Real-Estate Agents Look To AI For Sales Boost
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Real-Estate Agents Look To AI For Sales Boost

American technology leaders at Realogy, Compass and Zillow hope to augment human savvy with algorithms.

By Sara Castellanos
Thu, Jun 24, 2021 11:40amGrey Clock 3 min

Information-technology executives at some real-estate firms are rolling out artificial-intelligence-based tools designed in part to help agents close deals faster, which could prove useful in today’s hot housing market.

While the selling and buying of homes remains an agent-driven business, IT leaders say such tools can augment their efforts, especially in a market with record prices and tight inventory.

“AI can play a significant role in simplifying and automating processes where traditionally humans have been involved,” said Rizwan Akhtar, chief technology officer of business technology at Realogy Holdings Corp., which owns brokerage brands including Coldwell Banker, Corcoran and Sotheby’s International Realty.

Artificial-intelligence efforts in the real-estate sector are benefiting from advances in cloud computing and data analytics, as well as improvements to algorithms, according to technology leaders at Realogy, Compass Inc. and Zillow Group Inc.

Realogy uses more than 25 AI models, Mr. Akhtar said, including models that can help agents predict their chances of converting a prospective client into a paying client and others that can predict the optimal percentage split between a broker and an agent on a property.

The company is in the early stages of testing an AI app that aims to predict when certain milestones will be reached in the home-buying process, he said.

At real-estate brokerage Compass, an AI-based tool that predicts whether people in an agent’s contact database are likely to sell their homes within a year resulted in more “listing wins” for its agents, said Joseph Sirosh, the company’s chief technology officer. In the second half of 2020, the tool’s recommendations led to a 94% higher “win rate” than the rate for properties that weren’t identified as likely to sell, he said. The technology was released last summer.

Agents reach out directly to people identified by the tool as likely to sell. Traditionally, agents knock on doors, rely on word-of-mouth referrals and make calls to meet potential clients, Mr. Sirosh said. “Agents save time when they are far more targeted,” he said. The model takes into account dozens of variables to make a prediction, including how often homes sell in that region, what the last sale price was and how much the home has appreciated over time, he said.

Realogy offers agents a similar tool.

The coronavirus pandemic resulted in boosting adoption of AI tools among agents, Mr. Sirosh said. During the height of the pandemic, “agents could not work without technology which meant that everything associated with technology, like AI, which provides efficiencies, became incredibly useful,” he said.

Online real-estate company Zillow recently announced that its Zestimate tool, which estimates a home’s market value, is powered by a neural network that learns on its own and takes into account hundreds of millions of data points. The data range from the home’s square footage and unique features to location and how the property differs from surrounding homes, said Stan Humphries, the company’s chief analytics officer.

A neural network is a branch of artificial intelligence that aims to mimic the way the human brain learns.

AI-based models can’t account for human intuition or empathy, though. Buying and selling a home is a “deeply emotional, very risky transaction,” Mr. Humphries said. “Humans are always going to want another person, an expert, to help them with that process.”

AI can add value for agents in incremental ways but real estate will always be a heavily people-focused industry, said Mike DelPrete, scholar in residence on real estate technology at the University of Colorado Boulder. Real-estate companies sometimes tout their prowess in technology and AI to attract agents, Mr. DelPrete said. But the degree to which agents will actually adopt AI and other software tools is uncertain, he added.

“More people are talking about AI in the real-estate industry as a point of differentiation…but the reality on the ground is that it’s more of a marketing tagline,” Mr. DelPrete said.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: June 22, 2021



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A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now

Companies are eager to hire strong players who use hybrid work schedules to schmooze clients on the course

By CALLUM BORCHERS
Fri, Jun 14, 2024 5 min

Standout golfers who aren’t quite PGA Tour material now have somewhere else to play professionally: Corporate America.

People who can smash 300-yard drives and sink birdie putts are sought-after hires in finance, consulting, sales and other industries, recruiters say. In the hybrid work era, the business golf outing is back in a big way.

Executive recruiter Shawn Cole says he gets so many requests to find ace golfers that he records candidates’ handicaps, an index based on average number of strokes over par, in the information packets he submits to clients. Golf alone can’t get you a plum job, he says—but not playing could cost you one.

“I know a guy that literally flies around the world in a private jet loaded with French wine, and he golfs and lands hundred-million-dollar deals,” Cole says.

Tee times and networking sessions have long gone hand-in-golf-glove. Despite criticism that doing business on the course undermines diversity, equity and inclusion efforts—and the fact that golf clubs haven’t always been open to women and minorities —people who mix golf and work say the outings are one of the last reprieves from 30-minute calendar blocks

Stars like Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie West helped expand participation in the sport. Still, just 22% of golfers are nonwhite and 26% are women, according to the National Golf Foundation.

