AI-Empowered: Getting Ahead of the Next Technological Revolution with Futurist Zack Kass


Last modified on June 12th, 2024
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In the rapidly evolving world of artificial intelligence, the future is being written in real-time. But even in the middle of a near-constant AI evolution, it’s still entirely possible to navigate and get ahead of this technological revolution.

On this episode of The Top Floor podcast, we tap into the expertise of Zack Kass, Futurist and Former Head of Go To Market for OpenAI. With nearly 15 years of experience working in artificial intelligence, Zack brings his extensive knowledge and experience to our conversations, helping real estate management businesses demystify AI strategy, gain actionable approaches for creating an AI-empowered organization, and understand why implementing AI now is the key to creating long-lasting, future-proof success.

Through our conversations, he provides his unique perspective on the state of AI adoption across different industries, offers practical advice for evaluating AI solutions providers, and reveals the foundational components businesses and teams need to see long-term results with AI solutions.

In addition, you’ll also hear Zack’s take on a few key findings from AppFolio’s “The State of AI in Property Management,” an in-depth research report that’s now available and offers brand-new insights into the current state, future vision, and overall sentiment of AI in property management.

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Meet Our Guest

Zack Kass

Zack Kass

Zack Kass is a Futurist, keynote speaker, consultant, and the Former Head of Go To Market for OpenAI. He has spent over 14 years in the field of AI with companies like Figure Eight, Lilt, and OpenAI. His mission is to ensure businesses and governments are active participants in the AI-powered future by demystifying AI, making it accessible and understandable for everyone, and helping leaders navigate the rapidly evolving environment.

While Head of Go To Market at OpenAI, Zack worked at the helm of the team key channeling OpenAI’s innovative research into tangible business solutions. Zack built the teams responsible for OpenAI’s sales, partnerships, and customer success and served as a personal advisor to countless executives deploying the technology across their business.

Today, he is considered one of the foremost thinkers in Applied AI. His thought leadership and techno-optimist views have been featured in countless publications, such as Fortune, Newsweek, Entrepreneur, AdAge, and Business Insider to name a few. Zack has also advised many top companies on AI, including Coca-Cola, Morgan Stanley, and Amgen.Beyond the corporate world, Zack is a staunch techno-optimist, an advocate for AI’s potential to revolutionize the human condition and reduce suffering. He works tirelessly to promote the promise of AI, serving as a counter-narrative to the prevailing media cynicism.

Zack received his BA from The University of California, Berkeley, and resides in Santa Barbara, California.

Episode Transcript

Megan Eales Monroe

Welcome to The Top Floor, the real estate management podcast that’s dedicated to keeping you one step ahead of industry trends with expert advice and actionable insights. I’m your host, Megan Eales Monroe. Together, we’ll dig deep with today’s property management leaders and industry change-makers to help you unlock new possibilities, transform your day-to-day operations, and grow your business. And, no matter the size or type of real estate portfolio you manage, we’ve got you covered here on The Top Floor.

The topic of artificial intelligence may not be new to our conversations on The Top Floor. But today, we’re diving into AI from a completely different perspective.

In the span of just over one year, the world’s perception of generative AI has undergone a dramatic transformation. What once seemed novel and futuristic is now recognized across virtually every industry — including real estate — as a necessity for the very near future.

However, even with AI’s transformation from science fiction to the real world, the technology is advancing at such an astounding pace that trying to stay ahead of AI can leave most organizations feeling like they’re consistently one step behind. And that’s exactly why we’re chatting with Zack Kass today.

Zack is a futurist, keynote speaker, consultant, and the former Head of Go-To-Market at OpenAI, the organization behind ChatGPT. He’s also been working in the AI industry since 2010. Because his mission is to demystify AI, help business leaders navigate the rapidly evolving environment, and ensure organizations are active participants in their AI-powered future, our conversation today will focus on the current state of AI and how to use it to future-proof your organization.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Zack, thank you so much for joining us on The Top Floor today. Before we dive in, in case any of our listeners aren’t familiar with your background, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

Zack Kass:

Sure. Yeah, Megan, thanks so much for having me. I’m Zack Kass. I’ve been in AI for 14 years. Today I spend most of my time trying to prepare the world for AGI. So artificial general intelligence is the theory that eventually AI will achieve human intellectual equivalence. And my time at OpenAI, and also the rest of my 14-year journey in AI, built this fascination, but also a deep, deep obsession with AGI and our socioeconomic/political preparation for it.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Can you share a little bit about how you first came to be interested in AI?

