Back in 2016, Inman magazine ran an experiment that pitted three different brokers against a bot to test their ability to do something buyer agents might say is their primary function: find the right home for their client. In all three trials, the buyer preferred a listing recommendation chosen by the bot.
by Leslie Fowle
John Rebchook, who acted as the buyer in the experiment, later told Inman, “I couldn’t really differentiate between what [listings] the bots picked and the humans picked. I tried to find a pattern to the picks, but could not. I guess if computers can beat us at chess and Go, they can best us at picking houses, too.”
Rebchook's words might make you nervous, especially if you are a buyer agent that relies on your unique mix of emotional intelligence and knowledge of the market to find the perfect home for your clients. The increasing sophistication of the algorithms and artificial intelligence that feed online searches have killed Realtors’® status as the sole proprietors of listing information. In fact, savvy buyers in today’s market may come to the table with a list of homes they’ve found online and are determined to see. They may pass on your input and set up meetings with the listing agents directly.
Before we declare the death of the buyer agent, it is important to note that artificial intelligence is also an important tool that can be used to your advantage. First, real estate agents are still a necessary ingredient to most aspects of the home buying process: humans still need to answer phones, show houses, and negotiate contracts. According to the National Association of Realtors® 2018 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 88 percent of Massachusetts buyers used a real estate agent as a source of information in the home search process. Importantly, 24 percent of Massachusetts buyers still contacted an agent as a first step in the home buying process—even before going online.
Now that we’ve hopefully assuaged some your fears, let’s talk about some ways you can harness the power of artificial intelligence in your business to attract, retain and satisfy more clients.
Put Your Smart Speaker to Work
The market research tells us smart speakers and their respective digital assistants (Alexa, Siri, and “Hey Google!”) that use AI technology are not leaving anytime soon. A recent report NPR and Edison Research found that 53 million adults in the U.S. own at least one smart speaker and the total number of devices in homes has increased 78 percent since 2017. The research group eMarketer estimates that this number will rise to 76.5 million users by 2020, almost a quarter of the population.
The takeaway is that a significant portion of consumers are interacting with their smart speakers to answer questions and complete basic tasks every day. These millions of users and interactions represent an emerging market on which the real estate industry is prime to capitalize.
Voicester Pro is among the first businesses to carve out a space for Realtors® in the smart speaker space. The voice search company was founded in 2015 by a real estate broker and his son, a software developer, as a way to bring real estate businesses and consumers together through smart speaker technology. Voicester Pro allows potential home buyers to ask their devices to find listings in their area based on budget, number of bedrooms, etc.
“These devices are not going away, and people are looking to do more with them than play music and turn the lights on and off,” said Sal Privadera, Chief Operating Officer at Voiceter Pro. “You can be making dinner, multitasking and say, ‘Hey Google open Real Estate Search.’ You don’t have to fire up the computer to do it.”
After a prompt to open a real estate search, the smart speaker will go through a series of questions to nail down your potential new client’s dream home. When the details are ironed out (a demonstration revealed Alexa to exclaim ‘Bingo!’ after she collects the necessary data—the development team wanted the interaction to be as conversational as possible) an email is sent to the consumer with listing recommendations and a note that an agent will be in touch soon. On the other end, the brokerage that has made the real estate search possible with Voicester Pro receives an email about their potential lead.
Work While You Sleep with AI
As a Realtor®, you may be all too familiar with burning the candle at both ends to satisfy your clients and keep your business afloat. You also know the modern consumer expects you to be reachable almost 24/7 to answer their most pressing questions. This is where artificial intelligence comes in handy—it can work to generate leads and answer client questions while you’re catching up on sleep, making time for family, or, you know, having a life.
Not unlike that bot that Inman tested in 2016, RealScout is a listing alert platform that uses machine learning software to recommend properties based on consumer behavior. Still, don’t be concerned that this machine will somehow replace supersede your role in your client’s process, especially since the platform is basically a dashboard where agents and clients can collaborate. The AI component just tracks client behavior and spits back that information in the form of regular alert emails with more listings like those they’ve viewed.
It’s the combination of this interactive functionality with the machine learning that brought brokerage Jack Conway & Company, Inc. to provide the service for its agents and clients.
“Say, for example, as an agent I sign you up for the platform. You’re looking at homes in Norwood between $400,000 and $500,000 and you start getting updates. As you start looking at them, maybe you start looking at homes that have pools, a nice view, or maybe you’re even looking at a different price range than you originally wanted. RealScout sends you things similar to what you’re actually looking at. Clients really like it,” said Al Becker, Executive Vice President/COO of Jack Conway & Company, Inc.
If your clients are satisfied while you get a little more rest, artificial intelligence may start to seem like a win-win. And if you’re not quite ready to pony up for a service like ReadyChat, social media platforms like Facebook are starting to integrate AI tools (like chatbots) that you can use to answer common questions, generate leads, and follow up with potential clients.
So, rest easy for now, artificial intelligence is here to augment your business and help you do more in a fast-paced world. What does the future of AI hold? Perhaps RealScout’s website says it best, “[We are] dedicated to this vision of the future, where technology is an essential complement, but not a replacement for the real estate ecosystem that exists today.”