“Jarvis, are you there?”
Iron Man may be fantasy for now – but who hasn’t watched it and wondered: will this ever happen for real? Could this be the first conversation you have with your own ‘Jarvis’ when you sit down at your desk, in the near-future? The answer is, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is heading your way very soon. Some think it’s scary – and it has the potential to be, if not properly controlled.
“At your service, sir.”
“Engage heads-up display.”
“Import all preferences from home interface…”
OpenAI’s ChatGPT has advanced in just a few months from being able to pass the US law school entrance exam in the bottom 10% to passing in the top 10%. The so-called ‘Godfather of AI’, Geoffrey Hinton, has quit Google to warns over the potential threat he thinks it poses.
But you can’t hold back the tide of change. In fact AI is already being used in estate agency and its ability to process huge amounts of data and analyse its potential is set to transform the industry. Rexlabs is one of the leaders in the field, and as CEO Anton Babkov explains, there has been an enormous amount of development over the past 10 years to build audiences that have a propensity to do a particular thing – whether it be to buy a BMW or to buy a property. “That is machine learning and AI,” he observes.
We see it as the work you do is going to be more nuanced and more valuable. So it has this really amazing opportunity to elevate the industry to do more, better. Anton Babkov CEO Rexlabs.
“In Australia we send out lots of emails to stay in contact with customers and that provides really rich context for running a machine learning model over the CRM. That’s AI models being run over core data and over time getting more and more accurate around ‘this person might be selling their home in the next three months.”
Analysing the mood of emails
The two areas where he sees AI generating the most change are in communications and insight generation. “So this person might buy, this person might sell, this person might rent, this person wants their property to be rented. But it’s more nuanced than that – this person is getting frustrated because you are not selling their property based on the tenor of their communications that are coming in. So Rex ingests email content and can receive a copy of outbound emails from an agent, running analysis over that and producing insights when a customer might be at risk.
“It can do the same thing on the property management side, finding out when a property is at risk of churn, or having machine-learning models run over rental properties to identify where there is potential for rental increases based on local area data.
“The portals are already generating intent-based insights that we are working with them on to embed into the leads that come in. ‘Is this person low, medium or high?’ – based in terms of likelihood to make a sale or to pitch a property, and the same on the rental side.”
As Babkov explains, when you marry geographic, pricing and economic data with the subject-matter context of a person receiving a message, “you get some pretty powerful stuff”.
He continues: “You might write an email welcoming a new purchaser to an area, because that’s a good piece of customer service, pointing out the top five cafes and childcare centres that might be relevant for that person based on where they are.”
Changing the tone
That’s something many agents already do, you might think. But where AI comes in is that you can change the tone to sound more like you; and you can use its general context awareness to inject additional information.
“You can also use it to target the messaging to the characteristics of the person you are talking to. So are they a football fan, have they travelled recently, what age demographic are they, are they married, do they have children,” continues Babkov.
“How might the tone or substance of the communication that you are sending to a prospect or a customer change based on those things? So what’s interesting is marrying all those things, and the place where all that information sits is the CRM, if it’s well maintained.”
Babkov believes AI will actually make it easier for an estate agent to do their job better. “We don’t see this as getting rid of a bunch of work, we see it as the work you do is going to be more nuanced and more valuable. So it has this really amazing opportunity to elevate the industry to do more, better.
Writing property descriptions
Dawson Scott, Chief Technology and Product Officer (CTPO?) at Reapit agrees that AI is already being used by the industry and will continue to grow in importance. Reapit is working on an AI-driven CRM system that will be able to automatically upload property details to portals and update the property status to ‘Under offer’ or ‘Sold’, among other functions.
In one of our products, for example, we are leveraging ChatGPT to create captivating property descriptions by incorporating property characteristics. Dawson Scott Chief Technology Officer, Reapit.
Like Babkov, Scott doesn’t see AI as something to be feared, but rather embraced as a tool that will streamline workflow and transactions. “When a property’s status changes, the system could automatically update the information on relevant portals and synchronise it across all platforms,” he explains. “This would ensure that all stakeholders, including estate agents, buyers and sellers have access to the most up-to-date and accurate information.”
AI-driven CRM systems could also automate other aspects of property management, such as scheduling viewings, sending out notifications and reminders, and generating reports. “In one of our products, for example, we are leveraging ChatGPT to create captivating property descriptions by incorporating property characteristics. This aids agents in producing compelling descriptions that successfully highlight the property.”
He highlights several ways in which AI will help agents to do their jobs better, such as cutting out repetitive tasks, enabling them to focus on what they do best – building client relationships and closing deals.
Other areas were he sees it making inroads include personalising customer experience to provide tailored recommendations; enhancing decision-making by providing insights and predictive analytics; and the creation of intelligent chatbots and virtual assistants to answer customer queries, schedule appointments and even pre-qualify leads.
