As the real estate industry continues to adapt to COVID-19, a new player is using artificial intelligence to connect apartment hunters with their dream homes. Recently launched in New York, Luke is an A.I.-powered chatbot that’s now providing detailed listings to thousands of users a month.
Entrepreneurs Hadar Landau and Omri Klinger met while serving in the Israeli defense force and have worked together for more than 15 years.
“In 2015, we were building different bot experiences,” Landau said. “I was actually looking for an apartment in Tel Aviv and we realized the conversation engine we were developing would be great for real estate.”
In 2017, they started their current company, RealFriend, and a year later, Dooron, Luke’s older, Hebrew-powered Israeli “cousin,” was launched in Tel Aviv. Today, more than half of all apartment searches in the coastal city use Dooron. New York was the next logical step, says Landau, RealFriend’s CEO. “The apartment markets in Tel Aviv and New York aren’t that different,” he says. “Some features people want are different—no one is asking for a doorman in Tel Aviv—but they’re both very competitive markets with people looking for very specific things.”
Currently, Luke is available for renters in New York and is in beta testing for home buyers. Klinger and Landau raised $4.4 million in venture capital earlier this year, and hope to expand into other U.S. cities. The service is free for users, but, eventually, RealFriend hopes to charge real estate agents a referral fee.
Luke is just one of many A.I.-based services that look to upend the traditional real estate hunt as companies scramble to translate its data-crunching capabilities into leases and sales. From predicting future property values to helping developers stick to budget, A.I. mitigates risk without a substantial cost increase.
For consumers, one of A.I.’s most crucial capabilities is that it never sleeps: Unlike a human broker, services like Luke are available 24 hours a day and have all relevant information at hand. Luke’s A.I. pulls all available rental databases into a single repository and weeds out fake listings.
A conversational bot is more personal than adding filters to a search engine, Landau explains, and more inviting to those uncomfortable with newer technology. It also allows for very specific requests: When one user asked for a “chef’s kitchen,” Luke used its image-recognition program to interpret which apartments met that standard.
"You can tell it things that are not in an app, like ‘an open-kitchen layout and south-facing view from my living room,’” Landau told Business Insider. “This is something you wouldn’t be able to search on StreetEasy.”
And like most machine-learning systems, Luke is always iterating and improving. “The more people use it, the better it gets,” Landau says. After you text it your move date, budget, and desired neighborhood, Luke will start sending you listings. Ask specific questions about amenities, nearby subways—even neighborhood safety—and you’ll get a speedy reply. Some users have asked if they can find a better deal than their current place and Luke has recommended they stay put.
“Luke is your advocate,” Landau says. “He doesn’t work on commission so he’s not looking to close the deal.” But if you see a place you like, a listing agent is just a click away.
Landau says the goal of Luke isn’t to replace brokers, just make their jobs easier. “Real estate agents aren’t going anywhere,” Landau says. “You need them to work with the property owners, to open the door for you. We’re getting a lot of inquiries from Realtors, asking how they can work with us.”
When COVID-19 first hit, Landau says RealFriend saw a 50% drop in engagement. But in the past month or so, usage has returned to pre-pandemic levels. People like being able to narrow their search and limit the number of in-person tours they have to take, Landau said.
The pandemic has also impacted demand for certain amenities: According to data from Luke, requests for gyms have plummeted, while in-unit laundry and private outdoor space are much higher on people’s wish lists.
Landau and Klinger say they’re upfront about Luke’s origins, but some users still think of it as a real person. “They text him after they get their apartment,” Landau says. “They send selfies and say they miss him.”
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest