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09 May 2024

What does AI mean for the Real Estate Industry?

Virginia Suliman, Chief Information and Digital Officer, Invitation Homes
What does AI mean for the Real Estate Industry?
What Does AI Mean for the Real Estate Industry?🚀 Dive into the latest podcast episode with Virginia Suliman, Chief Information and Digital Officer at Invitation Homes

Virginia, do you mind just starting with a quick intro about you and your current role?

I've been with invitation homes 5 years, so, coming up on a good milestone. Previous to that I worked with Hilton for 22 years. I spent quite a long time with with the hospitality company working in all aspects of digital and technology. My last role was running software development for for the global footprint for the company. With Invitation Homes I was brought in to do two things. One was to create a world class technology organization for a public company that's growing in leaps and bounds and all of the the fun and the challenges that that comes with, but also elevating the digital footprint and really looking at what digital needed to look like within the real estate industry broadly but very specifically for single family rental, and how we could elevate the experience for our residents.


Do you have a favorite part about it so far?

There's lots of favorite parts, I think. You know. One of the most interesting things was coming over from hospitality. The travel vertical is pretty advanced in technology, and real estate is not - there was a lot of opportunity. I was able to bring a lot of lessons learned when we came in, and be able to restart that if you will and implement it here. A lot of my colleagues in single family also came from hospitality so we share a background. One of the most interesting parts is just being able to take the history that I have, and building really unique and great digital experiences and applying it to a brand new industry that is hungry for it. But doing so in a really modern way. The lessons I learned 10 years ago, I can apply differently, more expediently and really elevate experiences pretty quickly. The other thing I would say is that it's been lovely to build a team and be able to help people grow in their careers and really give opportunity in such a growing industry, and one that is fast paced and moving, and so being able to help folks really achieve some of their own personal goals has been a joy.


What compelled you to to make the change from hospitality to real estate?

Two things. One, I really enjoy smaller teams that are nimble and able to think quickly. I think those in the startup world wouldn't think of my team as a small team anymore. You know, we're a healthy size. But compared to a large global company, it's really enjoyable to be able to put your arms around the the souls who work with you and understand your team and the team dynamic. And again, get back into supporting and helping direct career growth. But I also think the the parallels between hospitality and real estate are pretty strong. I think there's a reason why there's so many hospitality technicians that have come over into this industry. There's the parallels are really helpful and help advance the technology faster than they would otherwise. But there's also a lot of really interesting challenges that aren't faced in other industries in particular, in single family with with the pressure that we sometimes face being in the housing industry.


Do you think you've always been tech Savvy?

Yes, so I fell into technology quite literally by accident, many,  moons ago, actually coming just out of high school. Believe it or not, I learned about airline technology and actually got a job with American Airlines. Not knowing it was American Airlines back in the day. They didn't advertise who they were, because they had so many applicants that wanted flight benefits. So I went through the entire interview process thinking it was a pretty simple job that met the hours that I needed going to school as well as working. And lo and behold! It was with the airline, and it was in a a databasing area. And so that started the crazy journey that I've been on since then. I came up through the product route, so I'm not a former engineer and my my gift - or super power - is to translate complex challenging technology components into layman's terms, being able to speak in business terms nowadays. More people are tech savvy because we're surrounded by technology. So the ability to translate that, I think, is a more common common language that we all speak. But you know, back in the day that wasn't so common and so that ability to understand what they were building, understand what they needed, and being able to communicate that into business language and be able to get requirements effectively was something I recognized pretty early that not everyone had the ability to do. That  propelled my career in the direction that its gone to. Gaining respect of engineers without being an engineer was not easy but to also gain the respective business while sitting within technology had its fair share of challenges over the years.


What do you think, then, will be the biggest technology within real estate change from now, and about 5 years from now.

