L to R: Johan Holmberg - Senior Associate - Second Century Ventures; Chad Curry -Director, Center for Realtor Technology, Strate

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From left: Johan Holmberg, senior associate at Second Century Ventures; Chad Curry, director of the Center for REALTOR® Technology; Adi Pavlovic, director of KW Labs.

Hackathon, Pitch Battle Add Dynamism to iOi

August 31, 2018

When the National Association of REALTORS® set about planning the Innovation, Opportunity & Investment Summit, which took place this week in San Francisco, the association was determined to do more than make a space for vendors to market their wares to brokers and agents. That’s why NAR included a hackathon and a startup pitch battle in the conference lineup, providing opportunities for the tech community to demonstrate what they can do to transform real estate.

“There’s nothing like this being done in the real estate vertical,” NAR CEO Bob Goldberg told attendees Thursday, calling the events part of his “larger strategy as CEO to bring tech firms that many consider to be disruptors under the tent as innovators, and turn them into advocates for our members.”

Though the name might sound nefarious, iOi’s hackathon was a month-long effort that attracted some 40 groups to figure out how artificial intelligence and machine learning might improve customer service, the home search process, real estate marketing, and listing data display.

“A hackathon is not us in the back room trying to figure out how to steal your data,” said Chad Curry, director of the Center for REALTOR® Technology. “It’s a way for us to build new products that the real estate industry can take advantage of in the coming years.”

Participants began work on building new applications to solve common real estate problems on Aug. 1. The teams were tasked with using open source software and APIs provided by sponsors, such as MLSs, associations, and other established data firms. A panel of judges evaluated finished products on a variety of criteria, including creativity, functionality, user experience, and practicality.

Adi Pavlovic, director of KW Labs

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Adi Pavlovic, director of KW Labs.

KW Labs, Keller Williams Realty’s in-house software development arm, took home the grand-prize check for $15,000 in the hackathon. Their team created an app that automatically detects and tags video listing tours with certain property elements, such as building materials, architectural structures, and lighting sources. Once uploaded, the app instantly creates a landing page for the property, where home buyers can view videos room by room and read personalized notes and insights that the agent has added to the tour.

Adi Pavlovic, director of KW Labs, credited the iOi conference with bringing together sometimes disparate spheres to empower agents and create compelling conversations about the impact of technology on real estate. “We think it’s really important to get in a room like this,” he said. “We’re really passionate about the shift that’s happening in our industry.”

Voiceter Pro Cofounder Ami Berger and (right) Robert Kautzmann, principal engineer at Voiceter Pro

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From left: Ami Berger, cofounder of Voiceter Pro and Robert Kautzmann, principal engineer at Voiceter Pro.

The runner-up in the hackathon was Voicester Pro, a company that uses voice-enabled search applications to help real estate companies and associations connect with consumers. They created a spin on the popular midcentury TV show “The Newlywed Game,” calling their version “The Home Buying Game.” It works like this: Two people looking to buy a property together text answers to questions about their home preferences to Amazon’s smart speaker, Alexa. Then the game begins. Each buyer is asked to answer questions about what they think the other person on their homebuying team would prefer. In a demo at iOi, Alexa asked home buyer one whether home buyer two would prefer a patio, pool, or larger backyard, and vice versa. The winner gets to choose the next showing.

Alexa uses players’ phone numbers in order to determine which agent referred them to the app, and then automatically feeds game data back to the agent. In fact, the app can even use vocal cloning technology to insert the agent’s voice into the Q&A. “You, as the agent, get all the answers—all of their preferences are recorded,” said Voiceter Pro Cofounder Ami Berger, noting that this data is especially helpful when two buyer partners aren’t yet on the same page about the type of property they want to purchase. “Now you can allow Alexa to be that mediator for you.” They’re still working out the details, but Berger estimates the game will be live in the next couple of months.

L to R:  Johan Holmberg - Senior Associate - Second Century Ventures Mel Myers Director, BoxBrownie.com Mark Birschbach, Managin

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From left: Johan Holmberg, senior associate at Second Century Ventures; Mel Myers, cofounder of BoxBrownie.com; Mark Birschbach, NAR’s senior vice president of Strategic Business, Innovation & Technology.

The pitch battle was hosted by Second Century Ventures, NAR’s strategic investment arm. Sixteen tech startups offered live demos to venture capitalists, c-suite professionals, brokers, and real estate professionals with a mission to help improve the real estate process for brokerages, agents, or consumers. They each had only three minutes to make their case to a panel of six judges. BoxBrownie, an on-demand, à la carte photo editing service for real estate listings, virtual tours, and floorplans, came out in first place. The company’s director, Mel Myers, said they’re looking forward to expanding their reach into the U.S. real estate market to offer what he called “Botox for your real estate photos.” The winner-take-all prize includes $15,000, a booth at the 2018 REALTORS® Conference & Expo in Boston this November, and an article in RIS Media.

—Meg White, REALTOR® Magazine