Samantha Sousa Of Sousa Valley Real Estate: How AI Is Disrupting Our Industry, and What We Can Do About It

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Explore new tools to make your life easier. Automation is a great place to start and can free up time so you can focus on finding and providing value to your clients. Use AI to your advantage, because it’s here to stay.

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the future; it is the present. It’s reshaping landscapes, altering industries, and transforming the way we live and work. With its rapid advancement, AI is causing disruption — for better or worse — in every field imaginable. While it promises efficiency and growth, it also brings challenges and uncertainties that professionals and businesses must navigate. What can one do to pivot if AI is disrupting their industry? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha Sousa.

Samantha Sousa is the CEO of her own brokerage firm in California’s Central Valley. Her career began at 16 years old as an intern for one of the top producing real estate teams in California, predating the widespread adoption of social media, professional photography, and digital document management in real estate. She holds a Master’s degree in Technical Communication, and has researched extensively on inclusivity in technical documentation. Her passion for technology extends to AI and its potential to revolutionize the real estate world. Shaped by her experience growing up in an area with low technology literacy, she now champions causes that promote equitable access to technology, housing, and education.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Well, my mother is the reason I’m a broker. I saw her climb the real estate ladder first as a filing clerk, secretary, and then a licensed agent with her own business, and all with no college education. During the 2008 financial crisis, people were losing their homes, their jobs, everything. Where some people took advantage of this opportunity to grab up as many homes in foreclosure, my mother instead helped families stay in their homes or reduced their losses through short sales and other methods. I saw the power of real estate, and the power of helping others. I started working with a large real estate team as their intern around that time. I did everything from stuffing envelopes, editing video, writing listing descriptions, and sorting through Excel sheets. I had a drive to learn all aspects of the business and I had great mentors. It was like I had an internal motor that propelled me forward to keep learning more about the industry.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We’re in the business of helping people. I work together with my mother and we play off each other’s strengths. I have plenty of formal education and I’m a technology nerd. I’m always looking for the most innovative way to do something. Meanwhile, my mother keeps me balanced by sticking to old school methods of simply helping people, writing thank you notes, visiting people on the weekends just to say hi, and being a part of our community. I think together we combine our gifts and it really makes our business much more than just a job. We host seasonal events to show appreciation to our clients, it’s always so much fun to give back, hand out gifts, and have a good time. Last December, we had a family craft night. Our goal was to recreate the feeling of the last day of school before break, where all you do is make crafts and eat cookies. It was so much fun and all the adults kept coming up to us and saying that they really missed doing simple activities like gluing popsicle sticks together and coloring. I’m pretty sure they had more fun than the kids, it was a great time.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I allow myself to reach beyond society’s expectations, I want to be different. I think society tells women that they can’t be successful business owners, that they can’t be CEOs, that they can’t lead companies. Or, when they do, they can come off as aggressive or not putting their family first. I’ve been called aggressive plenty of times in my field, but I take it as a compliment and a sign that I’m doing my job correctly. There was one deal where I communicated only through email with the other agent, who was an older gentleman. The end of the deal became dicey and I held my ground for some concessions and it ended up working out just fine. We met in person on closing day and he told me he was extremely surprised that I was friendly and kind. He said he was nervous to meet me and thought I’d be angry because he had been giving me a hard time during the negotiations.

I’m not sure if this is a character trait, but I learned early on that you do not want to burn a bridge because more than likely, you’ll have to cross it again someday. Especially in the real estate world, you rely on others to make deals happen. You want to be the agent that other agents want to call. You want to make deals work. You want happy clients. I go to work every day knowing that I might need the person on the other end of the line, at some point or another. I live in a small town, it could be something as simple as my doctor wanting to buy a house that I have listed or a former boss wanting to sell. I’ve had instances where I’m working with people and I went to school with their children, or their parents were my teachers, just so many connections that I can’t keep count. I’d like to tell specific stories but I respect my clients’ confidentiality.

Being accepting of change is another character trait that I think has allowed me to grow. Change should be seen as a growth opportunity, not a wall. Change allows us to learn and become better than we were yesterday. When professional photography started popping up on listings in the larger cities as the ‘standard’, I asked, ‘how can I do that?’ I learned photography and editing, and started taking my own photos. I even got my husband involved, he became a drone pilot and started doing aerial photos and videos even though we really didn’t need them to sell our listings. But we were cutting edge for our market, we acted like we lived in Los Angeles and sold luxury real estate when in reality we were selling middle-class homes in the middle of California. People started asking us how we were taking aerial photos, who did we use for a photographer, all that… It was always funny to explain to them that I was the one behind the camera and my husband was the drone operator.

