With a continuing wave of tech investment coming to real estate, all proptech leaders need to ask themselves one important question: “Is my company’s technology useful in boosting the existing homebuying and selling processes, or is it aimed at solely replacing the role of the real estate salesperson?” You’re much more likely to be successful if it’s the former.
Dan Weisman, the director of emerging technology in the Strategic Business, Innovation & Technology group at the National Association of Realtors (NAR) recently told me, “The broker and agent will continue to exist in this tech-enabled ecosystem because, unlike ordering something online that you can return, buying a house is a significant financial and emotional commitment and can’t be returned. Buyers and sellers need the human support and reassurance, and what technology will continue to help with is improved process and increased efficiencies so brokers and agents can continue to be at the centre of the experience.”
Buying and selling a home is complicated, so there’s no one catch-all technology solution that can solve every potential snag in the process. It’s also a deeply emotional and personal process and likely the largest single investment any individual is going to make. It’s clear that people want to rely on experts to guide them through the process – nearly 90 per cent of individuals use a real estate agent or broker, which has steadily increased over the past two decades, according to data from NAR.
The best technology companies are those that facilitate a transaction versus attempting to replace the emotional components of buying and selling a home. The companies that succeed rely on human intelligence to support the insights created by machine learning and artificial intelligence, as well as other technologies.
NAR’s most recent Realtor Technology Survey found that Realtors believe e-signature technology to be the most useful by leaps and bounds, followed by local MLS apps, social media, lockboxes and video conferencing. The so-called “sexy technologies” like augmented and virtual reality and voice-assistant technology are at the bottom of the list. As the survey shows, Realtors are more excited about technology that empowers the client and enables Realtors to deliver a better, more personalized service.
Looking ahead to the future, it’s clear that technologies won’t supplant the broker or agent but continue to augment their business and improve the client experience. The search experience, for example, can be enhanced by using artificial intelligence, chat applications and overall a more personalized home shopping experience where consumers don’t need to sort through numerous websites to find the right home. A clunky experience often leads to confusion, inundating consumers with pages of listings and unclear data.
The next step then is using conversational commerce, technology whereby a prospective buyer sends a message and has a conversation with a tech-enable agent to find the perfect home. It’s technology that’s omnipresent in the retail world but just started to be used consistently in the real estate industry.
Companies are using apps – such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Line – to deliver a personalized shopping experience. This approach makes sense given the fact that more than 80 per cent of mobile device time is spent using apps, according to a July feature in The Economist. Every day, 175 million people are sending a message to WhatsApp for business, according to the report, which allows consumers to quickly find what they need.
While chat-based commerce having a significant impact on real estate shopping might be a decade into the future, the same artificial intelligence-powered technology that these chat companies employ is already being realized in the search space. That AI technology is helping consumers sort through the noise of millions of home listings to deliver tailored, personalized results. It’s not, however, replacing the Realtor.