Some of the most defining technologies in real estate were debated and discussed at the Hacker Connect conference on January 22 at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, New York City. The conference gave more than 400 attendants – including developers, brokers, engineers, product managers, and technology executives – a deep dive in the newest real estate technology.

The PropTech firms that spoke at the conference include Zillow Group, realtor.com, Nestio, Opendoor, and CoreLogic. Other tech giants, such as Google and Facebook, also weighed in.

Hacker Connect

From left to right: Todd Callow @ realtor.com, Sara Bonert @ Zillow Group, Paul Watson @ Google, Keith Watts @ Facebook

The Zillow Group is one of the original pioneers in PropTech and now represent a diverse portfolio of platforms like Trulia, StreetEasy and HotPads. With this wide variety of data, it is little surprise that their latest technical priority is data efficiency and data integration. According to Sara Bonert, the Vice President of Broker Services, “Zillow is dedicated to creating more dynamic ways for customers to consume data.”

This customer-first approach was also supported by Lucie Fortier, executive leader at CoreLogic, a provider of consumer, financial and property data services. “The coolest integration is when the consumer is king, all integration should be built around that person – your client, the homebuyer, seller, renter.”

To achieve a new level of customization, companies were looking to predictive analytics to help determine what users want. The ultimate goal of predictive analytics is to use a wide variety of data sets to help inform the probability of a desired outcome. The implications for real estate are vast. Realtor.com, Remine, vast.com, and SquareFoot all shared their thoughts and visions on their predictive capability.

Remine, a software company that delivers real estate intelligence to agents, is trying to provide insights into which markets and homes are primed to sell by analyzing property records, transactional history, and consumer data.

Predictive analytics can also be used in a simpler way as realtor.com explained. The company is working on a relational algorithm that intelligently directs users to similar properties. It does so by analyzing the preferences of the properties as the user navigates. Todd Callow, the Senior Director of Product at realtor.com explained, “If a viewer looked into a property in South Pasadena with a big patio, from that content and from that user, our website will recommend the visitor where to look next – what property nearby also has a patio, or what other property has the viewer looked at after viewing this property? We want to give our visitors tailored and insightful advice to help them achieve the their goals.”

Another interesting talk was given by Andrew Gowasack, the CEO of Trust Stamp, a startup that develops artificial intelligence solution to authenticate identities. “Personally identifiable information, usernames and passwords, and knowledge-based authentication have been around for ages and they are still the ways we use to authenticate identities,” said Mr. Gowasack. “Evidence has shown hackers were able to bypass voice recognition, fingerprints and iris scanners.” A solution to this problem is to have technology that can recognize the “proof of liveness”. Trust Stamp is putting facial biometric data onto an immutable blockchain ledger, much like digital currencies like Bitcoin do. They feel like these additional layers of protection will be needed for future security.

National Association of Realtors (NAR) have engaged Trust Stamp to provide a free tool to its members to verify their clients’ identity in advance. Trust Stamp also uses software to analyze hundreds of public records and social media data to quickly verify the identity of a stranger and its “trustworthiness score”.

One would expect blockchain to be a hot topic at the conference, and it was. During a roundtable discussion after lunch, the audience was asked to sit in small discussion groups – one of which is on the “thoughts on cryptocurrencies and the impact of blockchain technology on real estate”. While many have doubts about blockchain technology, its anonymity, decentralized technology and speed of transactions just to mention a few features could transform the real estate industry.

“Crowdfunding will be even easier and safer using blockchain,” said Paul Costello, a system administrator at Staten Island Board of Realtors. “Because now investors only have to worry about the investment risk, the company risk from the crowdfunding companies is taken out of the equation.”

Although the conference addressed the existing challenges on the use of blockchain in real estate, Sarunas Legeckas, the CEO of Hyperb pointed out “don’t think about all the obstacles we face right now, think about the future, the brilliant future when everyone will be benefit from blockchain. People had doubts about the internet and computer in early 1990s, and look at where we are now.”

In our world of continued technological advancement, commercial real estate companies invest in a multitude of technologies to meet their varied business requirements. Whether one likes it or not, there can be a threat to survival if a business doesn’t adapt to the changing time. The good news is there is always a platform, like today’s conference, for the exchange of ideas.

Alice (Yun) Guo

Alice GuoAlice is currently studying for her masters degree in Real Estate Development at Columbia University where she is also a research assistant in the Center for Urban Real Estate (CURE). Prior to Columbia, she gained international experience in real estate, risk management, management consulting, and commercial mortgage underwriting. Alice is a research and editorial assistant at PropModo.