November 04, 2016      

Robotics and artificial intelligence promise to automate many industries beyond manufacturing. Rather than fear business process automation, we should guide its development to help extend human capabilities, noted one entrepreneur whose Real Estate Platform is now for sale.

“This is the culmination of so many amazing minds coming together and other academic research around AI and robots,” said Matt Murphy, co-founder of Chime. “Now we’re applying these lessons to the next generation of real estate.”

Business Takeaways:

  • Chime’s Real Estate Platform combines CRM, automated lead generation, and machine learning to help agents sell houses.
  • Development and marketing of the platform depended on proving its efficiency to users who aren’t technologists.
  • AI and robotics should take advantage of big data and automation to extend human capabilities rather than replace employees.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Chime first demonstrated its Real Estate Platform in August at Inman Connect in San Francisco.

Chime is an Appsurdity Inc. site and a division of Beijing-based Renren Network, also known as the “Facebook of China,” with 300 million customers.

The Chinese conglomerate “is looking ahead 30 years” and has made several investments in U.S. drones, robotics, and deep learning, according to Murphy.

Just as AI in the broad sense is helping in drug-gene testing and the financial sector, so too can it help real estate agents comprehend more properties and potential buyers, he said.

AI to help buy, sell homes

“The biggest problem is that real estate agents have too much to do and not enough time,” Murphy told Robotics Business Review. “Agents have so much data coming at them. They’re great salespeople but not technologists.”

“The average age of a real estate agent is mid-50s,” he said. “The problem with AI and machine learning is that the user interface is still too complex.”

Chime co-founder Matt Murphy

Chime’s Matt Murphy decided to develop the Real Estate Platform in-house.

Murphy mentioned Clarity Real Estate Solutions and Matterport 3D Showcase, which provide virtual tours. “We’re trying to ‘consumerize’ the technology,” Murphy said.

“First, when a new lead comes into the system, we need to enrich and validate that data so that it’s accurate,” he explained. “It’s scored by quality and priority, which never existed in the $80 billion industry, from a commission perspective, before.”

“Second, agents typically have a 30- to 45-step plan to get people to work with them, so we set up a drip plan for communications,” he said. “This is available technology, but we had to apply it in smart ways.”

“Workflow automation and machine learning can help sell more homes.” Murphy said. “Right now, people are the glue between different systems, but they should be out building relationships with customers.”

“Half the battle was making the tech in our systems the glue; the other half was emulating and gathering data,” he added.

Developing the Real Estate Platform

“We’ve invested strategically in eight companies in residential and commercial lending,” Murphy recalled. “I looked at 200 companies and wanted to give money away but couldn’t find anyone who was thinking broadly enough.”

“I have a team of 125 people at Chime, and the majority are developers,” he said. “They’re building bidding-optimization systems and building out CRM [customer relationship management] and machine-learning stacks.”

“We ended up using Renren’s technology to generate high-quality leads for agents,” said Murphy. “Chime’s Real Estate Platform ties it together with automation and intelligence.”

“Our core value is an all-in-one system that builds information for an agent, with MLS [multiple lead system], lead gen, CRM, and automated workflows,” he noted. “We can run Facebook and ad campaigns for hundreds, if not thousands, of agents.”

Chime's Real Estate Platform includes communications capabilities.

Chime’s Real Estate Platform ties lead gen and CRM together.

“Chime has brought these systems together with an open API [application programming interface],” Murphy said. “In near future, I don’t see real estate agents writing into our APIs, but there is a lot of cool tech in the marketplace doing interesting things.”

“We’re looking at combining BombBomb video-based emails with CRM systems,” he said.

The Real Estate Platform includes the mobile-ready IDX Web portal and team management functions.

“We took manual and already-automated processes and added insights, rules, actions,” said Murphy. “For example, when a buyer or seller comes in at a particular ZIP code, it can pass the lead to Agent A, then Agent B based on time.”

“That didn’t exist previously in real estate, so we’re streamlining the day-to-day operations,” he said of Chime’s Real Estate Platform. “We can unveil insights so that we can then automate and drive more efficiency.”

“Chime is about 7 months old as a company,” Murphy said. “We’re live — it took us four months to build and integrate the platform, and it has been helping agents sell homes for three months.”

“The technology is getting better every day, as we use interaction data to refine our product, uncover insights on how agents interact with us, and analyze how leads and ads draw customers,” he said. “We push code updates daily and weekly.”

Learning from and educating end users

“What we did was unique — instead of thinking we were experts in real estate, we wrote no code for the first two months,” Murphy said. “Instead, we had our teams follow the 20 best agents in the country and took notes on what could be done better.”

“One of the things I’ve learned in deploying the platform is, ‘Don’t talk about it in a technical way, but in how it will help each person build business relationships with customers and sell more homes,'” he said. “I don’t say ‘AI, machine learning-enabled CRM.’ It took a while to learn.”

“Our client base includes tech-enabled real estate agents who are already running their businesses on their smartphones and aren’t afraid of social media,” Murphy said. “They’re enthusiastic, and Real Estate Platform can help them dramatically improve efficiency.”

 

“One beta customer was a brand-new agent and needed our technology to build a team,” he said. “Now, within six months, he’s now No. 1 in his market.”

“Another was top in Oakland [Calif.] and had built leads on real-estate portals but had only 1 percent conversion,” Murphy said. “Now, he’s getting an 8 percent conversion rate.”

Murphy said he isn’t worried about potential competition since the real estate industry is still under-automated.

“Right now, we’re just focused on selling our product in the U.S.,” he said. “We could see the technology around us applied to healthcare, vehicles, investing. Only so many times can you work in a fundamental industry and change society — this is one of them.”

More on AI and Business Automation:

Other robots in real estate

Drones have already been used to survey properties, and Chime’s parent company is investigating autonomous drones that are small enough to fly inside a house.

“I can’t wait for it to get far enough along that an agent can conduct a virtual open house,” Murphy said. “It’s a question of interconnectivity, but there are other areas besides real estate that we could apply that technology to.”

“We need to enrich the target audience with geolocation and other technology,” he said.

“This will not eliminate jobs; in reality, we’ll be more efficient as [virtual agents] let humans do what they want to do, not what they need to do,” Murphy said.