oddly enough, Instagram references aren’t allowed either even though Facebook owns the company.

Although Facebook is trying to uphold their values about safety, voice, and equity, enforcement of these principles is often flawed.

Bra and underwear retailers struggle to get their ads approved even if the content is not sexual in nature. An ad by Harper Wilde, an online bra startup, featuring a plain bra on a colored background was rejected on the grounds that the link leads to a site featuring adult content.

Since Facebook rejects anything focused on a single body part or that is too zoomed in, exposed bodies on an underwear site certainly violate the terms. While Facebook is attempting to hold up a moral code of not offending users, implementation isn’t consistent.

Although Facebook technically has a link to appeal disapproved ads, users report the link is either broken, or returns an auto-generated response with no way to follow up with a person.

We can certainly appreciate that Facebook now bans the obnoxious “before-after” gifs of someone’s belly fat disappearing to the backdrop of a tape measure, and rejects blatantly offensive material.

facebook ad acceptable

Attempting to provide higher quality content that doesn’t shame or offend users is a noble goal.

But when everyday products can’t be advertised, and robots are enforcing grey area, it’s time for a better appeals process. At least now you know what not to include in your next Facebook ad, even if it is legit.

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Real Estate Technology

By now, all brokerages should be using Click-To-Call tech

Click-to-call tech is not just a sales tool, but an expectation of consumers, leading to a much healthier pipeline.

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click-to-call technology

Consumers are doing more and more online these days – but that doesn’t mean that the era of the phone call has ended. In fact, research is confirming that, when people are shopping or looking for a service, they often combine mobile web searching with a phone call to the business. Users first research the products online on their mobile device, then call the business to get more details or make the purchase.

That is why having a click-to-call option on your mobile website or app is more important than ever.

Invoca reports that 45 percent of all calls to businesses are inspired by a mobile search, compared to just 9 percent of phone calls prompted by a desktop search.

A study in the UK found that 94 percent of customers expect that your site will have a call-to-click option, and we would suggest the findings would be similar in America.

redfin-tap-for-help1

In a survey of 1500 mobile users, 42 percent of users reported that they had used click-to-call, usually because they simply wanted to speak to a real person. Needing a fast answer to a question, or wanting more information than was listed on the website were two other oft-cited motivations for using click-to-call.

And these calls aren’t just casual chats – more often than not, they are inquiries that lead to sales. Click-to-call phone calls last an average of six minutes, with a high rate of sales conversion.

Mobile phone call conversation rates are four times higher than desktop. Take pause to think about that.

While the benefits of having a click-to-call option are obvious, it’s also important to note that not having click-to-call could actually hurt your business.

The study found that customers are more likely to trust a business when they list a phone number; a business with an unlisted phone number makes customers suspicious and unlikely to buy. The aforementioned UK study found that about a third of customers will actually be frustrated, annoyed, or disappointed if you don’t have click-to-call.

With an estimated $1.94 trillion in sales coming from click-to-calls by 2019, there’s really not excuse not to have it.

This story was first published in 2016.

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Real Estate Technology

How deepfake images could infiltrate the market

(REAL ESTATE TECH NEWS) The rise in quality of deepfakes has even lead to the development of fake images in geography and housing. Here’s what to look out for.

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A digital map open on a computer, where one has to be wary of fake images.

With the onset of the computer age, we have seen a great deal of false information spreading around the world. From photoshopped images to presidents broadcasting fake information, there is a lot to be wary of. The internet is rife with data that truly needs to be verified at any given turn. The dangerous part is not only what people can do with that information, but also how they can hide things with it.

Satellite imagery has been on the rise for a few decades. An image that is already grainy and hard to see would be child’s play to alter. Maybe even to create from scratch. Tagging GPS coordinates are a simple alteration inside of photoshop too. Fakes, upon fakes, upon fakes.

In 2019, the US military warned about the possibility of fake geographical information being perpetuated across the internet. It then actually came true to the embarrassment of the Chinese government. Satellite “evidence” was used to report detention camps hidden away in the countries. The “camps” turned out to be re-education facilities for China’s mentally deviant populace. However, that’s another rabbit hole to run down. The point here is that the images that were released in 2015 showed absolutely no facility and then pictures in 2018 showed a massive facility.

An assistant professor, Bo Zhao, with the University of Washington decided to illustrate this again with a study. His opinion was “the first step to tackling these issues is to make people aware there’s a problem in the first place”. He and his colleagues published a paper on “deep fake geography.”

They conducted experiments in generating and detecting imagery for suburban homes, which clearly demonstrated the affect of this technology on our economy. They were able to easily convert the shape and layout of a neighborhood in their images.

From this work we have a few new terms to be aware of. Threats of “paper towns” and “trap streets” are two of the new resounding terms. These new ideas can lead to a modicum of potential issues. The team actually created a software that has the ability to create these fake images. They did the work themselves, leading one to believe that the basic knowledge is there for anyone with a little know-how.

The moral of the story is, don’t trust anything from the internet. It’s all an opinion coming from some other flawed human being, and you don’t ever really know why people are putting that information out there. Always know and check your sources.

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