In an industry where scanned documents and printed paper still reign, it can be easy to overlook the dozens of new technologies under development to make real estate transactions faster and simpler. Robot-assisted rentals, paperless property purchases and super smart homes are just a few examples of how Austin companies are integrating technology to streamline traditional processes. Here are a few new technologies to hit Austin in the past month, plus a few additional ones featured at South by Southwest.
Kelle: Keller Williams’ answer to Siri
Austin-based Keller Williams Realty Inc. wants to invest $1 billion into developing new technologies to serve its 177,000 associates across the globe. Much of that investment is happening at its new tech innovation hub, called KW Labs, which opened in Austin last October.
The latest product to emerge out of the tech hub is a virtual assistant called “Kelle” which acts as a real estate version of Apple’s Siri.
Agents can ask questions like “How close am I to reaching this month’s goals?” or “What listing appointments do I have today?” and get an instant response.
“What’s unique about this is if you look at any other voice assistants out there, those are general purpose. We wanted to create that experience for something that is focused on real estate and hyper-focused on Keller Williams,” said Daniel Morris, director of product management for Keller Williams.
The artificial intelligence assistant can help agents grow their referral networks, organize their schedules, track their goals, connect with other agents and manage their client database and track interactions with clients, among other tasks. Software developers plan to add more features so agents can view properties, manage offers, organize transactions and find training tools.
The AI software also taps into Keller Williams’ massive cloud of data to give agents market information.
“Kelle advantages our agents with simplified access to that data and as we build more insights that will increase their productivity and competitiveness,” Morris said.
The Kelle app is only available to Keller Williams agents but the company hopes to eventually make it available to its development partners.
Smart homes + keyless entry = super smart homes
Kate Braybrook of PSW Real Estate LLC doesn’t consider herself to be tech savvy — but she knows many of her Austin customers are. That’s why her company partnered with Missouri startup Homebase. The Kansas City-based company customized its smart home and secure entry app for PSW’s new condo project on East Fifth Street called Eastline.
Starting this summer, condo owners at Eastline will be able to use the Homebase app to schedule handymen, home cleaners or other services even when they’re away from home. The background-checked service workers get a temporary digital key to gain access inside the house, using the condo’s keyless entry system.
Homebase — which also provides property management tools for landlords and renters — is also running a pilot program with Amazon to test a new feature that will give delivery drivers temporary access to drop off packages behind Eastline’s condo’s gates.
“We know that our consumers — most of them are smarter than us,” quipped Braybrook, director of multifamily for PSW. “We do not have the right [tech] people, but we have the right partners.”
Eastline welcomed its first residents earlier this month. The two-story condo project also includes 5,000 square feet of first-floor retail and courtyards.
Braybrook said Eastline’s 48 units are about 60 percent sold. The real estate company saw Homebase as a way to attract young tech professionals and boost security. Its Austin investors include Will Winkler of PSW Real Estate and Boris Portman.
“This partnership has been so much more than a door lock system,” Braybook said.
Machine learning boots MLS listings?
A Los Angeles- based real estate tech firm is on a mission to convince Austin homebuyers and sellers to skip the MLS altogether. Instead, REX Real Estate uses big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence to micro-target would-be buyers with sophisticated online advertisements.
There are dozens of digital trails consumers leave online every day — and REX tries to harness all of that data to predict not only when someone will want to buy or sell a home, but what type of home they may want. It then uses this data to customize ads and market specific properties toward consumers.
So, for example, if someone is shopping at a home improvement store frequently, has lived in a home for several years, plus has added to their family recently, REX could predict that person has a high likelihood of moving out of their house soon.
“There is something so arcane about the residential real estate space. Of course we put our homes on Zillow and Trulia, but that’s not enough to passively hope it sells on a website. You have to approach people,” said Jack Ryan, CEO and co-founder of REX Real Estate.
REX cuts out a lot of the initial legwork agents do to market properties. However, showings, checking documents and other tasks still need human assists, Ryan said.
Still, skipping MLS and saving agents time means the firm can afford to cut its own commission fees to 2 percent — compared to 5 percent to 6 percent for many residential real estate transactions.
REX launched in Austin in late February and already has 12 homes listed in the $350,000 to $750,000 price range, Ryan said. Two have pending sales, he said. Its three agents joined a team of about 10 data scientist and software engineers already working in Austin to serve the company’s operations in New York, Los Angeles and San Diego. Its investors include former executives at Google, McDonald’s, Sun Microsystems, Best Buy and Crate and Barrel.
Later this year REX plans to launch in seven cities, including Dallas, Denver and San Francisco. But its existing team of data scientists in Austin motivated it to launch in the Texas capital first.
“We’re a tech company and Austin is very tech friendly. People are like, ‘Got it’,” Ryan said.
Tracking all the paper trails in a real estate transaction can suck agents’ time and resources — and introduce liability if an agent loses an important paper document. So Krystle Copulos, broker-owner of Platinum Realty, has a paperless policy through which the entire transaction from start to finish is done digitally.
Copulos uses Dotloop, an online platform that integrates form creation, e-signatures and real estate transaction management systems into one place. Agents can collaborate with buyers and sellers to modify a document and avoid scanning and rescanning a document.
“When people print and scan documents multiple times, it becomes illegible,” Copulos said. “There’s something to be said for one, clean document with all the signatures that gets sent to all the partners at the same time.”
Dotloop, acquired by Zillow Group in 2015,also is used by Austin agents with Keller Williams Realty, said Alex Allison, director of business development at Dotloop.
For rental properties, Platinum Realty taps into Intellirent Solutions Inc., which allows property owners to perform credit and background checks on prospective tenants, check into employment history and rent payments in “real time,” even outside of traditional office hours. Renters can use Intellirent to fill out one application that matches them to hundreds of apartments they can qualify for to streamline the apartment hunting process. The San Francisco company’s main Austin clients are REspace and Platinum Realty.
Platinum Realty also has its own app that allows customers to search for properties, among other tasks.
Surprisingly, it’s not the real estate agents who are hesitant to adopt new technologies, it typically comes from old-school customers who still want “wet ink on the page,” Copulos said.
“I find the ways to explain the benefits, and once they do it [digitally], they appreciate it,” she said.