A US- and Barcelona-based company is helping to bring photo intelligence to the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB). More specifically, TRREB will soon have something called “computer vision” in its arsenal.

“Imagine you’re an agent creating a listing. The AI can instantly categorize each photo based on what it depicts and then pre-populate the majority of the listing form based on what it sees in the photos,” explains Nathan Brannen, Chief Product Officer for Restb.ai, a company that works with real estate boards across the world to bring various artificial intelligence tools to market.

That's just one application of the artificial intelligence technology, notes Brannen. Computer vision can also be used to automate photo compliance (automatically flagging images and videos that deviate from MLS guidelines) and improve the search process for homebuyers, allowing them to quickly sift through properties on the market based on specific visual criteria.

“Having all of this data on all of these properties can also help improve property valuations,” continues Brannen.

“Traditionally, a large blind spot for Automated Valuation Models has been understanding the condition and quality of a property — has a property had renovations, or have higher quality materials? With computer vision, every property can be analyzed according to a standardized metric which can help allow properties to be more appropriately compared to one another.”

A Slow Burn

Brannen says, generally speaking, Canada has been slower to adopt AI-enabled technologies in its real estate space (compared to the US for example).

“Every company’s roadmap is full of things they need to do, so it can be difficult convincing companies to prioritize implementing AI,” he says. “Additionally, many real estate companies are risk-averse. They want to wait until someone else takes that first step. However, once that first early adopter takes the plunge, others are quick to follow.”

Benjy Katchen — he founded Ontario-based prop-tech platform Wahi just a few years ago — notes that Canadian real estate has a pronounced emphasis on the interpersonal (agent/consumer) experience, and that in itself hinders the adoption of technological processes. Still, he says that he believes the desire to do things more digitally and innovatively is there.

“Really, the question is, 'What is the role of digital and data and technology? And what is the role of the human?' I think both are important," he says.

In June, Wahi launched an AI-powered realtor recommendation system with an algorithm developed in conjunction with the Vector Institute. It takes into account criteria like the number of transactions realtors are doing and where they’re transacting, as well as a number of other quality-related indicators.

“For instance, does this person use good syntax and grammar when they write a listing? Do they have great photos — and are their photos complete of all the photos one would expect in a great listing?” explains Katchen.

All of that data is then used to match homebuyers with agents through an objective and data-driven approach. The tech, says Katchen, is intended to work hand-in-hand with the existing real estate experience.

Brannen agrees that the best way to utilize AI in real estate is to work the tech into the products and processes that Canadians are already familiar with. It’s not about “reinventing the wheel,” he adds.

“We believe AI is at its best when being used to increase efficiency and reduce time spent on existing labour-intensive tasks so you can make yourself more efficient and productive. AI isn’t magic and can’t solve everything, but it can be an incredibly useful tool.”

Major institutions are also seeing the value of AI in real estate. Earlier this year, RBC purchased AI-powered prop-tech platform OJO Canada for an undisclosed amount as part of the bank's expansion into the prop-tech space. With the help of AI, OJO Canada guides consumers through the home-buying experience with customized home search tools, on-demand support services, and access to industry experts.

“Now more than ever, consumers need a trusted ally to guide them through the home buying and selling journey,” said Karen Starns, CEO of OJO Canada said in a press release at the time. “We see ourselves as that ally.”

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