AI bots are starting to reshape our city skylines, one real estate deal at a time

For every flashy new building and multimillion-dollar real estate deal, a team of humble real estate analysts sits behind the scenes. Crunching numbers, identifying comparable properties, weighing short- and long-term returns, and preparing standardized reports for their higher-ups, these analysts help forecast a deal’s profits before there’s even a deal to make. The job is an essential part of the real estate machine. It’s also incredibly tedious.

“For an average real estate analyst, they do the same tasks over and over and over again for every single deal; 80% of our day was researching, aggregating data, putting it in place,” says Sahil Rattan, cofounder of the real estate investment software company TermSheet, and a former real estate analyst.

These repetitive tasks are just specific enough to require a custom job every time, but also not so complicated that only a human can accomplish them. This reality, and the emergence of large language model artificial intelligence systems, led TermSheet to create Ethan, an AI chatbot that automates many of the repetitive and time-consuming tasks a real estate firm relies upon.

Through basic queries, the ChatGPT-style interface can quickly pump out the investment decks and asset management reports a well-trained analyst would otherwise spend hours or days preparing. Or it can just answer highly specific questions, like finding all 10-unit apartments for sale in markets experiencing moderate population growth. The goal is to streamline the tedium, letting AI pick through the numbers and property specs to spit out those standard reports.

“The same people who were making PowerPoint decks—highly educated people with lots of degrees creating PowerPoint decks—can actually focus on discovering new markets, understanding new trends, and higher-value tasks,” says TermSheet CEO Roger Smith.

Ethan is one of several new AI-based chatbot tools that are shaking up some of the bedrock practices and workflows of the commercial real estate world. From investment research to asset management to construction, these tools are becoming integral to the way real estate firms work. At scale, these kinds of AI tools could reshape what gets built in our cities and how.

Drowning in data

With more than 100,000 employees and hundreds of offices, Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) is one of the biggest real estate services firms in the world. It invests in, manages, and develops real estate globally, which makes it one of the driving forces of the real estate industry. It also means the company is drowning in data, from those real estate analysts’ reports to facilities management policies to building lease contracts. Multiply that by the dozens of languages these documents are in, and the result is a trove of highly valuable yet mostly inaccessible data.

“Traditionally it has been very difficult to leverage those documents and the information within the documents,” says JLL’s CTO, Yao Morin.

AI has now made that difficult task possible. JLL recently developed its own AI chatbot to tap into the collective knowledge within that mind-boggling scope. JLL GPT, as it has been named, is a proprietary AI chatbot trained on and versed in the company’s vaults of data, allowing its real estate experts to do everything from analyzing property values to filing work orders on managed buildings to drafting contracts for apartment complexes in Malaysia. It can even assist with the buying process, Morin says, helping analysts and managers see when a deal makes sense to pursue, all at speeds that would be hard, if not impossible, for a human to achieve.

“It takes tons of time to just go through different tables of data. And then you have to do multiple analyses to get to a certain outcome,” Morin says. “We’ve shortened that data-to-insight time.”

An in-house team developed the large language model behind JLL GPT, basing it on the company’s walled garden of proprietary data. “We see data as our competitive advantage, so we need to protect that,” Morin says. She would not disclose how long the project had been in development, but says that since it was released internally last summer about 20,000 employees are now using the tool. About 12,000 use it monthly, and 6,000 use it weekly.

Morin says some of the use cases are fairly straightforward and similar to other AI tools, including helping draft emails or generating marketing materials. But with its deep pool of real estate data and global experience, the commercial real estate-specific use cases are helping the company slash the time it takes to analyze real estate deals, value assets, and understand the right moments to buy or sell.

“We’re not taking people out of the loop,” Morin says. “We’re really trying to help our people be more efficient, faster, and to explain the choices as well.”

AI as a construction partner

AI chatbots are also getting involved in the physical side of real estate, with several companies using these tools to change how buildings get constructed. The startup Slate Technologies created an AI tool focused specifically on addressing key inefficiencies in the construction industry. Linking together the various design and project tools used by general contractors, architects, and construction trades, the chatbot-style decision assistant predicts problems in the construction pipeline and offers suggestions on how to eliminate delays.

The company’s main focus is scheduling—the tricky, decentralized, calculus-like dance of builders, subcontracted trades, and materials suppliers that underpins every major construction project. A delay in one aspect of the project, like electrical installation that takes four extra days or a shipment of steel piles that is running late, can domino across the project, adding costs and time to what’s already a costly and time-consuming process. Slate AI’s tool consolidates the schedules of the disparate parts of a construction process and shifts priorities depending on real-time conditions.

Slate Technologies CEO Trevor Schick says this is a huge leap forward for an industry that has been slow to modernize. “In today’s world most people update their schedules biweekly, monthly, sometimes worse than that,” he says. “We bring that schedule live by connecting these other data sets to your schedule.”

Using the tool, a general contractor can start each day with a straightforward list of the main priorities for the project. If the system sees rain in the forecast, it can shift the timing of a concrete pour. If an air-duct installer is waiting on clarification from an engineer on the placement of a filter, the system can flag that request for information, as it’s known in the industry. If a construction manager wants to know when the heat pumps are being installed, they can simply type that question into the chatbot and get an answer immediately.

“It’s prioritized based on what is going to be my biggest impact to schedule and what is going to be my biggest impact to cost,” Schick says. The tool also includes a confidence measurement to help construction managers weigh whether the suggestions it offers are really worth following.

The decision assistant is now being used by several large general contractors in North America and the U.K. on major projects, including a $6 billion hospital. Schick says one company using the system has already seen a 30% reduction in the amount of time it spends on daily construction meetings, since the system has compiled the schedule data and trade updates that would have otherwise been handled on paper by a group of people sitting around a table. “All the data’s already pulled together,” he says.

Other major construction-side companies are also seeing the power of AI tools like this. Skanska, one of the biggest construction and engineering companies in the world, recently released its own chatbot tool, Skanska Sidekick, to streamline construction processes and improve decision-making. And on the design side, architecture firms have embraced AI tools that can automate the creation and constant updating of the construction documents used by builders to construct projects.

Schick says the value of these tools will build over time. Slate Technologies’ decision assistant is designed to make each successive project a company does more efficient, by flagging repeated issues or noting when a certain supplier or subcontractor has caused delays. The system can even tap into a general contractor’s database of subcontractors and recommend a replacement. “It takes those lessons learned and feeds them back into the system,” he says.

For real estate and construction, two industries that are often blasted for being set in their ways and resistant to technological change, these kinds of tools could be revolutionary. The people behind these tools say technology has the potential to vastly improve the way real estate deals and construction projects materialize. More importantly, they can open up mental bandwidth for the humans working in these fields to do the more interesting and intricate parts of the job.

“A lot of real estate investing is based on a vast amount of experience and gut. Data is becoming a more important part of that,” says Smith of TermSheet. “Our job is to help present information to you faster and help do the things that take away from your ability to focus on buying and building assets.”

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