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AI is changing how real estate professionals do business

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By now, it’s clear that AI is less the stuff of sci-fi nightmares and more a modern tool we can use in our daily lives. Wise as it is to heed the warnings of brilliant minds and stay apprised of potential threats to humanity, bots won’t be taking over the world tomorrow. They might be helping you rent an apartment, though.

AI is at a stage in which machine learning capabilities have become seriously impressive, but far from sentient. Artificial intelligence is everywhere — suggesting shows to you on Netflix, protecting you from credit card fraud, and categorizing and tagging your photos. It is extremely efficient at synthesizing information, performing tasks, and creating overall efficiency for its human users.

Besides being a bit of a geek for new technology, I work in real estate as the head of a property management company. It’s both a personal and professional priority to stay tuned to the ways in which AI and machine learning are shaping my field. We are all affected by real estate in one way or another, so it’s worth asking: What does the rise of AI mean for renters, buyers, and real estate professionals?

Like the more general possibilities posed by AI, the possibility of implementing AI technology in real estate is as exciting as it is complicated. And though most renters won’t see the benefits just yet, there’s a lot on the horizon.

AI in property management

Let’s start with property management, because it’s what I know best. I wrote a blog post earlier this year about a company called Zenplace, which uses AI to streamline processes for tenants as well as landlords and property managers. Advanced machine learning helps property managers find new tenants, locate cost-efficient vendors, and proactively recommend maintenance and management tasks. At the same time, tenants can pay rent online and report issues through a convenient chatbot feature.

That’s pretty cool because it’s the type of AI that fixes a lot of problems big buildings have to deal with. There’s no good way for a property manager to know and anticipate dozens of issues at a time without some sort of psychic gift. It appears that AI is the next best thing.

Real estate applications

The use of chatbots in real estate could be a game changer. While only a human can lead a physical tour, virtual tours are already emerging, along with bots that can answer questions on square footage, leasing terms, and other topics of interest. As machine learning advances, so will these bots’ ability to answer more nuanced queries. This shift is occurring across all areas of real estate. In the commercial real estate industry, a startup called Truss simplifies the process of finding and leasing small to medium-sized office space with an AI-powered platform featuring a chatbot named Vera.

There’s also the AI-driven sales bot called Holmes, which can answer inquiries. If it doesn’t have an answer for a specific query, it will transfer the user to a human agent. When AI supplements human abilities to generate a greater amount of leads, we get the best of both worlds. But is there a tipping point?

For realtors and real estate agents, there is one obvious concern: job automation. Predictions about automation are severe across many industries, with as many as half of jobs threatened in the next two decades. So while AI seems harmless when it’s just Siri and Alexa, the grander concept is less benign. It’s something we should all be thinking about as we prepare for an evolving workforce.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to AI’s effect on real estate agents. The first is if brokers adopt cognitive computing, they improve their agents’ core capabilities, improving their services and unifying agents as a progressive group of industry leaders. The second is that AI could wipe away the whole foundation of repetitive services, eliminating the need for many agents’ service, with only specialized practitioners remaining.

This is why those of us in the business need to be careful about how we integrate new software into our services. The goal is to increase efficiency for renters and buyers, as well as for agents, brokers, and property managers. The worst thing we could do would be to ignore the tides of change; disruption will happen whether we like it or not.

Looking ahead

It goes without saying that huge layoffs wouldn’t be a great outcome for real estate agents. Our best move is to anticipate and own the disruption in a way that supports our industry instead of depleting it. This means we will need to use tech as an opportunity to be more competitive and strengthen the human side of the business, which involves customer service, emotional intelligence, and relationship-building.

We have a lot to look forward to in the world of real estate when it comes to AI. Don’t expect a robot to show you an apartment yet, but expect this technology to match you with spaces after learning your preferences. Expect it to target relevant real estate marketing in your direction. Expect it to answer questions, find you a roommate, and provide the hard numbers to match realtors’ soft skills. More than anything else, expect change and enjoy it while it’s on the greener side of the picket fence.

Bennat Berger is the cofounder and principal of Novel Property Ventures in New York City. 

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