The agent and the Robot

The panel discussion at Inman Connect that featured Sarah Bell was about how AI is changing real estate for consumers. It centered on whether robots will replace real estate agents. Sarah has the view that the real estate agent will remain central and very important in the transaction.  She explains today as she talks to Sherrie Storor.

Topic – Will agents become redundant?

Mentor – Sarah Bell

Transcript:

Sherrie:   This time in the show we’re talking to Sarah Bell, and Sarah Bell is the co-founder and the chief operating officer, and CMO of Air. She’s most well known for a beautiful product called RITA, so Sarah thank you so much for joining us today.

Sarah:   Thanks for having me.

Sherrie:   You have just been on the stage at Inman and been invited to speak, which is a massive, massive coup. So congratulations.

Sarah:   Thank you.

Sherrie:   But tell us a little bit about what you shared on stage today? There were some massive takeaways that I know the audience loved.

Sarah:   So the panel was about how AI is changing real estate for consumers. It kind of begged this debate about whether robots will replace real estate agents, especially when we’re talking about the customer interface. I kind of have the view that the real estate agent will remain central and very important in the transaction. I think one of the points that we talked about yesterday was this thinking that a job has to be done by either a robot or a human. It’s kind of flawed thinking about this technology, because as human beings we already work in teams. We work in teams with creative people, with people who are great at financial intelligence, or business intelligence. Machine intelligence I think will become just an essential member of the team. It’s not always a question of whether or not it’s a robot or an agent, I think that a much better question is how can we connect human beings to computers so that collectively they can be more intelligent together.

Sherrie:   Yeah, well I must admit I heard something yesterday saying that personalization is AI plus human, which I thought was really cool, which is I know exactly what you’re all about. I think on that point most people really know you as RITA’s mum, right? But you actually had a background before you became RITA’s mum. So tell us a little bit about your journey and what your background is?

Sarah:   Yeah, so I had a strange kind of trajectory in and out of real estate. My first job at uni was doing quantitative statistics and research for my professors at uni. So some of the stuff that RITA does I actually used to do with a pencil and a bit of very, very basic software. But the worlds moved on and so did I. After uni I was recruited into the Commonwealth Ombudsman as I worked as an investigator for a while. Then I met this tall bloke who happened to be in real estate, and pretty quickly after we met we made a decision to purchase his family real estate agency, and I spent the next sort of decade in the business. Made a point of learning every job, and went on to study business and really kind of take apart real estate and use those analytical skills to find ways to put it back together in a machine that would work better.

Sherrie:   Well I think this is really important actually, because the fact that you actually have been so heavily involved in real estate is what actually really gives you the power behind it, and why I think RITA is so special. Tell us a little bit about RITA and what she’s really all about. Her personality, and what makes her think and tick?

Sarah:   Yeah sure, well RITA, it’s an acronym, and I’ll clear that up right now. RITA stands for real estate intelligent transaction assistant.

Sherrie:   RITA’s way more fun.

Sarah:   RITA’s faster. She’s not designed to replace the agent, she’s not designed to kind of be disruptive, she’s designed to be supportive technology. I think that we’re at a place in real estate where agents really demand that of technology. So what RITA does is the identity problem that we’ve found is that real estate agents have all of this data that they don’t know what to do with. You take data that’s sitting in the CRM and it’s kind of all of this latent opportunity, the CRM is really a warehouse of opportunity.

Sherrie:   Well it’s all collection and no engagement.

Sarah:   That’s right, and you know a lot of the analysis that we’ve done, a lot of the research that we’ve done shows that agents just aren’t making that human to human engagement. So what RITA’s really famous for is taking all of that latent opportunity and then mashing it against some other data, so data from the marketplace and giving those contacts and those relationships some context, and some purpose. Then suggesting to agents who would be the best people to contact each and every day in order to convert data into opportunity.

Sherrie:   So does it work? Like you must have some great case studies.

Sarah:   Yeah we do, and we’ve been really grateful and lucky that clients that came onboard early have allowed us to really partner with them and refine what we’re doing. Part of RITA being born and growing up has been her learning, and we do that through feedback. So RITA’s essentially getting smarter and better all the time, but some of the algorithm or some of the math has outputs that put conversion from data to appraisal, anywhere from 20 to 35%.

Sherrie:   Yeah, well I think what’s really interesting is that most agents have been hearing about AI for a little while now, and to I think most of the industry it’s super scary, because it’s just like this amazing thing which is gonna kind of take over and they don’t really know how to implement it. So can you kind of just run us through like I guess how RITA comes in as AI and how it essentially helps the business, how it’s kind of different to a lot of other bots?

