The rise and acceleration of artificial intelligence; real estate technology becoming faster, easier and more automated; and the strong emphasis on relationship-building are a few 2019 trends that were solidified at Inman Connect New York by a range of industry speakers across many panels.

There were five major trends consistently identified by a range of speakers across many panels at Inman Connect New York this year. Some of these trends have been around for a while, but others — like the rise and acceleration of artificial intelligence (AI); technology becoming faster, easier and more automated; and the strong emphasis on relationships — are giving everything new context.

Here are five of those trends:

1. Voice

The rise of Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa has made voice activation the hottest tech trend in real estate now and for the foreseeable future.

Voice commanded technology should honestly be a relief for all of us who have squinted and crouched over mobile screens, cursing at fat thumbs and poor UX that makes it difficult to find what you want.

Voice democratizes technology, expanding its use to the very young, who can’t spell, and the very old, who may struggle to see.

More than 40 percent of the population listens to podcasts, and this year, Google is intending to launch audio searches, just as it did video searches a few years ago, so you can find the answers within recordings.

With voice, you state your question, and the machine replies. It’s helpful! So much so that 91 million people are now using voice search and growing, according to Google’s Dan Siegler, who says it is enabling “the age of assistance.”

And the ease of voice means that consumers experience it, find it easy, see what’s possible and embrace it further. It creates a new benchmark, makes us more curious and then a network effect pushes the AI to learn even more.

Voice poses some unique challenges to real estate agents. It calls upon us to become genuinely helpful — the emptiness of scripted sales patter is instantly revealed as insincere when spoken by a bot.

The ascendancy of voice compels us to orientate our businesses toward helpful relationships that are of service to our clients and away from the hard-sell.

2. Vision

The listing photos that are the lifeblood of the real estate industry are about to get a second amazing life. For years, photos have been “black boxes” of information that only the human eye could deduce. Now they’re becoming a rich vein of gold that has only just started to be mined.

The rise of AI and machine learning is revolutionizing the type of information we can now pull from photos and the speed with which it can be turned around.

See that picture of a house? It shows a brick house, a two-story with a tiled roof, bay windows and a chimney. It’s built like a 1940s bungalow. That kitchen has marble countertops, an island bench, a Miele dishwasher, a wine fridge and an induction stove with open floor plan living that looks out to the garden.

From something that was previously “unstructured data” — and usually an unnamed JPEG file — photos are about to deliver unheard of levels of “structured data.” This means data that can go into a database, and as a result, be searched, saved and reused again.

Think about how this is going to revolutionize how we search, sort and consider properties. You’ll now be able to filter your search for renovated 1940s cottages with marble kitchens — as well as the usual three- or four-bedroom homes.

And as the AI realizes that the three- or four-bedroom homes include particular features and styles, well, it will start to serve more up for you. Just as Netflix uses past clicks to refine and reference new suggestions, the rise of visual data mining will start to recognize our preferences faster than we do and make recommendations as a result.

If you’re sitting on a large database of listing photos, rejoice. That data is likely to be a valuable asset that can mined and sold to data gatherers.

3. Video

Inman has been calling video a real estate trend for five years. It’s pretty safe to say that this is now truly mainstream — or it should be.

But it’s pretty ironic that an industry known for its flash and smartly turned out image-conscious individuals has struggled to embrace the camera as much as we have.

If it’s because of how we appear on camera, or the risk of potential embarrassment, we need to get over ourselves.

As Katie Lance advises, that’s just how you look. God gave you that face!

But more importantly, I think we don’t like how we sound because we don’t really know what story we should be telling. And it sounds false, even to our own ears.

Video has put a huge emphasis onto that narrative of agents, and as a profession, we are really struggling. But “listing for sale” just doesn’t cut it as a content strategy, and deep down, I think we all know that it’s shouting into the wind.

We are the ones who need to bend.

There’s no silver bullet for video. Create a video strategy and content calendar that’s diverse with different types of coverage for different days of the week and different customers.

Experiment with Facebook Live and Instagram stories, together with HomePrezzo market report videos, video comparative market analyses (CMAs), interviewing locals in your community as well as more structured and scripted formats.

Remember to caption as much as possible using apps like that can do it cheaply and in a fraction of the traditional time.

4. Virtual

Virtual is no longer a gaming fad or some cool tech that helps you inspect a property in 3D. It’s the rise of the bots in real estate encompassing artificial intelligence, machine learning and real-time analytics to dramatically improve data capture, analysis, accuracy and consistency.

Since Inman Connect in San Francisco last September, the number of bots and AI now servicing real estate agents and brokerages has increased. There are virtual employees, virtual assistants, virtual help desks — the list goes on.

There’s even avatar-styled guiding occurring within new customer relationship managers (CRMs), nudging, reminding and even guiding and training staff when tasks remain incomplete. Check out, Rita from Aire, and even CRMs that use AI to prompt, such as AgentBright.

These bots are relentless in how they approach a task — they don’t take sick days, they’ll work all weekend without complaint and they’re able to take on utterly soul-destroying details and repetitive tasks.

They crunch data at speeds faster than humans can read and provide insights in real time that help us make better decisions.

Brad Inman said “Human beings will beat the machines if they do the right thing by their clients,” but the point is really that there are many things we don’t want to beat them on.

The new ever-increasing range of algorithms and bots are starting to take the “busy-ness” out of our world, crunching back-end tasks that allow us to focus on building relationships. And the more they take on, the more we find we can give them.

5. Value

In this new digital world, the value-add to educated clients has never been more important. This is blowing up the reality of those agents who just want to focus on the transaction.

With the promise of the grunt work of real estate becoming easier, relationships can be rethought, and the shifting market is reminding us who we are accountable to — not just sellers and landlords, but buyers and tenants too.

Clients do not want to be sold to — they want guidance. They’re no longer asking us what they should do. Instead they’re looking to us to explain why they should do it. Customers are telling agents: “So here’s what I know. What have I missed, or why is that happening? Or what is the best thing to do?”

The fact that we’re only able to charge half of them a commission currently is our problem, not theirs. And discriminating your helpfulness based on an imagined ROI will only bite you at review time.

Our counsel is far more valuable than our sales figures, and it’s up to us to look at clients as people, not categories. In the relationships come the referrals, but only to those who provide genuine connection, empathy, support and white-glove service.

Kylie Davis is the CEO of Real Content based in Sydney, Australia. She was a speaker on robots and automation at Inman Connect San Francisco 2018. Connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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