• On-demand services, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence are going to transform the homebuying process -- perhaps even replacing the real estate agent.

NEW YORK — On-demand services, virtual reality and artificial intelligence will transform real estate, according to Inman Connect keynote speaker Kara Swisher.

Swisher is executive editor of Vox Media’s Re/Code. [Full disclosure: Inman publisher Brad Inman is a Vox shareholder.]

She also recently bought a home in San Francisco — a town she called “assisted living for millennials” — and was stunned by how “antiquated” the homebuying process was, from the search to the document signing.

When she asked why, she was told that that was the way it had always been done.

“Well, we used to churn butter” too, she quipped.

Real estate has not been touched by digital media as much as it’s going to be, according to Swisher.

On-demand services

On-demand services and their off-shoots, such as self-driving cars, will be “absolutely transformative,” she said.

Because of on-demand services, people are going to stores less and less — Walmart’s stores may go to 10,000 square feet from 200,000 today, Swisher said. “What is that going to do to real estate if there is no big box retailer?”

She believes people won’t own cars someday, that having a car will be like owning a horse.

“What is that going to do to gas stations? When you think about that it changes everything. It changes real estate,” she said.

If a car can come to you with your delivery of services, the home becomes ever more important, she said.

“It’s not just about delivering (venture capital)-backed meals to millennials,” she said.

And cars can become an environment of their own. “You can consume alcohol and text all the time,” she said, prompting chuckles from attendees.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality will also be transformative for real estate, Swisher said. Though being engaged on VR platform is “very different” from being engaged on a website, it does mean “you don’t have to see the houses as much,” she said.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence

Search engines, such as Google, and other software can be designed to continually learn from users. They become smarter and smarter, and yes, we should be afraid of that, Swisher said — a lot of very smart people are.

Jenna Bascom / Inman.com

Jenna Bascom / Inman.com

She jokes that Google, through artificial intelligence, is going to become self-aware in 2020 and start killing the human race.

Self-aware means “it knows it exists. It’s a consistently learning organism and it’s smarter than us,” she said.

“It knows what you want.”

That means AI “could replace real estate agents for sure … if it gets you what you want.”

AI is like a partner who isn’t annoying, she said. It can tell you where you might like to live based on habits, such as a love for walking, that it picks up through wearable sensors.

“It will start to really know you,” she said.

Swisher sees a bigger role for sensors in real estate. They can sense when people go buy a house, for instance, or track where people go in a city to help the city decide how much density it wants and where to put it, she said.

People are willingly uploading tons of information to companies such as Google and Facebook, Swisher noted.

The leaders of those companies say they’re good people, but “what if the next people to run Google aren’t good people? Or what if you become bad?” she said.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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