4 Ways Realtors Are Using Artificial Intelligence in Their Business
Running a rainmaker real estate team can be labor intensive. That’s why Christina Griffin, leader of the Griffin Group, a 50-agent team affiliated with Keller Williams New Tampa, turned to a chatbot baked with artificial intelligence to help qualify her leads.
When one of the approximately 1,000 leads Griffin generates each month first connects with her team’s platform, the chatbot, a software program that simulates human conversation, responds. Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), the chatbot can engage leads as if they were talking to a live person, qualifying them for Griffin and her team. The chatbot was created by real estate tech marketing company HelloAlex. It is so sophisticated it can learn from the consumer’s answers to narrow down exactly what the user is asking about and how to best respond.
The AI buzzword is out there in the real estate world, yet it is confusing to many real estate professionals. That’s because much of AI’s functionality hums in the background, so it’s generally a component of a tech solution but not the whole thing. For example, all Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs help agents organize and follow up with contacts in their databases. But CRMs with AI have additional features, such as the ability to crunch big data—social media information, website behavior, email response behavior, tax records and more—to suggest which contacts may be most ready to move forward and why.
Here are some ways AI is impacting the products real estate professionals use every day.
1. For lead engagement
How they Work: Lead engagement chatbots powered by artificial intelligence constantly refine and improve their responses to users’ questions.. For example, every 24 hours, HelloAlex retrains its AI algorithm. The AI assesses conversation style and flow, the questions the chatbot asks, the speed and type of responses, whether a lead uses formal or informal language and more to determine which complex combination of these increases lead engagement and, ultimately, conversions.
“This automated, intelligent follow-up tracks with how consumers today engage with real estate,” says Ben Bressington, founder and CEO of HelloAlex. Consumers get nuanced responses when they want them—24/7.
The Benefit: Over time, chatbots that are trained well can improve the quality of leads and their conversion rate. For example, when HelloAlex engages with many of Griffin’s online leads, the system immediately responds via email and text message. It qualifies the leads with questions about how ready they are to buy or sell, their price range, if their contact info is accurate and more, as a real person would do.
Griffin’s team then follows up on leads the system indicates are warm or hot. She and her agents can also monitor conversations from a backend dashboard and jump into any exchange at any time. The system puts cooler leads on an automated marketing campaign.
Companies to Watch: RoofAI, IMRE, HelloAlex
2. As virtual assistants
How they Work: These tools use AI to learn how real estate agents operate and, based on each agent’s past history, anticipate tasks, such as scheduling showings, keeping a transaction on track and pinging customers when their attention may be needed on documents.
Some of these tools also aim to uncover insights from the vast amount of data brokers and agents generate. For example, KW Labs, Keller Williams’ software development division, hopes to give its voice-activated virtual assistant Kelle the ability to suggest strategies to help agents write successful offers based on the sales trajectory of similar listings in a neighborhood, price point and other factors. Because the large franchisor sees many transactions, it has a lot of real-time data it can use to provide insights to agents who use Kelle. Eventually, it could suggest offer contingencies and escrow amounts that will increase the likelihood an offer gets accepted.
Keller Williams is not the only large real estate company betting on AI. Last year, Realogy signed an agreement with OJO Labs to provide the AI-powered virtual assistant that is now available to its hundreds of thousands of affiliated agents.
The Benefit: A key benefit of an AI-powered virtual assistant is that it uncovers insights for agents and takes redundant tasks off their plates. As an assistant gets to know agents—what they like, their workflow, conversation style—the app adapts to better fit their style and automate more of their operations.
Companies to Watch: Ojo Home and KW Labs’ Kelle
3. As smart CRMs
How they Work: An increasing number of smart CRMs and tools that plug into existing CRMs employ predictive analytics to assess the large sets of data agents accumulate about contacts to highlight leads who may be likely to buy or sell soon. These systems track user website behavior, changes in financial or family situations, email response history and more.
