Driving Change: Can a Real Estate Company Use AI to Root Out Prejudice in Deeds?

Seattle real estate firm John L. Scott is on to something. The company is working with Amazon Web Services to create intelligent document processing. The goal? To help deed holders easily check for race-based deed restrictions — and take action.  

Race-based prejudice is all too common in deeds across the United States. The language can go undetected for years. And when homeowners encounter it, what are they supposed to do? Is AI the answer to the problem?

Here, we look at what’s starting in Seattle.

Driving Change: AI at Its Best

Racial segregation formed neighborhoods. And it still haunts many U.S. home deeds. Deed language expressly kept homes in the hands of some, and kept others out. That lingering language is a problem that, until very recently, had no solutions. That’s because deeds, as legal instruments, aren’t supposed to be changed.

But one at a time, states are confronting harmful deed restrictions that still lurk in many home deeds. In some states, such as Illinois and Missouri, deed-scrubbing workshops are ongoing. The problem is hard to solve, even with entire teams on the task. Can AI make this difficult job easier?

Maybe so. A new, AI-powered program called Driving Change is able to handle two key tasks. Driving Change can:

  • Flag deeds with racially offensive language.
  • Lay out a simple process for striking race-based deed restrictions.

If this catches on, it will allow ordinary homeowners to handle the process themselves, as a rep from John L. Scott told ZDNET.com.

But will it catch on?

It’s getting awfully hot out there...and new research shows links between racial deed restrictions and overheating hazards.

Designed With Ordinary Deed Holders in Mind

It starts with a digitized deed. So, if your county has digitized deeds, you’ll be able to use the tool when it’s available. You’ll just enter the address into a field, and computer vision can comprehend a whole, digitized deed. If racially exclusionary words appear, you as the deed holder can take step-by-step action to ready your deed for corrective recording.

The software automatically walks deed holders through the legal process of amending a property document. In fact, ZDNET.com tells us that Phil McBride, operating officer for John L. Scott, helped pass a new state law that lets Washington residents change racially restrictive deeds by striking or repudiating the offensive text.

The new tool:

  • Assists with amending the deed, filling in all the details (parcel number, legal description, etc.).
  • Cues the homeowner to meet an online notary to finalize the new deed.
  • Submits the file to the county recorder’s office.

John L. Scott’s founder and CEO recently learned that his grandparents obstructed a Black family’s attempt to buy a Seattle home. “Our industry was very complacent and culpable when these restrictions were coming into play,” McBride told ZDNET.

Plus, McBride says, the new project is opening up conversations about what’s still “preventing generational wealth for Black Americans.” 

For every 15 of today’s approved mortgage applicants, another person is left out. Typically that person is from a minority group, and a credit score is the issue. That’s why new credit score models are being adopted.

So, When’s the Launch?

The pilot is available only in the state of Washington. In just months, Driving Change should be available to deed holders. The platform should be going live by early 2025. And AWS says Driving Change will roll out beyond Washington, to other states.

This is innovation in real time. E-recording itself is pretty new. Only about 60% of Washington’s home deeds, for instance, are digitized. Amazon’s AI tools do allow for optical character recognition with paper deeds. But if the deed is stored on microfiche, that’s another challenge.

Soon, we’ll see how it all plays out.

Supporting References

Eileen Yu for ZDNET (part of Red Ventures), via ZDNet.com: Transparency Is Sorely Lacking Amid Growing AI Interest (May 10, 2024).

Stephani Condon for ZDNET (part of Red Ventures), via ZDNet.com: Artificial Intelligence – How a Real Estate Company Is Using AI to Find and Remove Racist Language From Property Documents (Oct. 19, 2022).

And as linked.

More on topics: Mapping racial deed restrictions in Minnesota, eRecording is next-level deed processing

Photo credit: William Fortunato, via Pexels/Canva.