New Inman contributor and tech CEO Sheila Reddy writes that technology and consumer sentiment are trending toward curated information and experiences. Real estate professionals are well-positioned to capitalize on this trend simply because it’s what they already do. 

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If you’ve spent even a few minutes on social media, reading the news, or browsing the internet at large in recent months, chances are you’ve heard or read something about artificial intelligence (AI). 

The topic has simply been unavoidable lately, whether from productivity gurus sharing the top AI tools they’re already using, the skeptics warning against bad actors manipulating our brain waves with deep fakes, or perhaps even your own interactions getting ChatGPT to write a listing description or a funny limerick.

Ever since ChatGPT broke onto the main stage late last year, it seems like AI is finding its way into our day-to-day lives and overtaking our vision of the future at breakneck speed. The sheer pace and breadth of innovation in the field, while exciting to watch, can also be overwhelming and nerve-wracking at times. 

If you’ve found yourself wondering things like whether AI is going to be short-lived hype, if you’re using it enough, if you should use it at all, which tools to use, or even if it’s coming for your job, you’re not alone. These are questions on the minds of most real estate professionals, and many people in general, so let’s unpack them.

Is all of this talk about AI just hype or is it here to stay?  

With regard to whether AI delivers on its promises and truly becomes an embedded facet of our daily lives long-term, as opposed to being relegated to more niche applications like crypto or going away as quickly as it came like the Metaverse, the reality is that no one truly knows the answer to this question.

That said, if you look at AI and its potential applications in the context of emerging macro trends, the answer does become more revealing.

Specifically, AI aside, we are currently in the early stages of a massive technology and consumer pattern shift: The shift from the “democratization of information” to the “curation of information.”

As we think back on the mainstream adoption of the internet over the past couple of decades, the biggest trends and drivers of value were rooted in the accessibility (democratization) of information.

Information that required physical access (libraries, newspapers, cassettes, discs, etc.), monetary means, or going through a human gatekeeper have largely become available on-demand and in the palm of our hands. 

The success of many of the largest technology companies in the world is rooted in this democratization. Google made the world’s information searchable, smartphones made it accessible from any location, and industry or function-specific sites like Yelp, Expedia and others consolidated information and transferred power from gatekeepers to the masses.

Within real estate, this concept was fundamentally what drove Zillow’s consumer success — making information about homes and listings accessible. Even social media is, at its core, simply making information about people in your social circles or individuals you’re interested in easily shareable and viewable. 

That all said, the argument can be made that the pendulum has shifted from a time when we didn’t have information to now having too much of it at our disposal. If you’ve ever read through several food bloggers’ life stories before finding the right recipe for your dinner party or if you’ve ever ended up scrolling through TikTok after not being able to choose a movie across your various streaming platforms, this emerging struggle may seem familiar.

At its core, it’s “analysis paralysis” driven by the overwhelming amount of information and choice we’re now presented with in nearly every decision we make. The issue is further compounded by the sheer ease of disseminating promotional or inaccurate information

As this continues to become a challenge and frustration, the demand for “curated” information (timely, accurate, succinct and personalized to your specific needs or use case) will likely rise. Given AI is a vehicle for delivering curated information at scale, it makes the bet that this is a trend that’s here to stay a safer one to make. 

What does AI mean for the real estate industry? Is it coming for my job?

As technology and consumer sentiment trend toward curated information and experiences, real estate professionals as a whole are well-positioned to capitalize on this trend simply because it’s what they already do. 

When it comes to a real estate professional’s limitations, it ultimately comes down to scalability. Truly understanding a client’s needs, market dynamics and other mitigating factors, and then subsequently translating those into consistent advice and support throughout a real estate transaction, typically takes a significant investment of time and energy.

Historically, the only way to scale that level of service was through increasing headcount or compromising work-life balance. 

Conversely, when it comes to the limitations of AI in this regard, there will always be nuance that falls outside of even the most sophisticated programming — the hidden pitfalls of a house that the photos carefully hid, the “between-the-lines” sentiments and motivations of clients, and the emotionally-charged decisions that come with the concept of home. 

