If you’re a fan of science fiction films, you likely hear the phrase artificial intelligence and immediately conjure up mental images of advanced robots, maybe with inexplicable Austrian accents, deciding they’ve had enough of the human race’s antics and attempting to conquer Earth as a result.
We’ve been conditioned by pop culture to think artificial intelligence — “AI” for short — is a bad thing. That the advent of computers that can think for themselves will inevitably lead to the downfall of human civilization. Thankfully, however, that’s not how this technology is being used.
Rather than hurling ICBMs into cities or sending Keanu Reeves on a kung fu quest through a virtual reality world, artificial intelligence is instead reshaping the way we learn, shop, play, and live. From the simplest vacuuming robot to SpaceX rockets that can land themselves, AI has taken the driver’s seat of our explosive technological growth.
No industry is safe from artificial intelligence, and the real estate industry is no exception. But should licensed REALTORS® see AI as a threat, or as a godsend? Is AI something that will take your job, or make your life easier? The short answer is both. And whether all of these changes are going to be good for you or bad for you really boils down to how you, as a REALTOR, choose to both adopt it and adapt to it.
A New Chapter in the History of Real Estate
Travel back in time a few thousand years, and the concept of a real estate agent would’ve been mind-boggling to most people. It wasn’t all that long ago, relatively speaking, that a person claimed their land and enforced its borders through brute force. Your land was yours because you could hit someone with a glorified stick harder than someone else could hit you.
Eventually, land ownership became a matter of lineage and aristocracy, and it remained that way for a pretty long time. It really wasn’t until the 19th and 20th centuries and the industrial revolution that the concept of buying and selling homes as we know it today became something tangible for everyday people not counted amongst the elite. The word “REALTOR” didn’t even exist until 1916, when it was coined by a group that would eventually come to be known as the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR).
In that short period of time, the real estate industry has been changed in both short and broad strokes, for good and for bad, in ways too numerous to count. Like all fields, the real estate world is forever growing and expanding. And the introduction of artificial intelligence technology is the latest rung in the helix of the real estate industry’s evolution.
Artificial Intelligence for REALTORS 101
You probably already get the general idea of what artificial intelligence is. It’s a piece of computer software that can “think,” in a manner of speaking, and solve problems without human input. Whereas a regular computer program will only execute the functions you tell it to do, AI has a limited ability to ask its own questions and solve problems on its own.
What does this mean for you, as a real estate agent? What does it mean for your clients? That’s going to largely depend on how you want to implement this emerging tech. It’ll really boil down to how much work you want to save yourself from doing.
Using AI can free up a lot of your schedule, allowing you to focus on the hands-on stuff computers can’t really do.
Not all that long ago, agents needed to search for property information by hand. It was often a grueling task; even the most organized and efficient agents could spend hours trying to find the right properties for their clients. They’d spend a lot of time on customer service answering the same questions over and over.
With so much research and data to jumble, there were always lots of avenues where costly human error could set everything back. With AI, however, those days are well behind us.
Implementing AI Has A Lot of Perks
AI allows for the development of better, more detailed websites, with information catalogued and searchable on the fly. This means you, as an agent, can search up property details quickly, while prospective homebuyers can narrow results on their own as well.
Artificial intelligence lets you create highly-customized chatbots, too. Chatbots mimic real humans—some of them can even allegedly pass Turing tests—to provide 24/7 customer support.
That means a buyer can visit your website, ask a question, and get a relevant answer at three in the morning, without needing to wake you up with a phone call. And you’ll spend a lot less time answering phones during business hours, too.
AI is also useful for eliminating a great deal of paperwork. Any repetitive or tedious task a human can do, a computer can do faster and more accurately, eliminating the sorts of clerical errors that even the most talented human agents might make.
What’s more, AI can vastly improve your information flow, too. It can provide mountains of valuable analytical information, including improved property valuations, market data, buyer and seller analytics, as well as information regarding laws, ordinances, taxes, and more.
As you can surely imagine, the agencies that most efficiently implement all of this technology will end up landing more customers. To that end, some Customer Relationship Management (“CRM”) software might be good to acquire, too.
