A Tale Of Two Technologies: Machine Learning and Virtual Reality — Transforming the Real Estate Industry

A few weeks ago Emma Sinclair (@ES_Entrepeneur) asked me if I would write a piece about new trends in technology (applied to the real-estate industry) for the annual PROPS Lunch Magazine published to help Variety, a children’s charity in the UK. How could I possibly say no? This piece that I wrote was printed in a magazine (pictured at the end of this post) that was handed out at the 25th Props Lunch. This event raised more than £380,000 from the real estate industry to buy wheelchairs for disabled or disadvantaged kids — bringing the total raised to date to £9.5m. I’m so glad I could contribute to an event miles away in my own little way. I chose Machine Learning and Virtual Reality as the key technology trends to write about primarily because I had dabbled with neural networks many years ago, and as a sci-fi fan I geek out on virtual reality.

Technology plays an increasing role in how we live, work, and play, enabling us to lead better lives. What’s cool and cutting edge now will be part of our fabric soon, like switching on the light, the radio, TV and the Internet. Two red hot trending technologies right now, Machine Learning (ML) and Virtual Reality (VR), are impacting the world of real-estate.

Welcome to the machine…

ML has evolved from foundational technologies such as neural networks, artificial/machine intelligence and cognitive computing etc. that powered chess and Jeopardy playing computers. Like the sci-fi movies computers (HAL9000, the more recent Ex-Machina and Her) they had one thing in common: they could learn new behaviours over time.

A key principle of machines and intelligence is “learning” to build an algorithm, to spot patterns across large amounts of data (“Big Data”.) Machines learn (train themselves) to mimic human cognition and response by observing and learning patterns over a large number of interactions and crafting an algorithm to reach similar outcomes. Taking coffee orders, making travel reservations, providing calendar and time management are simple examples of what machines can learn to do easily over time.

Applications of ML are already here such as recommendations from Netflix based on what we’ve already watched, “driverless” cars, Nest thermostats and robots. Robots already automate mundane home chores such as vacuum cleaning, washing floors and cleaning gutters. “Bots” (short for robots), typically software-based, are used to do repetitive tasks that can be done faster and with better accuracy e.g. Chat Bots, E-mail Responder Bots etc. Robots and “bots” are incorporating ML for increased efficiency and increasing their range of tasks.

How I wish you were here…

How many times have you said “Oh I wish I could be there?” Well you can’t be beamed there yet but you could bring “there” to you — virtually. Google Street View made a virtual walk through many cities in the world available to anyone globally. Today technologies like Google Cardboard and 360 degree video with YouTube enable anyone with a smartphone to have an immersive video experience — a key step in the evolution of VR. Put simply, VR is simulating a personal experience “as if you were there.” You probably saw the U2 “Song For Someone” Virtual Reality video released last year — a sign that VR content and technologies will grow and evolve at a rapid pace to augment our daily lives and advance humanity

Home again. I like to be here when I can…

So how do we apply these technologies apply to and improve the real estate industry? Imagine the following:

  • Roberta is a residential property agent who uses ML and VR technologies to stay ahead of the competition.
  • She targets potential customers pre-matched with potential properties based on their demographics, searches and what people like them have bought before (many real-estate startups like Ylopo.com integrate machine learning into generating consumer leads).
  • She enables her customers to predict future home prices for a location and narrow down future locations based on purchase budget. Machine Learning for a London Housing Price Prediction Mobile Application, for example, does this using the Land Registry’s data from over 2m transactions in London since 1995.
  • She uses virtual reality apps (e.g. Matterport, StartVR/Edge28, Trick 3D/FloorPlan Revolution) on a smartphone to deliver a “virtually there” property presentation to potential buyers who are not local or are too busy to go to open houses.
  • She offers additional VR services such as new home remodeling (even with your existing furniture), furnishing, painting, landscaping with ties to local contractors for implementation.
  • Using ML and VR Roberta can improve her effectiveness and her customer’s experience.

ML and VR will radically transform how properties are discovered, how property price movements are predicted and how properties are presented to potential buyers in both commercial or residential real estate. No wonder real estate companies like Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, Realogy (acquired ZipRealty), and Move are investing millions in ML and VR technologies. While some processes will become obsolete, a whole host of new opportunities await. And I, for one, will be watching with interest.

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