The Benefit: The big benefits of a smart CRM with AI technology are increased efficiency and access to insights. For example, an AI-powered lead-scoring feature could highlight uncover hot prospects agents might not take advantage of otherwise. Also if agents are using an AI chatbot to automatically engage with new leads, the CRM can track the interaction in the contact database
Real estate CRM LionDesk is currently building an AI chatbot that will engage and qualify new leads. The tool will automatically update contact records in the LionDesk database based on conversations with the leads. Another real estate CRM, Contactually, partnered with predictive analytics firm First.io in early 2017 to add AI functionality to its platform. (More on First.io below).
Companies to Watch: LionDesk and Contactually
For predictive marketing
How they Work: Taking it a step further are AI real estate tools for predictive marketing, which look at data outside of an agent’s CRM to forecast which homeowners in a neighborhood are most likely to buy or sell soon. By crunching data about homeowners in specific neighborhoods — such as change in family size, length of time in the home, recent jump in home value and many other factors—the tools spotlight who will likely sell sooner than their neighbors.
The Benefits: Predictive platforms such as First.io’s analyze an agent’s contacts in comprehensive ways that would be hard for a person to do. Take Brandon Doyle, leader of a five-agent real estate team in Maple Grove, Minn. Doyle used to compile his own stats on the neighborhoods he farmed. Then he brought on First.io in early 2017, “What I noticed right away was that they were more accurate,” Doyle says. He currently uses the firm’s contact-ranking service to determine which contacts to reach out to next. More than once, it prompts him to reach out to contacts who, indeed, turn out to be transacting soon.
Companies to Watch: SmartZip and First.io
Automated valuation models and AI
Automated valuation models are another area rich with AI applications.
By analyzing past sales and hyperlocal market factors, companies including HouseCanary and Zillow Group use AI to make home value estimates more accurate. For example, the AI might analyze the age of a home, interior quality, last -old price, size and more sophisticated nuanced data such as the micro trends of the market on a block-by-block basis.
Zillow’s Zestimate uses another AI feature known as computer vision. Zillow’s AI analyzes pixels in listing photos to gauge the quality of a home’s fit and finish. These AI-aided assessments have made the Zestimate 15 percent more accurate, according to Zillow.
How to know if a real estate tool uses AI
To know if a tech tool is right for your business, ask yourself:
- Does it accurately read or interpret video or audio that can provide useful information? If so, the tool may feature AI.
- If a tool communicates with you or a consumer, does the conversation feel natural? If the answer is no, it either might not be using AI or the tool hasn’t been trained long enough or properly.
- Does the tool feature a computer algorithm that uses vast amounts of data to optimize a response? Does it get better over time? If the answers are yes, particularly to the latter question, the tool likely uses AI.
- Does the system do more than just automate tasks? While task automation is a prevalent AI feature, an AI system will do more than just simple A-to-B tasks. In many cases, it will uncover faster, different ways to do something.
The Future of AI
While AI has immense power, it has not yet been widely adopted, according to Dr. Jen Golbeck, a University of Maryland researcher who studies the intersection of AI and social media. “(Consumer AI technology) is predominantly in the research phase,” she says.
That’s true for real estate AI tools too. Many are currently in development or in early stages of use. Also, AI tools rely on sufficient training data through interaction with live people, which takes time. But they clearly could have a powerful effect on the real estate industry.
Still, there’s no reason to think these powerful tools will replace real, live Realtors, says Chad Curry, managing director of NAR's Center for Realtor Technology.
AI’s been in development for over six decades, he points out. It will lead to a better consumer experience, faster agent response times and quick access to information, and cut down on some repetitive tasks for agents, he says. But it will not replace them.
The real power of AI, Curry says is its “ability to help brokers and agents uncover new efficiencies and new markets.” In short, to glean new insights.
There’s no doubt that AI will increasingly be used in more tools to enhance everything agents do from lead generation and conversion to marketing and transaction management. Real estate professionals will be more efficient, their marketing will be more relevant and they’ll be able to focus more on serving clients.
Over time, AI tools will also become more accurate, so the influence the technology has on the industry will only deepen.
An award-winning journalist, Paul Hagey also runs the real estate content and digital marketing agency HageyMedia (hageymedia.com).