Looking further ahead, Scott believes there are several ways in which AI will revolutionise the property industry, including automated conveyancing and chain management. AI could streamline the conveyancing process by automating document analysis, due-diligence checks and legal compliance, not only speeding up the process but also reducing the risk of errors and oversights.
Meanwhile automated chain management could predict potential issues that may cause delays or breakdowns, reducing the likelihood of property chains breaking down. Data mining is another area where Scott sees huge potential, with AI able to analyse vast amounts of data, revealing hidden patterns that will identify market trends and enable agents to deploy targeted marketing initiatives.
Scott believes AI driven data-mining could also potentially offer enhanced customer profiling; improved market trend analysis; better lead scoring, by determining the quality of leads; and customer sentiment analysis, where AI can gauge customer sentiment and satisfaction levels.
A more personalised offering
Over at Zoopla, Head of Data Science, Chanuki Seresinhe believes the biggest opportunity offered by AI is to create a better consumer experience by providing a more personalised offering. “For example, at the moment we’re running a test using AI which analyses consumer behaviour on the site and shows similar listings for sale based on these insights,” she says.
For example, at the moment we’re running a test using AI which analyses consumer behaviour on the site and shows similar listings for sale based on these insights. Chanuki Seresinhe Head of Data Science, Zoopla.
“This is proving successful so far and we’ve already seen an uptick in consumer engagement with our site as a result. We’re actively exploring how we can roll out similar tests to further help consumers find the right home they are looking for as well, as aiding them in their selling process.”
Seresinhe sees AI providing a huge opportunity to provide a more personalised experience for consumers to help them find what they are looking for.
“This is already happening in industries like travel, with Airbnb using AI to provide personalised search results that match consumers with listings that not only align with their preferences, but also with neighbourhoods and experiences that meet their needs and interests,” she notes.
No-one seems to think AI will create job losses in the property sector, at least in the foreseeable future.
“I believe there’s a real opportunity to use AI to improve the property life cycle for all stakeholders involved – be it through providing more insights to vendors looking to sell, or using AI to add useful and reliable area information to help people make the right decision when choosing their new home.”
Like her counterparts, Seresinhe doesn’t see AI as a threat to jobs in the property industry, but rather a tool that will reduce their administrative burden and provide them with more time to focus on what they do best – “winning instructions and drumming up interest for properties on the market”.
‘Massive opportunity’ to improve legal process
It’s not just the big players that are looking at AI. Iamproperty is a highly successful UK property auction portal that has its own highly customisable CRM tool, Openview.
Co-founder Ben Ridgway sees a “massive opportunity” for AI, particularly when it comes to the legal process.
“I’m not sure how much it can transform the front end of the process because it’s a people business and people buy off people – it’s a big decision. Do they want to talk to AI to help them select a property? I don’t think they do,” he says.
It will never in my view replace the people doing the conveyancing because of the risk of getting it wrong, but it will absolutely help to support them. Ben Ridgway Co-founder, Iamproperty.
“However the bit we are interested in is once a sale is agreed. In our business we do a lot of the legal work up front – we are creating 1,500, to 2,000 auction packs a month at the moment; full title review, searches, rent disclosures, standard enquiries. We’ve got a big team delivering that.
“It’s important we get the information right and we are currently looking at how we can integrate AI into helping us to provide summaries on titles, helping us to search data quicker and provide a summary report.”
Boosting sales progression
Ridgway see conveyancing as the biggest source of friction in property and says AI “will take some of the heavy lifting off staff to help them focus on those relationships”.
“It will never in my view replace the people doing the conveyancing because of the risk of getting it wrong, but it will absolutely help to support them, increase their bandwidth, deliver better service and communicate more.”
He agrees that AI could have a big impact in the CRM system, “probably around some of those tasks like sales progression; and could you get it to analyse a chain and to make intelligent actions and contact people when certain things haven’t happened?”
However, a lot of it will come down to having access to the right data, he believes. “If you can’t feed the right level of data into it to make informed decisions then it can’t make them. There is huge potential around data and integrations, but how that data is shared is going to have to change fairly dramatically before it can start to do the really clever stuff.
“The potential is there. I think the blocker, if I’m honest, is commercial reasons. People are worried about sharing data – personally I think we need to collaborate more and then opportunities for improving the process will be much easier.”
Glimpse of the future
No-one seems to think AI will create job losses in the property sector, at least in the foreseeable future. But what of the long-term? What will the future look like?
For Babkov, the movies may not be too wide of the mark: “Some of the things we’ve seen in film as like Iron Man, where there is this Jarvis, butler-style highly-intelligent evolved assistants – that’s where CRM is potentially going to go. “It’s going to be in the background doing a lot of the work for you, providing you with an interface and surfacing the most important activity and the most valuable conversations you can have. It will arm you with nuances about the market and the local area and the person you are talking to.
“An agent will ask, ‘What should I be doing to prospect today’ and the CRM will bring up the top 20 contacts that should be contacted and provides some advice on what they should do to get them over the line.
“What’s changed is the pace of change – with AI it’s super quick.”