Chance favours the prepared mind: CS student Richard Xie brings AI to real estate

Thursday, December 23, 2021

During his inaugural lecture at the University of Lille in 1854, the French microbiologist and chemist Louis Pasteur said, “In the fields of observation chance favours only the prepared mind.”

Pasteur’s reflection is as true today as it was more than a century and a half ago. Those who observe the world keenly with minds that have been primed by experience and education will see novel ideas to pursue, original opportunities to explore.

One such individual is Richard Xie, an enterprising undergraduate student at the Cheriton School of Computer Science, who has brought artificial intelligence to real estate with his team at their company Manorlead and is working towards a metaverse for real estate.

photo of Richard Xie

The Manorlead story, however, began when Richard was in elementary school.

“My dad got into real estate around the time I was ten years old,” he recalls. “As a kid I would help him set up the open house signs when he had properties to show and I collected them afterwards. Later, when I was 13, I was helping him with real estate contracts. A contract has a lot of legal terms and I didn’t understand them at the time, but the more involved I became the more I learned and the more I understood how real estate works. But I also saw how real estate sometimes doesn’t work‚ the rigidness and inefficiencies in the industry.”

Even though Richard obtained his real estate licence at age 18, the inspiration to launch Manorlead, a novel way to buy a property, didn’t fall into place until he had a few co-op placements — work opportunities that gave him not only real-world experiences but perhaps even more importantly the confidence to launch a business.

“During my second co-op placement I worked as an AI software developer at the National Bank of Canada,” he said. “I worked with other interns and an AI lead at National Bank to build an app that provided financial advice using AI. It was then that it hit me — building an AI tool being used at a bank didn’t require a large team of senior software engineers. It was created by a small, but enthusiastic team.”

Richard also saw how Airbnb was changing hospitality, and how Uber was disrupting the taxi industry. He wondered if similar technology could be brought to real estate. “Buying and selling properties is something we can change for the better,” he said. “All these things came together and gave me the inspiration to launch Manorlead.”

Manorlead — a team of software engineers, real estate agents, and mortgage specialists — has been in operation for more than a year now, and its AI technology has helped people buy and sell more than $100 million of real estate.

“We’ve built the Manor AI platform and a mobile app for both iOS and Android devices,” Richard explains. “Once you’ve downloaded the app you can begin to search for new developments and residential listings, though we’ve focused mostly on new developments — preconstruction or unbuilt properties such as condos that are typically sold to buyers before or during their construction.”

The Manorlead app includes various features that serve as an asset management platform for real estate. It has an integrated mortgage and payment calculator that helps buyers determine how much money they need to save for a down payment and what their monthly mortgage payment will be. “The app also has a school area boundary feature that lets people see if a property they’re considering falls within a school’s catchment area,” Richard said. “No other platform does this.”

In the coming weeks, Manorlead will have a new feature that lets buyers track the value of their preconstruction property. “If you’re buying a unit in a preconstruction development, you’re buying at a projected price, what the unit will cost in, say, 2025,” Richard said. “The way many people decide if a condo is worth buying is seeing if the unit’s value will exceed the 2025 price, which the website’s value-tracking function will allow them to do. Ultimately, it will be built up like Wealthsimple or Robinhood, apps that let you buy stocks and to track your portfolio from your smartphone. We want to provide that same experience for real estate — to easily buy property using your phone and to check how much your real estate portfolio is worth.”

The app also has an upcoming recommender system, which will use AI to predict preferences. “Based on a user’s search behaviour, the recommender system will suggest new developments and floor plans based on preferences and financial needs.”

But Richard’s grand goal for his company, admittedly a few years away, is to create what he calls the Manor Metaverse, a full AI-driven experience coupled with 3D virtual reality to imagine, interact with, and buy real estate.

“Let’s say you’re interested in buying a unit in a condo in downtown Toronto that hasn’t been built yet. You put on VR goggles and say, ‘I’d like to check some new units in the downtown area.’ You then see a virtual Manorlead advisor appear who takes you along with your family through property options. And you have a slider that lets you picture what the development will look like in five years. And not just the one you’re considering. Others that will be built, too.”

“That’s the customer-focused experience we would like to move towards. This is Manorlead’s vision and it’s attainable. We’re at the stage where we’re seeking funding, so we think we can fully realize this experience soon.”

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