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Your next real estate agent could be a robot

You know it's a hot market for real estate when rental agents start phoning it in. Literally.

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If you're looking to rent a place in San Francisco, you can now get a home tour from a tablet-carrying robot. The robot is controlled remotely by a licensed real estate agent, whose beaming face appears on the tablet.

The company bringing the rental game into the 21st century is Zenplace, a property management startup founded in 2016. CEO Rahul Mewawalla previously served as an advisor to late San Francisco mayor Ed Lee, where he dealt with the city's IoT and infrastructure technology.

That post gave him a great vantage on one of the annoying things about living in a space-constrained, high-demand city like San Francisco: It's hard to rent a place.

"You've got to look for a place, you have to play phone tag, you have to fill out long applications," Mewawalla told Curbed SF recently. "You lose two or three weeks every time you have to do this. And as an owner, every day your property is vacant costs you hundreds of dollars."

Mewawalla's solution is an app that let's you schedule a tour on the spot. Potential renters are sent a lockbox code to access units. Inside, a robot (and its remote pilot) are standing by.

The upshot for Zenplace is that fewer agents can cover a massive territory, virtually beaming into homes and apartments anywhere in the city the moment they get a tour notification.

It's a novel use of the sorts of telepresence robots that are slowly showing up in offices. The only hitch, of course, is stairs. The robot can hoist itself up a few stairs, but large staircases are a no-go.

But, hey, this downstairs is pretty nice!