Aaron Norris is hosting the radio this week, covering another technology topic. He is joined by Grant Gould, entrepreneur and real estate technologist. He is founder and CEO of Automobots, and he develops AI chatbots for the real estate industry. He is also co-founder of Home Junction, a top-tier real estate data company based in San Diego. In 1998, Grant founded Real Estate Village, which was the number one website company for realtors and the first to syndicate listings to Yahoo Real Estate. Grant is passionate about helping real estate professionals succeed. On his LinkedIn profile, it says he is passionate about new technology and is one of the biggest nerds on the planet.
- What are these chat bots that Grant and his company works on?
- How did Grant get involved in the technology side of real estate?
- How does Grant define artificial intelligence, and how far have we come with it?
- What type of user experience does Grant prefer, and how would customers
use it to work with their chat bots?
- How will chat bots and artificial intelligence change the real estate industry in the next couple years?
- Should realtors be concerned about their jobs?
- Where does Grant see himself going with this in the next year?
Aaron asked Grant how he got started in real estate, to which he said he got started in 1988 with a gentleman named Joe Stone. He was a promoter for Joe, and before long he was running all the seminars for him and others. They did about 25 seminars a month, and it was a lot of fun. Joe was quite the driver, and he instilled in him the passion for helping and working with real estate agents. He stayed with them for over four years, and he left to work with Brian Creaney. Grant was one of the original founding staff members of his company. He stayed with him for about a year, and he has been doing this kind of work ever since.
Aaron mentioned the shift to more of the technology side. He laughed because with the Yahoo Real Estate thing back in the day, he remembered when he first found out what this was. It drove him crazy because he could not understand who had a relationship with who and that the MLS was not one company, but many. His goal was to find a way to get onto Yahoo Real Estate without having to pay $45 per listing for 45 days. It was a long journey, and he ended up finding a company that would syndicate the company for free. He thought he had a huge win that ended up only lasting a few years until the relationship changed.
Aaron asked Grant about his journey and how he got into the technology side of things. He said he was probably one of the first people to use AOL, scratching his head trying to figure out how to use it and make money with it and apply it to real estate. This was what really led him down the path of technology. He got more and more into the internet. He did some work with the Girl Scouts of America, and they ran their jeweler badge program in San Diego. This ended up expanding to all over the Western United States. The counsel would have them come in and teach the girls how to make Navajo style liquid silver and other precious stone jewelry. They could then earn a badge for doing this. One of the things they decided to do to help promote everything they were doing was to set up GeoCities. It was a community type website where the troops could come in, build a website, and post pictures of all the jewelry they made.
One of his friends he told about this who was a RE/MAX agent in Orlando asked him if he could make her a similar website. He built her a pretty little website with a purple background and pink flowered wallpaper. She loved it and shared it with the other women at RE/MAX, and the next thing he knew his phone was ringing off the hook with people asking him to build them a website. This was how Real Estate Village got started in 1998. Because he was first in the speaking industry, he would go to the different speakers and see if they would promote their websites at all of their events. He ended up getting most of the ones he worked with to do it, and that is how they very quickly became one of the top real estate development companies who built templated, customized web sites in the late 90s. Homes.com ended up purchasing the company in March 2000 during one of the acquisitions they used. Grant was on the bleeding edge in the late 90s when the websites were very new.
Technology and real estate do not always go hand in hand. There is a 2-5 year lag time when it comes to technology and mass adoption in real estate. Aaron asked Grant why this was the case, and he said it is because of a lot of non-technical people. This is not just in real estate, but if you were to go to any of the independent industries like financial planners and insurance agents. You would find the same thing here. Grant thinks it is just that resistant to the thing he really does not understand or knows, and it scares him. He thinks it all stems from this.
Now we are jumping into artificial intelligence. Aaron asked Grant how he defines it for others, which he said none of us are really doing this. This is a term that is coined and used by all of us, but if you talk to a scientist they are offended when you use it. It is more like augmented intelligence, although it will get to this eventually. There are some really powerful artificial intelligence platforms out there, but none of us have access to them yet. If we were to describe the range, Aaron would describe basic automation. It is almost like an automatic responder for an email. If you are talking about ten years from now, it is this autonomous robot being able to think and feel on its own.
Today they will discuss in the middle of this technology, along the lines of advanced automation. It is a combination of rule-based decision-making and the machine algorithm making decisions. Aaron asked about chatbots and what these are. Grant said these are pre-programmed mini applications that is being taught to communicate. It can be taught to continue to learn how to interpret the intent of a user and respond to that with a correct answer. Aaron got to do a walk-through of one of his products, and it was really neat. The only bad thing about radio is this is a very visual thing to experience.
When you do the walk-through, Aaron wondered if it is all through Facebook Messenger. Grant said they do use this; but they work with Google, so their whole back end of what they are doing is Google related. They deploy through Facebook as well, but they have a web version they have created. They have also enabled text message currently, so they run three platforms. It is not completely dependent on Facebook, which Aaron liked since this makes him nervous. What if the day comes where they mess up, and everyone decides to leave in mass? Grant was actually talking to them about changes right before doing his interview with Aaron. Aaron had also written a blog on this; and it is irritating when you build customizations on other people’s platforms and they change it. There is no guarantee you will work anymore after this.
