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Chatbots in Real Estate Rentals | Jonathan Foux from UpTop

In this episode, we speak with Jonathan, head of operations and CMO at Uptop, a technology company that’s looking to revolutionize the relationship between landlords, renters, and property managers.

Jonathan shares his past experience as director of a massive 11,000-unit New York apartment development and the process of integrating chat bots for sales and customer support along with his thoughts on the future of automation in real estate and plans for UpTop.


Jonathan Foux is PropTech Advisor & CMO. He brings extensive experience in real estate and technology marketing and advertising, assisting large institutional owners and developments in building brands, deploying impactful digital prospecting campaigns and overall improvement of digital engagement strategies.

Before joining UpTop, Jonathan headed marketing for the largest multifamily asset in the United States which comprises of 11,250 units located across 80 acres in downtown Manhattan.

Jonathan previously headed an NYC real estate advertising and marketing agency, working with national clients such as SL Green, Compass, Durst, Brookfield, Silverstein, Greystar, Macklowe, and GID. Additionally, Jonathan lead leasing, marketing and communication teams for a large national property management organization, managing a multi-family portfolio of over 50,000 apartment units located across the United States.

Jonathan earned his L.L.B (Hons) from the University of London, achieved an MBA (Real Estate and Construction) from University College of Estate Management and earned an LL.M at Brooklyn Law School. 

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Jonathan Foux 0:00
In this episode, we speak with Jonathan, head of operations and CMO at UpTop, a technology company that’s looking to revolutionize the relationship between landlords, renters and property managers. Jonathan shares his past experience as director of a massive 11,000 unit New York apartment development, and the process of integrating chatbots for sales and customer support, along with his thoughts on the future of automation in real estate and plans for uptown. I’m excited to learn a bit kind of how you’ve both transitioned to where you are now. But again, what technologies you were to tell me again, where is the situation you were in the role that you’re playing? And then, you know, what, what did you look for, for technology to then help with that problem?

Unknown Speaker 0:47
Yeah, so the biggest problem we faced was really leasing about 3000 apartments every single year. That was the turnover rate we had, being that it was 11,200 units plus. So we said, okay, how can we fix this? How can we use technology to make our day to day more efficient? Now, obviously, we’re not at the stage yet of replacing any human beings are such from a leasing point of view. But there’s obviously technologies out there that can help chat bots, especially, you know, when people come onto the website, and they saying, hey, how much is a two bedroom or, you know, what are your amenities, etc. Chat bots, obviously can come in there and save a lot of time. The other thing with that side, as well as obviously, large urban spaces, not just New York City, but people work long hours these days, and people are very, very busy. Kids, family, friends, etc. So people wanted to obviously come in a lot later, or at least speak to people later in the evenings, and especially on the weekends. And obviously, human capital wise, you can’t have people there 24/7 It’s just not possible. So obviously, chatbots and AI can’t come in. They’re very strongly in technology. So if someone on you wouldn’t believe it, but 1am on a Saturday morning, he sort of wants to know, can I renew my lease even even from a renewals point of view, it would kick in and obviously create a card and try and get them to renew and at least put them in touch with the right person.

Jonathan Foux 2:19
Did you see any pushback when you integrated the chat bots that people are like, oh, man, I gotta interact with chat, but or was it actually Oh, thank you, I can actually get something done. What was what was the response?

Unknown Speaker 2:30
Um, it was mixed at bust. So yes, we did have some people say this chat bots really annoying. And to be honest, I’ve experienced that myself, booking flights and other you know, in other verticals, they can be annoying, if they’re not understanding you, they haven’t actually understood what you’re saying. Even the phone ones with my accent, I’ve had problems with that. To be honest, they get those wrong a lot of the time. But, you know, there was also the other half though, that was like, Oh, this is very efficient, it’s got me to the place I needed to get to, especially when they were looking for just further information. So they couldn’t necessarily find like I said, what amenities are available, or, you know, how much the gym costs, etc. And you could literally just point them, this is on this page, because we had quite an in depth website with a lot of different information, etc. So it could get confusing. So a lot of people didn’t appreciate that.

Jonathan Foux 3:23
So good use case for AI chatbots mentality is being able to filter information and to provide just what specifically they need, if a lot of information on our website kind of

Unknown Speaker 3:36
correct and and also, obviously, just a lot of information that people want, and so many different things, especially when it comes to rentals in real estate, as I’m sure you’re aware, there’s so many different questions. And it’s important to people, this is a lot of money they spend on rent, and it’s their home, and they want to, you know, make the right decision.