CRM software like Salesforce and Zoho helps manage your customers and all of their relevant information, often sporting tools to help improve communications for your team as well. From simple customer contact information to complex algorithmic mass email sends, CRM software powered by artificial intelligence can vastly improve how well you keep track of and manage client information.
Does Artificial Intelligence Pose a Threat to Your Job?
Given all that artificial intelligence is capable of, you’d be wise to be at least somewhat concerned about computers eventually replacing human agents. But is that really going to happen?
Artificial intelligence can do a whole lot that humans can do, and in many cases, it can do it better. Paperwork, client management, and even many customer service tasks can all be automated. Many of those services can already be automated, are used to help enhance your productivity, rather than replace it.
The big question, of course, is whether or not a computer can sell a house, and the answer is yes.
In 2016, Inman created a challenge where an AI bot faced off against three human real estate brokers, each on different days, to see which of them could suggest the best home to a human real estate journalist. The bot won the Inman challenge all three days in a row, choosing the homes that best suited the journalist’s personal tastes.
Meanwhile, a real estate company in California called REX Real Estate Exchange has been selling homes using only AI. REX analyzes over a hundred thousand data points to target potential homebuyers with focused advertisements on social media and across the web. REX has closed hundreds of sales to date, with the agency only taking a 2 percent commission on those sales, versus the typical 5 to 6 percent human brokers would normally take.
These are examples of how real estate professionals can implement artificial intelligence to make a smarter sale. But in today’s world, you can’t completely remove the human element when you’re still dealing with human clients. As any good agent knows, the “best” home doesn’t always mean the “right” home for your client.
The Human Touch
Let’s face it, folks: artificial intelligence is here to stay, and it’s going to drastically change, if not revolutionize, the process of selling properties. But rather than worry about potentially losing our jobs, we should embrace this tech. After all, there are some things a computer simply cannot do.
A computer is more than capable of finding the perfect home to suit a buyer’s needs. And as we’ve already shown, AI can determine who is going to buy or sell homes before anyone picks up a phone to call a REALTOR.
What AI can’t do effectively — at least not yet — is convince a potential buyer why a particular home is right for them. Buying a home is an intimate decision, and it does still require a human touch.
Sure, artificial intelligence can tell you how close the local schools are and give you their graduation rates. They can tell you the exact month and year the previous owners built a home’s deck, or how energy efficient the windows are. They can even take you on a virtual tour online.
But while a computer can show you a home, it can’t yet show you the life you might have in that home. Only a living, breathing human REALTOR can accomplish that.
While some companies (and let’s face it, homebuyers) might see the rise of AI as an opportunity to replace REALTORS, we need to acknowledge that there’s a serious emotional gap between buying a new laptop and buying a new home. Automation can provide solutions for many of the tasks involved in selling a home, but we still expect a human to dot the I’s and cross the T’s.
Artificial Intelligence for REALTORS … Not Against Them
Artificial intelligence may seem scary, but at the end of the day it isn’t something REALTORS should be afraid of. We’re still a long ways away from mass industry adoption of artificial intelligence.
In the meantime, rather than fearing for our jobs, REALTORS should instead be embracing this technology as a godsend. As it stands, automation and AI can drastically reduce your workload, improve your odds of selling homes, strengthen your customer relationships, mitigate the pitfalls of human error, and help you find new buyers and sellers you frankly couldn’t reach otherwise, all while making your customers happier. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that.
AI is a tool that REALTORS can deploy to make their work better and their lives less stressful. Yes, you can land that crucial sale without AI, but AI reduces the amount of work you need to put into making that sale to begin with. That means you can invest more effort toward the things you enjoy most about being a REALTOR, and spend less energy on the things you aren’t as keen on.
Artificial intelligence is making a forceful, lasting impact on every industry it lays its digital hands on. The real estate world happens to be one of those industries. So let’s embrace these emerging tools. Let’s capitalize on chatbots and CRM tools. Let’s put predictive analytics and data mining and machine learning to good use. Because it’s always better to embrace evolution rather than resist change, isn’t it?