Let’s now move to the main point of our discussion about AI. Can you explain how AI is disrupting your industry? Is this disruption hurting or helping your bottom line?

Currently, that question is hard to answer. I’d like to say it’s helping because it’s saving me time. But in the larger scope of the real estate business, the companies that can leverage these expensive AI machines to move faster and smarter than me…it could be seen as hurting my bottom line but it’s more conceptually than factually.

AI has been disrupting the real estate industry for a few years now, but disguised as algorithms rather than calling it “AI”. But in the last year or so, complex AI has become more accessible to an everyday agent. At first, we saw home value estimates being calculated by algorithms, which really threw us for a loop when our clients would argue about our market analysis of their home. They’d search up their address and see a certain monetary figure that the algorithms spun up. When this first started, the estimated values were extremely inaccurate because I’m assuming the processing didn’t know how to decipher between neighborhoods, certain amenities, and features of the home. But the estimates have gotten better over the years, which has actually made part of my daily work automated.

There’s also plenty of photo manipulation going on, from virtual staging to sky replacements. It can be difficult to go to a showing and find out that the house in the photos doesn’t exist, or is heavily modified.

We’re also seeing plenty of automation when it comes to customer outreach, marketing, funnels, and repetitive tasks. This frees up our time as agents to focus on the ‘people’ part of the business. There’s also a lot of AI risk calculations going on for lending, buying investment properties, and more.

There’s a few companies that have AI purchase property so they can resell it for a profit later. AI chatbots can schedule listings, capture leads, and answer generic questions. There are certain triggers in customer management software that can tell us when someone is more likely to buy or make a housing decision. AI is also being used as a portfolio hunter, bidding on properties and analyzing them for risk/profit.

There’s always upsides and downsides to the new technology, it’s really in how you’re deciding to use it. It can be mediocre or it can be efficient, it just depends on the implementation. I think regulations and lines need to be drawn quickly to slow down some of the negative effects. But at the same time, it’s all so new that there’s not really any entities or systems in place that can move as fast as AI is developing, at least not right now.

Human interaction is still very necessary, the nuances in situations and the emotions behind buying and selling real estate. There are unspoken phrases, things AI is just not going to be able to capture. There’s leeway when it comes to negotiations and building personal relationships. Trust is a huge factor. I might work with one agent better than another because we’ve had an established relationship over the years. There’s a lot of give and take in this business, and I don’t think AI has that down just yet (or maybe it won’t ever grasp it).

Which specific AI technology has had the most significant impact on your industry?

Any AI technology that is utilizing algorithms to arrive at a market value for a property. I think it’s the most significant because it’s accessible to almost everyone, clients and real estate agents included. Most people can search up their home’s value in a second. And there are plenty of companies that utilize their own form of this technology. So, while it might not be the most radical or exciting technology, it’s having the widest impact and impression on daily operations.

Can you share a pivotal moment when you recognized the profound impact AI would have on your sector?

There was a moment in 2021 where the market was having these huge jumps in value across the board. I realized that AI was being used to buy up properties in large quantities. Certain corporations were having AI models estimate market value and identify properties to buy (still unsure how they chose), then they started buying properties all over the United States with cash and outbidding individual buyers. Then these companies were listing them the next month for a higher sale price, and not doing anything else to modify the property. I felt like it was artificially inflating prices and it squeezed out so many single families in the home-buying market. We can all look back on that year and know that it was a crazy time to buy a house as an individual.

How are you preparing your workforce for the integration of AI, and what skills do you believe will be most valuable in an AI-enhanced future?

Focusing on Inputs. Communicating with machines. What inputs do you need to get what you want out of AI; how do you generate the desired output…that’s the real question. You need to know how to speak the language of “AI”. I want to find people that understand technology. I want to work with people that move with change rather than becoming resistant. I think that being a fast learner is the best skill to have right now because things are moving so quickly. If you want to do the same thing every day, the same way, and be comfortable…then you’re in the wrong field. Innovation is key. And you’re going to have to learn how to talk to a computer, it sounds so futuristic.

What are the biggest challenges in upskilling your workforce for an AI-centric future?

It’s this dichotomy between technology making the younger generation ‘lazy’ but also utilizing their laziness and turning it into efficiency. The younger generation is our workforce, so they’ve grown up with answers at their fingertips and getting what they want with just a few taps. How can we utilize this idea of having so much with little effort, but also maintain control over autonomy? We don’t want to be the ones being driven by a huge AI machine, we want to make sure we are in control. We need to stay creative, hungry, and aware.

