May I Virtually Help You? Chatbots Move Into the Real Estate Sector
Fandango uses them to communicate with movie fans. Dominos offers them to help customers order pizza. And Nordstrom utilizes them to help shoppers customize gift ideas.
They're called "chatbots," and they've now infiltrated the real estate space, making it easier to hunt for a home or rental unit or list your property for sale.
Chatbots are artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistants (VAs), found within messaging apps or websites, that automatically respond to consumers' requests and provide information via chat or text. But unlike Siri, Alexa, and other VAs that can typically only field simple one-at-a-time queries, chatbots are designed to conduct more extensive and human-like two-way conversations.
Their usefulness in real estate is plentiful, according the experts.
"Chatbots can provide immediate responses and property information to interested buyer and seller inquiries and help tee them up for real estate agents to take over," said David Tal, CEO of Agentology, a San Diego-based tech company that provides lead qualification services for agents. "They also save real estate companies from the human cost of having full-time staff calling and responding to many inquiries that a chatbot can understand and assist with."
Examples of real estate chatbots up and running today include Apartment Ocean, Automabots, Kasia, ZoomBot and Holmes.
"Holmes can respond to both buyer and seller leads and answer questions like 'How long will my home take to sell?', 'What are the current taxes at 123 Main Street,' and 'Are there any homes in San Francisco with natural lighting and cement floors?"', said Nate Joens, CEO at Structurely, the Ames, IA-headquartered creator of Holmes. "When needing basic info on a property listed on an agent's website, you can ask something like 'Does this home have a newer roof?', and Holmes will instantly respond on behalf of the agent."
According to Nick Kljaic, president of Apartment Ocean in New York City, chatbots can take requests, qualify potential clients for agents, provide updated lists of rental properties available and even schedule showings.
"We've all experienced inefficiencies in real estate, from the time it takes to search for properties to scheduling visits to getting connected with agents. There's a lot of room for improvement there and chatbots can definitely help," Kljaic said.
According to Misty Weaver, Realtor with Dream Weaver Team with Keller Williams in Winchester, VA, chatbots make everyone's efforts easier.
"Having a chatbot automatically respond has increased lead responsiveness and allowed me to follow up with more leads," said Weaver, who uses products like Riley and Purechat that function as a cross between chatbots and VAs. "I think more agents will use them as they progress. But the majority will be in larger markets with younger agents, as older and single agents may find the transition to chatbots difficult."
Be aware, however, that chatbots won't replace the need for important face-to-face time with an agent.
"They cannot help show a customer a house, market a home, hold an open house, or negotiate the price of a home," said Matt Murphy, CMO of Chime Technologies, an online real estate platform in San Francisco. "Agents are still a critical part of the real estate transaction, but they can leverage chatbots and automation technology to help save themselves time."
Kljaic believes chatbots will become increasingly useful down the road.
"As artificial intelligence improves, the chatbot will be able to handle more tasks than a human assistant because it will have access to much more information than a human assistant can. They will never replace agents, but they will serve as versatile assistants to them," Kljaic said.
Tal foresees a future where chatbots will be seamlessly integrated into the real estate experience.
"You may not be able to tell the difference between a chatbot and human conversation," he said.