Will AI Chatbots Change Real Estate? They’re Already Starting.

A link to your real estate agent’s latest newsletter appears in your inbox. Did the agent write it — or was it done through artificial intelligence (AI)?

Some agents are already trying out the latest in AI — like the ChatGPT tool by OpenAI. ChatGPT, Microsoft’s Bing Chat for smartphones, and an international batch of rising competitors, are at the leading edge of emulating human thinking and conversation. And some real estate professionals already depend on chatbots on a daily basis. (To try out ChatGPT, people can sign up at OpenAI.com, log in, and begin entering queries.)

Fastest-Growing Consumer App Ever

ChatGPT triggered both acclaim and controversy when it launched in November 2022. By January 2023, the chatbot had reached 100 million active subscribers. It’s become the fastest-growing consumer app ever.

But ChatGPT is just a new iteration of AI technology. And AI has been used in financial settings for four decades. AI algorithms are now in full swing, enabling advances in everything from search engine technology, to image captioning, to loan decisions, to robotics in factories and in the automotive industry.  

So, how do these things work? Companies process ever-larger sets of data, so the machines can “learn” from many queries and situations. Every error becomes an opportunity for engineers to tweak and improve the technology, until it essentially trains itself.

How Will It Work in the Real Estate Business?

Artificial intelligence has a number of uses in real estate. AI can supplement, or simply inform, the traditional appraisal research, for example. It could help plan out climate-related risks. Buildings are being created and fortified based on machine learning.

Real estate professionals can comply with laws with AI’s fine-point guidance. Budgeting, accounting, and auditing can all get better and more secure. AI has the potential to change how conversations, agreements, marketing materials, and legal instruments are produced, authorized, updated, and stored.

Some companies use AI to match shoppers to homes for sale or rent. AI can tailor search results to people based on their past preferences and search habits. The more data it gets, the more powerful AI becomes. Agencies with massive collections of data now have marketing tools that can deftly separate the serious shoppers from the curious browsers.

Meanwhile, AI could really flesh out the real estate descriptions they view. It could add in everything from plans for a new, local EV charge point, to transit routes, to online reviews of local businesses and so on. And it could converse with people, like a real agent.

Can Home Buyers and Renters Benefit?

ChatGPT and other AI bots can inform buyers and renters. They can suggest ways of finding housing or funding, or ways to deal with property owners who won’t hold up their end of a bargain.

AI can do all kinds of things for renters and owners. It can be programmed to:

  • Run smart thermostats, locks, and other controls.
  • Avert leaks and blackouts.
  • Distribute information on local conditions and emergencies.
  • Flag maintenance issues in advance of problems.
  • Use photos of a home to assess home improvement ideas, and create budgets for the upgrades.

AI is also supplementing or replacing the FICO score for some hopeful borrowers. AI can help lenders…lend. It can review documents at a fast clip, make predictions, and assess the borrower’s risk. It can analyze applicants’ alternative financial data, such as records of rent and telecom payments.

The Artifice in Artificial Intelligence

Real estate pros can have AI generate anything: listings, tweets, legal documents. They can ask a chatbot to adopt specific tones and perspectives. So, a chatbot’s words could seem to be from an agent, a lender, or even a Gen Z influencer.

That said, the technology is famously imperfect. There is even a job position for people who monitor chatbots and make sure they interact with people appropriately — and take over the controls if they don’t. High-profile chatbots have been called out for:

  • Giving false answers, and sometimes even doubling down when corrected.
  • Using inappropriate language with some users, who have shared their impressions with the media.
  • Acting as extension of biases rather than tools for inclusion. (As of New Year’s Day 2023 in New York City, a law bans automation in corporate HR unless the software is vetted for bias.)

Both Microsoft and Facebook have had to turn off earlier AI chatbots that wound up making false or obnoxious claims. And the struggle continues. Futurism.com calls Microsoft’s new Bing Chat a “loose cannon.” It points to an incident in which the Bing bot got into an argument with a student that wound up with the bot saying it preferred its own continued existence over the student’s.

AI Is Everywhere. So, How Can It Help People?

The genie is out of the bottle. AI is in personal assistants, smart home technology, maps and search engines. It’s in social media accounts, online chat boxes, and telemarketing.

Some of it is now expected. Some people prefer the automated grocery checkouts, yet don’t want to be judged, policed, or otherwise controlled by robots — unless they think humans will treat them more harshly. 

These are some of the main ethical questions about AI in society:

  • Is everyone happy about big data companies — and perhaps our employers, or even our caring relatives — monitoring our lives?
  • Are big data firms on track to gain massive commercial advantages, as they have the means to make leading-edge predictive tools?
  • What about the lack of uniform regulations for R&D in AI? What about its use in detentions or weaponry? Can we avert rogue decisions with major implications? Ultimately, will these tools help society, or create uncontrollable hazards?

AI can do many things more efficiently than people can. It can assist people. It can free us up to work on broad strategies, to focus on social interaction, and to plunge into creative undertakings that enrich our lives.

But if we adopt these tools, we need to be prepared to manage them. And we’re only human.

Supporting References

Krystal Hu for Reuters.com, a news and media division of Thomson Reuters: ChatGPT Sets Record for Fastest-Growing User Base – Analyst Note (Feb. 1, 2023; citing a UBS study).

Daniel C. Chilton for DS News magazine via DSNews.com®, part of The Five Star Institute: How AI Will Enhance the Mortgage Servicing Industry (Feb. 2023).

Michaelle Bond for The Philadelphia Inquirer: How One U.S. Real Estate Agent Uses ChatGPT to Help Sell Homes (by subscription; 19 Feb. 2023).

Madeline Garfinkle for Entrepreneur® by Entrepreneur Media Inc.: Professionals in This Industry Already Can’t Imagine Life Without ChatGPT: “I Can’t Remember the Last Time Something Has Wowed Me This Much” (Jan. 30, 2023).

Noor Al-Sibai for Futurism.com (Camden Media Inc.): The Byte – Shameless Realtors Are Already Grinding Out Property Listings With ChatGPT; This Shouldn’t Be Surprising (Jan. 30, 2023).

Victor Tangermann for Futurism.com (Camden Media Inc.): The Byte – Microsoft’s Bing AI Now Threatening Users Who Provoke It (Feb. 15, 2023).

Roy Maurer for SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management (via SHRM.org): HR Must Be Vigilant About the Ethical Use of AI Technology (Sep. 27, 2022).

Deeds.com: Six Life-Changing Ways AI Is Converging With Real Estate (May 5, 2021).  

And as linked.

Image credits: Kindel Media, via Pexels; and Mindiell, licensed under CC by 4.0 International (unmodified).