As real estate professionals, we are frequently bombarded by people selling us new technologies to enhance our business. The other day, I listened to a pitch from a founder who was trying to sell me on his public relations matchmaking service.
When I asked how it all worked, he referenced machine learning, a concept I vaguely understood but perceived to be highly sophisticated and cutting edge. After the call, I was sold on the product. It was going to make me better at my job — and yet, I had no idea how it operated.
Machine learning, big data, proprietary algorithms — these are phrases often peddled casually in the marketing language of startups. As a society, we place a high value on data and statistical likelihood, so much so that we forget the importance of human analysis.
There is no question that evidence-based decision-making is the way of the future. But perhaps we are prioritizing data and algorithms too highly above our experience, knowledge and opinions. Data is a profound instrument that can help us understand trends and make better decisions. But it’s not a solution on its own.
After my company had moved to Santa Monica, I looked up the area’s crime statistics online. I was shocked by what I found. From the blanket of red covering our neighborhood map, it appeared as though we’d moved to the middle of a war zone.
The data, however, hasn’t aligned with our experience in the neighborhood so far. If we had avoided Santa Monica based on a crime overlay, we would have missed out on a fantastic opportunity. We realize that crime in the area is too complex to be represented by a single number or color scheme. There’s no nuance in a blanket of red.
Flashy technology can cloud our focus on the needs of today’s consumers. Though consumers have a wealth of data at their fingertips, they are keenly aware of the shortcomings of data. Not only is data flat, but it’s often just plain wrong. These facts, in part, have fueled the rise of crowdsourced information-sharing sites over the past decade.
These sites are like virtual water coolers. Consumers crave data, but they also want insight and opinions from peers and experts. They are much more careful in their decision-making. They have a wealth of data and peer feedback to sift through, and they use a combination of these inputs to inform their decisions.
According to realtor.com’s 2014 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, though consumers can get plenty of data online, 91 percent of homebuyers and sellers are still turning to professionals for help in their transaction process.
Sharing insight unlocked from data — in other words, telling a narrative that gives context to the numbers available online — is the new role of the real estate professional. It is the key in connecting with new clients online.
Data is only as valuable as the story derived from it. Machine learning, big data and proprietary algorithms are all exciting and valuable starting blocks to more informed decisions. But in the face of a dizzying array of complex technology, we can’t lose sight of our most valuable asset to consumers: the unique perspective that we bring based on our analysis and personal experience.