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Ryan Serhant, the multi-hyphenate leader of the real estate brokerage SERHANT. and one of the stars of “Million Dollar Listing New York” until last year, told a rapt audience at Inman Connect New York on Thursday that interactive media and live-streaming content will be the differentiator for real estate agents willing to embrace those technologies in 2023.
In a wide-ranging interview with moderator Lockhart Steele that touched on the rise of artificial intelligence in real estate and virtual worlds like his own UNIVERS. and eXp World Holdings’ Virbela, Serhant said media interactivity, such as content like the new Netflix series “Kaleidescope” in which viewers can choose a protagonist’s journey, can be further applied to real estate.
He also touted a future where live-streamed home tours, in which agents interact with clients remotely, will be de rigueur. He pointed to a deal in October in which the entire transaction with a client from South Africa was sourced virtually over Facetime and the buyer never saw the property until after the deal had closed.
“I’m interested in interactive media, so ‘Kaleidescope’ on Netflix, for example,” Serhant told Steele on the final day of ICNY. “What I get very excited about right now in the world of social — and it’s a little crazy — is live.”
Serhant argued that the kind of clean, produced media that top agents perfected years ago will only take content creators so far as technology continues to evolve. The next level, he emphasized, will be live and interactive.
“It’s like ‘Survivor,'” Serhant said of the fierce competition between agents in an uncertain market, referencing the long-running CBS reality TV show. “Real estate “Survivor” — who’s going to make it?”
As for artificial intelligence, which automates work flow by synthesizing billions of data points, Serhant expressed surprise — and snark — over how the technology that recently capture the world’s imagination with ChatGPT hadn’t emerged as a major talking point during the three-day Connect conference.
“Well,” he told Steele, Inman’s chief content officer, “You’ve had some tech CEOs on stage this week and I love how they haven’t talked about technology.”
“Artificial intelligence by true definition doesn’t exist yet,” he added. “This isn’t Ex Machina, Terminator 2. This isn’t Westworld — yet.”
With the rise of ChatGPT and similar chatbots that can generate articulate text on their own, Serhant said people in the real estate world are starting to get excited that they don’t have to write their own listing descriptions or a difficult email to a seller anymore. He said tools like ChatGPT will enable SERHANT. to eliminate approximately 60 percent of tasks that agents used to have to do on their own.
However, there are still limitations to what AI can do, Steele said.
“It seems like what still shines through and becomes even more critical is voice and personality,” he said.
But Serhant predicted the technology is evolving so rapidly that those components wouldn’t be a concern in the near future.
“It’s crazy, if you look at GPT-3, it uses 175 billion factors,” Serhant said. “And it learns every day, every second as we go on.”
Agents shouldn’t be afraid to move forward into an uncertain future, Serhant said.
“Whatever fear you have, fear is like gasoline,” Serhant said. “It can either burn your house down, or it can heat your house and power you forward.”
“As scary as things might be today or as amazing as things might be, the greatest deal you’ve ever done, you haven’t even done that yet,” he added.
Serhant also recently announced a virtual world, UNIVERS., at his brokerage, and Steele wondered if it’s comparable to eXp Realty’s well-known virtual world, eXp World by Virbela.
“Kind of,” Serhant said, suggesting ever so subtly that UNIVERS. might be superior to eXp World. “My goal is to get better than anyone else on anything — forever.”
The main phases of UNIVERS.’s development will include a phase 1 to enable team expansion, phase 2 for data integration and phase 3 of client integration [selling real properties virtually]. Serhant added that developing UNIVERS. could also potentially help make an industry that’s not always inclusive far more welcoming.
“For everyone in this room who’s a real estate agent, how many of you are in a wheel chair?” Serhant asked, as no one in the room raised their hand. “Zero. The real estate business is the least inclusive business. So something that I’m really emotionally attached to is, how do we take this business that for so long has only applied to people with two arms, two legs and oftentimes a personality, and open it up to an amazing world of people who have felt discriminated against?”
“If I can make a business impact with SERHANT., but also a true social impact, that gets me worked up,” he added.
On the mass return to working in an office, Serhant said that he never stopped working in the office himself, but that he believes paying for office overhead is overrated, particularly given that much of a real estate agent’s business must be conducted outside of the office.
When Steele noted that Compass CEO Robert Reffkin said that the office is the center of a company’s culture, Serhant vehemently disagreed.
“I 1,000 percent disagree with that,” he said. “I think he had to say that because they spend so much goddamn money on office space.”