AI and the (rapidly evolving) state of apartment search

May 18, 2023

AI robot hand reaching for human hand

Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly evolving. Are you ready for the impact that AI is going to have on apartment search habits and trends?

As a digital marketing agency, this is something we’re paying close attention to. In fact, we recently combined forces with our friends from Yext and RentCafe to lead a session on this topic at the Apartment Innovation and Marketing Conference (AIM), presented by REACH.

For the lucky ones who saw this session in person, this is a bit of a recap. Think of it as us taking notes for you, so you didn’t have to.

For those who were unable to make it to AIM, we hope you enjoy the content and consider adding this conference to your agenda next year. It truly is one of the best places for multifamily marketers to discover new ideas.

And with that, let’s dive into generative AI and the evolving state of apartment search. Keep reading to find out what you have to do now to prepare for the future.

What is generative AI?

Generative artificial intelligence is a term used to describe algorithms that can create new content, including text, images and audio. Examples of these include the popular ChatGPT chatbot as well as the DALL-E and Midjourney image creation programs.

These AI models can use our inputs to generate articles, stories, songs, digital paintings and much more. That’s why the technology is called “generative AI.”

As Brooke Henderson of Yext told us, “For the last 70 years, we have been learning our computers’ language. But now, the trend has reversed, and computers are actually learning our language.”

Yext is a company at the forefront of listings management. It helps businesses take control the information that appears across multiple websites. At REACH, we partner with Yext to help our clients display consistent data everywhere renters are searching. Read more about Yext business listings.

How AI is present in apartment searches today

Today, AI is present at multiple points in the renter journey. A chatbot is a form of AI that you are probably familiar with, but not all chatbots use true AI.

“It’s important to know the difference between a true AI chatbot and what I call a ‘button bot,’” said Nomo Nagaoka, project manager for RentCafe. “An AI-powered chatbot uses natural language processing to understand and respond to queries. It’s an efficient way to provide real-time support to customer questions, even if they use slang or have typos. A button bot just offers them buttons to click to ‘lease now’ or view available floor plans. It doesn’t interact with renters.”

Some chatbots, like Chat IQ, are trainable and can learn to answer entirely new questions as they go. See four things you should look for in a multifamily chatbot.

Another place renters may encounter AI during an apartment search is through alt text. Alt text is the copy used to describe images. It is important to the visually impaired and to search engine crawlers trying to assess the relevancy of a page. It can be tedious and time consuming to input manually when you are uploading hundreds of photos of a community.

Now, artificial intelligence can handle this task for you. For example, our AI tool for alt text automatically writes image descriptions, and property marketers say it’s “a huge time saver.”

How AI could impact apartment search in the future

While current AI applications are limited to specific components of the apartment search, rapid advances in technology will soon make it possible to generate unit descriptions, FAQs and even pay-per-click ads instantly. And it’s likely to impact many other aspects of search, even beyond what we can currently imagine.

Anything repetitive or that could be optimized using computer learning most likely will be. And renters will be using new ways to search. Bing already has a new AI chat search assistant, and Google Bard is in the experimental stage.

It’s likely that voice searches done entirely through a bot will become more common. In these instances, potential renters probably won’t be served a list of search results that they then review and select from. Rather, it will be a more curated list of results, selected to match what the bot already knows about the users’ preferences.

What you need to do now: Take control of your search presence

With the AI and apartment search landscape changing so rapidly, we can’t 100% anticipate every way in which our business information will be surfaced. What we can do, however, is take control of that information in an attempt to make sure it’s accurate everywhere it’s encountered.

“Make sure that what people know about you isn’t just the information provided on your website,” said Henderson. “It should be on your Google Business Profile. It should be on your listings. Is everything consistent?”

Being proactive about your business information now could save you a lot of time in the future, especially since many platforms let users fill in missing information, which could easily be wrong.

One way todo this is to make sure the structured data on your website is present and complete. Structured data is factual information, things like your business name, phone number and address, even amenity info.

“On a property website, the structured data search engines use to read and understand your business is called schema markup. When you’re using a website designed for your business, in our case apartments management, that schema markup is already sitting in the code. It’s behind the scenes, constantly feeding bots the correct information,” shared Catriona Orosco, director of REACH.

Since schema is specific to each industry, this could be something that is missing if you choose a generic or DIY website platform, so you should be extra cautious when reviewing your site.

During the AIM session, Henderson cautioned the audience to “make sure you’re in control instead of letting someone else dictate what surfaces about your business.”

Other AI predictions

Most people are cautiously optimistic about the future of AI in the apartment industry. While some worry that it might displace humans, the session panelists did not feel this to be the case.

“AI is creating the opportunity for more efficient content generation,” stated Orosco. “But I think it’s incredibly important that we’re specific about what we ask it to create, and that we don’t forget that brands will need the human element to stand out.”

What’s next for AI? “AI still gets a lot wrong, but the experiences are going to become more human, more empathetic,” predicted Henderson. “Watch to see how your kids and your friends’ kids are using computers now. They’re the next consumer. It will be geared toward them.”

“Don’t be surprised to see legislation passed in the next five years that requires a disclaimer for AI-generated content,” said Nagaoka.

Are you ready for the future of search? We can’t be sure what’s coming, but we’re excited to help our clients meet it head on. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you’d like to discuss what’s possible now and what’s coming soon.

Geneva Ives

Geneva Ives is the manager of marketing content at Yardi. She leads content initiatives for REACH by RentCafe. Writing may be her first love, but data is a close second. Geneva is based in Santa Barbara, California.

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