Elite AgentReal Estate Tech & Social

The robots are here, Is your business ready?

It wasn’t that long ago that machine learning and artificial intelligence seemed like pie-in-the-sky thought processes of a mad scientist. Now the robots have landed in the real estate industry and it seems they’re here to stay. Kylie Dulhunty takes a look at some of the latest developments in AI in real estate industry, what benefits they offer and whether the robots will really take over.

It only seems like yesterday that 3D tours, virtual reality and drone photography were the latest and greatest trends in real estate technology.

Cutting edge no longer, these tools have been swiftly pushed aside for artificial intelligence including voice-activated real estate searches, Mandarin-speaking robots and a host of digital assistants.

Predicting Values

And wouldn’t you love to be able to tell your vendors approximately how much renovating their kitchen could add to the sale of their home and what the most popular styles were in their suburb?

That very technology is being created right now, with the REA Group using artificial intelligence to classify every photograph in its 23-year history.

According to Nigel Dalton, the group’s chief inventor, that’s about one billion photographs.

“We’ve trained an algorithm to recognise a kitchen from a bathroom, from a lounge room, from a laundry, from a swimming pool,” he said.

“We’ve trained it using about 100,000 photographs that we humans have classified and now we can let it loose on the other 999,900,000 photos.

“Artificial intelligence can process the data quickly and then we can look for patterns in the data.

“Is there a correlation between kitchen renovations and premium price?

“The world today is all about taking data and serving the customer with it. Does a kitchen renovation pay off?

“This will work on the app or the website … and it will add a lot of value to agents’ conversations in terms of being able to say ‘if you leave your kitchen as it is you will put buyers off, but at the moment in Bondi this is the kitchen benchtop you need to sell your house in 30 days’.

“The data will then give people the rationale needed to borrow money to do the kitchen renovation.”

Nigel, who classified about 300 of the photographs himself, said AI was only as smart as the training behind it.

Machines Making Calls

He said in Australia AI would be used to increase agents and property managers operational efficiency and while AI such as Google Duplex, which speaks just like a human and can make calls and book appointments on your behalf, wasn’t being used in real estate here just yet, it would in time.

Nigel said in the more immediate future one to two per cent gains, particularly in the area of customer service, could be gleaned through using AI the right way.

“You can use AI to analyse your phone call data to see that your business is getting most of its calls at 5.30pm when people are on their way home from work, but you’re losing 50 per cent of those calls as you don’t have enough staff on to answer them all,” he said.

“So you then roster two more people on for that time … moving your customer service just one per cent could result in an extra five or 10 per cent market share and that could be worth a huge amount for an agency in a particular area.”

The world today is all about taking data and serving the customer with it.

Powered by Voice

Nigel said it was a misperception that AI would replace humans altogether and that while machine learning was good for analysing data and doing repetitive tasks, people still needed to be used for their judgement and skill.

In the US voice-powered skills are shaking up AI-assisted searches in the real estate industry on devices such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

One company, Voiceter Pro, is leading the charge with skills that allow users to search for their dream home, find out a property’s value, look for a job as an agent and help buyers and/or sellers connect with home-related services such as plumbers or electricians.

All of the skills bear the real estate agencies’ branding.

Voiceter Pro co-founder Miguel Berger, a real estate agent with more than 30 years’ experience, said when he and his software engineer son, Ami, started working on the skills in July 2015 “everyone thought we were crazy”.

With more than 54 million American households owning an Amazon Alexa or Google Home, the pair don’t look so silly now.

The Real Estate Search skill asks buyers to answer a few key questions, such as the location, price bracket and number of bedrooms they’d like, before returning the top three homes that meet their criteria and pointing them to the agent’s website.

The agent also receives a link containing what the buyer searched for so they can follow up the lead.

“These artificial intelligence devices can do so much more than turn off the lights,” Miguel said.

“With the My Home Value skill owners can ask their favourite voice assistant what their home is valued at and have Alexa or Google Home come back with an approximate value and ask if they’d like one of the agency’s agents to call them for a more detailed appraisal.”

Miguel said many agencies were now opting to gift Amazon Alexa and Google Home devices to clients as closing gifts and the personally branded Concierge skill allowed them to keep their name and brand top of mind long after the sale goes through.

Moving your customer service just one per cent could result in an extra five or 10 per cent market share and that could be worth a huge amount for an agency in a particular area.

“Concierge allows you to connect your buyers and sellers with your trusted service or repair professionals any time they need a plumber, an electrician, an air conditioning repairer,” he said.

“You become their trusted source for this information without being obnoxious or pushing into their time.

“You’re just there when they need you and top of mind next time they need to buy or sell.”

There’s also a Real Estate Careers skill that agents can use to find out what subscribing agencies have to offer them and ask the agency to call them to discuss the next stage in the job hunt..

Miguel said push notification technology would also soon allow AI devices to remind people of things like when to clean their gutters or if their rent was overdue.

“The technology is there … we’re currently also working on a project with a car dealership to remind people when their oil change is due,” he said.

Everyone has a Butler

Chinese international real estate website Juwai.com has made waves in the AI field with the launch of its Mandarin-speaking robot, aptly named Butler 1.

Juwai.com chief executive officer Carrie Law said earlier models of Butler 1 had provided security and access control at convention centres, universities and transit centers.

“The new robot will help real estate marketers provide better service to the Chinese consumers who visit their offices,” she said.

“If they don’t have a Mandarin-speaking agent on hand that’s okay, the robot can help engage with visiting Chinese buyers, obtain their contact information and learn what they are looking for.

“The robot’s AI chatbot engine will crunch data, handle basic requests and speed up processing. The robot is essentially a carrier that lets real estate sales offices anywhere in the world communicate in person with Mandarin-speaking buyers.”

The first Butler 1 is still to hit Australian shores but it is expected to do so in the near future.

The Digital Assistant

America’s largest real estate franchise, Keller Williams, has created KW Labs as a product development centre that uses its 150,000-plus agents to build new technology that will make their jobs easier.

Wouldn’t you love to be able to tell your vendors approximately how much renovating their kitchen could add to the sale of their home and what the most popular styles were in their suburb?

The creation of Kelle, an AI-powered personal assistant, is one of KWs biggest developments with the technology able to provide agents with hyper local market snapshots in seconds, manage and grow agents’ referral networks, show them their listings, track their CGI numbers, manage their contacts and follow other KW agents and navigate and link all of KWs technology on one interface.

Keller Williams director of product Daniel Morris said more than 91,000 agents were actively using Kelle each month and he expected that to grow with the recently released market snapshots.

“Right now Kelle is a real estate specific digital assistant for our agents,” he said.

“Not just a conversational assistant, Kelle is becoming a full feature mobile app for agents too. And we’re working on more and more consumer touch points throughout the rest of 2018 and ongoing.

“Kelle is more than just a mobile app too, it’s the intelligence of our Keller Cloud. We taught Kelle to listen and now we’re teaching her to speak. Next is teaching Kelle to read, meaning agents will submit contracts into Kelle for easy comparative analysis, as well as other benefits.”

But fear not, the robots are not going to take the place of the real estate agent.

Keller Williams chairman Gary Keller said consumers still wanted the “human touch”.

“They want the tech-enabled individual,” he said.

“They want an enhanced real estate agent. Enhanced by data, enhanced by the insights that data gives them.”

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is a freelance writer and Managing Editor of Connected Media Solutions, which specialises in real estate content and marketing solutions. For more information visit connectedmedia.com.au.

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