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  • Writer's pictureChristy Murdock

Who's afraid of the big bad OpenAI ChatGPT? (Hint: Not I)

Updated: Jul 8, 2023

As a real estate professional, you are no stranger to the threat of being "replaced" by the latest artificial intelligence, app, or automated process. In fact, the term disruption has often been used as a kind of euphemism for "getting rid of agents" in the real estate process over the past decade or more.

Time and again, I've written about this phenomenon from an outsider's perspective, as it were. As an empathetic person, I could feel for the anxiety and fear this kind of talk engendered in real estate agents, but as someone who wrote by and for the industry, including for some of those disruptive tech companies, I felt that one way or another my job would be secure.

This week, however, I've gotten a taste of the anxiety that agents have felt off and on for many years with the advent of Open AI ChatGPT and the endless buzz surrounding it. If you haven't heard about it, you can get a little taste of what it can do here or here or in a recent demonstration on Broke Agent where the panel, including one of my longtime friends and clients (thanks for the shoutout, Troy Palmquist!), waxed lyrical about the potential of this technology for busy real estate professionals.

At first, I rolled my eyes and moved on. No machine could do what I could do, right? Then, I started to get a little nervous. Then, even Troy started texting me and emailing me, always with the reassurance that, while it would never replace me, read this! and this! Can you believe this?

My response in the face of fear is always to turn to the words of Sun Tzu (and Rage Against the Machine): Know your enemy.

To that end, I dug into the brilliant little bot myself to see what I could come up with since I was working on a property description for a client. First, I simply asked it to write a property description. Here's what it generated:

This charming three-bedroom, two-bathroom home is located in a quiet and friendly neighborhood. The property boasts a spacious and well-maintained backyard, perfect for hosting summer barbeques or for children to play in. The interior of the home features an open floor plan, with a large living room and a modern kitchen equipped with stainless steel appliances. The master bedroom has an en-suite bathroom and a walk-in closet. There is also a two-car garage and a full unfinished basement, providing plenty of storage space. This property is a must-see for anyone looking for a comfortable and inviting home in a great location.

Besides the questionable fair housing issues around children, none of this bore any resemblance to the home I was working on. The appliances, the walk-in closet, the two-car garage, none of it was true. I had thought it might ask me some questions to limit the parameters.

No fear, I'll just feed it the address. After all, it has access to the MLS history in the online public records. Here's what it returned:

[Street Address REDACTED] is a beautiful and spacious property located in the desirable community of [City, State REDACTED]. The property features three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and boasts a large and well-maintained backyard. The open floor plan allows for easy entertaining, and the modern kitchen is equipped with stainless steel appliances. The master bedroom has an en-suite bathroom and a walk-in closet. The two-car garage and full unfinished basement provide plenty of storage space. This property is a must-see for anyone looking for a comfortable and inviting home in a great location.

So again, it couldn't pull details from available information about the property. Apparently, you would have to input all of the relevant information about the home that you wanted included in the property description and it would formulate something from the information you feed it.

In addition, the details it did include were incorrect and had nothing to do with the property itself. In fact, the "modern kitchen equipped with stainless steel appliances" was completely inaccurate since the property's kitchen was currently under construction.

Next, I decided to see what it would do with the limitations of the MLS character count. I gave it more information to help it: "Write an 800 character count property description for a home with 1542 square feet, 3 bedrooms 2 baths wood laminate flooring"and this is what it returned:

Welcome to 1542 square feet of comfortable living space in this three bedroom, two bathroom home. The property features beautiful wood laminate flooring throughout, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere. The open floor plan allows for easy entertaining, and the modern kitchen is equipped with all the necessary appliances. The spacious bedrooms offer plenty of room for a growing family, and the master bedroom features an en-suite bathroom and walk-in closet. The backyard is the perfect place to host summer barbeques or for children to play in. This property is move-in ready and a must-see for anyone looking for a comfortable and inviting home.

Again, there's the questionable "children playing," which is problematic from a compliance perspective. In addition, notice how much it's adding in: Move-in ready? en-suite bathroom? walk-in closet? None of those things were included in the instructions and none of them are correct. Finally, the character count returned was only 652, not the 800 characters requested, leaving 148 characters available and unused.

How working with a custom writer is different from working with a bot (or even a cookie-cutter template writer)

One of the things I tell my clients when we first start working together is that my process is intended to make life easier for them. Because of that, I work with clients in a wide variety of ways, both on their property descriptions and on other types of content like blogs and bios.

I have clients who send me video walkthroughs and commentary from their phones. I have other clients who send me links to professional photos and the street address of their latest listing, trusting me to look up the property history, Google the community, and research the area.

I have still other clients who send detailed lists of the selling points that are getting attention in their market among their buyers so that I'm leading with and including the elements that matter most at any given moment.

I have clients who trust me to understand the special architectural features that are unique to their region. I have clients who are selling multi-million dollar estates and clients who are selling small, fixer-upper retirement condos for less than $100K.

My clients are counting on me for more than spelling and grammar. They're counting on me to help them notice details that may stand out in the current market. They're counting on me to have an ear to the ground when compliance issues are changing from one MLS to another, since that can indicate a more widespread shift in the norms across North America.

Moreover, I'm here for those sellers who have lots of opinions about their property descriptions and who need their descriptions massaged. For the busy agent or broker, there's no need to stress when the client has changes or wants something included that throws off the character count — I'm here to make the necessary adjustments.

What the bot can do

Now, while I am poo-pooing the bot, that's not to say that it's not an amazing piece of technology. The writing it does is generic, but if you're someone who has trouble getting started with putting your thoughts on paper, it could be a really good way to begin formulating some ideas.

I've seen demos where people ask for rather generic blog content and get rather generic responses. The bot can write fairly basic captions for your social media post. I asked it to "Write an Instagram caption for a post about why ChatGPT won't replace a real-life real estate writer." It wrote:

ChatGPT may be a helpful tool, but nothing beats the expertise and creativity of a real life real estate writer! #realestatewriting #chatgpt

(I appreciate the sentiment but I hate the exclamation point.)

More than anything, if you frequently have writer's block or if writing doesn't come naturally to you, I think ChatGPT is a great tool, but that's all it is, a tool to help you organize your thoughts and get started with writing. It's not a substitute for your expertise, if you do your own writing, or for the expertise of a professional copywriter if you outsource your writing.

Just like your clients count on you for your individual expertise and experience, my clients count on me for the same thing. That bot hasn't been a real estate agent and hasn't worked with hundreds of agents writing thousands of property descriptions. It can't do what I do, just as the latest "disruptive" tech can't replace agents and brokers in the real estate industry.

Have fun with the chatbot. Ask it to write you a poem. Or use one of OpenAI's other programs. I used DALL-E, the image generator. I asked it to make me a portrait of a real estate writer. It came back with four options.

Headshot photographers rest easy. You have nothing to fear, either.


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