Technology makes finding an apartment a piece of cake. Source: Shutterstock

Technology makes finding an apartment a piece of cake. Source: Shutterstock

How PropertyGuru is using AI to create a better UX

TECHNOLOGY makes the world a better place, and it inspires businesses to create better, faster, and smarter solutions to delight and wow customers.

One area where technology has made a real difference to people and businesses is real estate. Just a few years ago, finding an apartment meant actually doing the legwork, meeting with brokers, and visiting properties.

In fact, just finding out the “right price” in a neighborhood was quite a challenge as there was no transparency.

However, technology has changed everything — and transformed the industry in leaps and bounds.

Today, we have drones climbing up to a certain floor height to show us what the view from a property that is yet to be constructed will look like (exactly) — and augmented reality helping people fit-out furniture they can’t (really) touch in rooms that haven’t been built yet.

However, one of the most exciting technologies in the real estate space that is companies are experimenting with and are still hush-hush about is artificial intelligence (AI).

To understand how AI can help further transform the real estate space and deliver an exciting user and customer experience (UX and CX), Tech Wire Asia caught up with PropertyGuru CTO Manav Kamboj.

“We leverage AI to deliver relevance, insights, and quality to property seekers,” said Kamboj.

Since 2016, the company started experimenting with AI-driven solutions, particularly around property recommendations.

True, AI-powered recommendation engines have been around for quite a while now. In fact, they’ve propelled companies like Netflix and Amazon far ahead of their competitors and are often referred to as one of the defining technology milestones for these companies.

However, in the real-estate space, AI-powered recommendation engines are slightly different as the end product, the property, will only be sold once and hence, a property portal can’t operate in the same way.

“It’s why in the property space you need to take that simple filtering algorithm and add deep learning in terms of what are the kind of property pictures that the customer has been inclined to view more, or is there a specific set of keywords like (great view or higher floor) that the customer hasn’t categorically expressed but you’re learning from user behavior,” explained Kamboj.

Leveraging AI in this way allows PropertyGuru provide customers with the right recommendations instead of directing everyone to the same property.

Another way that the company leverages AI is in qualifying its listings. PropertyGuru has millions of property listings, for sale and rent, and each listing typically has photographs.

If employees and executives had to personally review each one before they were posted, it would slow down the platform and make scaling up difficult — but not reviewing each image is not an option either.

To solve the problem, Kamboj and his team created a new system that could support and augment executives working on vetting these images so only certain kinds of images posted by property owners and brokers needed to be reviewed.

“We have the Quality Photos Guide where we use deep learning techniques to make sure property photos meet quality standards, such as whether the listings image set has enough coverage and whether there are unwanted watermarks, text or collages on top of an image,” revealed Kamboj.

Although PropertyGuru now almost sounds like a technology company, Kamboj highlights that it wasn’t always like this. The company wasn’t always so technology focused and that there has been a cultural shift over the past few years that has driven this change in the company’s approach.

“Previously, we would look at a repetitive process and think as a traditional company how we could do it better, or more efficiently, but as time passed, as a technology-led company, we think — can we automate this?” explained Kamboj.

PropertyGuru seems to be wowing its customers in the region, it’s why the company believes its growing quickly  — but it’s important to note how technology has contributed to that growth.

In the coming years, there will be many more innovations in the real estate space that will be triggered by the commercialization of new-age technology.

Blockchain, for one, is expected to bring more transparency in this space and it’s something everybody is skeptical about at this stage, but finds hard to rule out as an industry disruptor in the future.

For PropertyGuru and its competitors, staying ahead in the real estate game means not only doing more with AI but also watching out for the bleeding-edge technologies that are making existing technologies obsolete — and more importantly, solving existing customer problems effectively.