Things Are About to Start Changing!

By Jon Coile

President and CEO of Champion Realty


There was a momentous time in the history of technology that occurred right around the turn of the century. Electricity, the automobile, indoor plumbing, and the airplane all hit within a relatively short period of time. That was the turn of the century from the 1800s to the 1900s and those changes had a dramatic impact on our lives for the better. It changed where we live, where we work, how we spend our time, and our relationships with each other.

We are on the doorstep of another similar revolution. The next decade may have an even more dramatic impact on the way we live, work and play. Here are some tech changes and possible impacts we might expect.

The biggest change over the last decade has been the Smart Phone. This device has moved our office from, well, our office into our pocket. We have access to email, phone, fax, digital banking, e-signatures, and basically all knowledge known to man with our untethered access to the internet. Do we need physical office buildings anymore? It’s not just real estate offices that are ghost towns. More companies are doing away with huge investments in office space that they barely use. Workers love the flexibility of being remote, and the saved commuting time adds to the quality of a balanced life millennials crave. Combining this trend with the rise of online retail means the U.S. is now significantly overbuilt in both office and retail shopping space. As this vacant retail space searches for new tenants they probably won’t be coming from the office sector. So, do we have a problem with too much office and retail space in the country? Watch this trend in your own market and decide for yourself.  

In the last couple years, we’ve had an incredible proliferation of drones. Drones have replaced actual aircraft for aerial photography with their agile little quad-copters that can do a better job at negligible expense. Now extrapolate that drone technology in size, add even more efficient electric batteries, add computer autonomous control to replace the pilot, and you’ve got the future of Uber. Just this past week Kitty Hawk, a start-up funded by the co-founder of Google, announced Cora, a pilotless two-person air taxi they are testing in New Zealand. Think of a regular small airplane with twelve drone motors to give it vertical takeoff capability and that’s Cora, a self-flying Uber – capable of carrying passengers up to sixty miles at 110 mph, in 2019!

Now let’s supercharge that idea with some more new technology. The FAA in the U.S. have been rolling out NextGen for half a dozen years, an upgrade to air traffic control that will allow more aircraft to fly in the system without running into each other. The key is equipping all aircraft with ADS-B and without getting all techie this system basically combines a super-accurate GPS receiver with a transmitter to send and receive accurate position info directly between flying machines. All aircraft in the U.S. airspace are on notice that they will be required to have an ADS-B transmitter installed in order to fly after January 1st, 2020. That is the first step towards allowing Uber to launch a fleet of Cora’s into our skies.

Speaking of taxis, the biggest technology disrupter on the horizon in my opinion is not flying cars, but self-driving regular ones. There are six levels of car automation, starting with zero being none. We are at level two – partial automation – with many cars available now with adaptive cruise control and the ability to keep between the lines on some roads. We are only a couple years away from Level Three – Conditional Automation – where the vehicle can handle all the driving tasks on highways and certain roads. Next up is Level Four and Five where it really starts to get interesting with the vehicle able to drive all the way, all the time, without human involvement. When we get to that level will we need to have parking garages in the city or will the car just drop us off and go off in search of something else to do? Also, what happens to commuting when cars do all the work. We can sleep, eat breakfast, send emails, or whatever. If commuting door to door is effortless, will that make rural areas more attractive and cities less so? Will DUIs be a thing of the past? Finish this sentence: “I hate driving into the city because…” Now think of all the usual answers: fighting traffic, parking, congestion. A fully automated fleet of vehicles will take away all of those objections as it does the work of driving for us.

There was a tragic accident last week involving a self-driving Uber in Tempe, Arizona resulting in the death of a pedestrian. I’m very sorry that happened. The engineers need to analyze the accident, understand what went wrong, and fix it. But I’m confident it will get fixed. We need to be careful and not overreact to this, the first fatality caused by a self-driving car. There were more than 40,000 highway related deaths in 2017 caused by humans. With time, technology and more development the computers will bring those numbers down for all of us.

As we think about the future it is important for those on the intersection of real estate and technology to keep our gaze well out on the horizon. We don’t want to fall into the trap of spending all our efforts creating technology solutions for the way we sold real estate in the past. Our challenge isn’t just anticipating what is capable from the seamless blend of Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and Machine Learning. We will need to think deeper and anticipate where society will go with those possibilities. Where and how will our homeowners live? What will our real estate professionals want from us to serve the needs of future generations?

We need to keep learning and thinking to facilitate the future American Dreams of home ownership because it is already changing fast!

Jon Coile is President and CEO of Champion Realty In Maryland, Chair of Bright MLS, Inc and a member of the Realty Alliance. Jon is a former Naval Officer, pilot, boat enthusiast, triathlete, and recently completed his first marathon. His views on real estate trends appear in the Washington Post.

Tinus Swanepoel