What’s on your tech watch list for the coming year? Your options may appear endless.
Startups are increasingly targeting the real estate industry with new software tools and platforms to better your outreach to consumers and improve your team’s resourcefulness. In fact, private real estate tech startups raised $2.6 billion in funding last year, up from $1.9 billion in 2015, according to a report by CB Insights based on its venture capital database. So, if you’re struggling to decide which new piece of tech is right for your brokerage from the surge in choices, you’re not alone.
Here are a few technology areas generating some of the most buzz that you may want to tune into in the coming year.
What to watch: Virtual reality headsets are growing in popularity and may offer game-changing potential for your real estate brokerage. Imagine buyers slipping on a VR headset—such as the Oculus Rift, HTC’s Vive, or Google’s low-cost Cardboard viewers—to then be remotely immersed into a home that they can view in a 360-degree perspective. The headset allows them to feel as if they were actually there wandering from room to room touring a listing.
Early adopters already are experimenting with the technology, shooting their listings in virtual reality and letting customers then use VR headsets to view. But there are ways to baby-step your way into VR as you wait for virtual reality to become more widely adopted by the public and more affordable to film for. Three-dimensional renderings of a property online and a new format called VR180 are two ways to test the waters.
A few solutions:
- 3-D imaging online: Floored offers web-based 3-D tours with customized, interactive renderings of a property. Matterport also offers 3-D imaging that allows viewers to move from room to room by clicking on or focusing on a dot within the image.
- VR headset ready: SavvyHomesPortal.com is a service specifically created for real estate that allows you to offer virtual reality tours that can be viewed via a VR headset.
- VR180: YouTube and Google’s Daydream VR platform teamed to offer a new virtual reality format, released this summer, using 180-degree videos but in stereoscopic 3-D. The picture appears wider than normal while also providing more depth and height. The videos can also be viewed with a VR headset. VR180 is viewed as a bridge to one day offering full 360-degree virtual reality on YouTube.
What to watch: Nearly 40 percent of more than 3,000 real estate professionals surveyed in 2017 by the National Association of REALTORS® say they’ve encountered a situation where they’ve felt unsafe on the job. September is REALTOR® Safety Month, a perfect time to reevaluate your procedures for keeping your agents safe and how technology may be able to help.
A few solutions:
- Snap on an alert: Occly’s Blinc is a portable alarm solution that can be attached to your clothes or purse. It can send instant text alerts when you or your agents are in danger to preset contacts. It also records live images and will sound an audible alarm when activated. Occly is part of Second Century Ventures’ 2017 REach Accelerator Class. Another former REach Accelerator participant, Guard Llama, is a handheld device that connects to users’ smartphones and allows them to instantly contact authorities with a push of a button. It can send GPS and profile information to dispatchers. The company recently nabbed a $100,000 investment deal from real estate tycoon Barbara Corcoran on ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
- Mobile alerts: Real Alert is a safety mobile app for iPhone and Android users that was created by Austin, Texas–based real estate pro Michelle Jones. It can be activated to quickly alert emergency contacts or police when threatened or used to discreetly record “creep data,” key details about suspicious people you encounter. A quick one-button tap can alert emergency contacts or call 911.
What to watch: Real estate-related cybercrimes are increasing in frequency. Your brokerage’s data and agents’ identities could be stolen and used to dupe clients out of down payment funds. Criminals are targeting home buyers by sending them emails that look like they come from their real estate agent or attorney. The emails may contain signatures, fonts, and logos that are identical to the originals. The email, however, may claim plans for submitting the down payment have changed and provide new instructions to clients to wire funds to an account. Buyers who follow those new instructions often lose their funds, and later find they’re untraceable for recovery later on.
A few solutions:
- Secure logon and logins: Trusted Mail is a certification program that uses facial biometrics to sign and encrypt email and attachments to protect against wire fraud and email spoofing. Trusted Mail is also a 2017 Second Century REach Accelerator Class participant.
- Email security: Folio is a Gmail extension product by tech startup Amitree for real estate agents who are looking for greater control and organization over their email accounts. Its new fraud detection assistant alerts agents via text when any message sent or received to and from their registered email account contains terms related to money. The alert is to help protect against wire transfer phishing scams targeted at the industry.
