Agents won’t be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI), but they will find it very difficult to compete with agents who understand how to harness its power.
When people talk about robots ‘replacing’ real estate agents, it is usually under a misconception that robots and humans can only work in “series”, meaning that either a robot does it or a human does it. However, the difference between AI and traditional technology is that it is capable of serving as colleague; working in “parallel” and in collaboration with an agent.
Take for example the idea of a self-driving car. The notion of autonomous vehicles has come from recognising that humans make mistakes while driving, but self-driving cars are also capable of making mistakes. The best result is where the computer and the human both drive. If the computer perceives danger it can warn the human or act if necessary. The human is empowered and safer with the additional insights, but retains judgement and remains in control.
Ask the right question
So the question of how robots will replace real estate agents is the wrong question. It is an understandable question because the world is simpler when things are ‘all’ or ‘nothing’. A much better question would be: “How can real estate agents and computers be connected in ways that make the agent more intelligent – collectively – than a human, or group, or machine could ever be by working alone?”
The question has never been more important as we now seek to solve problems that have been created by technology. In an attempt to scale, we turned to self-service models, bulk communication and replaced the agent-customer experience with apps. So. Many. Apps.
Nowadays busy agents are required to consolidate information from a variety of different systems and data sources, creating more work and greater complexity. Additionally, for an agent to hold value as a professional resource of market knowledge for customers, they need to be constantly monitoring the market and understanding how changes will impact the property owners that they have relationships with and represent.
The fragmentation of market and customer information makes it difficult to deliver customer service that is both current and personal to individual client needs. The demand for this type of service is intensifying in line with customer expectations of speed and service, while remuneration is dropping, third party referrers are skimming profits, and discounters are acquiring market share from traditional operators.
These are not the conditions needed for an agent or agency to ascend. However, it does provide the opportunity for agents with an edge to seize the moment. AI can provide an unbridgeable advantage for the agents prepared to embrace it.
That is a large amount of sheer mental labour just in processing information and it all needs to happen before the agent can actually ‘act’ by having a conversation with a client, conducting an appraisal or negotiating a deal.
Mental labour at speed
In the same way that machines were introduced to factories to make physical labour more effective by transforming humans into operators of machine muscle; machine intelligence (artificial intelligence) can help knowledge workers (like real estate agents) to perform mental labour at speed. AI can consolidate the agent’s data from a variety of different sources; analyse the relationships between the humans and score it; process information about the marketplace and local area; make meaning at speed; identify opportunities and then predict the best next action for an agent to take.
Agents can simply make a judgment and take the action, meaning their limited time can be redeployed to the customer interface, which is where customers want them to be.
Artificial intelligence is not a threat to agents. Effective agents already utilise lots of different types of intelligence on their teams to solve problems: strategic intelligence from a corporate brand or principal, creative intelligence from marketing professionals, and they bring emotional intelligence, business intelligence and their own experience to the table.
Adding machine intelligence to that mix as a scalable low cost resource to make agents and agencies more intelligent is not the end of the real estate agent, it is the beginning of a real estate super power.
*Sarah Bell will be speaking about the impact of new technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation at a breakaway session during the REIQ Summit on Thursday 14 March. Book your ticket for the REIQ Summit, held from 14 to 15 March at the Royal International Convention Centre in Brisbane, at www.reiq.com/summit.