Jonathan Foux 3:56
Where Where do you Was it difficult to install and like to to to get it running if someone else is wanting to do the same thing?

Unknown Speaker 4:05
So to be honest, for us, we had a large operations team, we did have quite healthy budgets. So for us, it wasn’t so difficult. We had external third party tech teams to help us so for us, no, it was not difficult. However, for I would say a smaller operator or a more cost concierge concierge business. It will it would be pretty difficult. And back then I think it has progressed now with obviously there’s new technologies out there that are sort of easy to install and just provide kind of snippets of code you can kind of put it into WordPress yourself and just get on just get going yourself. But you know this was three or four years ago, so it was a bit more tough. So I think it’s getting easier.

Jonathan Foux 4:51
You feel that we are getting to the time where it the it’s becoming ubiquitous where it’s easier and easier for smaller, smaller businesses take take advantage of this technology.

Unknown Speaker 4:59
I think so. And I think that technology providers are shifting towards their attention, not just the enterprise, like you said, and saying, oh, you know what, there’s a lot of smaller landlords and smaller operators out there that could use automation make their, you know, operations, more streamline. They need tools as much as the enterprise and if not more sometimes. So yeah, I do feel that people are shifting. I know that, you know, from a business point of view, we’re shifting towards focusing on everyone, not just enterprise, but the whole gamut.

Jonathan Foux 5:29
Right. Now, you, you’ve made your shift from there to where you are now similar industry, but you’re actually promoting it and everything Do you see ever, maybe I should ask frank discussion, installing a chatbot ability even then for then landlords and stuff to be able to utilize to your

Unknown Speaker 5:50
platform? Well, we actually have built that, in essence, we built a direct communication tool. So it really is, in real time that a prospect or renter can go on through our app, or our web app and communicate directly with the landlords or managers, etc. So yes, we have included that. So that’s what I mean by shifting towards trying to build out automation. In terms of sort of the automation side of things, we are going down that road, we’re not quite there yet. But we’re definitely heading towards that side where, you know, this might be a certain time of day you say, hey, automation take over and also learn the questions and start understanding the questions that attendants or prospects want. And this goes down the road of also artificial intelligence maintenance, which I’m a big believer in, break that down for me, what do you mean by that? Yeah, sure. So obviously, it from my experience, the biggest problem you have, when you’re a tenant, one of the largest problems, I should say, is really maintenance requests and work orders. My toilets are blocked, I need a plumber. And for the operators, it’s actually usually very hard to, you know, obviously get involved in pass it to the right people, they’re not necessarily doing it because they want to be slow. They’re just doing it because you know, day to day, they get busy, and it’s hard to deal with. So from an AI point of view, that could be very interesting that if someone submits a ticket saying, My toilets broken, you know, obviously, the technology can register that that’s a plumbing issue. And that can be directed straight to the either the onsite, super or the third party plumber, that they can actually handle it, you know, quicker, and then just build back the landlord operator. So it just makes the whole work order system just a lot more streamlined.

Jonathan Foux 7:40
I think the best use case for AI or automation right now is is those specific use cases like right, a very narrow focus, just automate this one piece of maintenance requests is brilliant. I mean, it would save people so much time, and people know that it’s getting handled. It’s a win win win.

Unknown Speaker 8:01
It really is. And I think obviously, retention from an operator owner point of view is so critical today, you know, you really need to lower your acquisition costs, and you want to keep your units filled. I mean, let’s be honest, from enterprise, through the whole, you know, different size organizations. So what’s the best way you can provide that sort of customer service is making sure that if someone needs something, it’s really handled in that timely manner, sort of along the lines of a hospitality route. So you’re in a hotel and you need room service, that someone right there to provide room service. I don’t think we’re there in that 100% real time like the hospitality industry yet, but I would love to see it, get along those lines and get, you know, build better towards that.

Jonathan Foux 8:45
Awesome. Well, thank you for sharing this insight both from then your experience of with with AI and chatbots. And what you guys are going to be doing and integrating our AI already right now for up top. You want to give a quick shout out of you know where people can go to learn more but up top and what people can expect.

Jonathan Foux 9:00
Sure, you can go to liveuptop.com, and you can expect a lot of technology, insights and developments from us. So very exciting times. We’d love to check it out if you’re a landlord operator owner, especially, but also tenants.

Alexander Ferguson 9:15
That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTech report.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you’re subscribed to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.

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