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  • Mal McCallion

Zoopla's AI Baby Steps

Zoopla has announced its first AI tool, ‘Homes For You’, to help generate 2.5x more applicant leads for agents.


It uses some ‘fuzzy logic’ to present properties that are slightly above or below the price, or slightly to the north, south, east or west of their ideal search location. It creates a ‘personalised homepage’ where properties that might be of interest pop in without deliberate, filtered search having to occur. And the AI bit? Alongside showing what the applicant has searched for, plus a little bit more, it also understands previous viewing history, it seems – the activity bit that really reveals what people are interested in, rather than what they think (or say) that they are interested in.


It's long been a truism in agency that buyers and tenants don’t really know what they want. They kind of have an idea, they’re presented with core ‘filters’ on the portals that they then have to try and navigate through. If they dream of sea views, open-plan kitchens or large gardens, they have to dig into each property to find out whether it has these features as well as the core beds, price and location.


This is often time-consuming, repetitive and ultimately futile. People end up in homes that are OK but not really what they had envisioned for themselves during their flightiest of fancies. And we need that too – there are loads of homes that are probably not anyone’s ‘dream’ on the face of it, but they need living in (and humans are remarkably adaptable to loving their surroundings because of what happens there, rather than what it looks like).


Overall, this is a good step forward by one of the portals. It’s still tiny – AI could be pulling in a vast amount more data from customers and serving them up better, broader search results based on their preferences and conversations with the portals – but it’s a start.


However, as I wrote about Yopa’s creativity with stats last week, there is a temptation for some to use data points for the same thing the proverbial drunk uses a streetlight – for support rather than illumination. '2.5x more leads!!' sounds amazing – but they seem to be just applicant leads – and how many of them are tenants, which is a lead group that few agents desperately want 2.5x more of?


Similarly, Zoopla’s claim that ‘since personalisation has been activated, there’s been a 13% increase in logged-in Zoopla members sending a lead from the homepage’ doesn’t really tell us anything - unless we also know how many were in the highly-niche ‘logged-in Zoopla members sending a lead from the homepage’ category before ‘personalisation’ came in. If it’s moved from 100,000 to 113,000 across the UK, then bravo. If it’s 200 to 226 then … meh ...


So this is a welcome baby-step from one of the portals to include some AI in their core offering. It might even nudge others, like Rightmove, to be a bit more ambitious with their offering too – though their primary focus of ‘not killing the golden goose’ means that, for all of these incumbent businesses, AI’s power offers much more of a threat than an opportunity.


Hence we’ll see a lot more of these small changes being lauded as ‘game-changing’, backed up by questionable stats, when they’re really just tweaks to the current business model. Multi-billion pound businesses don’t want real change, it hurts their cash cows too much. But AI does offer this – and, over the coming months and years, it will require much more effort than this for portals to remain on their gilded perches.

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