Viktor Franz Paul Weber is the founder and director of the Future Real Estate Institute and a Global Shaper at the World Economic Forum in Munich, Germany. He has a track record as serial entrepreneur, author, speaker and top-of-class graduate from the Oxford Brookes University.
How Robots Will Disrupt Real Estate
Learn how automation will impact your industry, and perhaps even your future career prospects.
January 5, 2017
In my research on robotics and real estate, I’ve found very few real estate agents and brokers have ever wondered how robotics might impact real estate in the future. Even many of those at commercial real estate corporations haven’t yet bothered to analyze the various impact scenarios on their business, whether it’s diminishing demand for industrial space or clients’ needs for special purpose properties or robot-friendly infrastructure. The list goes on and more often than not, C-level executives are quite astonished when they hear these future possibilities, because they haven’t thought about them.
More from the Disrupt or Be Disrupted series:
But as a real estate professional who wants to understand disruptive technologies, it’s time to learn about some of the basic ways automation will alter the world of real property in the near future.
How Robotics Will Change Your Business
- Robots will be involved in new-building construction. This will lead to better building quality, causing longer life cycles for residential and commercial structures. In the long run, you’ll likely see better use of space and less new construction (which is also more sustainable and less reliant on planned obsolescence).
- They’ll help us maintain properties more efficiently. Building Information Modelling, or BIM, allows architects, builders, and designers to code information about how a building functions in digital format. By layering that technology with property-machine communication, a sensor within a wall could signal to a facility management robot that the building’s depreciation had reached a critical level, and that robot could inspect and repair structural problems without getting any humans involved.
- We’ll need to make room for them. Sensor-enabled houses, roads with charging stations, and even entire cities must provide space for the robots that will work for us, which means changing usage and planning processes.
- They will change our economy. Automation will likely cause tremendous shifts in employment, which could lead to rapid change in consumer demand patterns. In real estate, these two contradicting trends will make the biggest impact:
- Decentralization of work: The “pull factor” of the city as an employment hub ceases to exist, meaning that your future clients might want to move to cheaper and more remote markets. This hypermobility means that the traditional focus on a property’s distance from employment centres could diminish.
- Centralization of leisure: Assuming the successful implementation of a basic income, automation might allow us humans to focus on culture, reemphasize social activities, and develop to an experience-driven economy in city centers.
- Brokers will hire robots to carry out real estate chores. Brokerages might find robots who can help with tours, virtual reality, and other tasks, which will cause shifts in real estate offices’ demand for talent.
This is just a selection of changes that will impact real estate, especially in the context of brokerages. But it only partially tackles the major elephant in the room when it comes to discussions about automation, and that’s the job market.
Will Robots Take Over Real Estate Jobs?
I would be lying if I told you that robotics will not disrupt the real estate industry. The fact is, researchers forecast that more than 95 million jobs in the U.S. and U.K., meaning more than 50 percent of the current workforce, might vanish in the next two decades due to automation. Even though it’s impossible to forecast the exact pace of the change induced by developments in artificial intelligence as well as robotics, the odds are not looking great for many jobs that are now considered normal elements of our economy.
But as I’ve written in a previous article, it’s likely that other jobs will emerge as a result of this change. And it’s also likely that humans will continue to appreciate interaction with other humans for business purposes. However, success will depend much more on the service quality and user experience when humans are competing with robots for business.
Based on this, it is time for self-reflection. Examine how digital your business is now and how unique your customer’s journey is at every step of the process. It will not be enough to show a beautifully staged property, know some key figures, and explain a non-academic macroeconomic assessment of the housing market.
Of course, this isn’t anything new for real estate. From FSBO guides to automated valuation systems, there have always been new technologies that threaten to disrupt the industry. And the successful agents and brokers are the ones who can differentiate themselves by combining a personalized customer experience with competence and digital prowess.