Tech makes things easier, but relationships still matter

Where we choose to live is an emotional matter, so real estate will remain a largely human enterprise.

Tom Hoban

Tom Hoban

In his book “Sapiens,” author Yuval Noah Harari argues that much of how we operate as humans today is tied to our long hunter-forager evolutionary history. The agricultural and industrial revolutions are so recent, he explains, that human evolution hasn’t caught up.

More recently, the impact of robotics and artificial intelligence is adding a new dimension to this phenomenon in nearly every area of our lives. The real estate industry is not immune to this sea change. Experts predict that over the next decade many as 20% to 30% of today’s commercial real estate agents will not be needed. The remaining 70% to 80% will have to reinvent themselves as strategic advisors. Robotics and artificial intelligence will also significantly redefine the role of property managers as technology reduces demand for office and retail space — as well as the need for people to sell, lease and manage those.

There is a lot of optimism that workers and the industry will adjust and avoid any major pain. Property management, sales and leasing are still, at some level, a people-to-people domain. Automation and artificial intelligence may take some of the cumbersome elements out, but it is hard to imagine the renting public trusting machine landlords anytime soon.

Most of the impact of robotics and artificial intelligence so far is on in-home technology. Examples include tools that use embedded chips to signal appliance failures, systems that trigger alerts for plumbing leaks, and solutions to leasing apartments that improve the process of finding a good match. Zillow, Co-Star and other services support the sales and leasing industry with data and tools that are transforming agents into advisors, as well.

Buying or renting a home or apartment remains at its core an emotional experience. We seek safety and access to community when we put a roof over our heads. Determining what features we like in a home or apartment is very much about what feels good and feels right. Most of the time, we can’t really articulate why we like or don’t like a certain home or apartment, we just sense it.

Given those subtleties, the likelihood that machines will replace real estate professionals in helping people through such a process seems unlikely. Efficiencies will be created, to be sure, but agents and property managers can feel secure that their role in the middle is likely always going to need a human touch.

Columnist Tom Hoban is chairman and co-founder of Hoban Family Office, a real estate investment and services enterprise in Everett.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

The City of Arlington filed a lawsuit seeking the closure of the Smokey Point Motor Inn because of excessive criminal activity on the property. Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021 in Arlington, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Arlington wants to close motel, center of ‘criminal activity’

In the past few years, police have responded hundreds of times to the Smokey Point Motor Inn.

A handful of Northwest Union Carpenter members picket in front of the new Marysville civic center construction site on the sixth day of a region wide union carpenter strike on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021 in Marysville, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Union carpenters picket at Marysville and Everett projects

The Marysville Civic Center and an Everett Amazon building are among dozens of construction sites affected.

Twins Leslie Davis (left) and Lyndsay Lamb stage a house in Everett as seen on the second season of "Unsellable Houses" on HGTV. (HGTV photo)
Sold: Snohomish twins back for more HGTV ‘Unsellable Houses’

The makeover show’s 13 episodes feature Snohomish County homes, with decor items sold at new store.

Tuesday's career fair will be at Everett Community College, which incidentally is also one of the participants. (Sue Misao / Herald file)
Snohomish County Career Fair set for Tuesday at EvCC

Job seekers can connect with more than 40 employers at this year’s annual event.

Snohomish County unemployment rate drops slightly to 5.6%

Washington added 16,800 jobs in August.

Report: Criminal indictment coming for former Boeing official

Mark Forkner was the 737 Max Chief Technical Pilot who is alleged to have lied to aviation regulators.

Workers build the first all-electric commuter plane, the Eviation Alice, at Eviation's plant on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021 in Arlington, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
All eyes on Alice, the electric plane made in Arlington

If all goes well, Eviation’s battery-powered airplane will make its debut test flight later this year.

Bufeng Gao, owner of Qin Xi'an Noodles, receives a check from the Edmonds Chamber Foundation's Wish Fund outside of her restaurant that was burned in a fire on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021 in Edmonds, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
After arson burns Edmonds plaza, 14 businesses need help

Plum Tree Plaza — a cultural hub for Asian Americans — burned in a three-alarm fire early Sept. 11.

Hand drawn vector illustration of bottle of red wine and two glasses. Abstract cartoon style isolated.
You voted: The best wine list in Snohomish County

Even during a pandemic, folks still have their favorites.

Boeing sells land for $200M in plan to shrink holdings

Boeing has sold 310 acres of undeveloped land next to its Frederickson manufacturing plant.

Washington August jobless rate was 5.1%; 16,800 jobs added

August’s rate was the same as July’s rate, and increased even as COVID-19 cases surge.

Boeing moving 150 jobs from Washington and California to Texas

The affected jobs are in the company’s global parts distribution unit.