Zack Kass:

I became interested in AI mostly because I got a job in it. I wasn’t particularly concerned with how I was employed in 2010. The market was not good and I was willing to take any job I could get, and I got hired at a company called CrowdFlower, which became Figure Eight, which was a machine learning company. That, of course, led me eventually to OpenAI after many years in the industry. But I can’t say that I was initially fascinated with AI. I think I developed a fascination once I was introduced to the industry.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Yeah, that makes sense. And especially with a technology like AI, once you see all of the applications that it has, and like you’ve mentioned, the incredible capacity that it has to change how we get work done in the future. So that makes sense. So we would love to hear a little bit about how you came to be a futurist out of that journey.

Zack Kass:

Yeah. The term futurist is a broad, somewhat self-referential term, but my work now is spent entirely helping governments, corporations, and general population prepare for this new future. And what we basically know is that we’ve begun this incredible ascension as a human species. That means that for… Whereas most of the human experience, we could predict the next thousand years pretty well. Then it became the next 100 years. Now it’s barely the next 10. And that means a lot of things, but namely it means that we are just woefully unprepared for what might come next, not by anyone’s fault, but out of necessity of this technology. So now we’re at a place where we need to spend time thinking about what might happen. My primary business is board and advisory, but I also do a lot of keynote speaking. I’m an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia where I help prepare undergrads for this new future. And I have a book coming out September 1st called Abundant, which is my vision for an AGI-powered future.

Megan Eales Monroe:

That’s incredible. So you’ve mentioned a couple of times AGI, artificial general intelligence. Can I ask, is that something that you think is close? That’s something that there’s been a lot of debate on, whether that’s happening in the next couple of years or whether we’re maybe further away. What’s your take on it?

Zack Kass:

Close is a pretty qualified word. I don’t know that you need to actually split hairs here. In this case, it’s probably less than 20 years, and so whether it’s five years away or 10 years away, it doesn’t really matter. My prediction is that it’s probably five years away, maybe a little more, six or seven, but it’s in the scope of the next 10 to 15 years. As a result, we should be talking about it and preparing for it instead of splitting hairs on exactly when it arrives.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Yeah, absolutely. And that’s one of the things that we are seeing in the real estate and property management industry as well, is people want to understand what do they need to do to be ready. So that’s why we’re really excited to dig in with you today. Can you give us a quick point of view on the state of AI today, especially as it relates to real estate and property management businesses who may want to implement AI?

Zack Kass:

Let’s separate those things. So the state of AI is that AI is getting a lot better all the time and a lot less expensive all the time. The next models will probably be many orders of magnitude better. So we’re seeing this super linear improvement in the performance of these models across basically every measure. Their ability to do math, their ability to work in multiple languages, their ability to work across modalities. Speech, text, vision. At the same time, the models are getting much less expensive. So this is true for a couple reasons. They’re compressing. We’re also getting better at how we actually run the models on the hardware itself. We’re figuring out how to build smaller models generally. And so as the models decline in price but improve in performance, what we observe is this economic phenomenon where a critical resource is becoming abundant (or much less expensive). And when that happens, historically there’s been this Cambrian explosion of economic opportunity and massive change.

So shifting now to how it will affect industries. Broadly, I don’t think that any industry will remain unchanged. Any industry though in particular that is subject to a lot of knowledge work. The easy heuristic here is: Does a human do a lot of work for this job or function on their laptop? That’s the easiest way to determine knowledge work because that usually defines how much text and computational power you’re requiring in your job. Those industries in particular will change quite a bit because AI is going to end up automating a lot of that computational work.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Yeah. And that’s something that the property management industry is unique because a lot of that job does fall into what you just described, but there’s also aspects of it that don’t at all:  Getting units maintained, making sure that plumbing is working, helping people tour a new apartment. We’ve talked about this a lot with our customers, but the exciting thing about property management is that it’s a human-based business, and I think that what that means with AI is that it has the opportunity to reduce a lot of that busy work that keeps people away from the most core element of the job. So out of all the trends that are being reported right now, are there any that you think that the real estate industry should specifically be paying attention to right now?

