Embracing Technology: One-On-One With Rocket Homes President Sam Vida

Artificial intelligence is changing how people buy homes and leaders at Rocket Companies are leaning in and embracing the latest technology.

In December, it was announced that the Rocket Homes app is now available to potential buyers while they are driving through Apple CarPlay. Homes listed for sale can be seen in the “Nearby” tab. By tapping the vehicle’s screen, drivers can get directions to a home, call an agent, or save listings to their “Favorites.”

Doug Seabolt, CEO of Rocket Homes, said at the time that the app is making house hunting more convenient for busy homebuyers on the go.

“When looking for a new home, the search never stops – even when you are driving around town. That was the thought that led to this feature. Now, when home shoppers see a place that catches their eye, they do not need to remember an address, cross streets, or a phone number because Rocket Homes has it handled for them,” Seabolt said in a statement.

The hope is to transform a time that was once spent listening to music, podcasts, and audio books into a pivotal moment in the path to homeownership. And with Americans averaging more than an hour a day behind the wheel, helping people find homes while they are driving might be the next step in integrating technology into the buying process.

Sam Vida, the founder and president of Rocket Homes, recently participated in a Zoom interview with Editor Kimberley Haas to talk about how this app is serving people on their road to homeownership and why the company is leveraging the latest advancements in technology. 

Haas: Sam, first of all, before we get started today, I’m hoping that you can tell us a little bit more about yourself and your role with Rocket.

Vida: Sure. Nice to meet you. Thanks for having us. My name is Sam Vida. I am the president, founder, and chief product officer of Rocket Homes. And Rocket Homes is a member of the Rocket Companies.

Haas: Okay. And so how did you get into the field?

Vida: I’m from metro Detroit. I played soccer my whole life and got a soccer scholarship to play for the Hokies at Virginia Tech, which was really cool.

One of the other reasons I wanted to go to Virginia Tech is it was rated so high for technology, information technology specifically. That’s what I majored in.

In college, there was a company called Quicken Loans that was looking for an intern in technology. I was fortunate enough to interview and get the internship.

You fast forward to 2006. I was asked to help build our own real estate division, which at the time was In-House Realty, which was more focused on matching consumers with real estate agents based on their needs.

So if somebody would come to Quicken Loans, they’d get approved, and then they would need a real estate agent. And instead of saying, “Go find one,” we’d actually offer them a pre-screened fully vetted real estate agent that would help them buy or sell a home.

We evolved to become Rocket Homes. We extended the experience to not only match clients that want a great local agent in any market across the country, but we also now offer rockethomes.com, a national platform where you can search for homes, do your market research, all the things that are really important, especially when you’re in the early stages of finding a home.

Haas: Tell us a little bit about what you are finding when people are coming to Rocket Homes and they’re starting that homebuying experience. I’m sure that will lead to a natural segue about the new app that people can use in their vehicles when they’re searching for homes on their commutes.

Vida: Home ownership’s really personal, right? We all want to call a place home. We want to feel that it’s ours. We want to have that sense of sovereignty over the place we live. And because of that notion of home ownership, it doesn’t matter if you’re 18 years old, 20 years old, or 30 years old, we see consumers of all ages coming to the site to look at properties. Maybe they’re looking to buy, maybe they’re looking to buy in five years, maybe they’re dreaming about moving out of Mom and Dad’s house.

But that’s a wide spectrum of users. It’s not necessarily what you might think around, “Hey, it’s somebody that’s looking to buy a home. They’ve already done all the steps and moved all the way down the funnel where they’ve got an approval and they just want that one house.”

I think that’s the beauty of what we offer, which is you can find your way along the path to homeownership when you are ready. And our job is to offer these tools to make it easy to educate you.

And maybe the next step is, “Hey, let me find out how much I can get approved for.”

Maybe the next step is, “You know what, I actually want to go take a look at this one house down in the street. I can’t believe that house is for sale. It’s actually up on the market. I’ve been wanting to look at that house forever. Let me set up an appointment and get matched up with an agent who can help me with that tour.”

It’s a wide spectrum of users around a wide spectrum of intent. But, you know, that’s the power of the tool, the platform. And I think it really speaks to the fact that homeownership is really personal and it doesn’t start on a Monday and end a Tuesday. It’s something that’s perpetual because of just our human nature. So that’s one of the big observations we’ve learned so far.

Haas: Like you said, people are thinking about this for a long time. There’s a lot that goes into the homebuying process because it is so personal and there’s so many factors that go along with it. I mean, what you’re doing for a job, where you’re living, where you’d like to live, where you see yourself in five years, whether or not you have a family or would like to start one.

So there’s a lot of things that happen along the way and I noticed that in the press release for the new app for vehicles, there’s talk about that, that people do spend time going through this process.

How do you think that this app will help to better inform customers as they’re starting to think about some of these really important questions with this very personal decision to buy a home?

Vida: If you think about the notion of homeownership like we were just talking about, it’s a perpetual notion. It’s a perpetual feeling. It doesn’t stop when you get off the couch and enter your car. If anything, that feeling is the same.

And as you’re driving, you see properties or homes that may have sparked your interest or kind of sparked that passion for homeownership. But then, in the current world, you’re kind of left to, “Well, I’m driving. I can’t slow down and stop traffic here. I can’t pull out my phone. That’s not safe.”

