“Alexa, which smart speaker should I buy?”
In this new world of voice-activated digital assistants, choosing the right device for your business needs is essential. While some real estate professionals have already jumped on the smart speaker bandwagon, the trend is definitely headed in your customers’ direction. Whether it’s for streaming music or creating a hub in a smart home, smart speaker use is on the rise in the U.S. Smart speaker users are expected to increase from 16 million in 2016 to 76.5 million in 2020, according to a forecast from eMarketer. The group also estimates that 91 million people—27.6 percent of the U.S. population—currently use a voice assistant through a smart device at least once a month.
If you’re just starting to explore your smart speaker options, first consider if you already have any smart devices in your home or office. Advise your clients to do the same when they’re considering appliances with their home purchase, as it may be easier to get everything under the same system.
The two brands currently dominating the smart speaker market are Amazon and Google with their built-in digital assistants, Alexa and Google Assistant. The most popular, midsize speakers from each brand are the Amazon Echo (second generation) and Google Home devices, which both offer Bluetooth and wireless capabilities. The Echo typically runs slightly cheaper ($99 versus $129, on average).
How Pros Are Using Smart Speakers
Anand Patel, broker-owner and president of NextHome Discovery in Tampa, Fla., has linked his Echo to his home’s Philips Hue bulbs and alarm system. “I use it for news updates but also for a lot of general questions that come up, like ‘What’s the weather tomorrow?’ and ‘What time is the Bucs’ game this weekend?’ and ‘How do you pronounce quay?’” he says.
The smallest, more portable options for each brand are the hockey puck–looking Echo Dot ($40) and Google Home Mini ($49), while the largest, more robust speakers are the Echo Plus ($150) and Google Home Max ($400). Amazon also offers a new second-generation Echo Show ($230), which looks a lot like a tablet with a 10.1-inch screen and can be used for video conferencing and for streaming videos and movies. The Echo Spot ($130) also includes a circular screen, handy for video calls at a desk. There’s also the Amazon Tap ($130), which is a smaller, more portable version of the Echo.
David Gerwels of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Hilton Head Bluffton Realty in Hilton Head Island, S.C., says he often gives away an Amazon Show as a raffle prize at his open houses. Gina Lipari, a sales associate with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Realty in Thousand Oaks, Calif., brings her Amazon Dot with her to open houses and asks Alexa to play jazz music.
“[Alexa] already has a huge playlist of music prepared,” Lipari says. Plus, every morning Lipari asks Alexa for the weather to help her dress accordingly. “Throughout the day, [Alexa] sets timers and alarms, solves math problems—very handy for calculating deposit and commission percentages—and my favorite, ‘Alexa, tell me a joke.’ She is the perfect companion for every situation,” Lipari says. If you’re ever in need of work-appropriate wardrobe ideas, check out the Echo Look, which includes an AI-style assistant camera that analyzes your look and makes recommendations.
Amazon vs. Google
The Google Home Max and Amazon Echo Plus are ideal for smart-home hubs without screens, but the Max boasts a larger speaker with better sound because it has two woofers and two tweeters; the Echo Plus has one of each. If you’re operating the device in a larger room or office—or if you’re a music buff who wants just the right amount of bass—the Max may be the way to go. When it comes to screen hubs, the aptly named Google Home Hub ($149) brings together all of Google’s popular Nest smart-home devices.
Amazon’s Echo is the most popular smart speaker, with 67 percent of respondents to a recent eMarketer survey favoring the device. Google Home followed, with 29.5 percent favoring it, and other devices such as Apple’s HomePod, with 8.3 percent. “The reason for the difference is because people go to Google to search and Amazon to buy, which is why many more people own an Echo device,” says Doug Devitre, a real estate trainer and author of Screen to Screen Selling. “Also, since Amazon has a wider distribution network, they have been able to sell to new-construction home builders, automobile manufacturers, and hotels.”
Lennar, a nationwide homebuilding company, announced its Wi-Fi Certified Smart Home Designs initiative in June 2017. These new homes feature smart locks, thermostats, lighting, and doorbells—all controlled by Alexa-enabled devices. Understanding voice-activated smart-home technology is now essential for selling homes, says Devitre, who has created a presentation on getting started with smart speakers in real estate.
The Role of the Voice Assistant in Real Estate
Today, there are 265 Alexa skills for real estate and about 100 Google Assistant real estate–specific actions. Many have been developed or customized for brokerages or individual agents who’ve enlisted companies such as Voiceter Pro LLC to create Alexa- or Google Assistant–enabled skills for searching homes or providing real estate information. The National Association of REALTORS®’ Real Estate Today radio program even has its own Alexa skill that allows you to listen to the show.
Voiceter Pro was cofounded by Miguel Berger, CRB, GRI, broker-owner of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Tech Valley in Loudonville, N.Y., and his son, Ami, a software developer. They’ve focused on creating a conversational search. Clients can look for homes by asking Alexa or Google Assistant to “open real estate” or find out what their home is worth by asking to “open my home value” if the app is linked to their Amazon or Google account.
Berger is a 32-year real estate veteran who’s always looking for ideas on how to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to marketing and technology. In 2015, when he first learned about the Alexa technology, he immediately saw potential for the real estate industry. Berger and his son launched Voiceter Pro in 2016 to help other brokers and agents offer localized voice searches for clients in their markets.
“How people search on a website is different than a voice search. The conversation has to be shorter,” Berger says. “We don’t have much time before you lose a customer.” His strategy is to continually test and improve the skills based on how clients use them. When someone uses one of the Voiceter Pro–developed features, the agent gets the lead, including details about what the consumer was searching for—price, bedrooms, bathrooms, and location. This allows the broker or agent to have a fuller conversation with the lead, Berger says.
Using Tech to Engage Customers
But having a tool for your real estate business isn’t just about generating leads; it’s also about engaging with consumers about what’s going on in their ZIP code. “No one is going to buy a house through a voice search,” Berger says. “It’s about keeping real estate pros at the center of the deal.”
Alexa and Google Assistant–enabled devices also lend themselves as tools in listing presentations and agent recruitment and training, Berger says. His company also worked with the Greater Capital Association of REALTORS® in Albany, N.Y., to create a skill for its members to connect with association news, resources, and calls for action. Overall, Berger’s business has created about 60 percent of the Alexa- or Google assistant–enabled skills for real estate that are currently available.
When it comes down to the devices themselves, Berger says Google offers a more robust technology, but Amazon has a wider array of integration available. “Think about VHS and Beta video or Android and iPhone—it’s a preference. As a company, we’re not focusing on one or the other but both,” Berger says. “We didn’t choose one horse; we’re looking at all the horses in the race.”So when choosing the device that’s right for you, it’s about determining what will be most useful. Regardless, this is one tech trend that isn’t going away. Berger’s currently working with an MLS to integrate voice-assistant access. “I think it’s going to be huge. Think about driving in your car, and you ask Alexa where the nearest house for sale is. The biggest limitation is our imagination,” Berger says. Don’t have a Bluetooth-enabled car? Amazon can fix that—the Echo Auto is coming soon.