Editor’s note: This is the final installment in a four-part series examining what the real estate brokerage industry might look like in the year 2020, based on a survey of Inman News readers. Part I examined potential real estate compensation practices in the next decade. Part II looked at how the number of industry participants may change in coming years, and trends that will drive the industry in the future. This article, Part III, examined how agents envision spending their time in 2020 and the relevancy of brokers, multiple listing services and associations. And this concluding article, Part IV, peeks into the up-and-coming technology agents and brokers predict will dominate the industry in 2020.
Augmented reality — and its virtual reality and 3-D technology brethren — will be among the most important technologies for the real estate industry in 2020, according to a survey by Inman News.
From Feb. 5 to March 5, Inman News conducted a survey that asked readers to envision the business of real estate brokerage in the year 2020.
One question asked readers to consider technological advances in the next decade. Respondents commented on technology’s pervasive influence on every aspect of the industry — from how agents and brokers will be paid (see Part I), to the size and number of brokerage offices, associations, and multiple listing services (see Part II), to the services real estate professionals will offer (see Part III).
To many real estate professionals, technology is that exciting and potentially treacherous unknown that will determine the future of the industry.
Predictions about technology’s ultimate influence on the business of real estate brokerage ranged widely. Some predicted the demise of the real estate agent at the hands of the Internet. Most, however, saw an opportunity for higher-quality agents, the improved availability of information, better selling tools at lower costs, and speedier processes than paper-based methods.
When asked what the most important technology to real estate agents and brokers would be in 2020, the biggest chunk — 24.6 percent — chose "3-D/virtual reality/augmented reality."
"The future is 3-D videos with floor plans and the ability to place furniture, change room colors, remove walls, and get bids for doing all of this (using) the Internet before (buyers) purchase the home. What we are currently doing now, in five years will be old, and in 10 years, we may have 3-D color holography," said Richard Fisher, designated broker at Morro Bay Realty in San Luis Obispo County, Calif.
Augmented reality uses the location-sensing features of mobile devices to allow users to point a device’s camera at something — say, a home — and see information about what they’re looking at layered over that image on their screen.
"Augmented reality services that allow buyers to have a more full experience of a home online will save buyers, sellers and agents time," said Loren Sanders of Windermere Exclusive Properties in San Diego County.
Augmented reality is still in its infancy and will not likely be mainstream for a couple more years, according to Chetan Damani, managing director of Accrossair, a British augmented reality applications company. The company created Nearest Tube, a mobile augmented reality system (MARS) application that was mentioned in an Inman News column last fall.
The application shows users how to get to the nearest subway station from where they are.
"Currently we are just seeing a lot of location-based AR applications. The future is really about vision-based — so using what the camera sees and analyzing this to show the consumer information," Damani said.
"Some of the biggest issues we have today are with the accuracy of the device and the GPS accuracy." …CONTINUED
While initial AR applications for real estate will overlay house-price information and area information, "in the future you are going to be able to be at a different location and use AR to port yourself into physical spaces and use AR to browse these spaces," thereby combining virtual reality and augmented reality, Damani said.
While Acrosssair has not come out with any specific applications for real estate, "We are looking to incorporate data from the likes of real estate portals who want to list properties into our (AR) browser product," Damani said.
National real estate brokerage ZipRealty recently developed an augmented reality smartphone application, called HomeScan, which allows users to point their camera at a house to know whether it is for sale or has recently sold.
"So far, AR technology has been seen as a novel and flashy feature for smartphones. As AR technology and devices evolve, we can easily see how this technology can be used as a virtual neighborhood guide, not only for particular homes for sale, but also for general attractions within a neighborhood," said Myron Lo, ZipRealty’s vice president of innovation.
Lo added that the brokerage hopes to continue improving HomeScan.
"Whether it be local school information, public transit, or other hyper-local amenities, AR technology is a great platform to easily display this information to consumers," he said.
Some 22.8 percent of survey respondents chose "improved housing statistics/value estimates/predictive tools" as the real estate industry’s most important technology in 2020, while 20.8 percent went with "online social network/marketing tools."
"New media/social media would be a close second (after augmented reality) because it levels the playing field for lower volume companies and agents. With largely free tools, an agent can build a persona or brand with hard work and consistency. Just a few years ago this was not remotely possible," Sanders said.
The remainder of respondents split themselves were divided between "other" (9.3 percent) technologies, "online advertising" (8.5 percent), "GPS/location-aware tech" (7.7 percent), "artificial intelligence" (5.7 percent), and "new mode of transportation" (0.6 percent).
Some in the "other" category said transaction management tools will be most important. Many respondents predicted technology will make the transaction process the least of agents’ worries in 2020.
"Ten years from now the totally paperless process will still be here, but now escrows will be able to close within an hour. The buyer will have all the disclosures and information available over the Internet before they sign a purchase contract online, which will go to the lender, escrow, etc. — who are all computer-driven — and could be funded and recorded in a matter of minutes," Fisher said.
Many industry professionals predicted that information will be ever more accessible in 2020 than today.
"Most consumers today do not have access to information pertaining to real estate that is easily presentable and understandable. It is easier to find relevant information on baby cribs than real estate," said Vic Jang, manager and partner of Sutton Group – Broadview Realty in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"I believe technology will force our industry to provide full information to the consumer, and those who provide it in a format easily understood and sortable, based on each individual need, will win."
With that change, the ability of consumers to gather their own market and listings information will only increase, challenging real estate agents to prove their mettle, some respondents said.
"With technology and data what it is now, there are few things that buyers or sellers can’t do on their own. But, the reason they engage with real estate professionals is because we bring value, experience and expertise to the table. This has to be more so the case as we move to the future," commented Nicole Beauchamp, a broker at Pari Passu Realty in Manhattan.
Still, some said, clients will need hand-holding, and those real estate professionals who use technology to replace a personal connection will not do well.
"Agents who use (technology) and still maintain a personal connection to people — which might be Facebook or ‘Green book’ or whatever social media flows to at the time — will be the agent of choice. The agents with the most knowledge of the area they work in and (who) are connected to their clients will do very well helping people through the real estate choices they will make," commented Erik Johnson, broker-owner of Re/Max First in Wisconsin.
"Quantum leaps are made daily as technology evolves. Who knows — we may be working in the home office, remotely opening doors for buyers, demonstrating the home via video conference over the phone or tablet while video cameras record the showing," said Steve Fiksdal, associate broker at John L. Scott Real Estate in Northwest Washington.
"Agents will always play a vital role in the real estate transaction. But who is to say what that role will be?"
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