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Robots and real estate: Why agents have nothing to fear

08/04/2017

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A friend of mine sent me an article about robots replacing real estate agents. The article described an Alexa-type object that answered questions about a property at an open house. Cute. A bit of a gimmick that might distract from the home, but cute nonetheless.

I recently bought an Alexa for my son’s 18th birthday. It’s a fun toy. It can answer a lot of questions — some correctly and others with wit. But after a few weeks, Alexa is lying uncharged in a bookcase.

The novelty wore off. It wasn’t taking on any tasks that we couldn’t do more efficiently.

The rise of the robots?

The idea that machines or technology can take over human chores fascinates me. I loved watching “The Jetsons” when I was a kid.

One of the many fun aspects of my position as a sales manager at a tech-based real estate startup is having a meeting (virtually) with our developers.

We utilize technology to streamline complex, paper-driven and time-consuming tasks, and we’ve only just begun.

How 3 top agents get listings in dry markets Not all real estate agents go thirsty during a drought READ MORE

The potential for technology to impact the real estate industry is both mind-boggling and happening quickly.

However, there’s a limit to how far technology can take us. In other words, the agent’s role as real estate adviser, advocate and coordinator is safe. Technology provides fantastic data to aid in decision making.

However, we, as agents, know that data is not the only driver affecting an emotional decision, such as purchasing or selling a home.

More ambiguous and less quantifiable drivers also influence the decision to buy or sell, such as the client’s’ long-term financial plans, how they entertain, their lifestyle, etc.

There is a nuance in advising clients and negotiating on their behalf that cannot be recreated by artificial intelligence.

Examples of human-driven tech

These are a few examples of great technology that won’t do more than aid a real estate agent in buying and selling homes.

Zestimates

As any good appraiser or real estate agent will tell you, estimating the value of a home requires a site visit. Factors such as renovations, views and condition can significantly alter the value of a property.

We use some great comparable market analysis (CMA) tools, but never provide an estimated value without visiting with the homeowner in their home.

CRMs 

We love our customer relationship management (CRM). It greatly enhances our outreach and our ability to get referral business and to convert inbound leads.

However, it does require a human touch. An email outreach campaign is minimally effective if it is not combined with telephone calls and face-to-face appointments.

In addition, our agents check their dashboard before each email is sent out to ensure that it is consistent with past communication.

Robocalling 

Has this ever happened to you?

Your phone rings from an unfamiliar number in your ZIP code – it could be your next buyer or seller, so you answer the phone immediately.

“Hello.”

Silence.

“Hello?”

Silence.

“Hello?” (Suppressing exasperation.)

Silence followed by “Hello. I’m calling about your credit card account …”

“Sorry to interrupt. Please remove me from your call list.”

That conversation, which I have had more than once, is a sure sign that I am the victim of mass-marketing. Knowing that I am being robo-called makes me feel inhuman, so I prefer not to engage.

Virtual staging 

Buyers often cannot visualize furniture in an unfurnished room. They cannot conceptualize the size or dimensions of their sofa or bed in an empty space.

Virtual staging seems like a less expensive solution to this problem than actual staging. However, in reality, virtually staged images generally appear a smidgen off-kilter.

3-D tours

We have a lot of vendors sending us their 3-D tours and trying to get our business.

Some of them make me feel nauseated (not a good connection to make with a potential home). Even those that move more like a carousel then a roller coaster don’t provide more information than a good floor plan and excellent photos.

The true value of an agent

I have a theory that most jobs look much easier from the outside than they really are. We don’t see the hours of curriculum planning and lesson preparation that teachers do when they’re not in front of their students or the hours of research a doctor conducts when he or she is not with a patient.

Likewise, there’s so much preparation that a real estate agent does that doesn’t take place in front of the client.

I’ve often heard people say, “I’m going to get my real estate license, so I can make extra money on weekends. I could do an open house and make a 3 percent commission.”

As real estate professionals, we understand all of the work that goes into landing that exclusive and preparing a listing and an open house. Our job is not just hosting an open house and answering questions, like a robot could, but also knowing when to provide the information and to whom.

Technology is only as good as the people implementing it.

I buy groceries online as it’s a great time-saver. However, if the person filling my order misreads an item or if it wasn’t described properly in its online description, then I don’t receive the order that I wanted, and I still have to stop at the grocery store.

Let’s embrace the progress that technology brings us. Let’s use our imagination like the creators of “The Jetsons.” And let’s remember that the purpose of technology is to provide humans with more information and make us function more efficiently, not to make us obsolete.

Joan Kagan is a sales manager/licensed associate real estate broker for Triplemint in New York City. Connect with her on LinkedInFacebook or Twitter.

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