There were five major trends that were consistently identified by a range of speakers across INMAN Connect in New York this month. Some have been around for a while, but the rise and acceleration of AI, technology becoming faster and easier, and the new emphasis on relationships is giving everything new context.
Trend 1: Voice
The rise of Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa has put made voice activation the hottest tech trend that we can expect to change real estate over coming years.
Voice commanded technology should honestly be a relief for all of us who have squinted and crouched over mobile screens, cursing at fat thumbs and poor UX that makes it difficult to find what you want.
Voice democratises technology expanding its use to the very young, who can’t spell, and the very old, who may struggle to see. More than 40% of the population listen to podcasts and this year, Google is intending to launch audio searches, just as it did video searches a few years ago so you can find the answers within recordings.
With voice, you state your question and the machine replies. It’s, well, helpful! So much so that 91 million people are now using voice search and growing, according to Google’s Dan Siegler who says it is enabling ‘the age of assistance’. And the ease of voice means that consumers experience it, find it easy, see what’s possible and embrace it further. It creates a new benchmark, makes us more curious, and then a network effect pushes the AI to learn even more.
Voice poses some unique challenges to real estate agents. It calls upon us to become genuinely helpful – the emptiness of scripted sales patter is instantly revealed as insincere when spoken by a bot. What are the common questions that customers ask about the real estate market, our businesses and why we are different.
The ascendancy of voice compels us to orientate our businesses towards helpful relationships that are of service to our clients, and away from the hard sell.
Trend 2: Vision
The listing photos that are the lifeblood of the real estate industry are about to get a second amazing life. For years, photos have been ‘black boxes’ of information that only a human eye could deduce. Now they’re becoming a rich vein of gold that has only just started to be mined.
The rise of AI and machine learning is revolutionising the type of information we can now pull from photos and the speed with which it can be turned around.
See that picture of a house? It shows a brick house, two storey with a tiled roof, bay windows and a chimney. Its built like a 1940s bungalow. That kitchen has marble benchtops, an island bench, Miele dishwasher, wine fridge and induction stove with open plan living that looks out to the garden.
From something that was previously ‘unstructured data’ – and usually an unnamed jpeg file – photos are about to deliver unheard of levels of ‘structured data’. This means data that can go into a database and as a result, be searched, saved and reused again.
Think about how this is going to revolutionise how we search and sort and consider properties. You’ll now be able to sort for renovated 1940s cottages with marble kitchens – as well as the usual three or four bedroom homes. Or houses with kitchens in need of renovation if you’re looking to value add.
And as the AI realises that the three or four bedroom homes include particular features and styles, well it will start to serve more up for you. Just as Netflix uses past clicks to refine and reference new suggestions, the rise of visual data mining will start to recognise our preferences faster than we do, making recommendations as a result.
If you’re sitting on a large database of listing photos, rejoice. That data is likely to be a valuable asset that can mined and sold on to data gatherers. You’ll want to talk to Restb.ai if this interests you.
Trend 3: Video
INMAN has been calling Video a real estate trend for five years. It’s pretty safe to say therefore that this is now well and truly mainstream. Or it should be.
But it’s pretty ironic that an industry known for its flash and smartly turned out image conscious individuals has struggled to embrace the camera as much as we have.
If it’s because of how we appear on camera, or the risk of potential embarrassment, we need to get over ourselves. As Katie Lance advises, that’s just how you look. God gave you that face!
But more importantly I think, is that its because we don’t like how we sound. Because we don’t really know what story we should be telling. And it sounds false, even to our own ears.
Video has put a huge emphasis onto that narrative of agents, and as a profession, we are really struggling. But “listing for sale” just doesn’t cut it as a content strategy and deep down, I think we all know that its shouting into the wind.
We are the ones who need to bend.
There’s no single bullet for video. Create a video strategy and content calendar that’s diverse with different types of coverage for different days of the week and different customers. Experiment with Facebook Live and Instastories, together with HomePrezzo market report videos, video CMAs, interviewing locals in your community as well as more structured and scripted formats.
Remember to caption as much as possible using apps like Rev.com that can do it cheaply and in a fraction of the traditional time.
Trend 4: Virtual
Virtual is no longer a gaming fad, or some cool tech that helps you inspect a property in 3D. It’s the rise of the bots in real estate encompassing artificial intelligence, machine learning and real time analytics to dramatically improve data capture, analysis, accuracy and consistency.
Since the INMAN in San Francisco in September, the number of bots and AI now servicing real estate agents and franchise groups/brokerages has leapt. There are virtual employees (RITA from AIRE), virtual assistants, virtual helpdesks – the list goes on. There’s even avatar styled guiding occurring within new CRMs, nudging, reminding and even guiding and training staff when tasks remain incomplete. Check out Gabbi.ai, Rita from Aire, Jane.ai and even CRMs that use AI to prompt such as AgentBright.
These bots are relentless in how they approach a task – they don’t take sick days, they’ll work all weekend without complaint, and they’re able to take on utterly soul-destroying detail and repetitive tasks. They crunch data at speeds faster than humans can read, and provide insights in real time that help us make better decisions.
Brad Inman said “Human beings will beat the machines if they do the right thing by their clients” but the point is really that there are many things we don’t want to beat them on.
The new every increasing range of algorithms and bots are starting to take the ‘busy-ness’ out of our world, crunching back end tasks that allow us to focus on building relationships. And the more they take on, the more we find we can give them.
Trend 5: Value
Into this new digital world, the value of a coach and advisor to ever-more educated clients has never been more important. This more than anything is blowing up the reality of those agents who just want to focus on the transaction.
With the promise of the work of real estate becoming easier, relationships can be rethought and the shifting market is reminding us who we are accountable to – not just sellers and landlords, but buyers and tenants too.
Clients do not want to be sold to – they want guidance. They’re no longer asking us what they should do. Instead they’re looking to us to explain why they should do it. Customers are telling agents “So here’s what I know. What have I missed, or why is that happening? Or what is the best thing to do.”
The fact that we’re only able to charge half of them a commission currently is our problem, not theirs. And discriminating your helpfulness based on an imagined ROI will only bite you at review time.
Our counsel is far more valuable than our sales figures and it’s up to us to look at clients as people, not categories. In the relationships come the referrals, but only to those who provide genuine connection, empathy, support and gold star service.
Content marketing strategist, researcher, journalist and presenter specialising in the real estate industry. I'm passionate about proptech, digital disruption and all things property, big data, leadership and entrepreneurial ideas, have an MBA and specialise in social and digital media content creation and automation.