Last month, we took a look at so-called “appointment-setting chatbots” — bots basically operating off a script that real estate brokerages can set up to quickly respond to leads coming in, before passing them off to one of your agents. That kind of application of artificial intelligence technology is pretty straightforward; while it’s not particularly revolutionary, it could definitely prove useful for real estate brokerages looking to engage leads as efficiently as possible. That’s fine for now. But many in the real estate industry are looking toward the horizon for implementing more ambitious AI in their tech, namely the continued development of inside sales chatbots. The term “inside sales,” to me, sounds limited in its scope for what these things can do in the coming years, though. Instead, I’m going to use the term “real estate consultant chatbots” to refer to this still-emerging technology, as we take a look at what they can do and what they may be able to do in the future — and a few possible issues that may cause problems for them down the road.
What Are Real Estate Consultant Chatbots?
Consultant bots can essentially function as a replacement for the early stages of the sales process. Real estate agents can easily find themselves spending a big chunk of their time rolling leads up the hill — qualifying them, and figuring out what, exactly, it is they need — before coming down on the actual sale itself. If the agent has several balls in the air at once, it can leave less time for each one of them. So, with more efficiency than the average human, real estate consultant chatbots can take care of all this, gathering as much information about the lead and their inquiry before, eventually, handing all of that data over to the right agent to take it from there. The bot sets them up, the agent knocks them down.
Your website probably already has plenty of capture forms built in to qualify leads, but even the best of them are ultimately impersonal — chatbots aim to engage with leads where they live. Current bot tech vendors are already offering all sorts of ways brokerages can integrate them: as a chat widget on their real estate brokerage website, via text message (see image below), even through Facebook Messenger. One such company doing this is Roof Ai (a company TRIBUS is so excited about, full disclosure, we are an advisor to their company – learn more about them here), which brands its chatbot as an agent’s “virtual assistant” that responds to a new lead instantly, any time, day or night — the lead can come in at 2 a.m. and your brokerage can still be proactive about responding them. At any time in the conversation between the bot and lead, an agent can take over for a more personal touch, or route to another member of your team.
Besides fast and effective communication, bots like Roof Ai’s funnel all leads and correspondence with them into a central hub, like your real estate brokerage CRM, for your team to collaborate on crafting the right strategy to do business with them. All of the messages back and forth are recorded and collected, while capturing all the lead’s info and specific inquiries. Importantly, one of the many major distinctions between “appointment-setting bots” and these real estate consultant chatbots is that the latter can also search for listings on the MLS and send appropriate properties to the lead. It’s pretty cool stuff, but looking forward, there’s still a lot more real estate consultant chatbots can, and almost assuredly will, do.
The (Possible) Future of Real Estate Consultant Chatbots
By the very nature of AI, the more brokerages that adopt bot technology, and the more those bots interact with real people, the more sophisticated they will become. There’s no end to the possibilities here. Eventually, it’s not at all unlikely to see bots take all the current-day features mentioned above, and expand them out to their logical conclusions — a highly intelligent personal assistant for each real estate broker and agent.
Brokerages and their agents can put bots in charge of essentially handling the entire engagement process, providing consumers with the basic facts about various properties and more. The bot will be able to track a user’s behavior on your brokerage website — it can notice if a visitor moves from your homepage to a listing page, and can volunteer additional information about that property, or ask if there’s something they’d like to know about it. The bot can know if the lead is buying, selling or just testing the market’s waters long before they ever get in touch with an agent. It can change its strategy depending on what third-party portal the leads comes in from. This would provide agents with a dynamic sales strategy from the jump, and leave them free to solely focus on personal tours, in-person pitches, closing sales and so on.
Even now, the most advanced real estate consultant chatbots exist primarily to get leads on the phone with an agent, armed now with far more intel than they’d have otherwise. Most real estate AI tech vendors are viewing the future as continuing to provide these kinds of services, just a lot better. But Roof Ai CEO Pierre Sabbagh doesn’t view his chatbot as stopping there — while bots are now focused outward, on communicating with leads, he sees a future where they also face inward, on becoming fully functioning assistants for brokers and agents in all parts of their business.
