Hint: Yes, and Maybe Sooner than We Thought

While finding shelter may be one of the oldest human instincts, the way we find shelter may be about to change drastically—at least when it comes to buying or renting a new home.

In early December, 2015, a father-son team, Miquel and Ami Berger, of Albany, New York created an app that works with Amazon Echo–one of the many devices currently available in the U.S. that offer electronic virtual assistants. In the case of Amazon, the assistant is named “Alexa.”

Virtual assistants, from Alexa, to Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, respond to vocal prompts and do everything from finding a coffee shop to getting directions to The American Museum of Natural History to turning on the lights in your home– depending on how digitized and wired-up your life is. (For a humorous explanation of the benefits and limits of various personal assistant devices, or “the genie in the hockey puck” read OnComp’s blog.)

So, how does the app work? Pretty much like having a conversation with an agent or relator who has every MLS listing in their head–albeit a formal and limited conversation. First you ask Alexa to “open real estate.”  Alexa will then say, “welcome to your virtual agent” and you’re off. Do you want to buy, rent or sell? How many bedrooms? What’s your price range?

The app is being tested in the Berger’s hometown of Albany and is one of only a few on the market.  

Does that mean the market is limited? Will people really use a disembodied electronic voice to find a new home? Trends indicate that yes, this is the next technology step in house hunting.

According to the National Association of Relators, in 2015, 51 percent of home-buyers found their house on the internet and 34 percent used an agent. By comparison, eight percent of home-buyers saw a yard sign or an ad for an open house.

Digital assistant apps are, essentially, where the internet and the agent are one and the same.

Still seems far-fetched? Well, remember when phones were only used to make phone calls?

Like smart phones, virtual assistants are getting smarter and more useful every day. In June, Fortune magazine reported that Alexa had more than 1,000 skills, due the multitude of apps being developed for the Echo device.

If the use of digital assistants explodes the way smart phone use in general has—64 percent of American adults now own a smart phone, which is nearly double the number reported in 2011 according to the Pew Research Center– then asking an app to find you a place to live could become common-place. The same Pew survey also reports that phones are already used for everything from checking on health conditions to applying for jobs.

Is it such a stretch, then, to imagine a scenario where a frustrated renter is standing in their tiny, galley, kitchen and walking Alexa, or Siri, through filling out forms for a mortgage? One that will cover a larger home with a real kitchen!

Take into account that 35 percent of the homes purchased in 2015 were by first-time buyers, and that the median age of first-time buyers was 32. These older Millennials, despite their generation’s bad-rap, are tech-savvy grown-ups who need a great place to live.

Where are they going to look for information?  Clearly, not the newspaper or yard signs.  But asking a personal, digital, agent to find the perfect home?

That’s not just in some far-off, fantasy, future—it’s here.