As we come upon the fall conference season and many panels (and one whole conference) dedicated to technology in multifamily housing, it got me thinking. When I first started working in this industry, it was very clear that we were real estate companies using technology; but now I wonder if we’re becoming technology companies running real estate?
Give the importance of buy/sell decisions and the amount of human resources dedicated to operating individual properties, the answer is probably that we’re still the former; but it may not be so clear cut…and the pendulum may swing dramatically over the next decade. Consider the following:
- When I first started working, every single rental price in the industry was set by a human. Today, almost all of the rental rates for the NMHC Top 50, and the majority of rental rates for institutional grade apartments, are set by computer algorithms
- Twenty years ago, marketing was a purely creative and human endeavor. Print guides and signage were the dominant channels. Today, most leads come from websites, ILSs, SEO and PPC. Even local drive-by can be heavily influenced by mobile technology.
- Sales was always a distinctly human endeavor and tracking the process was completely manual. Remember when guest cards were always a physical card? And those green metal recipe boxes were how we tracked leads? Now, the industry is turning to automated CRM systems…and don’t be surprised if computers encroach upon the core sales process as well. (More on that in a moment.)
- On-site processes are still mostly manual and human, but consider the following opportunities:
- Check out the K5 Security robot which could take over some or all of the parking lot security functions that are currently human centered.
- What if we started using Roombas rather than porters to keep vacant units clean (or at least their floors)?
- We already have most service requests originated online, whether by desktop or mobile device. We’re not far from a day when a chatbot could handle most routine service requests and route them directly to service techs.
- Evaluation of property performance used to involve much more conversation and direct observation. The growth of data and business intelligence (BI) platforms makes that more of a technology play than ever before, and that trend will only continue.
- Lastly, consider the potential for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to enable:
- Real-time feedback to leasing agents on how they’re doing and what piece of information, question or next step would most likely increase the chance of leasing success.
- Automated voice, text and email bots to handle many (all?) parts of a leasing conversation.
- Online and voice bots to handle questions and requests that typically go to resident services associates.
Lest we think this only affects operations, the deal side of the business is equally ripe for innovation. AI-driven algorithms could one day (perhaps sooner than we think) do a better job of analyzing investment options that humans.
So maybe we’re still real estate companies using technology, but it wouldn’t hurt to think a bit more about how we could be better technology companies that just happen to work in real estate!