Real estate professionals are, by the nature of the industry, busy people. For many, “busy” is an understatement. That’s a big reason why placing a chatbot at the helm of responding to incoming leads would be such a relief. But what if it didn’t end there? What if, when an agent has some trouble remembering some detail about a transaction, he or she can simply consult their bot? What if they could ask their bot, “Can you help me with this listing presentation?” and get all the data they need right away, like a supercharged Siri? Agents on the go may not have access to the many integrated apps they use on a day-to-day basis, and real estate consultant chatbots could take a complex system and simplify it for them, helping them clear transactions efficiently all while booking new appointments for them to tackle. That sort of productivity tool is one possible future for this technology that could really, truly revolutionize the way brokerages do business (and is one of the reasons why I found the commonly accepted term, “inside sales bot,” limiting for this technology’s potential).
The (Possible) Problems with Real Estate Consultant Chatbots
So where do we go from here? It’s inevitable that AI chatbots for real estate are going to keep advancing and becoming more intelligent. But there are a few big questions hanging over this subject, which will need to be addressed as we see more progress in this sphere.
1. Can we ‘license’ real estate consultant chatbots?
As any broker knows, there are all kinds of restrictions over what your brokerage is allowed to do and say. At your brokerage, your unlicensed staff is constrained in what they can and cannot say to leads, before being required to bow out and bring in a licensed agent or broker. If even the most highly advanced bot isn’t human, can it be licensed like a human to guarantee trustworthy service? How can you know if it’s violating fair housing laws as it engages with leads, especially if they’re responding to dozens of leads a day?
Perhaps, though, the better question is: How would a government licensing entity feel about this? Chatbots can, certainly, be programmed to ensure that they don’t overstep state licensing laws and federal fair housing bounds to give brokers a reasonable amount of comfort trusting them. At Roof Ai, for instance, their bot can send leads links to listings, but never actually, directly discuss their prices. Here, the conversation that will need to happen isn’t with the tech itself, it lies with changing the way these laws work.
Many state and federal restrictions pertain to your brokerage website; you may feature a chatbot on your website, but it’s not your website. It’s its own, separate piece of code. So if the chatbot is not a person who can be licensed, and not a website or mobile app, there isn’t really any governance specific to a broker’s chatbot yet. You can expect that to change in the coming months and years as this technology becomes more evolved and widespread.
2. How much control can the broker exert over their real estate consultant chatbots?
As a technology company focused on tailor-making websites and back-end platforms customized for each individual brokerage and their brand, nobody knows better than TRIBUS does that no two brokerages are alike. One of the things we’re seeing with the real estate chatbots currently on the market is that brokers sometimes have little control over how their bot jibes with their brand. And I’m not talking about a couple brand colors and a logo; I mean its “personality.” Is your company’s brand friendly and conversational, or strictly professional and businesslike? Somewhere in between?
Just about anyone developing chatbots is working hard on making their bots seem more personal. Strategies to do so may include more empathetic language, maybe an emoji or two. While that may be right in line with one broker’s company, it may make the broker down the road from them roll their eyes. Additionally, the language the bot uses should be able to adapt its responses state to state, region by region: The experience one would expect while searching for a condo in Florida may differ wildly from that of one looking for a ranch in Montana. For the time being, the chatbots on the market don’t extend their services out to hand all control over to the broker like this. If we’re going to see this tech take over the real estate world, they’re going to have to figure out how to make this a reality.
3. How will real estate consultant chatbots behave with less-than-rational people?
To put it lightly, money can make people go a little crazy. Homes cost a whole lot of money. So, by that math, many customers can be easily frustrated by the real estate buying and selling process. And understandably so: the real estate buying and selling process is frequently frustrating. How well equipped is a bot to respond to that? How can they deal with consumers who may be angry, upset, disappointed, anxious — or even so excited that they’re getting reckless? At present, bots like Roof Ai’s can sense when a person is notable emotional or angry, and transfer over to a human who respond more tactfully. That’s a huge start. But if you’re putting your faith in a bot to essentially become your personal assistant in the way that we’re headed, they will need to become more adept at responding to humans at their most humanlike.
Any conversation about the future of true AI is fraught with questions like these three, and so many more. Ultimately, the potential for real estate consultant chatbots is immense, potentially to the point of changing the entire way brokerages operate and convert leads as we know it. It’s coming. But, as we’ve seen, there are still many leaps and bounds we have to make — and some thorny obstacles in the way we’ll have to get through — before we’re quite there.