So we decided to tackle that. And with our partnership with Apple, we released the very first-of-its-kind consumer-facing real estate integration with Apple CarPlay.

You can go from couch to car, and as soon as you enter your car, Apple CarPlay automatically and dynamically shows everything that you’ve been doing on the dashboard. You don’t have to log in, everything’s seamless. Your phone can be in your pocket, but because of the CarPlay integration, it knows you’re in the car. It knows who you are, it knows the homes that you’ve been looking at maybe minutes before. And as you begin driving based on your location, you’re getting a real-time feed on your dashboard of homes near your car.

How do we do this? How do we access this really interesting experience and do it in a safe way? And you can only imagine, especially when you’re thinking about doing something so innovative and you’re entering the space of the car, safety is a big deal. So this wasn’t something we took lightly, and we took our time on this, and we really worked closely with Apple, because Apple feels the same way we do.

Apple has stringent safety protocols with any of their apps that they allow to integrate with CarPlay. So what was really cool was that we were able to take the experience from couch to car without having to do anything other than sitting in the car, closing the door, and turning it on.

The experience follows you. You’re able to see homes that are on the market while you’re in your car. Instead of stopping or having to find a pen and paper or take a picture of the sign in the yard of the house that you’re interested in, the home will actually show up on your dashboard. And if you like it, you can actually click our favorite button and it saves that property and all of the information in your “Favorites.” So later on, when you get out of the car or you’re parked and you pull out the app, all of that information transfers back to the mobile app in real time. So it’s an extension of the experience, not a departure, and that’s what we’re most proud of.

Haas: This is just one example of how technology is revolutionizing the homebuying space. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re doing at Rocket to stay on the forefront of technology as things rapidly change?

Vida: Yeah, sure. I’m an executive of Rocket Companies and more specifically of Rocket Homes, so I can speak more about what Rocket Homes is doing. But I think thematically there are things that you’ll hear me say that would be relevant for Rocket Mortgage or any company that’s making sure that they’re evolving and serving consumer needs in this very tech and more specifically AI-focused environment that we’ve entered.

When it comes to technology, when it comes to AI, it’s impossible to avoid. It’s one of those things that you have to realize, it’s like nature. You have to accept it and you have to understand it. So we’ve taken a position at Rocket to really lean in.

We’ve always been tech-focused, obviously, but with newer technologies becoming more available, with the emergence of AI and how accessible it has become to companies and people, just even in the last 12 months, philosophically, we decided as a leadership team, we’re going to lean it.

And we’re going to seek first to understand and really spend time on understanding the technology. How it can aid a consumer, how it can aid an agent partner.

So how do you strike that balance to make sure you’re moving forward, you’re learning, you’re helping, and you’re also not making critical mistakes? There’s not a single answer to get you there, but it takes the mindset, and the principles, to make sure that you’re doing it the right way.

For us, we’ve always taken the position to say, when it comes to real estate, and mortgages for that matter, but certainly in real estate, it’s a highly emotional experience. It’s one of those things that you don’t do every day, but when you do, it’s emotional, it can feel like things are fragmented.

You’re talking to all these different parties. Sometimes you’re talking to the same person about the same thing because maybe they forgot information you’ve shared with them a day before. Often there’s a lot of paperwork that you have to exchange. Sometimes you exchange the same paperwork over and over again.

Because of some of these fundamental inefficiencies of our current state, we see things like AI taking some of those really administrative elements of the entire home buying and selling experience. And AI, we think can actually do those things much better.

Our new CEO says, “Let AI do what AI’s good at, let humans do what humans are good at.”

So if we can enable AI to do some of these low-complexity but important things, that will enable a human to do the things that they’re really good at.

What does that mean? Well, conflict resolution, dealing with high-stress situations, understanding the consumer’s needs, digging deep around what the consumer’s really needing or what they might be worried about. Spending time building relationships with your consumers or your agent partners.

And the way we’re positioning it is if AI can enable these great humans to do more of that human stuff by removing some of these more mundane and important, but low-complexity items, that’s a good thing. Maybe that means a real estate agent instead of selling X number of homes per year can sell Y number of homes per year.

Haas: Sam, what advice would you have for somebody who’s maybe working for a company where they’re on the fence about that leaning in and trusting AI to do what AI does best and humans to do what humans do best? What advice would you have for another professional who’s kind of still on the fence when it comes to artificial intelligence?

Vida: Yeah, there’s a lot of those people out there. And look, I would say that being one of those people is the natural path towards understanding anything new, whether it’s AI, whether it’s science, whether it’s medicine, whether you’re going on a medical treatment and all of a sudden you have to take medication.

That feeling that you just described is more innate as a human condition than it is about AI. So I think recognizing that is number one. Number two, it’s philosophical, but I think our mindset impacts our emotions and our emotions impact our actions. And that’s a personal belief that we talk about in my personal life and professional life.

I would message to these folks that before you come to a point of judgment, invest the time to seek first to understand. You’ve got to make sure that you understand what’s happening. Because if you rewind time and you say, we’re in 1995, 1996, there were a lot of people that felt this exact same way about this other emergent technological revolution called the internet. The thing that we’re talking on right now, the thing that every human interacts with every single day in many different ways.

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