Real Estate

Rockethomes tech chief unveils ‘Explore Space’ computer vision tool

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As one of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders, it’s no surprise that Rocket Mortgage has embraced generative AI, automation and machine learning to help underwrite borrowers and process loans faster. Documents required for closing can be gathered.

But it may come as news to real estate agents that Rocket Mortgage’s sister company, Rocket Homes, is employing AI to revolutionize the way consumers search for homes.

RocketHomes.com’s new visual search tool, Explore Spaces.uses an AI capability known as computer vision to recognize and process a list of images, generating text descriptions so that the images do not need to be manually tagged.

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The idea is to enable consumers to discover their dream home by sifting through mountains of images to capture the features that are important to them, like kitchens with marble countertops or backyards with lush lawns.

RocketHomes.com, which averaged 1.5 million monthly unique visitors in 2023, licenses listing data — including photos uploaded by agents — from nearly 200 multiple listing services nationwide.

Rocket Companies CEO Varun Krishna said on the company’s earnings call on May 2 that visitors who use Explore Spaces to find listings spend nearly twice as long on the site, and return six times as often. come.

Rocket Homes Chief Technology Officer John Fair recently shared some insights into how the Explore space came to be, and how real estate agents can get the most out of the new search method.

A key takeaway: While professional photos help buyers see a home in the best possible light, the quantity of photos is also key to getting AI’s attention and showing up in visual searches.

Inman: Visual search is a departure from the traditional filter and keyword approach used by most real estate search sites, but RocketHomes.com seems to be seeing significantly better engagement.

John Mela

As we’ve been looking at what’s happening in the industry, how others are taking advantage of AI, we’ve spotted a niche for ourselves here that we’ve dubbed Explore Spaces, aimed at ordinary home seekers. to help visualize living in the space, or focus on the key qualities of their dream home. The idea behind Explores Spaces is that most people are looking for their ideal home visually. They want square footage, they want bedrooms, they want bathrooms – these are common filters.

But at the same time, NAR says that about 84 percent of buyers believe that photos are the most valuable feature on any home search site. We take that and we kind of synthesise it into this idea: How do we bring the images to the client’s experience? How do we make them truly central to a client’s search when they’re looking for a home?

So as we’ve seen this, as a core feature of RocketHomes Explore Spaces, we’ve seen some increase in engagement. What we at Rocket Homes believe in is what really makes a difference in ‘helping everyone at home’.

I’m guessing you can’t do it without AI – it’s a key component of it.

We’ve leveraged things like computer vision and AI to look at every single image for every listing. So we take these images, we’re making the AI ​​look at them through the lens of what’s in that image? Is this a pond? Is this the kitchen? Is this a bedroom?

We use it to provide our clients who have identified to us, “Okay, I’m really interested in kitchens, and I’m looking in, let’s say, Phoenix, Arizona, I’m really focused on Have and my wife wants a white kitchen” — bringing it into the experience for consumers so they don’t have to go through every list. You know, maybe it’s brown cabinetry, or it’s mainly mahogany, they’re like, “I really want a white kitchen,” bringing it up.

So once a user sees the kitchen they’ve always dreamed of, they can click on the image and it takes them directly to the listing, using AI to automate the search process. Made simple and easy.

So computer vision helps you interpret the information that’s in the images uploaded with listings, but how do you learn what a customer’s ideal kitchen is? Are they training what they click on? How do you get this information into the system?

The name of the game here is user behavior – it’s conversational. What we’re doing, are we using what they’re spending time on, communicating, so if they’re spending more time looking for, you know, those white chefs. box, what we can do is make sure we surface more images that are similar or similar to what they’ve interacted with.

So the more you use it, the better job it does of surfacing things you like?

Yes, obviously that’s the intent of most AI algorithms, to use what you know about the intent of an individual client or their interaction with a product to improve it in the long term. So obviously that’s part of our roadmap of things we want to improve on, because Explore Spaces just started here, maybe five, six weeks ago. So that’s something we’re constantly iterating on and improving on.

So did Rocket Homes build this in-house? Are there people you’re working with that have helped you develop it?

I think with any technology, you’re always looking for the best in breed. So while we don’t really get into how all the algorithms are being built and where they’re sourced from, I’d say we’re exploring all the possible contributors in the universe.

We’re looking at what we’re building internally, and we’re really looking for best-of-breed because our focus at Rocket, but also at Rocket Homes, is making sure the client experience comes first.

Our focus is on AI. We want to make sure our client experience is top notch. It’s the first thing we think about whenever we’re developing or thinking about a new feature like Explore Spaces.

From a user perspective, is visual search just something that happens automatically if I’m searching for a home on RocketHomes.com, or do I have to opt in to this feature?

You can choose to interact with Explore Spaces or not. Our normal home search experience is still available to you. And then if you want to use Explore Spaces, you’ll see options on the right to choose from. Say there’s a dropdown, like, “I want to see the kitchen,” and it will actually change the user interface so that the main image shown in each listing is of the kitchen.

We are not choosing for consumers. I think like anything out there, we’re always running tests to see what’s driving consumer behavior, what’s most interesting to clients and making sure we It is again improving the client experience. Which is always at the forefront.

Are you able to do this in all markets, or is it only in limited markets right now?

It’s in all markets right now. Of course, that means, you know, here in Michigan, the poles aren’t as ubiquitous as in Phoenix, Michigan.

So there’s going to be some places where you know, maybe the pool, if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s not as common in North Dakota, maybe, or in the colder climates as it is in the warmer climates. happens.

So there will be certain features that are not applicable, but you can use. [Explore Spaces] Now in any market in all 50 states.

So from a listing agent perspective, does this mean I have to think differently about what kind of imagery — and how many — I upload to the MLS?

I think realtors in general are already pretty aware that pictures sell homes, right? So I don’t think this will change the realtor’s behavior here because they are already very focused on taking high quality photos. So I don’t think this puts any additional burden on real estate agents as they can take advantage of this feature to help highlight the great features of their listed property.

The nice thing about the way we implemented Explore Spaces is that it doesn’t necessarily depend on the quality of the images as much as how many images we have. So the more the better. Regardless of the list price point, our product still works. So it brings value to the market.

I think that really speaks to our point of view – about the transition that is usually a very complicated process, both looking for a home but also buying a home. So it really opens up here, real estate agents probably don’t need to focus too much on it [quality of the image] As the scope or number of images they have in all rooms and all aspects and aspects of the property.

This is really helping them make their listing much more accessible to any home seeker who will eventually land on the property.

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