game changer

Tech company uses machine learning to buy homes in Houston

This Houston company has the key to a more exact searching process when it comes to finding a new home to buy. Courtesy photo

For most consumers, the home buying process includes a very specific online search. People specify their neighborhood requirements, the number of bedrooms or bathrooms, backyard size, and more — yet still, the search results in a staggering amount of homes. It's way more than anyone can reasonably look at.

That's where Martin Kay and Entera Technology, the company he founded and is CEO of, come in. Kay, a 20-year veteran of the tech sector, who's bought multiple homes as rental properties, realized the way to solve the problem of that kind of search engine overload was through machine learning. He now works with some of the largest home-buying companies in the world, helping them find properties that match the specifications they have to attract the clients they want.

"All residential real estate is a consumer product," he says. "Ultimately, the people who are going to live in that home care most about, is it a nice home with a big backyard neat good schools, is it safe? The [home buying] companies are trying to figure out what do the end consumers really care about so we can give them exactly what they need?"

To do so, Entera collects data — lots and lots of it. Kay and his team have taught their software programs what a chef's kitchen is, for example. They did so by compiling tens of thousands of photos of kitchens and telling the software, "This is a kitchen." Then, they taught it to recognize what makes a chef's kitchen — a larger size, more than one sink, high-end appliances. They used the same techniques in identifying things like millennial-friendly neighborhoods or neighborhoods that were up-and-coming on the real estate scene. They draw from listings available with the Houston Association of Realtors and beyond, a vast array of tens of thousands of homes.

Officially launched in 2017, Entera blends its data collection and analysis with on-the-ground service. After Entera's proprietary software collects what it thinks home-buying companies want, members of Entera's service team go out to look at the homes.

"We're a little bit like Netflix," he says. "They go out and get content from everyone, and they begin to watch your behavior. So, Netflix has 2,000 profiles and you probably fit five or six of those. We have almost 100 profiles and what we do is say, we're going to understand what you want, watch your behavior and instead of giving you 40,000 properties on a big map, we actually match you based on your preferences, to the five or six houses that are best for you."

While Entera has been working with larger home-buying companies — like firms that buy tens of thousands of homes every year — Kay says they have begun working with smaller entities, and he figures within the next few years, Entera will be using the same data collection and machine learning to work with individual home buyers.

Based in Houston, Entera has operations in New York and San Francisco as well. The company has 17 full-time employees, along with approximately 100 contractors in its markets. And while Kay understand a human touch is needed in business, he loves that he can use a data model to present unbiased opinions to his clients.

"[Real estate] actually affects people's lives meaningfully," Kay says. "Real estate data — where you live, what your neighborhood is, how you make that choice — …this data matters to people in a way they can tangibly touch and understand and feel. We can help people make what are big, complex choices that are often highly ambiguous. I love it because it matters. You can measure how it matters immediately."

Data-driven tech

Courtesy of Entera

Entera focuses on collecting data and analysis and pairs it with on-the-ground service. After Entera's proprietary software collects what it thinks home-buying companies want, members of Entera's service team go out to look at the homes.

Using social media — the right way — can help foster better relationships with millennial clients. Tracy Le Blanc/Pexels

According to a 2018 AdWeek article by Dario Cardile, the millennial population accounts for 66 percent of the first-time homebuyer's market, and industry research suggests the millennial generation chooses Instagram as its top social media platform.

I have learned the importance of adapting to modern techniques including adopting the social media climate and using it to my advantage, both as an individual and as a company. It's not just because social media has grown to be a leading component of brand promotion but because it's my direct line of communication to my current and future clients.

Today, social media, particularly Instagram, is not just a small promotional tool among many, but rather a major engagement platform for the real estate industry. As a real estate agent in the competitive Houston market, I use Instagram as another avenue to reach a larger audience, connect with potential new clients and showcase my listings in a unique and organic way that complements my overall approach.

I have found that my Instagram followers enjoy seeing both sides of me: the professional and personal. Keeping up with my account isn't as simple as posting every so often. People like to know and trust who they are working with and it's been a fun challenge to balance (and blur) my work and personal life to give my followers and clients a behind-the-scenes look at my career and lifestyle. I've learned that they want to know who you are in and out of the office and I've even been asked for tips outside of real estate such as make up, skincare, and fitness.

One way I organize my Instagram account is through categorized story highlights. Because I post frequent stories, it's important to feature and distinguish the most notable ones in order for people to find what they are looking for, whether it be things I have to offer as a Realtor or what I do in my free time. I've created story categories such as "Listings," "Nan Properties," "Fitness," "Beauty," and "In the News" in order for easy access.

My posts on my feed often feature pictures of me in both the work and social environment. I like to create fun captions that encourage followers to check out my story in order to see the latest listings. This makes the work aspect of my life exciting and engaging.

Because real estate is very focused on visual content, videos and photos of listings provide a quick and convenient way for clients to view listed properties. This engagement is incredibly important to keep my real estate company top-of-mind for clients, especially those who are millennials. In addition, I feature pictures of my family and adorable puppy in order to show my followers what is important in my life.

Of course, it's necessary to set boundaries when it comes to sharing personal information on social media. I've taken a lot of precautions when it comes to sharing my personal life and my biggest rule is to avoid sharing in real time when possible.

A major tip that I would pass on to any Realtors or client-focused professionals getting involved with social media is to have fun. People love to see your excitement about what you do. Be consistent with your posts and as more followers engage with your content, take note of what they enjoy and would like to see you posting about frequently.

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Nancy Almodovar is the president and CEO of Nan and Company Properties in Houston.