Real Estate

This B.C. real estate agent created an AI assistant. But don’t expect it to know where the best schools are

A Vancouver real estate agent is using artificial intelligence to help sell houses, inventing a tool that pulls data from every multiple listing service (MLS) property in the Lower Mainland to provide positive and negative analysis for buyers and sellers.

Richard Morrison, a local real estate agent of 20 years, has led a team that’s spent months creating AI PropertyIQ, which merges the MLS data with GPT-4 OpenAI technology, analyzes that information and converses with users on a chat-based system to tailor their prospects.

“You should be able to check whether you’re making a good purchase, essentially,” said Morrison.

“This data already exists on certain websites, but it’s only data — the thing that changes this is that it’s an analysis.” 

While the tool can be helpful, one AI expert cautions users over the technology’s limitations. 

Morrison says the tool on his website is accessible to anyone, and that hundreds of people use it on any given day, posing all kinds of questions. 

“One user was searching one particular property and asking, ‘Can I subdivide this property?'” he told CBC News.

“The engine won’t be able to specifically tell you that right now, but I can go in the back end and train it so that it’ll be able to look up zoning regulations in the Vancouver area. So it will let the seller or buyer know what they can do with this type of zoning.”

It also has the capacity to do competitive analysis. For example, if you’re searching for a two-bedroom condo in downtown Vancouver, it will soon be able to pull in sales data from the past three months to offer ballpark figures on similar condos sold in that area, based on market trends. It can also factor in amenities, like a pool and concierge.

David Macdonald, one of the first users of the tool, says it has been helpful in analyzing nearby schools, grocery stores, and public transit. (Tanya Fletcher/CBC)

As for privacy concerns, Morrison said the questions are not tied to the IP address of a user. So while he does know the questions being asked of the system, he doesn’t know who is asking. 

One of the first users of AI PropertyIQ says it’s been helpful.

“I’ve played around with ChatGPT before, but now seeing it matched up with a real-world scenario linked to a business focus, it seemed very obvious,” said David Macdonald, who is also one of Morrison’s clients.

“Like of course this is the next thing in the evolution of the technology.” 

Morrison said he consulted a lawyer before launching the tool, and scaled it back after researching the Real Estate Services Act. 

“I have trained it not to give any particular advice,” he said. “I am not acting as their agent so it’s a grey area still, and I certainly don’t want to be responsible for the machine giving advice.”

A man types on a laptop.
Vancouver real estate agent Richard Morrison says he researched B.C.’s Real Estate Services Act and consulted a lawyer before launching AI PropertyIQ. (Tanya Fletcher/CBC)

Morrison included a disclaimer on the site, saying anyone using the tool does so at their own discretion. He has written a blog post about the future of AI in real estate, including ethical considerations.

A word of caution

While tools like this can be useful, one AI expert cautions there are limitations.

“It’s still quite early days for systems like this,” said Steve DiPaola, professor at the School Interactive Arts & Technology at Simon Fraser University.

He said while it could be helpful for things like asking whether the price lines up with other home sales in the area, or where the nearest parks or grocery stores are, he cautions against relying on the tool for more complex questions.

“For example, what are the schools like? And not only the level of schools, but say my son needs a very special type of school — I hear there’s one here, would it even work for him? That really is not going to come through this level of AI at this moment.” 

It’s still quite early days for systems like this … I surely wouldn’t use it as the sole way you’re deciding to buy a house.”– Steve DiPaola, SFU School of Interactive Arts and Technology


He added GPT4 can make errors, and hinging a life investment on it could be risky. 

“It’s an exciting space but I would just caution people to do your homework; I surely wouldn’t use it as the sole way you’re deciding to buy a house.”

For Macdonald, there are intangibles to consider as well. 

“Buying a home, an investment like that, is also an emotional commitment,” he said, “and technology is not very good at emotion.”