- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2018

Title this, Real Estate Agent: What Job Not to Seek as a Career. That’s because artificial intelligence is steadily creeping into the sector, replacing humans with machines that allow buyers a faster, cheaper and — some would argue — stress-free way of finding that perfect home.

Goodbye human touch? Could be.

CNBC just reported: “Instead of hiring a real estate agent, Ron and Marilyn Hougardy essentially recruited a computer to sell their four-bedroom home in Thousand Oaks, California.”

In so doing, they saved about 4 percent in commission payments. That’s a good chunk of money.

Now, anyone entering the market can do the same. And we have artificial intelligence to thank for that.

REX Real Estate Exchange, the company used by the Hougardy family, uses technology and targeted advertising to unite buyers with sellers. Basically, REX employs “computer nerds” armed with “data-driven” formulas to scour the Internet — Zillow, Google, Yahoo Homes, Facebook, etc. — and identify sellers who might be a good match for the company’s listings.

These potential buyers are then sent targeted ads, devised and designed by REX workers.

But technology drives the process. A.I.-driven algorithms are used to calculate home values and best-value marketing packages, and ultimately, unite buyers and sellers.

It’s not completely hands-off to humans; REX people still help with negotiations and appraisals.

But this is not your mother’s MLS — the Multiple Listing Service once used by nearly all real estate agents in the country to determine what’s for sale, what’s the worth and who might be the buyers.

This is the new-wave direction of the real estate field. Soon enough, chatbots will dominate, predictive analytics will dictate how and when agents might best market and promote — and more places like REX will replace many of the person-to-person agent dealings. Even drones will play an increasing role in shaping the modern real estate industry by providing cheap and easily obtained up-close photographs and videos of properties that give 360-degree views and allow sellers to offer virtual open houses.

For the customer, this is all good — time-saving, cost-cutting, less stressful. But for the agent and others in the business of buying and selling homes?

“Increasingly,” Learn.org reported, “technology is cutting into the job of agents. … The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that … real estate agents will see slower-than-average job growth of 3 percent through the 2014-2024 decade.”

Sokanu.com, meanwhile, reports the projected growth for these same years even lower, at 2.8 percent, giving the real estate agent sector a “D” for “employability rating, meaning this career should provide weak employment opportunities for the foreseeable future.”

So what? Adapt or die – that’s just free market reality, right?

Well, true enough. Technology is taking its toll today with about every sector, bringing both gains and losses, positives and negatives. Real estate agents aren’t any different. But take note and recall: This used to be a field that was considered heavy on the human touch.

It used to be a sector of service, of personal creativity, even — of baking some chocolate chip cookies and plating them on the kitchen counter to lure buyers and stoke their imaginations. Now? It’s all about the algorithm.

And while artificial intelligence may never fully replace the need for human agents, it’ll drive out some. It’ll drive out some of the 2 million or so individuals the National Association of Realtors estimates currently hold licenses in the United States. That’s not only a financial hit to those in the field. That’s a significant loss of human touch in a traditionally heavy-on-the-human-touch sector.

In the end, maybe the 4 percent savings is worth it. But those cookies sure smelled good.

• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at cchumley@washingtontimes.com or on Twitter, @ckchumley.

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