What ethical considerations does AI introduce into your industry, and how are you tackling these concerns?

I feel like there’s too many to consider and more pop up every day. There’s simple considerations like with photo manipulation, virtual staging, and virtual design like changing the flooring to show a buyer what the home could look like…things like that. It’s changing the perception of the property, and not selling it as it is. There’s obviously an art to selling a home, you’re selling an idea, but I’m not sure where the line is.

There’s also ethical considerations towards consumer data, what’s being collected and how it’s being handled. That’s not just in real estate, but in plenty of other areas when it comes to AI. I feel like we are all riding a wave and placing a lot of trust in companies developing these technologies, so I’m not really tackling the concerns yet, just being aware of the situation and handling my own clients’ data with the same integrity that I want my data to be handled. I’m always advocating for privacy and security, and educating others on why they should be wary of sharing their data with AI models. It’s so easy to just allow all your information to be gathered, there doesn’t seem to be any direct harm, and I think that’s the biggest issue.

What are your “Five Things You Need To Do, If AI Is Disrupting Your Industry”?

1 . Start using AI. Familiarize yourself with text generation, having conversations with these models, practicing, developing your techniques and just exploring the space. You want to grow with the space, it will make more sense if you know where AI has started, than jumping in years later. It’s similar to any other technology that has emerged.

2 . Find Your Value. What are you bringing to the table as a human? What value do you provide to your clients? There is some skill or trait that you have that AI does not, find that and market it. Are you hosting events, are you giving back to your community, are you lending a helping hand when your client is moving?

3 . Explore new tools to make your life easier. Automation is a great place to start and can free up time so you can focus on finding and providing value to your clients. Use AI to your advantage, because it’s here to stay.

4 . Network with like-minded individuals that are also exploring AI. Start a local group, use your voice to implement legislation and best practices anywhere you have influence. By gaining influence, it’s the only way we are going to be able to build a future that looks positive for us. Shape AI into something that helps the future of your field.

5 . Become a thought leader in your space. This will bring you clients and also establish you as a trusted source for informationespecially for clients who prefer to place their trust in a person rather than an automation.

What are the most common misconceptions about AI within your industry, and how do you address them?\

There’s a misconception that AI is going to make our career obsolete. People won’t need agents anymore, they’ll do everything online and it’ll be easy to buy a house with a few clicks. Like I said previously, there’s emotion and personal attachment in the real estate space. People buy with emotions, homes are emotional and human. I think our field is going to change, but we won’t be obsolete, we will just need to readjust our skills and focus more on what makes us human.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“For it is in giving, that we receive.” Relationships and connections are so important to the human experience. There is plenty of greed and selfishness in this world, and it can be found in business, and in real estate. But by focusing on what you can give, is where you truly learn that you can receive back. Every time I help someone through my work, I find joy in the small connections being made. They’re impacting my life just as I’m impacting theirs. I’ve helped families grieve while they prepare their parents’ home for sale. I’ve helped divorced couples stay amicable through the sale of their home. I’ve helped people sell their home in a few weeks to escape a lifestyle they didn’t want any more. There are millions of these stories and connections happening through real estate daily, and focusing on giving allows us to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

I think I’m conscious about where I place my money. Money talks, and where I’m investing has a lot of power. Whether that is in buying real estate or buying AI software. By purchasing new technology, I’m giving that company more power to grow. So, I really try to be thoughtful in how I’m spending my money and who I’m connecting with. I want to make sure that companies are using the technology in an ethical manner. It makes me feel a bit powerless to think about how easy things can go south for us all. I mean, they’ve made plenty of sci-fi movies about AI, so just thinking about those scenarios and hoping that I have some small influence of good and there’s more good people leading these new processes than not.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The current housing market has high-cost of entry, limited access, and plenty of systematic barriers. Real estate is known as one of the ways millionaires make their money, but maybe only to their benefit. I’m sure we could think up a way in which real estate investors can still profit but also provide affordable housing for all. By using AI, we could do simple things like identify cost effective building methods, optimize resource allocation, streamline the permit process, and so much more. If we focused on increasing access to affordable housing and building up economic opportunities for the development of these types of projects, I think we could really help millions of people out. Housing should be a right, not a privilege. And not just any housing; safe and secure housing.

How can our readers further follow you online?

I’m active on LinkedIn. Also, if you’re on Instagram, I’d love to follow you back! @cozybroker I just made a new account that is going to focus on affordable housing hacks and giving insight into my daily life as a broker.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.