When a potential buyer is looking for a new place to live or a seller is considering offloading their home, they want immediate answers — for these consumers, the concept of “responding too fast” simply doesn’t exist.
But in an era when real estate agents are expected to juggle not only sales transactions and marketing listings but also evaluate products to help run their business, market themselves, AND keep up with past clients…
Well, let’s just say responding immediately to an online lead that may or may not be all that serious could be construed as a waste of time.
After all, you don’t know the potential buyer’s qualifications, living preferences or timeline. Why scramble to answer a query that might never pan out as a client?
The answer is surprisingly simple: Because in the new game of real estate, every lead matters.
If you want to be successful long term, you need to keep your entire real estate sales funnel in mind.
A chatbot is an automated program that can hold a conversation with your leads and prospects. Not so incidentally, it can also collect information from your potential new clients that can help you figure out where they are in their sales journey and how you can best support their needs at any given point in time.
Real estate chatbots are typically used to converse with leads at the very top of the funnel — people you don’t know and who may or may not be ready to move on to the next stage of the process.
The bots collect basic information from the prospect, then immediately generate appropriate responses just as if you were messaging with a friend. Often, chatbots will also issue invitations for the prospect to learn more via an email capture form or other way to contact the agent directly, or even transition the conversation directly to an agent or inside sales assistant (ISA).
Like any good funnel, it’s broader at the top than the spout for a reason — you need to capture a higher number of people early on in their real estate journey, in order to guarantee yourself a specific number of clients weeks or months down the road. And it’s no secret that more and more buyers (and sellers!) are starting their real estate journey online.
So even if you’re securing stellar success through paid leads, it can be dangerous to ignore online leads entirely. But if you’re like most agents, you’re probably far too busy to respond to every single person who pings you online. It seems like a conundrum without a solution…until chatbots enter the mix.
“Agents can’t really afford to go out and hire their own ISA (inside sales agent), but they still have a really dire need to follow up with leads,” explained Nate Joens, CEO at Structurely, a conversational AI (a.k.a. chatbot) company, “and most of the time busy agents are running around with their heads cut off and they really don’t have time to sit at their computer and follow up with leads.”
That’s where real estate chatbots come in. But before you go all in, there are some important things to know.
There are numerous benefits to using chatbots with your real estate team. For example, you can:
On the other hand, chatbots do come with their own set of challenges.
While they can make your life easier in many ways, there is still a lot of work to be done in setting up and maintaining the chatbot’s knowledge base. Its “emotional” capacity is also limited to the amount of emotion and personality you give it. But perhaps the most common (though occasionally entertaining) challenge is bots’ high capacity for misunderstanding. There are just so many ways for a conversation to go wrong…and cause frustration for the prospect.
Plus, you can’t afford to let your hottest leads slip through your fingers as a result of a less-than-human touch.
For these contacts, 1-1 text messaging that is 100% human and relevant is probably the safest way to go.
All that said, of all the industries that are leveraging chatbots, real estate is among those that’s profiting the most. So how can you get the time-saving value of chatbots without watering down (or poisoning 😬) the client experience? It’s pretty simple:
There are dozens of chatbots today helping real estate agents manage their time, capture and nurture more leads, and understand their prospect funnel more thoroughly than ever. Here are some of the most effective ways to make use of chatbots in your business.
Nick Kljaic’s product, Apartment Ocean, is available for both brokerage firms and property management firms. Its goal is to automate the initial conversation with a lead in order to qualify that lead and send it to the right person.
Apartment Ocean sets up the bot according to its clients’ specifications — they can decide where they want it to operate (via text message or website chat widget, for example) and what kind of leads they’re trying to capture (renters, buyers, or sellers).
The first step is to capture the lead by asking for a name and email address, followed by a series of questions about where they want to live and how much they’re willing to spend.
“We are making it very simple for the user to answer so we can gather as many data points as we can for the human agent or property management firm,” noted Kljaic.
Here are some questions to build into your real estate chatbot script to help qualify potential leads:
Beyond getting a sense of a buyer’s preferences and needs, chatbots can also ask questions about salary and loan qualifications to help the real estate agent understand where the prospect is in the sales journey, so they can nurture accordingly.
For example, another real estate-specific chatbot built by Structurely helps nurture leads at the top of the funnel, whether it’s a seller or buyer, by asking a few general questions and then narrowing its focus to whatever makes the most sense for the prospect in question. It can handle both buyer and seller leads, and it can transfer the conversation to a real estate agent at any point.
Joens says that the bot asks nine to ten qualifying questions to help funnel the buyer — or seller, or seller who’s also looking to buy — to the right place. “It’s a really flexible and empathetic experience,” he explained.
Structurely’s bot, like many others, also plugs into MLS data. “Oftentimes we see — even 25 percent of the time — that the lead’s initial inquiry is because the lead wants some information from the MLS that the agent has,” Joens said. “So we answer that question and then go through the prequalifying. And we have some indicators to show that the lead isn’t prequalified and is not ready — or is ready — for your time. At that point we’ll always pass it off to the agent, and they can take over the conversation at any time they feel like it.”
