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Augmented Reality: The Personal Touch by Diana Dugan

Diana Dugan’s vendors have dubbed her ‘Uber Diana’ after she launched what’s believed to be Australia’s first augmented reality real estate website. Kylie Dulhunty sat down with the Melbourne Bayside agent and founder of Diana Dugan Property to find out how she developed the idea – and where she sees technology in real estate heading next.

How long have you been in real estate?
I’ve been in real estate for 10 years. I initially joined local franchise agencies in the Bayside area before starting my own company in 2011. It seems like only yesterday I branched out on my own, with a lot of nerves but also a lot of ideas and determination.

How did you get into real estate?
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on which way you look at it, I decided to take the leap into the real estate world after a bad personal buying experience of my own.

In the early 2000s my husband, Leigh, and I tried for several years to buy into the Bayside area without success. We experienced the heartbreak of missing out at several auctions and we were continually shown houses we couldn’t make a personal connection with. The ultimate catalyst that made me decide to enter the industry was when I realised many of the offers we were placing with agents weren’t being presented to vendors.

I knew I needed to make a difference, so I turned my back on a well-paying senior general manager’s job without a concrete real estate position to go to.

Tell us about your new website, which features augmented reality and voice recognition.
Technology has always been something that has fascinated me. I can remember getting my first cassette tape when I was younger and marvelling at how much simpler and faster it was than a record – not to mention how much easier it was to store.

In my real estate business I wanted to use emerging technology, including augmented reality and voice recognition, to offer a personal approach to the agency. I don’t believe technology, while largely a collection of computer code, has to be cold and ‘untouchable’. I wanted our vendors and buyers to be able to meet me, the owner of the agency, as well as the team 24/7. I also wanted to create, where their computer browsers allowed, an interface that allowed them to interact with me in their native language.

Clients can ask me to sell their home, request an appraisal, buy a property or seek information on the agency. As we have international clients, I wanted to offer this in not only English but Mandarin as well.

The website took about two years from concept to completion and has a patent pending. The first year comprised the research phase and in the second year I designed the flow of the website and the dialogue. Then I handed my baby over to the developers to produce the coding, and a media company to do the filming. All up it took five months, and finally I extensively tested the site for four months. To make the website flow simply it has a vast amount of work going on behind the scenes, with layers upon layers of screens to give it the effect you see today.

How did you come up with the idea of using augmented reality and voice recognition technology?
Believe it or not, the idea didn’t start with augmented reality and voice technology, but several years ago I began thinking about virtual offices. At that particular point in time visual digital display screens had just hit the real estate sector and were quickly gathering popularity. I felt that if I implemented the idea of doing away with real estate shopfronts completely in favour of virtual offices, people would think I was crazy.

I started exploring other avenues to represent the agency and found a lot of inspiration in my nephews’ Xbox games. The developers of these games have been using augmented reality and voice recognition for a long time and they really show you how much can be achieved with such technology.

In recent years Google and Amazon have ventured strongly into voice recognition and it cemented my belief that the technology would take off. Last month I received an email from Westpac announcing they had launched a Westpac Banking skill for Amazon Alexa. Now I can access my account balance, recent spending history and reward point status through Alexa. How exciting is that!

Are buyers and sellers ready for this type of technology?
Buyers and sellers are more than ready for this technology and really the real estate industry as a whole is a bit behind in its uptake.

We live in a time-poor society; people love being able to ask questions and hear from the team online at midnight in the comfort of their own living room.

I’ve felt for a long time that there was a gap in the market when it comes to bridging the void between agents and clients. Agents spend a lot of time advertising properties online, often on multiple portals, and I don’t think consumers want to look through tens of local agencies to find a property when there are other platforms that offer them a single stop.

I think what we need to do with technology is create a more personalised service and use it as an opportunity to introduce ourselves to prospective clients.We can use technology as a first step in building a relationship with someone. After all, real estate really is about people, not just properties.

What role do you think technology will play in real estate in the future?
Technology is about making it more connected, transparent, enjoyable, fun, smarter and ultimately it should reduce costs and free up time for our vendors and buyers. It’s in our interests as agents to start working on future technological solutions, so we can be part of the future real estate selling and purchasing cycle. I envisage that there will be only a few players who will truly occupy this space one day, and if they are not working on it now they will be yesterday’s news.

What kind of tech advances do you think we will see in real estate in years to come?
As an inventor I could talk about this topic for hours as I find it eternally interesting. Just a couple of the directions I think technology will take us in is to replace shopfronts gradually with virtual offices, artificial intelligence will collect buyer behaviour and the property sale process will become more transparent for buyers and sellers.

Bricks and mortar cost too much to run as a business, especially when you take into account franchise charges, leasing, utility and ongoing physical location business costs, such as a full-time receptionist to man the shop. Technology such as AR, VR and AI is here to help, and we need to embrace these so we can operate smarter and pass on savings to our vendors, who are currently spending significant amounts of money in commission and advertising costs.

What do you love about what you do?
Surprising people, whether it’s making them the highest sale in their street or suburb or sharing our inventions and patenting my ideas.

What has been your biggest challenge?
Competing against the current paradigm of the same old real estate model. It’s been the same model since I can remember as a small child.

How did you overcome that challenge?
The only way to overcome this is to go against the tide. The landscape needs to move forward and I want to be the person that really makes a difference in shaping real estate in the future. It is a tall order, but I’m going to give it my very best.

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