Sarah:   Yeah sure, well there’s kind of two ways of looking at AI. So you can look at it like a tool, and I think when you have things like chat bots that you use, or you react with, or you ask questions of and they return answers it feels like software that you use. Then there’s also this other camp, which RITA kind of sits in, where she’s not so much a tool but a colleague. So unlike a chat bot where your kind of gonna dial in and ask for answers, RITA’s more of a proactive suggestion engine. So we’ve created her and engineered her to feel like the dream assistant.

Sherrie:   The dream assistant.

Sarah:   The dream assistant, and it’s funny-

Sherrie:   There is such a thing?

Sarah:   There is such a thing, it comes in technology form because you don’t have to manage her, there’s no burden to actually having that staff. There’s no emotional overhead, there’s no … Certainly the cost overhead is much lower, and she’s infinitely scalable. If you get really busy you don’t need two RITA’s, she can just expand and amplify what she does. But in terms of how you work with RITA, you don’t have to train her. Out of the box she analyses the CRM and understands, she reads every single note in the CRM, so understands the context of every single relationship in your business-

Sherrie:   That’s pretty sexy notion really isn’t it?

Sarah:   Right, so straight out of the box you’re gonna have this fully cognized and fully trained employee that you don’t really have to spend any time getting up to speed. Then the next thing that’s really cool about that, the way I explain this to people is, remember back in the day, and I don’t want to give away my age too much, but back in the day-

Sherrie:   You’re super young babe.

Sarah:   … when the CRM was a list of cards in a Rolodex. That system in its simplicity kind of worked because you just pulled out the first 20 cards, made 20 phone calls, put them at the back. As that cycled through you’d sort of talk to everyone, but then what happened with software is that we took that visibility away, and we had to then manually search, and create call lists, and do that data search-

Sherrie:   We had more.

Sarah:   Yeah, and we had much more, so we did that data search and planning ourselves. But I try and explain RITA in her most simple way is this magical assistant that comes in every night, reads every single card in the Rolodex, looks through everything that’s happened in your marketplace and picks the best people for you to call. Then leaves them for you to call in exactly the best order. So she might suggest 20 opportunities for you to connect with, and if you’ve only got four, if you call the first four they’re going to be the best four. If you’ve only got time to call four. So the whole things prioritised-

Sherrie:   So that’s great, yeah.

Sarah:   … and optimised, and understanding that agents have this resourcing challenge where they need to meet fluctuating demand in the marketplace. It’s very difficult for a human being when you’re the supply, when you’re the product. So she’s really capable of adapting and understanding how agents work, and she’s supportive, she’s not demanding. She doesn’t kind of punish agents for being human.

Sherrie:   I guess that’s where the heart to heart connection sort of comes in, the fact that you still pick up the phone but you’re actually just really making sure that you’ve got this super hyper kind of time efficient, kind of what would you say? Ability to be able to contact the best leads.

Sarah:   Absolutely, and I think it’s also about identifying a purpose for a phone call. So if you take like a traditional trail, if you like through the CMA, there’s no natural anthropological conversation that happens on day 18. Right? And again on day 24, that’s awkward to call someone and say, well its day 18 and my computer says I should call you-

Sherrie:   Call you, yeah it’s very artificial.

Sarah:   Yeah, so RITA’s also as well as suggesting who you should call with, she’s suggesting reasons that you might connect with them. So an example of that is she might notice that 15 Smith Streets come on the market, and if as an agent you know the property owners of number 8 and number 12. She’s gonna suggest that you get in contact with your property owners to let them know about the new event that’s happening in their street, it’s a brand messaging about being a market expert. It’s a very current position for a real estate agent to take. The context of the conversation that you have with property owners should change, and should be hyper relevant based on what’s happening in their direct location. So she’s really trying to support the agent to be that local expert without them having to constantly monitor, and constantly do all that mental labour to be in that position and defend it.

Sherrie:   Yeah, well I absolutely love that you explained that, ’cause I think for a lot of people its kind of, we all know that AI is absolutely spectacular, and it’s all gonna change our lives, but we don’t know how. So thank you so much for going through that. Look we don’t have a lot of time but I just wanted to run through some quick rapid fire questions. So tell me Sarah, structure or chaos?

Sarah:   You got to have both. If you’ve got too much structure things are rigid and you can’t innovate. But if you have too much chaos no one knows what’s happening and there’s no normal.

Sherrie:   Your favourite time wasting app?

Sarah:   I would say Facebook, but I would debate whether or not that’s time facing.

Sherrie:   pple or Windows?

Sarah:   Apple.

Sherrie:   Apple, love it. Tech gadget that totally changed your world?

Sarah:   The iPhone, we’re heading in a direction where the smart phones gonna have more computing power than the human race, it’s not gonna change.

Sherrie:   What was the tech gadget that did it?

Sarah:   i Watch.

Sherrie:   i Watch, yeah okay it’s very cool. .

Sherrie:   Well look Sarah thank you so much for joining us today, congratulations, we loved listening to you on stage, it was really wonderful to see an Aussie. To you, we really appreciate you being part of our show today.

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