What to watch: Voice-assist devices like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana are seeing explosive growth. Voice Labs estimates there will be 33 million voice-activated devices in circulation by the end of this year. Businesses are exploring usages and finding new ways to reach customers. For example, voice-activated desktop companions can order office supplies, set calendar reminders, and control the office lighting, and users can ask the device questions about weather, traffic, or any other topic.
Coldwell Banker, for example, is has been exploring ways to reach out to customers using AI voice-powered assistants. For Amazon’s Alexa, it has created the “Coldwell Banker Gen Blue News” and “Coldwell Banker Home of the Week” skills. The Gen Blue News skill provides the latest company news and real estate industry trends when users say, “Alexa, open Gen Blue News.” The Home of the Week skill gives users a look at the brand’s most exclusive listing via audio recording for that week.
A few solutions:
- Branded homeowner service skill: Voiceter Pro will create a voice-powered branded real estate concierge skill for Amazon’s Alexa device that consumers can call upon whenever they need home services, like a plumber, landscaper, or painter. The skill will include branding for your brokerage.
- Build your own skill: Have your own idea for a real estate skill? Just like creating a mobile app, you can create your own skill for a voice-activated AI. Hire a developer to build a skill or action for a voice-enabled device. Here are some links to developer guidelines for building your own: Alexa Skills Kit; Google Assistant; Microsoft Cortana; or Apple SiriKit (focused on iOS devices).
- Gather data insights: For those who have developed an AI voice skill, VoiceLabs offers free real-time analytics so you can see how consumers are using your Amazon Alexa skills or Google Assistant actions.
What to watch: Agent responsiveness is a major trait that buyers and sellers say they look for in a real estate professional. In fact, leads contacted within the first five minutes are 100 times more likely to close, according to Insidesales.com’s Lead Response Study. But no one can be available 24/7. Agents need to have tools to aid them in instant responses. “When agents remain transparent, informative, and responsive, they can greatly impact customer satisfaction and increase agent reputation and recommendations,” Greg Truex, senior director of the at-home practice at J.D. Power, said about the results of the 2017 Home Buyer/Seller Satisfaction Study. The growth of mobile products continues to be an explosive field for real estate, and there are abundant tech choices that are touting they can help increase your responsiveness and resourcefulness of your brokerage.
A few solutions:
- Instant messaging software: Slack can bring your team or office communications together in one instant messenger solution. This app allows you to message your team; track and share documents, photos, and spreadsheets; and search archives of past conversations. Create public or private channels to help you better focus conversations and notifications for your team members on any designated aspect of your brokerage.
- Call center: Homes.com’s Lead Concierge Service offers a personalized call center that will respond to the first consumer inquiries and even qualify leads through a series of customer questions. It will transfer hot leads immediately to the agent and add other leads to a database for later follow-up.
- Time management: Hours can be used to track every activity performed by your team members on a daily basis to see what tasks are eating up the most time. This time management app and web-based tool can help you detect trends and run reports to see where time is most allocated on your team and what resources may help agents to be more productive.
What to watch: Showings can take up a big part of the time agents spent with clients. Finding ways to better manage showing appointments may free up some of your agents’ time for other tasks. Upgraded “smart” lockboxes and showing management tools may help.
A few solutions:
- Bluetooth lockbox: Master Lock launched a Bluetooth lockbox that allows users to grant access to their property at anytime from anywhere through the use of a smartphone. The app offers a connected, wireless solution to monitor lock activity, tamper attempts and low battery alerts, and shared access control for multiple users. No long-term contracts are required after purchase.
- Showing managers: Schedulock automates the showing process with online and mobile solutions for booking appointments. Receive alerts to instantly accept or decline showing requests from other agents. Also, gather agent feedback from those who’ve toured the property. Another service called ShowingTime aims to simplify the scheduling process too. Buyer agents can call the ShowingTime Appointment Center to book appointments or schedule online using ShowTime for the MLS. With this service, buyer’s agents would be able to just click on the “schedule a showing” link from the MLS website. A mobile app would then send listing agents the showing requests so they can promptly respond.