Zack Kass:

The most obvious trend that I would care about if I were in the real estate industry is the model’s ability to do better math. So that doesn’t mean anything right away, but it’s going to mean that a lot of the work that happens inside of the spreadsheets for property managers goes away. Now, to the point you just made, a lot of the work in property management broadly is spent actually managing the tenants. So there’s a ton that happens outside of the spreadsheets. The trend, therefore, we should observe is that most of the work of a property manager should actually return to managing and supporting the tenant in improving their lives and finding more tenants to occupy buildings, which is ultimately a general good service for the world because we need to reduce the housing shortage that we’re experiencing.

The second trend, and I pointed this out earlier, but I have to stress this. This is not a fad for a lot of reasons, but it’s namely not a fad because the cost of this service continues to decline. This is becoming a ubiquitous service. And so you shouldn’t expect it to be anywhere except everywhere, right? The expectation here, the operating expectation for everyone should be that this will permeate all of their lives because the cost of serving it is declining so quickly.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Yeah, and I’d imagine what that also means is that any businesses who wait around too long to get started on that and to implement that are going to be at a disadvantage because it’s going to be required to compete. Does that add up? Do you think that there’s a risk that if property management businesses wait too long to implement this technology, that they could be left behind?

Zack Kass:

The average property manager, like the average knowledge worker, accountant, lawyer, etc., operates in a very competitive environment and optimizing margins becomes pretty critical. So if in five years, one property manager, one accountant, one lawyer isn’t actually using the tools at their service, the expectation is going to be that they are operating at a massive disadvantage.

And there are two ways to think about this. The first is, are you using these tools in a direct way? Meaning do you use Chat-GPT, do you use these other systems? And the other is, are you using them in an indirect way? Are they embedded into the technology that you use generally? And so what I think a lot of the major question that people are going to be asking themselves in the next year or two is, do my vendors, do my technology vendors have effective AI strategies? Are they actually going to be providing me the value of this technology in passive, indirect ways?

And that’s a big question that everyone should be asking right now, because to the extent that your vendors, your technology vendors aren’t actually improving your performance using AI, you’re probably going to be at a massive disservice. 

Megan Eales Monroe:

Yeah, there’s so many opportunities that we’re seeing for folks to use AI to increase their competitive edge. I want to dial back to something that you said around selecting a vendor who has a technology strategy, who has a vision for how AI will change the way that people interact with their tool. For those who aren’t experts on AI and who are really looking to the experts for advice, what are some questions that they should be asking or what are some ways that they can actually determine whether their vendors have that AI strategy that you mentioned?

Zack Kass:

Yeah, this one’s hard. I mean, everyone is going to say that they are delivering AI, and then the real question is: To what extent are they actually? And there’s going to be a lot of snake oil sold to a lot of people, and there already has been. There are two problems here. The first problem is that it’s actually going to become challenging to discern what’s real and what’s not because software is particularly demoable. The second problem is the market is going to move so quickly that it’s not actually going to be obvious if your vendor is at the bleeding edge or not.

So the easiest heuristic here, in my opinion, is get good at using tools like ChatGPT, become self-sufficient on your own, such that you are not necessarily reliant on another system and you have a basis for comparison. The thing that I worry about is people who don’t have a basis for comparison will not actually be able to determine if their vendors are supercharging their products in the ways that they actually should be. And so the easiest way to become self-sufficient is to say, “I know that I can automate this step. I know that I can automate these forms. I know that I can automate this spreadsheet using AI. Why is my vendor not helping me with that?”

Megan Eales Monroe:

Yeah, that’s great advice. So we recently interviewed a few dozen property management professionals to see what their attitudes are about AI right now, and it was encouraging to see that a lot of them are viewing AI as a technology that’s going to change the way that we live and do business forever. So some of them talk about it in terms about how this is going to be a shift that’s similar to what we’ve seen with computers, the introduction of the internet, the introduction of smartphones. What are your thoughts on how AI is going to shape our future? Do you think that it’s possible to overstate it or do you think that, as I just described it, we’re underselling it?

