‘Listing of the future’ will be virtual and multipurpose: ICNY

Publish Date: January 26, 2024

Written by Matt Carter

- Originally published at Inman News - Matt Carter

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As the source of listing data that makes property search portals like Zillow, Realtor.com and Homes.com popular destinations for homebuyers, real estate agents have always wanted a say in how that data is used — and are sometimes blamed for hindering innovation.

With lawsuits challenging traditional commission structures now threatening to undermine multiple listing services and the National Association of Realtors itself, is the real estate industry ripe for a new wave of tech disruption?

That was the backdrop for a discussion of “The Listing of the Future” at Inman Connect New York this week, with Zillow’s Matt Hendricks and PropTech Consulting founder Jonathan Klein.

“The great fear agents have always had … is that the technology is coming to replace us, and that holds back adoption, that holds back innovation,” moderator Patrick Kearns of OJO Labs said. “But a lot of agents are really just focused on their business right now. Do we think that’s true anymore? What do we need to do to get agents to participate more in that process?”

Hendricks, Zillow’s senior director of industry affairs, rejected the premise that Zillow and other innovators want to circumvent agents.

“I’ve never thought that that statement was true,” Hendricks said. “I mean, technology is not going to replace the value that an agent brings to the transaction. You know, they’re still the therapist, the negotiator, the moderator, the shoulder to cry on, the expert … all of those other things. Technology is only there to make sure that all the friction points are cleaned up.”

Klein, who is also a mentor for NAR’s REACH tech accelerator program, said some technologies are more threatening to agents than others, and that education is an important component of addressing their concerns.

“Let’s just use virtual tours as an example,” Klein said. “I’ve heard many agents say, ‘Oh, well, if they see the tour, they’re not going to come see the space in person.’ And if that’s the case, well then if you really feel that way, don’t make the tour public. Use it as an internal tool to do better business with your colleagues.”

There’s “a lot of context that can be added to some of the technologies that can reassure some of the agents,” he added. “On the flip side, it requires a lot of ongoing education, and who’s going to be responsible for that? Is it going to be the brokerage? Is it going to be a consultant? Is it going to be an outside third party? It just requires the entire industry to rally around the education of these different things, on a case-by-case basis.”

While technology may not pose a threat to traditional real estate business models, “I think anybody that’s displaying real estate should be trying to reinvent the way that that feels is because as of right now, it is very homogenous,” Hendricks said.

Virtual tours are a core feature of Zillow’s ShowingTime+ software suite for agents, brokers and MLSs. Properties marketed through ShowingTime+’s Listing Showcase service “make the listing agent shine, offering them center stage alongside a carousel of motion graphic hero images,” with artificial intelligence suggesting which images to place in the rotation, Inman tech reviewer Craig Rowe noted when the service launched last summer.

There’s also talk that ShowingTime+ is just one component of Zillow’s efforts to build a real estate “super app” and collect 40 percent referral fees from agents, a topic Inman founder Brad Inman explored with Zillow President Susan Daimler at Inman Connect New York. Zillow sued two MLSs serving the Phoenix and Milwaukee regions in December, claiming that they conspired to restrict access to ShowingTime to protect Aligned Showings, a showings platform recently launched by MLS Aligned, a consortium of MLSs.

Asked to imagine the “ideal listing” five or 10 years from now, Hendricks said that with emerging virtual reality technology like Meta Quest (formerly Oculus) and Apple Vision Pro, “It really could look very sci-fi.”

Consumers will be able to remodel a home to their taste while walking through a virtual 3-D rendering of a listing, he predicted, and listing agents will be able to do the same walk-through and have features automatically added to a listing description, Hendricks predicted.

“In my mind, that’s awesome for the agent, because I don’t want to go show 30 houses that they’re going to immediately not like,” Hendricks said. “I’d rather show them the three or four that they already have a comfort level with.”

Klein agreed that in five years, consumers will be served up AI-driven, personalized listings that include an immersive virtual tour experience with underlying geospatial data that allows for augmented reality.

“But then in 10 years, to go a little bit deeper, I’d probably say that having a unified digital twin married to every single asset would be something that would allow the lifecycle of the data to really be much more multipurpose when it comes to not just sales and marketing, but also restoration, renovation, appraisal and so forth,” Klein said.

Having multipurpose data attached to every property would require agreement from all stakeholders.

“It can’t just be agents; it can’t just be consumers,” Klein said. “There really needs to be tech companies, consumers agents, as well as, obviously, the political parties that need to make sure that the data is interactive and actually formatted accordingly.”

For now, those who dream about the future can still be frustrated by outdated MLS restrictions on consumer-friendly tools like interactive tours and floor plans.

“Some MLSs you can only have 40 or 50 photos,” Hendricks complained. “Why? Bandwidth is not that expensive anymore. We need to continue to reinvent the way that consumers are searching for those things, and whatever is going to make their search better. Whatever is going to get them closer to being in that home.”

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