They next went on to talk about user experience. Aaron asked Grant what his favorite type of path is and how the potential buyer would take it. Grant said the first bot they designed, which was one of five they had in mind. The first bot was really designed to help real estate agents to engage more visitors, users, and places all at the same time. They cannot be everywhere, and they cannot be working 24/7 unless they are spending a lot of money on ISAs and other types of services like that. A lot of them said over the last few years how it can get expensive, especially if they are a really high volume professional. This is where he thought this technology could really solve the big problem of covering all the different entry ways into their business and do it 24/7 without having to pay another or increase their employer cost. This is why they built their first bots called the Capture Bots.
Aaron asked about if he were a potential buyer and came to an agent’s website. He asked how this begins the process of engaging with a chat bot. Grant said if you go to the agent’s website, there is a chat bot icon in the lower right-hand corner. Currently you have to click on it, just like most of the chat windows. They will actually be releasing two other options for triggering the bots. One involves the bot popping open and going right to “hello, chat with me.” You would say hi to it, ask your name, and introduce itself as a bot. You want it to do this, especially this early on, since you do not want any hiccups or it not understand something that human beings should understand.
Aaron read an article Grant wrote saying how this was very important to him. Aaron asked if there was any specific reason why. He said you should not deceive the consumer with disguising that it is a bot. Most of the public, if they are not there, will be there very soon because of Siri and other technologies with which we are used to communicating. It will be well accepted. The first thing the bot will ask you is what it can help you with, then it would lead the conversation with “buy, sell, talk to the agent.” There are select buttons and prompts, which is great. This leads the conversation and helps the flow.
If you are buyer and click Buy, it would start by asking you the basic questions. This includes where, what part of town, the bedrooms, bathrooms, price, and property tax. From that, they go and retrieve the listings from the MLS based on their search criteria. It would then turn these listings into the chat bot user interface. You can swipe through and look at these listings when you are on Facebook or their website and see it right there from the chat window. If you do click on the details, they have a bot landing page they built. This incorporates the information panel, which would be the listing details page along with the map in the background and the chat box still present on the landing page. You can continue swiping through and see details related to the property.
Aaron was very impressed with this. It was a really nice experience, and you could click that you had wanted to see it. It was like a shopping cart function like in Amazon. It really narrows down what the buyer is looking for; and when they say they want to see it, then it would go next to the agent. Aaron asks if this works with the CRM system, and he wondered what they experience on the realtor side. Grant said since the bots are a new thing, you are hustling every day just to keep up with what needs to get done. Right now they have the main CRM as well as send emails for all the websites called Meta email. His plan is to continue to add one integration after the other and continue to build them.
It is really interesting how 24 hours a day, 7 days a week this chat bot will be able to widdle down property searches in an intelligent, user-friendly way for the buyer. The agent will be able to get in at a more sophisticated point in time also. Aaron knows several agents who do not want to have to be available 24/7, nor do they like annoying phone calls from nosey neighbors who just want information. Aaron wondered if this will integrate at some point with signage. Instead of texting, this is a chat version of that where they can go back and forth on the phone. Grant said there is one like this where they can hook the bot up to Twilio, which then allows for communication with the bot via text message.
A lot of people are asking what their job will be. When Aaron talks about technology to realtors, he tells them if they think access to the MLS is what their value is then you are doing it wrong. Aaron asked Grant if there are a lot of realtors not knowing what their job will be. Grant said he has had a few, and he always tells them they should be more afraid of not adapting. 100 agents have already signed up with him, and they are all early adapters. They are gung ho and love new things, and most of them even handle hundreds of transactions, which is why this is a good reason they are already signed up for the bots way before they were ready to be released.
Aaron asked what has changed recently since it seems artificial intelligence has really reached the tipping point. He asked Grant if there was one thing he could point to and say it is the reason why. He said it was towards the end of 2015 when Google opened up their first API. Right after that, every one else started following suit and announcing their thought development platform. Last year at the Facebook FA Conference, they made a good part of the conference all about chat bots and how people will start buying everything through these. That really got things fired up to where we suddenly saw more and more people becoming interested.
Aaron tries to stay up on all this, even if he is not a developer. He read late last year that Apple opened up to interface with SIRI, so the chat functionality with things like ALEXA and SIRI are really pushing the integrations with the voice. This is new. Before, third-party apps did not have access. When he would ask SIRI to buy pizza, she did not know what he was talking about. Now, integration with the apps will allow that to start happening more frequently.
Aaron asked where Grant sees himself going in the next year. He said Lead Capture Bot is in their focuses right now and getting it perfected. This is where they will stay until they have it running smoothly and intelligently. There are a lot of apps in the real estate business that could be automated a lot better and would increase their productivity and profitability. Grant has relationships with all the MLS information, which is a job in itself. Aaron asked if it is important for realtors and real estate investors to be entering into the MLS more detail than less. The bots are pulling in information from the MLS, so it has always been in the best interest to do this.
Aaron said it always surprises him when they do not fully complete that information, including all the features of the house. However, this will be more important if consumers are going to be able to ask these bots specific questions. If it is not there and does not know, it might skip the house. You can only make it so smart, at least in the next few years.
To find out more about Grant Gould and what his company works on, you can go to www.automabots.com. They can learn more about the current bot and request to get more information from them. Just ask for a walk-through, they do a really good job.