Great question. Certainly, I think on everybody's mind is AI, and in particular generative. AI I like to remind folks often that AI, as a whole has been a part of technology for many, many years now and is baked into longstanding technology that has been in place for decades. And so AI itself is not new, and it's not something that anyone should be concerned about. I think generative AI is really shifting our ability to move with pace and speed, and how we engage with humans. And I think that there's lots to learn here. I I think that there's real challenges with generative things like bias, things like having a working with companies that actually have a constitution in place have rules in place is is a serious concern for companies, and not one that we should take lightly. I think that there's great opportunity to be more responsive and to move with pace and speed. But I also think we shouldn't forget how important human to human connection is, and that simply creating a robot that feels human is not human. And so I think we all, as as an industry as well as the broader technology industry, are grappling with this right now, so I think the face of it will continue to evolve and change and drive us forward. So I can't possibly say anything other than that would be the largest. But I think the second thing, I would say, is really experience. Driven environments are going to change the face of SFR.  I think that we are different from Multi family. We have longer stays with our residents, we're not quite as transient, and therefore we need to create experiences that feel like home, because it is their home. And so continuing to elevate those experiences are by far number one priority for us here at invitation homes to create that kind of experience for our residents where it feels like the the environment feels like the environment that we want to create for them, which is that they're at home.


Recent research showed that women are leading the momentum in terms of using tech and AI. So given your background and your experience, what would you say to women considering a career in this area?

Technology is is a tremendous equalizer. I've seen this my entire career. Technology doesn't have emotion, aside some of the science fiction movies aside. Therefore, you, whatever gender, whatever your background, ethnicity, origin, religious beliefs, it doesn't matter. And when you're creating great software that shouldn't come into play. And so it's really a playing field that anyone can be successful at. If you have the knowledge and the determination, the willingness to learn curiosity It's it's a great opportunity for people with those skill sets to be able to advance their career and move forward. I think it's important for diverse minds, diverse backgrounds, diverse genders to engage more with technology and embrace that side of their brain and push forward in that, because without it we are left with an un-diverse technology base. So things like generative AI that may have inherent bias built in we need to break those boundaries. And so I certainly encourage anyone with a diverse background to engage so that we can ensure we're creating a technology environment that mimics the world around us on the, on the positive spectrum. I think there are opportunities for more women and more people of color to be given opportunities within technology. It's incumbent upon us to recruit effectively, to be in the right places, to have the right conversations. Sometimes in technology, we move so fast and we're trying to drive to a particular end date that we may rush a recruiting process versus engaging the broad swath of talent that's available to us so as leaders. That's our responsibility to ensure that what I call the upper funnel is filled with the most diverse candidates that we can find and look for.


 If you had a super power related to your profession, what would that be?

The first one was the the ability to translate the language. I think the second is the ability to engender loyalty, the ability to embrace loyalty and I've been so fortunate in my career. I really care about the people that work with me, and therefore I've been blessed to have folks willing to come work for me again, which is fabulous. We sort of speak shorthand and have a different language. I think that it it helps me because I'm able to embrace both the newness of people that I'm just meeting, but also have the support of folks that maybe understand me a little bit better, and can help the new folks translate me in order to be more successful working in the environment.  I have been so fortunate and so blessed to work with so many talented people, and the fact that many of them want to come work with me again and build cool technology is is a blessing. But it's also something I don't take lightly and appreciate the the opportunity to wear the the super cake once in a while.


We're gonna be hearing you speak at IMN's AI, and real estate Conference. Do you have a particular panel you're looking forward to?

I have been so busy the last few years. Of course I came into this industry just before Covid. That I have not been able to engage in as many of the conferences as I'd like. So I think I'm going to absorb many of them like a sponge, just to be able to to get there and network and really hear what others are thinking about. I think AI is such a diverse topic, and there's a lot of breadth to it. So I'm really interested to understand how the industry is thinking about it. I spend a good amount of time listening to other industries and I'm a personal investor in a number of AI companies, in particular, in women's health which is fascinating, and I've learned so much about the power of it by being engaged in that. So I'm I'm looking forward to threading that need a little bit within our own industry and seeing how others in in my position are are looking at it.


Join IMN's AI in Real Estate Conference on June 11 in New York City: