Real estate technology needs to get smarter

Gus’ birthday party is at 3 o’clock. If you want to arrive on time you will need to leave in 5 minutes.

That was the alert that Google Now flashed on the screen of my smartphone a few weeks ago.

Let’s parse out exactly what happened here. It’s significant.

Google scanned my email and found in my inbox an evite to my daughter’s friend’s birthday party. It then determined the date and time of the event and figured out the address for Gus’ parents’ home. Then, using real-time traffic data (likely sourced from Waze), it calculated that I would need about 15 minutes to reach the destination travelling at that time of day. Google, of course, already knew my home address.

Nifty stuff.

I also flew up to Bellingham to visit some friends over the holiday break. It’s a short hop up to Seattle from Portland and from there I was to grab a connection and continue northwards.

When I landed at SEA-TAC, the first thing I got was an alert from FlightTrack with a gate change for my connecting flight.

Then, as I deplaned from the Alaska Airlines turboprop and walked towards the terminal, Passbook popped up my Seattle – Bellingham boarding pass on my phone. I was all set.

Slick.

Both of these are examples of what I think will be one of the most important technology trends of the coming year, especially in real estate. Context.

Our phones know who we are, where we are, what time of day it is, and more. They’re connected wirelessly to an enormous database of intelligence based “in the cloud,” so they know in real-time, for example, what mortgage rates are doing, how the market is performing and much, much, more.

Yet when I look across the spectrum of smartphone apps in real estate, it’s remarkable how many of them aren’t that smart.

Sure, most can haul down properties and serve them up on a map. But in 2014, that seems like it should be just the starting point, not the be-all and end-all.

We can, and should, be doing better. Why don’t real estate search apps passively inform you of nearby listings that conform to your search profile? Or feed you relevant data points once inside a home on a tour?

This year, part of our thinking at 1000watt will be about how we can bring forward some of these ideas to our clients. We believe it’s time to take full advantage of all this data we have begun accumulating, so the experiences we design become far more resonant with people.

And if you want to learn more about just how far this technology has come and where it’s heading, I’d highly recommend Robert Scoble and Shel Isreal’s new book, “Age of Context.” I read it on my flight to Bellingham. It was eye-opening.