Zack Kass:

My position is that AGI will be the last technology that humans invent on our own, and that hereafter we will enter a recursive learning loop wherein most technologies are discovered by AI, and we accelerate at a rate that we have never imagined before. The world in 50 years should look unrecognizable from the world today, let alone the world in 100 or 1000 years. I think there’s a very high probability that we cure cancer, that we cure neurodegenerative diseases, we solve quantum computing, nanotechnology, fusion energy, and my core thesis that we enter an era of abundance where we reduce the cost of most goods and services to zero. And then of course, there are a bunch of other costs, societal costs, upheaval that we need to negotiate and solve for. But no, unsurprisingly, you will find with me someone who believes that this is going to be a bigger moment than the internet or the computer.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Yeah, so you mentioned some of those potential costs or risks of this change, and so that was something that we saw in our conversations with real estate professionals as well. They’re grappling with fears of job displacement, ethical concerns for how this technology is implemented, and some potential for just machine-driven errors or issues with implementation. Do these fears align with what you’re seeing in general in other industries as well?

Zack Kass:

What’s fascinating about machines is that while they do have bias inherent in their systems, they’re actually very willing to explore that bias because they don’t have the same shame that we do.

And so explainability is this really amazing, unique element of AI that humans do not possess. We are not explainable creatures. And even to the extent that we could be explainable, we never would explain our behavior perfectly. 

Ethical concerns with AI are interesting to me in so far as they require explainability, but I remain convinced that systems that are at least driven by AI — now, I don’t think AI needs to make the final decision in a lot of cases, but are at least supported and driven by AI, the way we drive a plane and have pilots steer for the precision — should perform much better than systems that don’t. We should also observe that a lot of decisions do not need to be made by humans, and in fact shouldn’t be made by humans. And so the same property manager that’s concerned about an ethical outcome should actually go and explore, “Wait, what about all these other decisions that I’ve made personally? What has gone into those decisions?”

And then on number one, job displacement is a really tricky one. What we observe in our two industrial revolutions that we’ve experienced as a species, is that there are more jobs on the other side of every industrial revolution and the jobs are better paying and safer. There’s a decline in global unemployment and on a per capita basis. And we also observe that the world actually improves on a net consumer power basis. So purchase power improves because the cost of goods and services decline. So the world is basically net better on almost every measure after the industrial revolutions.

But there is a cost to the industrial revolution that is not well understood yet, which is that in the United States, the most common last name is Smith. And the reason that it’s our most common last name is because we used to name ourselves after our occupations. And the reason we name ourselves after our occupations is that we in the post-industrial world, especially in a capitalist society, cannot disassociate our personal identities and our self-worth from our jobs. We have an inextricable link between what we do and how we feel about who we are.

And so the real thing that we are facing, the real risk ahead of us is not a job displacement crisis, it’s an identity displacement crisis. It is the idea that our work will change so regularly and so much that we will not be able to attach our sense of self to what we do professionally. And this is going to cause incredible societal upheaval. This is going to be exceptionally tricky. And by the way, I don’t think it’s a net bad thing. I think it is a short-term price to pay. It’s a 50 or a 100-year price to pay for a much, much better future. But it is a generational price to pay. There is a generation of people that will have to update to this idea that we cannot simply say, “I am a lawyer, I’m an accountant, I am a property manager.” Right? That in fact, our work will change. And this is going to be tricky. This is going to be really tricky. And so the job displacement concern has this underlying economical consideration, and actually I’m worried about something far more emotional and societal.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So you mentioned these potential negative outcomes, but they’re far from certain, and it sounds like there are steps that can be taken now to avoid them or to minimize them. As it relates to real estate, what are maybe some of the things that we could do now or we could think about now as an industry to help avoid some of the possible negative outcomes?