To lure more people, clubs have relaxed rules against mobile-phone use on the course, embracing white-collar professionals who want to entertain clients on the links without disconnecting from the office. It’s no longer taboo to check email from your cart or take a quick call at the halfway turn.

With so much other business conducted virtually, shaking hands on the green and schmoozing over clubhouse beers is now seen as making an extra effort, not slacking off.

Americans played a record 531 million rounds last year. Weekday play has nearly doubled since 2019, with much of the action during business hours , according to research by Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom .

“It would’ve been scandalous in 2019 to be having multiple meetings a week on the golf course,” Bloom says. “In 2024, if you’re producing results, no one’s going to see anything wrong with it.”

A financial adviser at a major Wall Street bank who competes on the amateur circuit told me he completes 90% of his tasks by 10 a.m. because he manages long-term investment plans that change infrequently. The rest of his workday often involves golfing with clients and prospects. He’s a member of a private club with a multiyear waiting list, and people jump at the chance to join him on a course they normally can’t access.

There is an art to bringing in business this way. He never initiates shoptalk, telling his playing partners the round is about having fun and getting to know each other. They can’t resist asking about investment strategies by the back nine, he says.

Work hard, play hard

Matt Parziale golfed professionally on minor-league tours for several years, but when his dream of making the big time ended, he had to get a regular job. He became a firefighter, like his dad.

A few years later he won one of the biggest amateur tournaments in the country, earning spots in the 2018 Masters and U.S. Open, where he tied for first among non-pros.

The brush with celebrity brought introductions to business types that Parziale, 35 years old, says he wouldn’t have met otherwise. One connection led to a job with a large insurance broker. In 2022 he jumped to Deland, Gibson Insurance Associates in Wellesley, Mass., which recognised his golf game as a tool to help win large accounts.

He rescheduled our interview because he was hosting clients at a private club on Cape Cod, and squeezed me in the next morning, before teeing off with a business group in Newport, R.I.

A short time ago, Parziale couldn’t imagine making a living this way. Now he’s the norm in elite amateur golf circles.

“I look around at the guys at the events I play, and they all have these jobs ,” he says.

His boss, Chief Executive Chip Gibson, says Parziale is good at bringing in business because he puts as much effort into building relationships as honing his game. A golf outing is merely an opportunity to build trust that can eventually lead to a deal, and it’s a misconception that people who golf during work hours don’t work hard, he says.

Barry Allison’s single-digit handicap is an asset in his role as a management consultant at Accenture , where he specialises in travel and hospitality. He splits time between Washington, D.C., and The Villages, Fla., a golf mecca that boasts more than 50 courses.

It can be hard to get to know people in distributed work environments, he says. Go golfing and you’ll learn a lot about someone’s temperament—especially after a bad shot.

“If you see a guy snap a club over his knee, you don’t know what he’s going to snap next,” Allison says.

Special access

On a recent afternoon I was a lunch guest at Brae Burn Country Club, a private enclave outside Boston that was the site of U.S. Golf Association championships won by legends like Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. I parked in the second lot because the first one was full—on a Wednesday.

My host was Cullen Onstott, managing director of the Onstott Group executive search firm and a former collegiate golfer at Fairfield University. He explained one reason companies prize excellent golfers is they can put well-practiced swings on autopilot and devote most of their attention to chitchat.

It’s hard to talk with potential customers about their needs and interests when you’re hunting for errant shots in the woods. It’s also challenging if you show off.

The first hole at Brae Burn is a 318-yard par 4 that slopes down, enabling big hitters like Onstott to reach the putting green in a single stroke. But to stay close to his playing partners and keep the conversation flowing, he sometimes hits a shorter shot.

Having an “in” at an exclusive club can make you a catch. Bo Burch, an executive recruiter in North Carolina, says clubs in his region tend to attract members according to their business sectors. One might be chock-full of real-estate investors while another has potential buyers of industrial manufacturing equipment.

Burch looks for candidates who are members of clubs that align with his clients’ industries, though he stresses that business acumen comes first when filling positions.

Tami McQueen, a former Division I tennis player and current chief marketing officer at Atlanta investment firm BIP Capital, signed up for private golf lessons this year. She had noticed colleagues were wearing polos with course logos and bringing their clubs to work. She wanted in.

McQueen joined business associates on the golf course for the first time in March at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. She has lowered her handicap to a respectable 26 and says her new skill lends a professional edge.

“To be able to say, ‘I can play with you and we can have those business meetings on the course’ definitely opens a lot more doors,” she says.

MOST POPULAR
11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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