Smart speakers might be the latest touch point connecting consumers with real estate data. Users of Amazon’s Echo can already access mortgage calculators and automated valuation tools. So it makes sense that NAR’s Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee would begin to investigate policies to guide the development of these new tools in accordance with the IDX display rules.
Voice-activated technology is becoming increasingly popular, not only for its hands-off ease but also as a way to make more information accessible to those who have disabilities. Although MLS policy doesn’t currently allow audio delivery of IDX property listing information, that could soon change. Miguel Berger, CEO of audio technology company Voiceter Pro, LLC, contacted the MLS Technology and Emerging Issues Advisory Board about the “skill” (a term for something akin to a smartphone app) his company created to enable consumers to search for properties using voice commands spoken to the Amazon Echo device. After initial setup, Alexa will respond verbally with the top three search results and email that information to the consumer. The company is currently pursuing similar technology integrations, namely through Google Home and Microsoft’s Cortana.
At the REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C. in mid-May, the advisory board proposed that the committee look at how rules might be changed to disseminate IDX information to consumers through these smart speakers.
Some expressed concern about possible unintended consequences of the technology. Cathy Libby, CEO of MLS Maine Listings, questioned how the listings might be prioritized, if more than the initial three returned to a user in response to his or her query. “How are those listings determined as far as what’s being read back to the consumer?” she asked. She also worried about industry disintermediation: “Are we further eroding the use of a real estate agent?”
In the end, the majority of committee members preferred to proactively address the issue before the technology really takes off. “Do you want broker members to build the best new technology, or do you want someone who isn’t a broker building new technology?” said Sam DeBord of Coldwell Banker Danforth in Seattle, who expressed favor for the development of a new policy. “We fall behind the curve when we hold our brokers back.”