Think Geek Squad meets The Property Brothers. At the National Association of Realtors iOi Summit last month in Miami, innovators, futurists, investors and real estate professionals got together to chat like chatbots about PropTech. That's the hip insider term for "property technology."
You are going to be so cool when you finish reading this, so stay with me.
Just as technology has changed the way we shop, get to places, communicate and heat our hot tubs, it is also upending how we buy and sell houses. National Association of Realtors' director of emerging technology Dan Weisman kindly agreed to tell me about the meeting's biggest takeaways minus the geek speak. Here's how that non-artificial chat went:
Marni Jameson: The whole process of buying or selling a house is so stressful. I just want someone to wake me when it's over. Please tell me technology is making it less painful.
Dan Weisman: The role of technology in real estate is to streamline the process and reduce stress points. We're getting there. Most of us are familiar with DocuSign or similar signing technologies that offer the ability to e-sign legal documents. That has simplified what used to be a really cumbersome process. Remember when submitting an offer or signing loans docs required wet signing paper forms and sending them overnight?
It took years! Now we can sign away hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting at a stop light by auto filling our initials on our phones with our fingernail.
We're trying to do that for other steps in the process, like the negotiations. Submitting an offer, waiting for a counter, working through two real estate agents, that is an area that needs work. Some companies have tried to create offer platforms, but none has worked out yet. That's because we still need brokers to provide a level of control to make sure information gets passed along correctly. That said, technology is evolving that could eliminate financing delays. The fact that it often takes 45 to 60 days to close on a mortgage is an area that needs improvement.
MJ: Amen to that. But for all the advantages, what are the downsides of the new PropTech?
DW: Fraud risk. As much as we want to capitalize on technology, we have to watch for scammers. Deepfakes can essentially re-create a person and their voice. I know we are all in a rush. But if you're being asked to wire money, or provide account information over the internet, take a deep breath, pick up the phone and call the person you are dealing with and ask, "Was this you?"
MJ: So how does all this AI horsepower change the way we choose a real estate agent?
DW: We are still a people business. Most sellers and buyers need a real estate agent to help them navigate the process. However, today you also want an agent whose company has good IT behind it.
MJ: What was the biggest game changer you saw at the summit?
DW: Perhaps the most revolutionary change we're seeing is AI technology that can help homebuyers see what a home could look like if they renovated. REimagine Home is an online tool that lets you upload a picture of a room and reimagine what it could look like with different furnishings. For instance, I took a picture of a bedroom and turned it into an office. You can change the furniture, flooring, wall color, light fixtures and more, and get a glimpse of what could be.
MJ: Now we're talking! For armchair decorators, like me, this is like chocolate plus coffee. How can it get better?
DW: Well, soon the technology will allow you to click on items in the room -- a desk, area rug or lamp -- and buy it. If you want to renovate, say, replace a fireplace or install wood floors, emerging AI technologies can not only give you estimates for renovation, but also connect you with contractors. For exterior improvements, a company called Hover allows prospective buyers to do the same visualizing for the exterior of a house.
MJ: Which brings us to the world of ChatGPT. What exactly is it -- asking for a friend, of course -- and how does it factor into the world of real estate?
DW: ChatGPT (the GPT stands for generated pre-trained transformers) is one of several artificial intelligence products that has access to billions of data points. Using human-like language, it can answer questions or create written or verbal content. You could ask how much you should pay for a house. It does the thinking for you.
Hmmm. Can it write columns?
Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books, including "What to Do With Everything You Own to Leave the Legacy You Want"