How long until hunting for properties is handled by an AI estate agent?
The potential for using artificial intelligence in the real estate industry was a hot topic of discussion during the surge in interest in AI following the launch of Dall.E 2, Chat GPT 4 and Stable Diffusion last year.
Many of the most powerful language learning models currently online such as Google’s Bard are built around providing intelligent, powerful search. If we reduce the role of an estate agent to producing a shortlist of suitable properties on the market and turning the key at a viewing you can see why some believe that this role could be performed more efficiently by an LLM powered search tool and a key box with a code.
Of course, those hoping for an AI estate agent ignore the first part of that sentence – claiming that estate agents deal only with property search reduces the role to a small fraction of what is actually involved.
The agencies already using AI
Those claiming that we’re about to enter the age of the AI estate agent are also ignoring the fact that most major property firms have been incorporating AI into their operations for years.
Back in 2021, CNBC reported that ‘pretty much every company now claims to use AI in some respect’ with regard to real estate agencies in the US, with a similar story unfolding at the same time in the UK.
The industry applications of AI go beyond simple property searches as well. Mortgage brokers can use AI to match customers to products and potential lenders. Language learning models like ChatGPT can be used to create optimised property listings and descriptions in seconds. Even something like Ikea Kreativ, the furniture giant’s tool for creating virtual 3D spaces, could be used to help potential buyers visualise themselves in their new homes.
These are just a few examples – considering how much of a typical estate agent’s workload is spent handling data of every kind there’s enormous potential for AI technology to make processing this information faster and more efficient, leaving more time free for actually dealing with clients and leads.
Where does an AI estate agent fall short?
While it can be tempting to delegate as much of your workload as possible to an automated assistant, those working in property need to remain aware of the huge amount of client trust involved in the industry.
For most, buying a house will be the largest purchase of their lives, and working with an agent they feel they can trust on a personal level is far more important than being dazzled with eloquent listings or AI-generated blog posts on every topic under the sun.
In fact, research from PwC has shown that for 78% of UK consumers, technological improvements have left them with more desire than ever to deal directly with a real person. A trusting, interpersonal connection is even more important in real estate than in other industries. Where clients are being expected to take advice on their financial future and possibly risk their family’s home, having a friendly and reliable guide to put your faith in can take some of the stress out of buying a home.
As Richard Hopen put it writing for Housing Wire, ‘Building trust with prospects or clients takes time. AI and ChatGPT are tools, not replacements for […] hard-earned market expertise.’ He suggests the scenario where an agent uses AI to write an article on a topic they aren’t familiar with. It may succeed in drawing in new clients, but that new relationship will be over immediately when the client tries to discuss that topic with their agent.
What’s the future of the AI estate agent?
Ultimately, it looks like the future of the real estate industry will be what Professor Andrew Stephen calls Augmented Intelligence. This approach means providing an expert human decision-maker with well-designed machine-learning tools. The hope is to get the best of both worlds, with AI tools improving efficiency and handling the drudgery whilst human intelligence provides judgement.
In a battle between human and AI estate agents, it seems the final winner will be the agencies that properly leverage both. The star estate agents of tomorrow will be those who learn to utilise AI technology to its full potential while the technology is still in its infancy.
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