For over ten years, Toronto’s Larry Weltman has advised the real estate industry on various fronts where he has expertise and where agents have needs.
As a customer service representative of AccessEasyFunds, Weltman helps realtors solve what can be a big need: Bridging the cash flow gap that can open between the time they close a sale and when the commissions actually make their way into the income stream. AccessEasyFunds advances agents’ their commissions — to date on over $8 billion worth of real estate deals.
But Larry Weltman also knows that agents and brokers in the Canadian real estate business often need other kinds of advice and support, too, which is why he also runs Weltman Consulting. Through his consultancy, he has given the kind of strategic guidance that has helped realtors position themselves for success.
One area of ongoing need, Weltman says, has been technology – not just keeping up with tech developments generally, but with the way technology is dramatically reshaping the real estate industry and how business is done. We sat down with him recently to explore this intersection.
Q: Think about how we’re creating and using big data, our pretty seamless use of chatbots and other advanced forms of artificial intelligence and, of course, then there’s virtual reality. How do you see these playing out in real estate?
Larry Weltman: Big data, I think, is a great way for agents and brokerages to supplement their understanding of the marketplace and what drives buyers and sellers and also to improve how to target potential buyers. I find chatbots exciting because they can facilitate interactions in a way that is virtually seamless, guiding people in their searches of properties, answering questions about pricing and availability. They’re a lot more cost effective for the “window shopping” stage of the search, and a great way to capture leads to be passed on to the agent to take to the next level. And virtual reality? Remember when a video tour of a property was the cool element? Virtual reality’s implications exceed those tours by far.
Q: How so?
Larry Weltman: Well, there are different levels of VR tours, and a high-end, interactive one allows users to choose where to move within the property. But VR is also a visually stunning way to stage and market properties – without the same level of investment that staging usually requires. Another aspect of real estate is the short-term vacation rental market, and VR instructions are a cost effective way for landlords to show (large numbers of) guests to learn about different services in each unit.
Q: Are we even going to need human real estate brokers in the future?
Larry Weltman: Oh, sure we will. Because we still have a way to go before any of those technologies are that routinely deployed and anyway, there’s still a lot to be said for the personal touch and professional input of a Realtor. Chatbots and VR and wonderful supporting technologies, but with an investment that’s as personal as a home, there’s a high level of touch required that technology will never be able to duplicate.
Q: Hasn’t the investment costs of some of these technologies been a stumbling block to their adoption by the real estate industry? Is that why the industry has been slow on this front?
Larry Weltman: You know, I think a lot of people in real estate were wary. Change is hard on everyone, and that’s what happens with technology. And it can be expensive, yes. I think it’s been shown that tech is not a bad bet, but it can be hard for people to get over the “but this is the way we’ve always done it” barrier. That said, you’re finding the big real estate companies embracing technology. Keller Williams is one that is making huge waves, for example, having partnered with artificial intelligence firm KUNGFU.AI to create a new data pool and find other tech solutions for brokers. It should be interesting to watch how they measure up against all the innovators in today’s hot new marketplace for proptech. Companies like Opendoor, Katerra and WeWork are really going to change the complexion of the business.