Zack Kass:

Professionally, the best advice I can give to any class of people is to consider what they are and what their purpose is outside of their jobs. So it is one thing to say, “I am a family member. I am a parent, I am a friend. I have these hobbies, I have these passions. These are my values.” It’s another thing to say, “I am this occupation.” And to the extent to which we are defining our purpose and our self-fulfillment on an occupation, I think we are exposing ourselves to a lot of risk. Our willingness and ability to say, “I’m much more than this job” will make it much easier for our work to change regularly. And this is the advice that I give broadly to industries.

Specifically to property management, look, the extent to which property managers define their success as their tenants’ success, the yield rate, their occupancy rate and their tenants’ happiness, it becomes a much more humanistic endeavor. And so redefining the property management work around a people business and automating the rest of it seems like the most interesting way to actually create a more fulfilling world in which all the constituents — the property owner, the manager, and the renter — are happier.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Yeah. I love that vision. I think that’s something that a lot of the professionals we spoke to are hoping will happen. So shifting gears a little bit, the property management industry has a bad rap for being behind the times in terms of technology adoption. Where would you say that the vast majority of businesses or industries are on an AI maturity scale? Do you think that most businesses are where they need to be at this point?

Zack Kass:

No one is where they need to be. Let’s be very clear. I don’t think anyone gets a gold star at this point. Again, for no one’s fault. Every industry, I will say every traditional industry wants to give it itself a bunch of discredit for being slow. Financial services says the same thing, insurance says the same thing, automobiles said the same. Everyone says, “Hey, we’re a laggard traditional industry.” I think there’s actually something to this, which is that everyone likes the idea that they are either a pioneer in a slow industry or that their industry is unique to the world. The truth is, my observation is everyone’s basically somewhere similar on this journey and this curve.

The high likelihood is that we start to see these gold standards in every industry. That either a large property, a large traditional property manager adopts AI in a really fantastic way, or you start to see these pockets of small property managers build efficiencies that allow them to compete with the big ones on a cost basis, on a subcontractor basis, whatever, and that they start to set these standards by which everyone else can fast follow.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Yeah. That makes sense. I think that some of these really big picture benefits of AI, maybe a lot of businesses or decision-makers are not so much focused on those at this moment as they are on the short-term gains like, “If I were to implement X software, what is that going to mean for my team in the next year, in the next two years?” And so when we asked property management teams about the reasons right now that they’re considering implementing AI, it was all about reducing busy work. On a different survey last year, we saw that 15 hours a week, about 38% of an average 40-hour work week, property management teams felt like could be completely streamlined or optimized, done for them by technology. So this goal for the short-term, implementing AI to reduce busy work, do you think that that is one of the more common reasons across industries that people are looking at implementing AI?

Zack Kass:

I’m just going to reframe it, which is busy work is the crux of computational work. We have a term for computationally-intensive work, which we call busy work. People define busy work different places on the same spectrum because some of us enjoy computationally-intensive work more than others. So to one accountant, busy work is actually work. Where to someone else, busy work is all terrible. I’d make the argument that 70% of someone’s day can be streamlined, like truly. Having observed a lot of industries and a lot of people behaving, it is not obvious to me that most of the computational work that we do at our laptops cannot be automated. And therefore, the question we need to start asking is, what is the work that requires humanistic skills and qualities? What is the truly uniquely humanistic work that AI cannot do? And I don’t think this is like a 5-year… I’m not talking about a five, 5-year journey. I’m talking about in the next year or two.

AI is going to be exceptionally good at math, it’s going to be exceptionally good at speaking, listening, writing, and it will have an observational understanding or a encyclopedic understanding of the physical world. We’re going to start automating a ton of stuff, and one man’s busy work is another man’s joy, but in the end, if it’s computationally-intensive and repetitive, it’s going to get automated. I don’t think that anyone is fully appreciating yet how quickly these models are going to improve in performance. That being said, yeah, this seems like a very good place to actually build a heuristic and just say, “Hey, if I want to improve my underlying business, here’s the 20% of my team’s day that is spent doing the same thing.” Filling out the same form, sending the same email, et cetera. That seems like a great place to start.

