While there’s nothing quite like showing a home to a prospective buyer in person, technology is helping some agents hasten the deal before setting foot in the residence. They’re providing immersive walkthroughs from afar, uploading images of furniture into a virtual version of the home’s interior, and getting many required documents filed through smartphone apps.
Welcome to virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning in real estate marketing, a brave new world where you really don’t have to be all that brave to dive in.
“I think we are on the cusp of really cool technology using digital new platforms. There are a lot of ideas out there where these technologies can be leveraged today,” said Dede Madsen, Vice President of Technology and Innovation for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties.
More time for the agent-client relationship
Imagine, Dede said, an agent engaging with a potential buyer. They find a property, then make an offer on it. Then there’s a lot of back and forth, and the offer is accepted. More back and forth follows regarding other documentation that might be needed or services that might need to be scheduled for the property, such as inspections and appraisals.
“AI intelligence is becoming more and more sophisticated, where an intelligent piece of software could actually take care of all of those pieces in between the offer and the actual sale–a virtual transaction coordinator, if you will,” she said. “That gives the agent the ability to focus more on nurturing the client relationship and closing the transaction, for example.”
A growing array of options
The options for virtual real estate aids are growing rapidly. Some platforms are designed strictly for agents, others for consumers. Here’s a rundown of a few that have captured the industry’s attention lately that you should keep an eye on, with some insights from Dede:
- Matterport: Currently offered online only, this 3-D tool “makes a digital copy of the inside of the world,” its developers say. It supplies a dimensionally accurate model of the space exactly how the human eye would see it. Prospective buyers love the ability to understand the space because it’s displayed naturally, exactly the way it is. In the near future, Matterport will allow clients to attach a VR headset to their smartphone and get an open-house experience before going to the property in person.
- roOomy: “Virtual staging services at a fraction of the time and cost of physical staging” is the concept behind this AR home-design startup. With the new roOomy Reality app, homebuyers and shoppers will be able to virtually decorate various rooms and then take the design to open houses and superimpose their vision onto existing properties with the AR Google Tango camera.
- Virtual Xperience: Using 3-D modeling, Virtual Xperience allows VR headset users to access the full walkthrough experience in a property in development or under construction. Investors building a new condo or office space can start selling before a shovel hits the dirt with interactive 3-D walkthroughs. Developers are using Real Time Options, which customizes color palettes, materials, furnishing, and lighting conditions, to help buyers personalize and visualize the unbuilt spaces, as well as analytics to understand market trends.
- Agent Neo: Consumers with an Amazon Echo, Dot, or Show can use the Agent Neo app to find a property, book a showing or receive home valuations. “These Amazon products, coupled with the Alexa app, learn patterns in your home over time–what you like, what you don’t like,” Dede said. “So when you’re ready to buy a house, there can be a trigger in terms of specific questions between Alexa and the people in the home, like how many kids they have, how many bedrooms they need, do they have dogs, chickens, that kind of data. And then the technology can actually go out and search for those properties with those characteristics and bring the home to the buyer–and the agent.”
- Rocket Mortgage: “Machine-learning apps like Rocket Mortgage reduce the time it takes to complete the 1003 loan application,” Dede said. “It has interfaces to outside sources like financial institutions, payroll systems, and tax-return systems such as TurboTax. So as you’re filling out your app, it’s going to need to know your assets. You tell it which bank you’re with, your user ID and password, and then it goes into your bank account and fetches the necessary amount of statements. That happens, and boom! It’s a one-time fetch and that’s it. It doesn’t store your banking credentials.” The same goes for paycheck stubs, she said. If you work for an organization that uses a pay service like ADP, it knows exactly where to go to retrieve the data for those statements. It fetches documentation which, from a borrower standpoint, reduces the amount of time and work over and above completing and submitting that long loan application.
Enhancing the agent’s role
“I’m excited to see what transpires in the real estate world,” Dede said. “A lot of people ask if artificial intelligence will ever replace a real estate agent or a loan officer. I don’t think they’re ever going to replace either of those roles. I think they only will enhance them. From a real estate perspective, they are technologies that can fill in a lot of gaps.”
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