Connect the Speakers: John Berkowitz on why agents need to lean in to AI

'Despite the massive industry friction, and the lack of incredible consumer experiences, Americans have not lost the dream, and desire, to own a home'

At OJO Labs, John Berkowitz and his team are working on building and deploying “a data driven and truly conversational artificial intelligence (AI) platform across the U.S. that enables homebuyers and sellers to make intelligent decisions throughout their entire real estate transaction journey.”

So Berkowitz is perfectly positioned to help explain how AI is changing the game for agents and consumers, which he’ll do at Inman Connect New York, January 29 through February 1 at the Marriott Marquis Times Square. We caught up to ask him about what opportunities agents and brokers should focus on in 2019 and much more.

Tell us a little more about your session. How will it address how the industry can embrace the shifting market?

To best be prepared, industries need to have a clear understanding around what is causing the transition in consumer behavior, particularly with technology, and how consumers are utilizing new technology to improve their lives. We now have the capacity to facilitate 24/7 access to deeper research, richer data and information, along with the ability to ask virtually any question, which results in a better-educated consumer.

The way real estate agents can stay effective is to fully immerse themselves in the position of the consumer, embrace their changes in behavior, have a strong grasp on what transformations are being made, then recognize how they can add value. An example can be drawn from the way the real estate industry addressed the rise of the portals by trying to hold people to MLS searches. Rather than adapting, many in the industry ignored the growing research and activity that was happening outside. Great real estate agents who saw the opportunities at hand accepted these changes, leveraged the new technology, and quickly acclimated by leaning in and adapting their process to help support the consumers who wanted to do heavy self research on Zillow, Realtor.com, Redfin, and so on. These businesses built solutions and services that fit into the new model, and the agents who resisted felt friction and had bad experiences because they were not aligned with their customers.

I believe we are on the brink of another big shift in how people get information and make decisions. To stay upfront, you have to receive, accept and comprehend the changes as best you can. One way to do this is to obsess over what things the technology is learning about the consumer and what value it provides. By assessing what we as human experts — more specifically, real estate agents — can do with that information, you will have the power to deliver the best experience possible. Showing the right homes, making better offers, focusing on negotiating for the client and partnering with the technology to leverage it for business efficiencies rather than continuing the status quo.

Today’s consumers expect immediate access to information and require a trove of data to make decisions. They want to be guided as much as they want to maintain control, creating unique opportunities for the entrepreneurial agent to succeed. Advocating and educating peers and clients about the technology available to them, and using the technology in practice, will enable agents to become skilled advisors online and offline. The best way we can embrace the shifting market is to lean in, use the products ourselves, see through the eyes of the consumer and find creative ways to partner with the technology — adding value throughout the entire journey.

What do you think are the biggest opportunities to focus on in the real estate industry right now?

There is one big issue facing the industry both for consumers and the professionals who serve them. That is the ability to purchase a home. Solving this problem is both a moral responsibility and business imperative for all players in the real estate industry.

Despite the massive industry friction, the lack of incredible consumer experiences, the recency bias associated with the housing crisis, rising prices, fluctuating interest rates and the growing gap between the uber wealthy and everyone else, Americans have not lost the dream, and desire, to own a home. The biggest blocker is not helping them find their dream home, but rather helping them understand the process, getting them access to the financial resources, sourcing solutions that will address their unique problems and helping them plan over a longer period of time.

Today, the industry focuses on competing for the 5.5 million transactions that occur every year, and much less on serving all the other Americans who want to buy a home, but for a host of reasons are not currently able to.

To stay competitive, agents, brokers and companies need to execute quickly. What do you feel are key areas where quick execution can vastly improve the customer experience?

Understanding the market, particularly relative to current consumer perception, and the selection of technologies they use, are areas where agents and brokers must be obsessed to remain current and adapt quickly. Agents need to be masters in the current climate, equipped with the most current technologies and educated on how to maximize them. Given a lot of research shows the average consumer in the home journey is operating from a place of fear, confusion and hesitancy, agents need to guide with them with confidence and supportive data.

What are your hopes for the next 12 months, and what will you be working on?

Our attention right now is directed at continuing the development of OJO to the point where we have truly made significant progress on some of the consumer and industry challenges we set out to address. Obsessing over the consumer experience, constantly iterating our products, expanding our partnerships with those who share our mission, and getting OJO into the hands of millions of Americans occupies every moment of our time. AI never stops learning, and neither do we. Our vision of creating the most powerful and conversational AI that inherently connects with consumers is our top priority.

We have taken OJO from its early-stage release into wide implementation by our current strategic partners, Realogy and the Royal Bank of Canada, bringing our services to a large network across North America and Toronto.

Organizationally, we are passionately building out our extraordinary team. We have hired, and continue to bring together the country’s top talent to solve hard problems, build exceptional products and significantly impact consumer confidence in crucial purchases. Our future is full of endless opportunities, and we are working diligently to ensure we seize every one of them.

Discover the opportunities in a changing market at Inman Connect New York, January 29 – February 1. Jumpstart 2019 with tactical takeaways, unlimited networking and thought-provoking speakers. Learn more.

Thinking about bringing your team? You may qualify for special group perks! Contact us to learn more.