Zack Kass:

But if you’re intellectually honest, you’ll expand that aperture quite a bit once you realize that a lot of your team’s day is actually spent doing things that don’t actually challenge their mind very much. And the hard part is actually spent calling a tenant and having a tough conversation about a rent check or going to a property and exploring some really complex broken thing or trying to figure out exactly how to price a new property. These are places where we actually want to be spending a bunch of our time and end up getting sort of tossed away with everything else. “Oh, I’ll call this tenant late tonight because I have a bunch of other things to do,” And you put off this extremely important sort of pivotal moment in someone’s life and really critical moment in your day because everything else is filling up. And in fact, maybe these are the moments that we should be spending most of our time on and let machines do everything else.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Absolutely. I want to chat a little bit about AI implementation. So at this point, I think we’re on board with the benefits that AI can offer us, but successfully implementing that technology is where I think some are feeling overwhelmed. So based on your experience, what are some of the must-have or foundational prerequisites that businesses need to have in place to actually be successful when they implement AI technology?

Zack Kass:

I think it’s just cultural. I really do. The hard part here is just going to be: Do you have a class of people in your organization that are inclined to new things? And so the culture of adaptability and learning becomes the critical resource in the future. And quite honestly, we’re going to see… I think a lot of property managers are going to be very surprised by the ease with which their firm adopts this technology if they have the interest. I get to see this with my mom, for example. ChatGPT is pretty obvious to her how to use, which is impressive for someone who generally doesn’t use a lot of technology. It’s just a learner’s mindset that’s required here.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Yeah. That learner’s mindset I think is going to be key. So do you have any tips around training?

Zack Kass:

The good news is, again, most of these tools are pretty obvious how to use. The beauty of AI is that it moves a world from a deeply Web 1 or Web 2.0 world with lots of forms and fields and rules to actually a natural language world. Inspiring a learner’s mindset probably seems like the most important factor.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Yeah. And as you mentioned, the technology itself is going to help train us. One of the things that we’re thinking about with the conversational user interface is that a new employee could come in on day one and ask it, “How do I see the rent roll for my properties? Or how do I get to the page where I manage this function of the lease?” And the AI tool could tell them, “Click here or do it this way.” And that training burden where they would’ve had to go tap their manager on the shoulder, take 20 minutes out of their day is now baked into the system.

Zack Kass:

Yeah.

Megan Eales Monroe:

So it clearly has a lot of different potential benefits for teams. But what about customers? So let’s talk a little bit about the customer experience. And in our context, that typically means renters. Sometimes it can mean owners or investors as well. So how can adopting AI solutions actually help the business’s external customers as well as their internal team?

Zack Kass:

I think about most of AI benefits from a customer standpoint, to be honest. Most of my economic viewpoints come from this idea that the faster that industries adopt AI, the faster the customers will see massive benefits. So if every property manager in the world improves their adoption of AI, then it should lower the cost of serving property management services and it should lower the economic burden for everyone. And maybe this is naive. I have this suspicion that actually industries will become so much more economically efficient that the value will distribute pretty evenly, that all the constituents will start to benefit massively from this massive deflationary event. Because today basically doing things is really expensive, at least on a relative basis. Tomorrow, relatively things should be much less expensive, all things. And if all things are much less expensive, lots of good things will come from that.

Zack Kass:

The other thing is if someone can adopt AI to improve the speed with which renters receive service calls, information about their apartments, lease application feedback, all these things that historically can feel like this arduous task. By the way, not really for anyone’s fault. Again, it’s just a complex system. Everyone wins. And building a better lives for tenants, I have to imagine is something that a lot of property managers want.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Yeah. So I think we’re imagining this fear where we’re going to get negative feedback from renters about having to interact with AI, but we’re overlooking possibly the fact that they will simply appreciate getting their questions answered faster or getting their sink fixed faster, whatever it may be, whether that interaction was mediated by AI or not. The most important thing is that resolution time.

Zack Kass:

Look, it’s been a while, but when I rented … If I had a problem, like my dishwasher broke, I didn’t need to talk to a human, I needed my dishwasher fixed. I have this acute problem that should require little human intervention, and I want to know when it’s going to get fixed as soon as possible. I want to know that it’s logged in a system, first of all, and then I want to know when it’s going to get fixed. And I think for most renters, that’s got to be true.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Oh yeah, that adds up with what we’ve seen because we also survey renters to find out what they care about. Maintenance issues are top of the list, like the biggest driver of satisfaction — and speed to resolution is huge, and that impacts retention and the amount of work that property management teams need to do with keeping occupancy high. So yes, it’s a huge one. So there’s lots of ways that AI can be used to improve the customer experience. Are there any exceptions? Are there any services or maybe times where you would say AI should not be used in customer interactions?

