OJO Labs founder and CEO John Berkowitz believes real estate agents will continue to play an important role in the industry for a very long time but also urged them Friday to “lean in” to technology because it’s coming whether they like it or not.

Berkowitz said at CMLS 2019 in Salt Lake City that massive amounts of data, growing computing power and advances in algorithms are currently driving a growth in artificial intelligence. And he acknowledged that “there is fear around this technology,” particularly in the real estate industry.

But Berkowitz also said that the disruption this technology is bringing has the potential to make agents’ lives easier.

“The technology is going to replace the part of the job that you hate,” Berkowitz said. “And/or it’s going to replace the part of the job that you don’t do at all.”

The comment will probably be reassuring to agents who are currently watching in real time as their industry experiences upheaval. However, Berkowitz also said that real estate professionals can’t just sit back and let technology do its thing. Instead, he argued, it’s incumbent on agents to proactively understand how new tech works.

“Agents need to lean in,” Berkowitz said. “Understand the technology.”

John Berkowitz at CMLS 2019 in Salt Lake City Friday | Credit: Jim Dalrymple II

Berkowitz went on to explain that real estate professionals need to understand when consumers want to engage with technology, as well as how paradigm shifts change the way people interact with new tech.

For example, he pointed out that Google no longer gives people multiple pages in search results on mobile. And Netflix now curates viewers’ movie lists for them. Both changes represent philosophical shifts in the way big tech companies approach information — a departure from what those two specific companies previously did — and those shifts will reverberate across the technology landscape.

In OJO Labs’ case, the company relies on artificial intelligence to power a digital personal assistant. The chatbot-like tool can text consumers directly and suggests homes that it thinks they might be interested in.

Earlier this year, OJO Labs announced that it had raised $45 million in Series C funding, bringing its total fundraising haul $75 million.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the leader of a well-funded technology startup sees a future in which technology plays a bigger role in real estate. But Berkowitz said that despite all the disruption currently taking place, he doesn’t buy the theories of people who say that agents are going extinct.

“Human professionals, agents, will be around for a long long time … decades and decades,” he said

Email Jim Dalrymple II

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