Voice technology + Real estate info = Opportunity + Maybe good karma, too

We’ll ask voice-activated devices more frequently these questions and eventually, we may also get these answers in real-time as we drive in our connected cars. More than two decades ago, Craigslist disrupted the news industry’s classified advertisements with its online listing service and now another innovation is here and growing with voice devices. Can voice-activated devices and real estate information create a new market and spur some recovery for news companies?

Continual market growth of voice-activated devices signals more disruption for the news industry. In some markets, real estate news and information see some of the highest traffic on digital news platforms. The implications of the growth of these devices are just as important in the real estate industry, as questions loom about the impact this technology will have on Realtor marketing and where advertising and sponsorship dollars should be spent.

“The best thing would be collaboration” between news, technology and real estate industries, said Missouri School of Journalism Professor Randall Smith, who has led students who produced voice-activated technology projects for various companies, including The Associated Press.

An opportunity exists to help Realtors market themselves on these devices, said National Association of Realtors President Elizabeth Mendenhall, also CEO of RE/MAX Boone Realty in Columbia, Missouri.

“Eighty percent of Realtor’s business is repeat or referral,” she said. “How do you get info about yourself out there that is meaningful to someone” on voice devices?

In Loudonville, New York, Miguel Berger saw many possibilities in 2015 when the real estate professional with 30 years in business convinced his son, Ami, a software developer, to make a real estate skill for Amazon Alexa.

Miguel Berger said the two convinced the National Association of Realtors to update its display listing rules to include voice search, so they could launch the real estate skills and searches on Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and Microsoft’s Cortana. They named their company Voiceter Pro and work with various content verticals.

“We’re going to see a lot more adoption as the (voice) features become better and more accessible and more integrated,” said Ami Berger. “Right now, the adoption is being driven mostly by smart homes because that’s what voices are integrated into.”

“We’re going to see a lot more adoption as the voice features become better and more accessible and more integrated.”

Real estate brokers pay Voiceter as sponsors of skills and searches and allow the company to access their real estate listings. So far 4,500 users have accessed real estate information on Alexa, Ami Berger said. Voiceter also provides consulting services to real estate firms for custom voice products.

Obtaining real estate listings for voice devices varies based on location. Mendenhall said most communities have a multiple listing service (MLS) with listings from local real estate brokers, but in some communities, the boards of real estate control the listings.

At USA Today, news content on voice-activated devices has grown tremendously since fall 2017, which started first with the top news of the day. New verticals, such as politics, are being added, said Shannon Green, senior multimedia producer at USA Today.

The company uses New York-based SpokenLayer to give human voice to content and to upload audio files to voice platforms. Green said that even though real estate is a highly visual market, the descriptions of homes can be very appealing on voice devices.

“You’re painting something on the canvas of the mind right now,” she said. “It can be really powerful for people. It can be even more of an emotional connection than when they’re seeing something. Because when you’re judging visual information you might be like, ‘oh, I don’t like that house,’ but sometimes when you’re forming it in your own mind, you might feel more connected.”

Taylor Maycan, USA Today audio producer and editor, said the only barrier to the technology right now is people’s habits and that’s likely a short barrier window. 

“The barrier that they’re working against right now is trying to teach people how to use this technology while also still developing at the same time,” Maycan said.

Both Green and Maycan said the tech industries are experimenting with voice devices at the same time — with neither industry really that much ahead of the other.

“As much experimenting as we’re doing from the journalism side of things, the tech (side) is also in a largely experimental phase, too,” Maycan said. “(In) a lot of cases, there just aren’t answers yet.”

At Voiceter, Ami Berger welcomes questions because the community of voice developers is so small and new. Most have been building these skills for less than three years.

“Every good voice out there you know adds a little bit of good karma, every bad one takes a little bit,” he said.  “We are trying to like pump as much good karma into the space as we possibly can.”

About the Futures Lab

The Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Futures Lab, based at the Missouri School of Journalism, uses technology and innovation to strengthen the news industry. Lab members regularly speak at conferences, produce a journalism/technology web series — Innovation In Focus and partner with industry professionals, students and researchers in work that finds new solutions to journalism’s challenges.


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