Amazon Automates the Open House
September 25, 2018
The Smart Home market keeps growing, largely thanks to devices enabled by Google Home and Amazon Echo platforms. Already, one in six American homes have one of these smart speakers. Amazon’s Alexa-enabled units remain the market leader in terms of the number of devices deployed with an estimated 30 million-plus units sold.
The Smart Home is also getting smarter. Artificial Intelligence is built into these virtual assistants. And because they are voice-controlled platforms, they couldn’t be easier to operate. That’s good news for homeowners, but it is also good news for real estate agents, as Alexa can now help agents host their next Open House. This breakthrough comes from Amazon’s game-changing technology they call “Blueprints.”
The innovative breakthrough that’s Blueprints
Today’s virtual assistants accomplish tasks using what Alexa calls a “skill.” A skill is much like an app for your Smartphone. If you want Alexa to search for a local restaurant or play you the latest report from BBC News, it uses a skill. Sometimes the skills are built in. Sometimes you have to add or enable a skill to use it.
As an agent or brokerage, if you wanted to create a custom skill for a virtual assistant, like Alexa, you pretty much had to hire a software developer or individual to write the software that would generate the skill. Then you would have to submit the skill to the company for it to be approved, and then wait for its implementation for it to be available to use. The bottom line was that if you didn’t code, or hire someone who did, you couldn’t create a skill.
Blueprints changed all that. Last Spring, Amazon released Blueprints to give everyone the ability to create one’s own personalized Alexa skill in just minutes. The most important part: No coding is necessary. The entire process is English language based. If you can write a home description, you can write a new skill to help you automate your next Open House.
How Blueprints Work
The easiest way to understand how Blueprints works is to try it out for yourself with one of the first Blueprints Alexa created for Mother’s Day. It’s called “All About Mom.” It lets you create a custom story about your Mother. It comes complete with sound effects and sassy side comments, all spoken in Alexa’s voice.
You write in the boxes what you want Alexa to say and then drag-over optional sound effects. You can accentuate your story with pre-recorded sassy comments from another voice Alexa provides. You can customize the name of the story. This lets Alexa know how to play this Blueprint skill. It will only play this skill from your Amazon account. Alexa starts the skill you create when you ask a specific question that you are provided when you create the skill.
A video that demonstrates how Blueprints work is here.
Using Alexa to help you host your next Open House could create quite the buzz. Utilizing a Blueprint can help you do just that.
Blueprint skill for an Open House
How can you use an Amazon Blueprint to automate an Open House tour? The easiest way is to use one of the existing Blueprints, like Custom Q&A. You can use this template to quickly create your automated Open House tour by Alexa.
The Custom Q&A Blueprint is incredibly easy to create. It has two components: the short question you will ask Alexa, and the more extended answer space, which Alexa will speak. You get to develop both the custom question and the answer. This Blueprint also allows you to create a few different variations of the question, in case the person asks the question slightly different. That’s because Alexa must hear the question exactly as you write it, or it won’t work.
It’s like writing a script
For an Open House, the first question you should ask to start the Custom Q&A skill for your automated Open House is:
What can you tell me about this home?
You then write what you want Alexa to say for the answer. Here’s a sample answer:
“Welcome to Principal Village. This Craftsman condo is in the heart of downtown Summerville. This light-filled unit features vaulted ceiling, skylights, new flooring and countertop in both bathrooms, and new carpet featuring heavy-duty padding that will be a welcome relief to your feet when you come home!”
Tip: For this Blueprint, you need to keep your answers to a couple of sentences. Add another question to be able to have Alexa provide additional information, such as:
Alexa, what else can you tell me about this home?
“It also features large rooms and a balcony overlooking a quiet common area. You’ll enjoy an updated kitchen complete with quartz countertops, a new backsplash, an updated sink, and new fixtures, maple cabinetry, hardwood floors, and of course, all stainless-steel appliances. Top it all off with upstairs loft space, a propane fireplace, a secure entry, and your private garage with a spacious storage unit, and this condo can’t be beat!”
You then can add additional questions for each room: What can you tell me about this Master Bedroom? What can you tell me about this Living Room? What can you tell me about this Garage? After each question, you will add the answers you want the person touring the Open House to hear Alexa say.
You will then save the skill. It will be saved ONLY under your Amazon account. Remember to set up the skill and test it at home. Blueprints is a relatively new technology, and it doesn’t always work the first time. Pro tip: write and save your text initially in a Word doc in case you have to delete and recreate the skill if it doesn’t work the first time. Again, shorter sentences are critical to the skill. Too many sentences for answers can trip up Alexa. Besides, people touring your home will appreciate not having to listen to a long narration by Alexa. Shorter descriptions will work more effectively.
How it works
Now you need to set up your Alexa devices. You could place several Alexa Echo Dots (or other Alexa devices) throughout your Open House. Or there’s another option. Amazon sells several battery bases (from $29) that attach to the bottom of the highly affordable Alexa Echo Dot ($49 regular and as low as $29 on sale). Using a dot and a battery base, you could hand that unit to someone to take their self-guided tour of the Open House. But if you are going to use Alexa and its Blueprint technology to assist you with more Open Houses, it might be worth keeping an eye on Amazon’s next Black Friday special to buy them in bulk.
In each room, you should place a small card with the phrase the visitor should ask, such as, “Alexa, what can you tell me about the Master Bedroom?” Or you can provide a list of questions on a flyer to hand out for those who want to take the “Automated Home Tour by Alexa.”
Whether the Alexa devices are stationed throughout the house or a portable version with a battery base carried, they all must be connected to your network via Wi-Fi. That means if the home you are hosting does not have Wi-Fi available, you’ll need to use your Smartphone to create a hotspot. Once all the devices are connected to your account, they will be able to access your particular skill.
There’s a cool factor with these new digital tools. It’s similar to when the iPad was launched, and it was easy to use an iPad to get people to register for an Open House. It was something most people resisted doing, but with an iPad, because they could play with it, they would use it to register. With Alexa, the goal is for people to spend more time in the home exploring and having fun. The novelty of this technology lends itself to a more casual experience. Is it perfect? No technology is, and you may have to do some handholding to get it to work for some people. But that is not a bad thing, as it will bring you into a conversation with them sooner.
Be sure to review your regulatory body’s guidelines on Open Houses before implementing this. And remember, Alexa certainly isn’t there to replace you, but to aid you, so you don’t have to say the same thing again and again.