The smart speaker market — think the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple’s upcoming Homepod — has exploded into becoming the next tech battleground, and real estate brokers and agents might want to pay attention.
Because of the way that virtual personal assistant (or VPA)-enabled speakers have changed the way we interact with online services, with consumers the world over asking “Alexa” to turn up the music or add milk to the grocery list, a recent report says worldwide spending on the virtual assistant technology could reach $3.5 billion by 2021.
For new and prospective homeowners, a smart speaker could be something they expect as a home feature or even as the way they communicate with their real estate professional.
‘I’ll take my Echo in Walnut, please’
Last week, Amazon announced a pretty hefty hardware renewal to its line of Echo products featuring virtual assistant Alexa.
The event kicked off with the first update to their classic Echo speaker in four years. Retailing for $99, the new Echo has improved audio quality and better microphones that will pick up more distant users, but what may be even more enticing are the aesthetic changes. The Echo is slightly smaller and comes in new brushed, wood or fabric finishes. You have to put it somewhere and look at it, right?
Also included in this announcement was a new $130 Echo Spot, a compact, spherical speaker with a 2.5-inch touchscreen. Tech blog Engadget called it “a cuter version of the Echo Show.” (The larger touchscreen Echo Show was released earlier this year). Amazon seems to hope you’ll replace your alarm clock with something that can do video calls and tell you the weather or the latest headlines.
‘Smart’ move: Consolidating all those white boxes
But what might be most exciting for real estate professionals is the Echo Plus. Bundled with a Philip’s Hue smart lightbulb to demonstrate home automation features, the $149 dollar offering in the Echo line is positioned to be the only choice when it comes to making homes “smart.”
Early adopters of home automation tech have gotten used to having any number of white boxes talking to their lights, doorknobs, home security and other appliances. But these can be somewhat finicky or limited in the devices to which they connect, and setting things up can take a real tech wizard.
Amazon’s new Echo Plus supports 100 smart home appliances, and promises easy connectivity to them. Having a single device to organize any future smart home capabilities could make implementing those features much simpler.
VPA home search, valuations and lead generation
Even with the old Echo, real estate pros were taking notice. Real estate broker, trainer and coach Lee Davenport has loved the way the Echo has connected her to her family members.
“I can see my long distant family and friends (like Skype but with a seemingly better resolution, voice command and the ability to “drop in” on aging relatives),” she told Inman in an email, referencing the Echo Show. “Also, the news alerts are more convenient than watching an hour news program or reading on the run Skimm emails (since the alerts are visual and spoken). Lastly, the games and trivia give a fun break to a hectic day.”
But Davenport also sees opportunities the real estate industry could still take advantage of in the form of information through the conversational platform.
“We [the real estate industry] should share real estate news alerts (including federal law changes, local market data, etc.), heartwarming and entertaining stories, celebrity real estate (celebrities are an undeniable interest for many consumers), tech tips (e.g., 10 ways the iPhone X can supercharge your real estate investments) and the like,” she said.
Miguel Berger — head of the company Voiceter Pro, which has launched what it says are the first examples of Alexa real estate skills (Amazon’s term for Echo apps) — is also excited by the new Echo form factors.
With Voiceter’s Real Estate and white-label Concierge skills, homebuyers can do voice searches to connect with properties that might interest them, or get their questions answered following their move in. Berger sees great potential in the VPA speaker market to change how consumers think of their real estate broker.
“Consumers forget you,” Berger told Inman in a phone call. “After the close of the house they forget who you are. Doesn’t matter how many postcards, or how many phone calls, or how many emails you send.”
But new or prospective homeowners could need services such as electricians, lawyers or plumbers. Berger envisions real estate organizations using his white label concierge service to create lead generation and new connections with their clients through recommendations from their company and Alexa.
Future applications of the Echo hardware will give real estate professionals and homebuyers access to new ways to understand data that’s constantly being collected. Berger and his team have just published a new skill that tells you how much your home might be worth after a few questions.
Davenport hopes that the platform could shift the digital landscape real estate finds itself in.
“Frankly, this could even be the platform real estate pros need to counter-disrupt and innovate beyond our industry disruptors like our ‘frenemy’ Zillow,” she said.