Zack Kass:

Well, it depends. But look, if you’re going to raise someone’s rent, you should probably make that phone call. And you’d probably make that visit, in fact. Housing is a societal necessity. And we need to build a lot more of it, and we need to make it a lot easier to get access to it. And to the extent that property managers are forced to make really hard conversations, these are the sort of things that should be done human to human. And frankly, these are probably the things that property managers struggle with the most.

But if you create a bunch of time in the day to have these hard conversations, “Hey, you’re late on your rent again. Hey, we need to raise your rent. Hey, the property’s actually going to be sold.” Managing these conversations well change lives. Truly change lives. If you can look someone in the eyes and say, “This is why this decision is being made,” it can at least help someone make sense of a very complex situation. Receiving a letter in the mail to say, “Hey, you have 30 days to find a new home.” That’s the kind of behavior that we need to put an end to. These are hard conversations that should be had in person. And if we free up a bunch of time on the property management side to do the busy work, then I think it is incumbent on property management to do the hard part well. And the hard part is the humanistic stuff. It’s the stuff that we don’t really want to assign AI to do. I think that’s great. I think it builds a much better world.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Yeah, and as you mentioned, housing is a necessity. So that’s something that we’re especially seeing in the world of affordable housing management. And you mentioned this when you talked about areas with high regulatory burdens, affordable housing definitely falls in that category. Sometimes properties will be participating in multiple different programs to make those units affordable. And keeping track of those requirements is one of the most onerous things possible. And so I think that what you’re talking about with technology and AI’s ability to do a lot of those tasks and to keep track of all of the details and to calculate so much of the work that gets done in the backend to free people up to have those conversations, that’s important in conventional housing, but how much more important is that in the world of affordable housing, helping somebody figure out what do they need to do to keep their housing or to find a more appropriate unit? I think that’s a huge opportunity for property management teams to make a positive impact.

Zack Kass:

Yeah, I agree.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Okay, so I guess I’ll ask this: What do you think companies should be doing right now to help future-proof their business in this new AI landscape?

Zack Kass:

Look, I think outside of adopting AI, companies need to start hiring and training for humanistic skills and qualities. Businesses that are dependent on or rely on this idea of specialization I think are going to struggle tremendously in the future because the idea that you are the most knowledgeable company, or the most skilled company, is actually a very moving target and going to be eventually probably commoditized. The idea that you are the most thoughtful, empathetic, courageous, curious company suddenly becomes much more valuable because… Why? Because these are things that AI cannot do. The idea that you are hiring for and training for and incentivizing for behaviors that AI does not possess, adaptability, curiosity, et cetera, I think is the best way to future-proof a business of people.

Megan Eales Monroe:

Although the future of AI is being written in real-time — and continues to evolve by the minute — it’s clear from our conversations with Zack today that the best way to future-proof your business, and prepare for the upcoming AI-driven landscape, is to start right now. This includes:

  • Reinforcing a “learning mindset” within your company culture
  • Using AI to help teams focus more on “human” tasks and less on busywork
  • Getting comfortable with generative AI platforms and tools in general
  • And asking your technology partners and vendors to share their AI strategy and roadmap to ensure they’re helping you stay one step ahead of the next technological revolution

We’d like to thank Zack Kass for joining us on this episode and helping to demystify the future of AI. We look forward to continuing the conversations around all things real estate, artificial intelligence, and beyond in future episodes of The Top Floor.

Thank you for joining us on this episode of The Top Floor, brought to you by AppFolio. If you enjoyed the conversation, let us know by leaving a review wherever you listen to this podcast — we’d love to hear your feedback. Also, make sure you’re subscribed to The Top Floor podcast to get notified as soon as our next episode goes live. Until then, we’ll continue the conversation around all things real estate and association management on the Industry Insights section of our website: appfolio.com/industry-insights. We’ll see you there.

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