One vision of the future for real estate agents

Will real estate as we know it, be dead different by 2010?

Back in 1999 my office manager and I concluded that someday soon, a system to automate the sales paperwork process from start to finish, would be a viable business opportunity.

We were in agreement that a system like this would radically change real estate as we then knew it.

Because if it were an open system available to consumers, it would be one less reason to use a real estate professional.

But here we are 13 years later and whilst we have seen some remarkable changes to market conditions, is access to applications like Transaction Point, Docusign and Zipforms and a bunch of tablets and apps to make our life easier, really all we have to show for it?

These changes are not exactly earth shattering, or disruptive.

From the entrepreneurial side, we have a couple of sophisticated real estate sites, funded by investors – companies like Zillow, Trulia etc., that describe themselves as media companies, providing information to consumers.

These companies and thier investors want a return on their investment – not from the consumer, but from you – the real estate agent.

Where is the innovation within the real estate community itself?

What has done recently to make the Realtor’s life easier, apart from enhancing old stodgy products like Top Producer, creating a mobile app or supposedly “borrowing” Active Rain’s business model?

What is RPR doing apart from extracting data from MLS’s in exchange for fancy reports for Realtor members to use? Is that their only purpose at a cost of approx $20 million a year to NAR members??

Here is how RPR describe themselves:

Realtors Property Resource (RPR), NAR’s exclusive online real estate database provides REALTORS® with data on every parcel of property in the United States, giving brokers and agents valuable tools and features to make them better informed and to increase their efficiency in the marketplace.

Sorry, but this isn’t disruptive, I could actually get most if not all this stuff from my friendly Title Rep, or from the old Cyberhomes  😉

The Eve of Destruction debate

Marc Davidson got me thinking again about the future with his recent article “The eve of destruction, the dawn of the future” – I particularly like this line from the article:

“The main prediction is Peers communicating directly with peers. No bullshit.”

I linked Marc Davidsons blog post on a popular Facebook Group and set the group on fire with discussion and disagreement – was a conclusion reached? I’m not sure, you would have to read the thread :-)

Maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel …

… because it looks like a number of factors are now coming together that would make such a document flow system and other innovations possible:

  • Programming has become more sophisticated.
  • Computers have become ever so more powerful and cheaper.
  • Cloud based software and document storage has become mainstream.
  • Entrepreneurs are becoming more resourceful and inventive.
  • Artificial Intelligence AI systems have evolved.
  • Watson – the IBM super computer, built to replicate human decisions.
  • IBM is already working on the next generation of AI– one that has the potential to actually think like a human.

Watson was recently pitted against two good competitors on the game of Jeopardy! which makes great demands on its players – from the range of topical knowledge covered to the nuances in language employed in the clues. And it beat them by a sound margin.

In our industry Artificial Intelligence has so far really only been applied to real estate valuations, not the sales process itself. Decision tree software has barely made in past the review of loan applications.

A recent article on RealtorMag glorified the SCI-FI aspects of the future. Here are the highlights:

“Enter a world where robots, holograms, and even time travel might well upend the business of buying and selling property as we know it.”

“How awesome would it be to have a robot agent to sit through open houses? First, the robot could go through the house and clean up  ….    It could do visual scans of the prospective buyers and read the RFID chips in their credit cards and cell phones to build prospect lists and perform follow-up calls.”

Really? As Realtors can we afford to be that complacent or shallow in our analysis of what’s possible in the future?

I believe it’s possible right now, to automate the actual document and contract paper trail in the cloud.  After all the paper trail is really only a series of decision trees, albeit a super complicated one with the next moves dependent on the result of the previous decisions.

This is a big task nationally with differing requirements from State to State, but Zillow managed to gain National property tax data and Google Maps succeeded with individual lot lines for most of the country.

Another application that begs the implementation of AI is an intelligent neighborhood suggester. Robot Workshops have a rudimentary solution available right now.

But imagine if an app was linked up to Watson and speech recognition and your client could ask normal questions and get expert answers without  you and I worrying about Fair Housing?

Imagine this tied into a super duper intelligent IDX search that learned your preferences as you searched for homes.

Now we are talking, right?

The reason I believe this is all possible is the rapidly changing way we are interacting with technology.

