A University of Oxford study found that 47% of our current workforce is at risk of losing their job to a robot.

For example, just a few decades ago, a computer was a person who performed equations by hand. Today, a computer is a completely automated system. The computers of years past lost their jobs to the machines that ultimately outperformed them. A similar situation took hold of the manufacturing industry, which has seen significant job losses over the past century as robots were introduced on the production line.

Today, more and more jobs are becoming automated. Travel agents have been replaced by travel sites. Parking attendants are made superfluous by automated parking machines. Soon, taxi and Uber drivers alike will contend with driverless cars. The list grows every year.

Automation is good for consumers’ wallets, as it allows employers to cut costs. But workers in jobs susceptible to a robot takeover have much to fear.

This begs the question: is there such a thing as a robot-proof job? And do real estate agents make the list?

The University of Oxford study identifies three categories of jobs that may be robot-proof. These jobs involve:

  • perception and manipulation tasks, which include adapting to and navigating irregular objects;
  • creative intelligence tasks, which require novel ideas; or
  • social intelligence tasks, which require empathy and interaction.

Real estate agents inherently require social intelligence skills. Interacting and empathizing with clients are critical parts of the job.

Still, there are some automated threats that have crept up in recent years, and real estate agents are taking these very seriously.

Today’s real estate robots

In the real estate world, buyers and sellers use automated services like Zillow and Trulia — home listing sites — and Redfin — a hybrid listing site and do-it-yourself real estate brokerage.

Buyers and sellers view these real estate aggregating sites as benefits that make buying and selling a home easier. Listings, previously available only to those with access to the multiple listing service (MLS), are now available to all with the click of a mouse (or, more likely, the tap of a finger).

However, a recent Vox article puts it this way: some forms of automation simply shift the work onto the customer. For instance, consider self-service kiosks, self-checkout registers at the grocery store, telephone touch systems… all of these save a company from hiring employees, allowing the company to cut prices for customers. But these same systems create work and frustration for customers.

In the same way, buyers and sellers appreciate being able to view home listings online. They may even feel this ability qualifies them to buy or sell without the help of an agent. But the vast majority are unwilling and unprepared to do the considerable legwork required to reap the savings of a for-sale-by-owner listing.

For example, consider Redfin, the real estate site closest to breaking the mold of the traditional real estate agent. Their model is to offer lower commission fees, making up for it with greater sales volume per agent. This is obtained through less time spent with each client.

In turn, clients perform more of the agent’s functions. Their Redfin agents perform more intricate tasks like assisting with documents.

When Redfin first started out in 2004, the commission was a flat fee of just $3,000. But the feedback received from clients was that they were more willing to pay a higher fee for greater access to their real estate agent. Thus, Redfin increased their fee to 1% of the selling price, then again to today’s 1.5% of the selling price.

Related article:

Redfin adjusts to demand for more personal service

Redfin’s history shows us that real estate agents are, in fact, somewhat robot-proof. Clients crave the guidance of a real human being to hold their hand through the biggest financial investment they may ever make. Furthermore, real estate is a personal business, requiring a human touch.

But that doesn’t mean real estate agents ought to shun innovation.

Tomorrow’s agents are today’s innovators

Three-out-of-four buyers and sellers use the internet as part of their home search. Apps and websites like DocuSign and Dotloop have become almost mandatory tools for agents and brokers. More and more clients find their agents online.

For real estate professionals, it’s do-or-die when it comes to new technologies.

Those who may have resisted online listing aggregators like Zillow and Trulia in the past are slowly coming to terms with the usefulness of these sites. After all, agents need to follow the client — and these days, you can find potential clients hanging out on sites like these. Agents who have embraced this notion are seeing the benefit of buyers contacting them about Zillow or Trulia listings.

Agents and brokers eager to keep up with the technological times can follow first tuesday’s Tech corner blog. Ask other agents and clients what new apps they are using to search for homes and see their transactions through to closing.

When you embrace the technological changes ahead, you will become more efficient at your job and the time- and cost-saving benefits will be good for you and your clients.