AgentTechnology

5 reasons robots will never replace a Realtor’s job

Last I knew, robots didn't have a gut to check when treading the line on tricky decisions
  • The job of a Realtor requires emotion and empathy to navigate the gray area of a real estate sale, but technology is never the enemy.

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Whether it’s talk about the rise of machines or the simple influx of self-serve check-out lanes, there is no denying some people and professions are fearful of their jobs being lost to technology.

So when I read Shelly Palmer’s “The 5 Jobs Robots Will Take Last” LinkedIn post, I found myself more relieved and happier than ever to be in real estate.

In Palmer’s post, he notes five professions that will be exceptionally hard for artificial intelligence (AI) or a machine to do better than a human:

  • Pre-school and elementary school teacher
  • Professional athlete
  • Politician
  • Judge
  • Mental health professional

His rationale for these five jobs is that each one requires a unique combination of human intuition, reasoning, empathy and emotion. While I agreed with Palmer’s list, I also couldn’t help but notice there was one glaring job omission from his list that requires all of those same characteristics: Realtor.

1. Human intuition

Over the course of my many years selling real estate, homebuyers often would describe in great detail what they had to have in a new home.

Using technology, I could easily find a home that on paper matched their wish list 100 percent. We would walk in the door and within three seconds knew it wasn’t a fit.

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A home match on paper is one thing — machines or AI could easily find these results via a database. But a match of the heart and mind is another. And I think we all agree, a lot of home purchases are driven by human intuition and emotion.

A good Realtor learns from each experience, picks up on a buyer’s subtle signs and realizes when it’s not going well and that things need to be switched up.

That’s why we often show buyers a house that on paper reads almost nothing like what they want, but our intuition tells us it’s a match — and it often is.

This is the exact opposite approach of a machine, which would keep spitting out homes that only match a buyer’s criteria because it’s not designed to think outside the box.

As humans, we realize no two buyers are alike, just as no two properties are identical, even if they’re on the same block, offer the same size, and have the same bedroom and bath count.

As much as technology makes up a large part of real estate, it’s not a science in which you simply plug in numbers and it equals a home sale.

That’s why we often use our gut check. And last I checked, robots don’t have a gut.

2. Reasoning

One of the biggest differences between selling real estate today and 10 years ago is the amount of data buyers and sellers have at their fingertips.

But all that data is meaningless without someone who can translate it and use it to reason with buyers and sellers. That’s where a Realtor has a big advantage over a machine.

It’s easy to show comps and spreadsheets full of prices and days on the market, but what do those figures mean to your client?

A good Realtor will help potential buyers or sellers reason through the evaluation of a property.

Realtors help their clients see the whole picture and figure out in advance if it makes sense and what will happen next, whether an offer is accepted, countered or turned down.

There is no black and white in this business, just a lot of gray. Machines can’t decipher gray. They operate most effectively when the outcome is always the same or can be predicted.

Because there is a give-and-take with reasoning, some people think it’s the same as negotiating, but to me, it’s not. Reasoning happens before negotiating. Reasoning is helping a potential client mentally navigate all the ins and outs before an offer is presented. Negotiating starts after an offer is made.

3. Empathy

Selling and buying a home ranks right up there with some of life’s most momentous events. So it certainly helps when a client is receiving advice from someone who’s been in their shoes.

Robots don’t own houses, haven’t stressed over finding the perfect house, struggled with selling a house in a recession or lost sleep over a bidding war. And most importantly, they don’t give good hugs or have Kleenex on hand, like Realtors. We are nothing if not empathetic.

Empathy can also go a long way to keeping a client happy, particularly in today’s housing market where many metro areas, like Chicago, have low inventory.

We are seeing lots of homes with multiple bids, so someone is going to lose out on an offer, and Realtors have to know how to respond. In some cases, a buyer that was outbid may become discouraged and feel a sense of loss that actually grows over time.

These buyers had already emotionally bought the home and find it hard to move on. Good Realtors, unlike machines, actually have a sensitivity chip and help clients process that loss to get them back on track.

4. Emotion

A close cousin to empathy, emotion is more on the front end of the buying or selling process. People often buy a home based on emotion. I’ve seen it time and time again where a client walks into a home.

It some cases, clients may have a subtle physical response when they are comfortable or excited about a home, and show a different non-verbal response when they’re ready to move on.

They don’t have to say a word, but you can read their emotions and body language and start to learn what matters to them.

And while it’s one thing to be able to detect a shift in someone’s body language or read facial expressions, it’s another to understand the emotions behind those changes.

There’s no computer code for being able to determine when a client needs a push to be more aggressive or should accept an offer. That’s the type of skill that can only be learned through years of experience as a Realtor.

5. Networking

In addition to the four characteristics Palmer explained are critical to jobs that will not be lost to robots, there’s one more that I think is not only vital to any successful Realtor, but can also only be performed by a human — networking.

So much of real estate is local and based on community networking. You work with brokers from different firms, attend open houses, join the local chamber of commerce, donate money to schools — I could go on and on. And at any of these functions, can you imagine talking to a robot to find out the scoop on a new listing?

Machines are designed to provide data quickly; they aren’t programmed to be charming. This is probably why Amazon is holding a competition to create a socialbot to complement its Amazon Echo (Alexa) smart speaker.

The socialbot’s goal will be to converse with people about popular topics and news events. Still, you’re not going to bring Alexa to a party or ask it for real estate advice…at least not yet.

But there’s more to networking than simply showing up to events and being sociable. The real estate market is changing by the minute if not the day. Because of this, the best Realtors are attending training seminars and educational opportunities to stay up to date and share information with each other.

They have an innate drive to do and be better at their jobs because that’s how they are wired.

And do you know how else Realtors are communicating with each other and sharing insights? Better technology.

Technology is not the enemy

Without advancements in technology we also wouldn’t be able to do our jobs half as well.

For starters, where would we be without mobile devices? Realtors are always on call, and thanks to technology we can provide our clients with the best data and guidance no matter where we are located. Due to laptops, tablets and cell phones, Realtors are a walking office. In fact, I know some top-producing Realtors who step foot in an office just once a year.

Databases through which you can run quick searches on the MLS to find instant information regarding hard data like sales prices, bedroom/bath count, school districts, liens, taxes, etc., have revolutionized the real estate business.

Technology has also made it easier for Realtors to identify people in the market, find out what they need and stay in front of them with targeted listings. We can also provide and interpret more data to buyers and sellers.

For example, we can tell them how many inquiries, page views and website hits their listings are receiving so we can show them how their properties are being exposed to determine the best marketing strategy for that property.

And if it weren’t for technology, some of us might find our lives in chaos.

Whether it’s using online calendar tools, Skype, email or text, it has become easier than ever for agents to be organized and to stay in touch with their peers and clients. We can have instantaneous dialogues and information sharing.

For many industries, the choice to replace human jobs with automation or robots is about cutting overhead, gaining efficiency and better serving a company’s bottom line or shareholders.

But in real estate, our goal should always be to better serve our clients.

As long as we maintain that focus and strive to make buying and selling a home easier for our clients, Realtors will never be replaced by robots.

Laura Ellis is president of residential sales and executive vice president of Baird & Warner.