In her own words, Sarah Bell was “abducted” into real estate.
Studying behavioural science and law at university, she spent the dawn of her professional career as a research analyst before moving on to the Commonwealth Ombudsman as an investigator for the federal government.
But then, as she revealed on a recent episode of The WIRE, she “met this tall, handsome, bloke auctioneer [who] had purchased the family business off his parents. It just became more and more apparent that that was going to be the vehicle that our family would springboard from.”
Eventually, she began to shift away from her early career, wearing many hats during her transition towards full-time real estate. It was these early experiences in the real estate industry that gave her firsthand experience and understanding of the dynamics that dictate the real estate industry.
“Slowly, but surely, I started lifting one foot out of, I guess, my academics and professional career, and then putting the other foot down into the family real estate business,” Ms Bell said.
“Eventually, I ended up working there full-time, and I sat in every chair in the office, I had a pregnancy on reception desk, that was very unwell, vomiting in between phone calls. But I learned a lot about what that frontline experience is.”
Ms Bell credits her insatiable curiosity and the skills and attitudes she developed in her investigative career as having positively impacted her later roles by allowing her to view and analyse the real estate industry through a scientific lens.
“What it gave me was that scientific process or that lens by which to look at real estate agents and customers as social actors and how they interact. What were the methodologies that were underpinning what we are doing?” she said.
Her experiences and analysis of the industry eventually led her out of the family business and towards the development of RiTA, an AI-powered lead generation software that facilitates automated, two-way conversations between clients and agents.
“RiTA starts conversations with people. She has automated SMS to a conversation, just one of the things that she does,” she said.
“It’s when the customer decides that they want to talk to you, RiTA then escalates it to you. So, you’re not RiTA’s not managing the transaction. She’s not doing the appraisal. She’s just keeping you top of mind until the customer’s ready.”
She vehemently believes that RiTA, and technology in general, should be utilised to aid the customer and worker experience, allowing for technology to take the lead in solving existing business problems, rather than being implemented for problems that are yet to arise.
“We need to frame technology as a tool for the job that has to be done and just offline where we’re talking about, there’s a plethora of solutions and how do you choose a solution,” she said.
“Looking at what problems in my business can I prove, because what I see quite often and where people go wrong is that they will adopt technology for problems that don’t exist or problems that they don’t have.”
Comparing professional technology to poolside AstroTurf, Ms Bell stresses the importance of technology, like RiTA, in reducing agent workload without making their role obsolete. This, she believes, ensures best professional practice and increases client experience.
“If you don’t remove mundane work from people and you expect them to function at that higher order, then that’s just how you break people. That is a great recipe for breaking people,” she said.
Similarly, “if you don’t give people space to perform that higher-order function, and they are just complex problem solving and doing what I call emotional labour for eight hours, nine hours a day, that is also a recipe for breaking people,” she added.
It’s that pursual of proven problems that will ensure real estate remains sustainable for years to come.
“We should be more optimised and productive because it [technology] exists, not the other way around,” she said.