Real estate professionals are already ahead of the curve when it comes to curating information and, while AI is increasingly developing this capability, the strengths and limitations of each complement the other. People want to deal with people when they’re going through major decisions and stressful situations.

How many times do you press 0 or yell “representative” into the phone when you’re having a problem with a company? The introduction of AI won’t change that, but it will empower agents and other professionals in the industry to deliver their services at scale. 

What AI tools should I be using?

There’s no shortage of options when it comes to AI tools and the list of offerings will only continue to grow as time goes on. That said, at the end of the day, AI or not, a tool is simply a tool. AI may be the vehicle that creates new tools or makes existing ones more efficient, but what matters most is whether it moves the needle in your business. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to technology. 

For example, using ChatGPT or another generative AI application to write your listing descriptions may be a significant value-add to your business if that’s an area where you currently spend a lot of time and resources for minimal reward or if it’s something you just don’t like doing. 

On the other hand, if you’re a copywriter at heart and your unique listing descriptions set you apart in the market, using ChatGPT to create something more generic simply for the concept of efficiency or the sake of adopting the latest technology might ultimately set you back. 

As AI continues to rapidly evolve, it’s safe to say we will continue to see new and innovative offerings in the market. However, as you evaluate those offerings, the decision point should be less about the AI or the technology itself and more about whether the output of those technologies increases efficiency or automation in your business’s areas of weakness or helps you scale your services for areas of strength.

Looking at any technology platform through that lens will help cut through the noise and make the answer to this question much more clear.

What should I keep in mind as I integrate AI into my business?

It’s important to remember a few things as you think about AI:

  1. AI is a broad term that has a number of specializations and subsets within it.
  2. We are still in the early stages of AI’s capabilities, so the landscape of tools and technology available is rapidly evolving.
  3. Not all AI is created equal. AI is the most prolific trend in technology right now and capital markets have largely dried up in recent months. Most technology companies feel they need an AI component to raise capital and/or market their product, which means there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors to navigate.

To avoid paying a premium for “AI” that may not truly be AI and to stay on the cutting edge of technology, here are a few things to think about as you evaluate potential technology vendors:

What type of AI are they using?

The two most common forms are machine learning and generative AI. Machine learning focuses on analyzing large datasets to draw inferences or make predictions. For example, automatically analyzing listing photos to isolate attributes, recommending properties based on behavioral patterns, etc. Generative AI is focused on creating original content, so the ChatGPTs and Midjourneys of the world. Lately, there have been many technology vendors who are loosely applying the term AI to what they are offering, so try to dig a layer deeper when evaluating. 

Is their AI proprietary?

Typically, platforms will fall into one of three categories (or some combination thereof):

  1. Their AI is novel and proprietary (ex: ChatGPT). 
  2. They are customizing existing AI offerings for specific use cases or industry-specific needs. For example, there are a number of pre-existing machine learning/computer vision models that can analyze images; however, they are trained on a wide variety of images. Using one of these existing models and doing additional training specific to real estate fills a need and ultimately delivers unique value or higher accuracy, even if it’s not entirely proprietary to the company that’s doing it. Think of this as a “value-add” AI offering. 
  3. They are simply “repackaging” one of the main offerings. For example, there are a number of companies that will sell you a “generative AI” tool, but they’re simply overlaying their own interface onto ChatGPT. If you’re looking at a tool like this, it may be worth it if you prefer their interface, but more often than not you’re paying a premium for no added value. 

What are they doing to improve their AI models?

Garbage in is garbage out in the world of AI, as the models are learning from the datasets they’re fed. With how early in the game we are with AI overall, there’s still a long way to go when it comes to perfecting this technology, accounting for nuance and weeding out errors. What effort is the vendor you’re evaluating putting in to continuously improving their AI models (this may also help you answer Question 2)? 

In a nutshell, no matter how prolific AI may seem, it’s unlikely that Siri will ever be able to sell a house on her own, but, if used wisely and as AI continues to progress, she can probably help you sell more houses. 

Sheila Reddy is the founder and CEO of Mosaik, an operating platform and client experience engine for agents, teams and brokerages. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Instagram.

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