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Why data is an agent’s friend, not foe

By Kyle Robbins
16 June 2023 | 11 minute read
Sarah Bell reb

In real estate and real life, data can be incredibly complex and at times extremely cold, but according to Sarah Bell, if harnessed correctly, it has the potential to “tell a human story”.

In a recent episode of The Secrets of the Top 100 Agents show, Ms Bell built off the foundations laid throughout her jaw-dropping session on day one of AREC 2023 when she explained “data’s got the potential to be either a huge opportunity or a huge obstacle” for real estate practitioners.

Having worked with thousands of agents across her storied career, the co-founder of AiRE and now innovation and industry principal at CoreLogic admits her residual fear is that data’s perception within the sector will remain negatively skewed due to the “technical framework” within which data exists.

“One of the reasons I think we think about data as complex is because of the way that we, as technical people, represent data for the purposes of computing,” she said.

“So, computers speak a certain language. And therefore, we represent data in very complex models that are appropriate for a computer to understand in a world where it’s kind of bound by particular language and particular inputs,” she explained.

Ms Bell believes shifting how data is viewed away from its complex, technical understanding into one that carries with it a story can unlock previously untapped potential for agents.

“We don’t have to understand data as this technical elevated island that we don’t have access to. We understand that data is ours and it’s democratic. And we just need to understand and interpret those stories,” she said.

In an industry dripping with hundreds of data points, Ms Bell believes it’s the role of technical people like her “to tell stories about what we’re trying to achieve” in the industry, with the ultimate goal of uplifting every stakeholder in a real estate transaction.

“The best customer you will ever have is an informed customer and the best version of yourself you will ever be at work is an informed version of yourself at work,” she insisted, adding, “data is the means by which we are informed and we can inform”.

Sharing her belief that data isn’t “this weird thing that sits outside of real estate”, she conceded more concerted efforts need to be undertaken to “make it more human”.

Just how do you humanise something as inhumane as data, which possesses no emotional capacity and can often appear as cold and daunting as an ice bath in winter?

In Ms Bell’s eyes, the best avenue for achieving this outcome is looking at “how we bring the stories and insights from data into our work to elevate our humanity or amplify [it] and supercharge the stories that we’re selling because, as humans, when we talk about being people, that’s what we are talking about”.

For real estate, an industry innately human littered with constant interactions and an “awful lot of emotional labour that requires a really high level of emotional intelligence”, Ms Bell believes harnessing data’s full, humane potential is critical.

“We’re story sharing. That’s what a conversation is. And conversations are richer and better when they’re informed by data. And every conversation produces data and makes the next conversation better.

“And so, lots of running rivers of data will give you that rich and robust platform to be a fantastic real estate agent and offer personalised customer experience,” she said.

While those perched on the perimeter of the real estate world view the industry through a numerical lens related to house prices, rents, and sales volume, among others, Ms Bell, who won both the Innovator of the Year – Individual and the Excellence Award at this year’s REB awards, insists real estate’s domain is entrenched in its human element.

In this environment, Ms Bell views her role and the role of data more broadly, as supporting the “core of the property ecosystem” — as well as giving agents “powerful stories to sell”.

Her view was ratified by Grace Ormsby, who added her belief that the most successful agents are great due to their capacity to collect data and merge it with any individual’s circumstances to create a story and as a result, meaning.

Ms Bell noted that more than ever before, “data has a real role of positioning agents to deliver a truly personalised, superior, elevated customer experience”.

And with technological advancements such as artificial intelligence becoming more intricate and overwhelming with each passing week, it can be easy for agents to feel like they’re drowning in a computerised sea of new systems and software.

But Ms Bell shared a simple, reassuring message, “Embrace complexity”.

Rather than getting bogged down in deeply ingrained beliefs that complexity is a symptom that something’s wrong, she believes embracing complexity allows agents to “understand that [it] isn’t necessarily a problem, it is something that is at work, and it is something to be embraced”.

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