Rather than going in cold, now your ISA or agent knows exactly which questions and answers to lead with to ensure that your first human interaction is as value-driven as possible.
Structurely’s assistant will also “try to get an appointment conversation started,” Joens said, but doesn’t go as far as scheduling them itself — agents prefer to do that, he said.
Scheduling or no schedule, using chatbots can significantly streamline the initial back-and-forth with a lead. By providing relevant information from the MLS and other sources, they also encourage leads to submit their real contact information for future follow up.
When a lead has been given high-quality information about the state of the market, the potential listing price of their current home, or a rundown on what homes are available in the area where they want to move, that lead will be much more willing to give your their phone number and email address — especially if they think they’ll get even more high-quality info in return.
Oftentimes, the leads coming through your chatbot won’t be so hot. Believe it or not, that’s great news. It means you’re not wasting valuable time on clients that aren’t ready to move forward. Better still, your chatbot may be able to go ahead and warm those leads up for you while you focus on nurturing your hottest prospects.
Case in point: Online brokerage Open Listings (acquired by Opendoor in 2018) applied the power of chatbots and other automation tools to manage more than just the top-of-funnel conversation with buyer leads.
The tool they developed is able to manage the search experience for buyer clients as well as helping them book tours online that will populate on the agent’s calendar. It even has tools to help suggest new listings or neighborhoods that incoming leads might not be familiar with.
“We [tried] to do a good job with our recommendations,” explained Kevin Miller, former Director of Growth at Open Listings, “showing leads, ‘here’s a neighborhood right next to the one you flagged that’s a little cheaper and it’s up-and-coming.’”
Leads can also specify a number of features, including square footage and other factors, so that it’s working with “a high level of granularity.”
Prior to the acquisition, Open Listings worked with both in-house agents (in Los Angeles) and partner agents (in Seattle). “It [seemed] to be very well-received from an agent perspective because they get to make more money but they get to skip the upfront 75 percent to 80 percent of the process — driving people around, seeing what they’re interested in,” Miller noted.
And even if the lead isn’t ready to make a move just yet, Eli Hurwitz, Open Listings’ director of digital marketing, shared how the company leveraged email drip campaigns and segmentation to add clients to different lists and send them relevant information instead of blasting them with market updates. So they’re continuing to fill the top of the funnel, too — using bots.
“We can sign up thousands of people using that bot,” he said. “We’re looking for any and every application; it’s all based around trying to get people to sign up and get them into our funnel.”
One of the best ways to use chatbots is to have them answer your most frequently asked questions — “what homes are available in this ZIP code?” is only one type of question that a bot can be trained to answer. Others might include:
A decent place to start would be to gather together your most frequently asked questions — the ones with easily automated responses — and use that as a jumping-off point for your chatbot script and strategy.
As with texts, emails, cold calls or any other form of real estate sales communication, you’ve got to program your chatbots to lead with value first.
While you do want your chatbot to help generate leads, you don’t want to overwhelm your prospect with dozens of qualifying questions. Instead, figure out what they’re looking for and answer those questions first.
After that, you can move on to qualifying prospects as a lead or categorizing them for future nurturing. Try to keep the conversation short, sweet, and to-the-point, while also letting them know where they can find additional information.
Remember, whether it’s an actual call with a real person or an intuitive AI, if you lead with value first your prospects will almost always come back for more.
Any real estate agent who wants to jump on the chatbot train first needs to figure out what medium will make the most sense.
If you have a robust Facebook presence, a Facebook Messenger bot might be the best option. Facebook Messenger’s API shows developers step by step how to set up a Facebook chatbot that can reply to just about any real estate query. The social media giant has a ton of resources for programmers to peruse before they jump into the deep end.
But Facebook is far from your only option. Other bot mediums include automated email, website chat, and text messaging.
If you already get a lot of traffic to your website, then maybe a chatbot that pops up and offers to assist visitors is the way to go. Or if you’re a master of networking on your phone, smart text messaging could be the better way to go.
Keep in mind, however, that mass text or AI messaging could have a negative impact on your business number’s reputation and get you flagged as spam. (If you’re interested in learning more about why we don’t offer AI or mass drip texting at Follow Up Boss, you can read all about it here.)
When you’ve established the platform where you want to deploy your bot and have it programmed to answer whatever potential clients might ask, you’ll need a solid follow-up strategy.
After all, you went to the trouble of building a real estate lead generation bot so that you could capture targeted leads and turn them into lifelong clients — so you’ll need a way to get back in touch with the person your bot courted and warmed up. (That’s also why it’s essential that your bot is able to integrate with your existing real estate CRM).
The explosion of chatbot platforms since 2017 is a strong indication that these handy virtual assistants are here to stay. And as we become more comfortable with the concept of virtual assistants like Siri or Alexa that can answer our questions and look things up for us online, it’s inevitable that consumers across every industry will get used to talking to bots before they reach a live human.
That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. By using chatbots wisely, real estate agents can assess how serious a lead is and better prioritize their sales pipeline — all while delivering the high-quality information prospects want.
The only question is: How will you bot-ify your sales process?