Recently, there’s been a fair bit of professional angst over the news that in the coming decade up to 30% of the U.S. workforce will be automated. It’s difficult to imagine a full 30% of workers could be replaced by robots and automatons, but it's projected that particularly workers who perform repetitive or administrative tasks will likely make way to different kinds of jobs that we cannot even quite imagine yet. People are justifiably uneasy about the economic uncertainty of this.
Even among Realtors, there is fear that companies like Zillow and Redfin are threatening to make our profession obsolete with fancy algorithms and contract writing services. Why, then, do I think that the jobs of Realtors and Home Counselors like me will be safe from automation?
Because real estate is all about intangibles.
You would not believe how many times I’ve thought that a degree in counseling would dovetail perfectly into being a Realtor. That’s because buying or selling a home is full of emotions: nostalgia, excitement, anticipation, determination, idealism, hard decision-making, vulnerability, disagreement, conflict, disappointment, anger, and anxiety. When people look for a new home, they aren’t just looking for 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, in this specific neighborhood at this specific price. Well, sometimes they are, but more often, they are looking for a place with just the right natural light. Or a place where their family heirloom dining table will fit perfectly, where their kids can play safely and happily in the backyard, or where they can cook dinner while still effortlessly carrying on a conversation with their guests, or a place that they can imagine putting some elbow grease (“but maybe not too much elbow grease, you know?”) into to put their own personal touches on a home.
These are not criteria I can plug into an MLS search. These are intangible factors that require an expertise about neighborhoods, about construction and remodeling, about how people live and spend time in their homes. It takes asking good questions and helping people put words to the “je ne sais quoi” that they can’t quite put their finger on about why a house just doesn’t feel quite right even though it checks off all the right boxes.
The Washington Post states, “Caretakers, psychologists, artists, writers — anyone who relies on empathy or creativity at work — can expect to have the most job security as automation continues to spread.” I consider my job to be in this category—a job that takes a considerable amount of empathy, self-awareness, verbal communication skills, intuition, and genuine connection. Without these, you might as well be working with a computer. I named my company Abide Residential because one of my core values is to abide, to be fully present with my clients—to be there with them through the ups and downs, thick and thin, of the home buying and selling process.
There are certainly parts of my job that could be done by a computer—the scheduling, the contract details, the coordinating (maybe one day I’ll have an android as my personal assistant!), but here are a few aspects of my job that robots can’t do (yet, at least):
- Negotiate a contract when emotions are high on both sides to produce a win-win for everyone
- Help buyers dig deep to understand what home means to them and develop a search criteria based on their values and lifestyle to help them find the best possible house that becomes a place that feels like home
- Walk through a house and sense the tension between a husband and wife when one of them loves a house and the other does not and facilitating a conversations that helps clarify their shared values and needs
- Help empty-nesters prepare for the difficult process of selling a home they have raised their family in and downsize to a new home
- Help buyers and sellers work through the results of a home inspection, discuss their disappointment and fears if things did not go as expected, and come up with a strategy to negotiate that makes them feel comfortable moving forward
- Be a devil’s advocate and express my gut feelings and intuition about a house to buyer if something feels “not quite right”
- Give buyers and sellers an honest third party perspective with their best interest in mind
I’m able to do each and every item on this list because I’ve had a decade of experience with the intangible, interpersonal, emotional aspects of home buying and selling and leasing AND I know my city like the back of my hand—I know all the secret neighborhoods that no one thinks about, I know the back ways to get to work, I know how long it takes in traffic to get from South First to Georgetown in rush hour (it’s a long time). I know that if you like a certain neighborhood up North, you will probably also like a certain neighborhood down South.
Do I think some Realtors might be at risk to lose their jobs to automation? If anything, I think a new age of automation will bring a new era of even better customer service in the real estate industry. Because if you don’t do your job any better than a computer could, you won’t cut it anymore. Gone will be the days of agents who let their assistants handle all their calls, use pushy sales tactics, and show up as little as possible while still cashing their commission check. I’m quite looking forward to this new era, actually. And I guarantee I will still be here, helping my clients with all the things about home buying and selling that computers can’t do—being an expert, an advocate, a confidante, a support person, a sounding board, and a friend.