  • Watson” beat its human competitors on Jeopardy, no mean feat.
  • The Watson team are collaborating with Nuance the company that owns Dragon speech recognition to make an interactive super duper “WebMD” for doctors.
  • The intuitive way that Siri answers questions on the iPhone 4S, reminiscent of Watson’s ability to quickly parse through enormous amounts of data on the quiz show.
  • So how long will it be before Watson is in our pocket, and Siri is just a thing of the past?
  • Google has built a driverless car that actually works.

A Google spokesperson describes this remarkable feat in the video:

If Google’s software engineers can build a car that has traveled over 140,000 – examining it’s surroundings, and making decisions on all sorts of terrain without incident, then imagine what bright minds could make of the Real Estate Industry.

Back to automating the sales paperwork process:

Without doubt, there are some smart people capable of creating a system, who may already be working on this as we speak. Maybe Zillow is building one with all the money that Realtors are paying for advertising and leads :-(

Realize that the line between the physical world and the Internet world continues to blur. Pretty soon, there will be no such thing as an “online” business or an “offline” business, or a “mobile” business and an “Internet” business.

When this system is built, will it be controlled by the Realtor community?

Will it be real estate agent friendly? How will real estate agents fit into the world that’s evolving?

Or will eliminate our involvement in this part of the real estate transaction?

Or, as is more likely, will one of the interlopers use it to draw even more traffic to their sites and even more revenue from us?

What will it look like, who will own it, how will it be paid for and monetized?

Will real estate agents involuntarily be turned into Task Rabbits, like Marc suggested in the Facebook Group debate?

Maybe agents will paid only as door openers with a lock box key?

More questions than real answers right now but as Loren Sanders said in the online debate:

“With the speed of information and change we must saddle up every day and ride like it’s our last….because you never know”

If you have an opinion please share and join the debate – this is important stuff


Marc Davison commented on the Facebook Group Raise the Bar with a couple of very relevant observations:

“I think the cycle of innovation, disruption and destruction is happening at such light speed these days that it is pretty frightening for a lot of people.

What folks ought to seriously be considering is what is going to happen in a few years when users simply talk to their computers like they now do on the their 4S and ask it real estate questions. Like:

“Find me a house in…”

“Tell me about this neighborhood…”

“Is this a quiet street…”

“What are the most frequented cafes….”

“Who is the best agent in this area…”

What will happen in a few years when a person stands infront of a home and Shazams a photo to some app that recognizes the house, provides all the info and then, by the users request, asks their phone to find homes just like it within a 3 mile radius?

What realtors and brokers need to fully understand is that if their content (listings as well as their intellectual capital – the thoughts in their heads) is not placed on public sites where data is being pulled in through API’s or from systems like SIRI, then whatever they know, whatever they have, whatever they do will not be provided to the user.”





  1. says

    "The reason I believe this is all possible is the rapidly changing way we are interacting with technology." Bingo. Changes in consumer behavior emerge when the cost of technology is radically lowered.

    Consider the video phone. We could have had them a long time ago. Bell Labs starting talking about it in the 1920s, did the customer discovery in the 50s, and had a protype and then a product to sell by the mid 60s. It didn't fly. Now we have skype, facetime, voxer, tango, etc.

    Anyone who can afford to buy a home can afford to carry the equipment for a video call in their pocket.

    So why wouldn't the way real estate is done change quickly now? What possible reason could there be why it won't? The pieces are falling into place.

  2. says

    You can tell them what; you can show them how. You create classes, Mastermind groups, Lets learn together sessions.
    At the back of the room one voice askes “what are the secret words on Google to make my site Number 1?” Lets avoid the inevitable [INSERT EYE ROLL HERE] lol

    Agents need to invest in their own business. Learn computers, database, text messaging, sending an email, Learn outlook, use powerpoint and excell! Please take some classes.
    We need to engage in Video, Blogging, Websites, Landing Pages, Link exchanges and yea advertising online. We took hours to craft an ad to appear for Friday only at $300 yet we are afraid to spend $295 on a computer course.

    New generations will market and interact much differently with your brand. This is a SUPERB post about the newest generation of consumers and their adoption of Social Media for Consumers How will you connect?

    I’m Living in Toronto Canada I hope you reach out.

    David Pylyp

    • Peter Toner says

      Hi David

      Glad that my article resonated with you. The wind of change is in the air and it’s speeding up as we speak …

      The debate going on now about withdrawing data from the aggregators is going to spark some changes. Suggest to catch up on what’s being talked about over at – look for Bill Lubin’s post about ARG’s video.


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