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  • Mal McCallion

Mortal portals?

Updated: Apr 26

What happens to portals in an AI world?


Will they strengthen and come to dominate further – or are they hamstrung by their own historic processes and platforms, unable to deal with the threats of smaller challengers chipping away at their dominance?


This week I had the pleasure of joining the leading property portal podcast, Property Portal Watch. It’s co-hosted by Simon Baker, the man who built ‘the Rightmove of Australia’, REA Group, plus Edmund Keith, Head of Content at international portal and proptech hub OnlineMarketplaces.


Across an entertaining half an hour – that’s well worth a listen in full (click here) – there was one section in particular (from about 8 mins) that really struck me about the tension that is inherent in the portals’ new world.


How do they marry-up the precision that’s now AI-enabled, when a consumer asks for their perfect home, with the margin-necessary requirement to continue to present all sorts of other ‘Featured Property’-type upsells that agents pay for?


Truth is, they can’t.


Simon made the good point was that people need retraining to discover property in different ways, after 25 years of using portals. However, as I said on the pod, I think that’s true … until it isn’t. This change won’t be like newspapers to online – gradual, lumpy, nervous. The speed that people are going to start asking for everything via natural language search (NLS) on their Airpods will be driven by success – the answers will actually be useful and save a huge amount of time – and that change will feed through to the search/discovery process much more quickly than previous ones.


I think people will still be interested in portals because of listing abundance but that will be tempered by the lack of precision in results, by a lack of depth in what it’s like to actually live in the area – and also by fake listings. Amazon is already struggling with ChatGPT-created products right across its network. In our world, unscrupulous agents will quickly catch on to the benefits of popping a dozen or so (incredibly convincing, almost impossible to spot) fakes up onto their property lists.


In the end, though, AI and the rise of the machines will result in the privileging of that most human of traits – trust. It’s said that we don’t use most of our brains because, before our ancestors learned to cooperate, each individual had to know how to do so much more to be self-sufficient. Once we discovered trust in others to help us out, we advanced so much more quickly in tribes and our unnecessarily large grey matter quietened significantly in many areas.


The need to trust is built deep within us. As I said on the podcast, this – trust – is going to be the currency that will be of highest value in our AI-driven world. Therefore, for all of us, it will also be the most critical to protect.


Traditional, quality estate agents across the country have a reservoir of trust from those that see their brands every day, on their high streets and on signboards in their roads. These people know that there is a cost to agents betraying that trust – and that these agents will wear that cost directly in lost business or, in the more extreme cases, a physical interaction in branch or in the supermarket.


Digital-first or digital-only platforms – and that includes the portals – don’t have that reservoir of trust. There is nowhere to ‘pop-in’ and check that something’s true or not. As with all online communications going forwards, there will be a certain suspicion that just won’t be present in face-to-face conversations.


So this is the seam to mine – the unique features that make a quality local agent such a valuable community resource. Promote your knowledge, your unique history and team, your expertise and experience – these are the ‘trust-builders’ that reinforce why people should trust you.


And they’re going to need someone, fast.


I do think that portals will suffer from a lack of localism, authenticity and precision. It’s worth investing in tools now to maximise direct exposure to future clients, so that they know where to come when they start to lose faith in everything else ...

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