Robots Join the Sales Team

Where bionic realtors are making headway in real estate, bots are quickly moving in, as well. Luke, an AI-powered chatbot from the start-up RealFriend, scours dozens of real estate databases to pull personalized recommendations. The bot provides detailed recommendations with targeted amenities like sunlight, safety ratings and nearby subways, and can also answer specific questions such as, “Which directions do the windows face?” or “Is this apartment a better deal than where I am currently living?”

RealFriend was started in 2018 by Hadar Landau and Omri Klinger, two entrepreneurs who served in the same elite intelligence unit of the Israel Defense Forces. They first rolled out Dooron, Luke’s older, Hebrew-speaking cousin, for the Tel Aviv rental market. Luke launched in New York in July. The service is free for users. Brokers selling a property, who generally earn a three percent commission on sales in New York City, pay Luke 25 percent of their commission when the bot brings in a buyer.

The developers consulted with a behavioral economist when building both Luke and Dooron, employing strategies like always letting the client make the decision; making sure the bot’s replies are a discussion rather than facts only; and showing vulnerability by admitting when the bot doesn’t understand or gets something wrong.

Users say the result is similar to texting with a person — if that person had access to every real estate listing in the city.

“Luke is very empathetic. He apologizes if his answers are taking too long. It really feels like you’re talking to a person,” said Dr. Ruben Pagan, who has been hunting for a new one-bedroom apartment with a traditional broker for four months. One month ago, he decided to expand his search reach, and began using Luke to browse listings, while he also kept his human broker.

Thanks to Luke’s direction, he’s now focused on New York’s Seaport neighborhood, and finds himself exploring properties — and asking Luke for a recommended starting offer — at all hours. “I can text him at 11 p.m., or even 1 a.m., and not worry that I’m bothering him,” Dr. Pagan said. He started using Luke by asking which neighborhoods in the city were considered “up and coming” with prices around $700 per square foot.

RealFriend says that 45,000 users have chatted with Luke since his New York debut, resulting in more than 1,000 signed leases and a handful of home purchases. Mr. Klinger, RealFriend’s co-founder and chief technology officer, says he expects the number of buyers utilizing Luke to grow.