Zillow is here. As of two days ago they’ve officially entered the market in Sacramento and they have big plans to expand to other territories too. Let’s talk about this. Here’s what’s swirling through my mind. Anything to add?
Corporate flipper: Zillow is basically going to be flipping homes. Their website doesn’t use this language because “flipping” has a negative connotation sometimes. But they’ll be buying below market value, doing repairs as needed, and then selling higher. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck…
Narrow focus: Like many tech companies we’re going to see Zillow with a buy list. I’ve yet to see something published, but they’ll likely focus on conforming homes in a specific price range rather than unique or high-priced homes that might be more difficult to sell. This reminds us of Blackstone from 2012 and 2013 as they had specific standards for what they were looking to purchase. On a side note, if you work in real estate and you’re worried about the invasion of tech companies, then diversify into places and price ranges where iBuyer models aren’t going.
There is a place for tech: This may be an unpopular opinion and I may have a few people want to fight me, but there is a place for big tech companies in real estate. This doesn’t mean I’m excited about Zillow and Opendoor, but the world has changed and speaking objectively there are other models beyond the traditional model that will appeal to certain buyers and sellers.
Trust & getting a pass: Consumers tend to trust anything that’s online, so there’s already a high degree of trust with a brand like Zillow, and they’re now here to capitalize off of it. It’s as if they get a pass though because they’re not real estate agents or flippers (and they’re trying hard not to be seen that way). But let’s remember the obvious. They are here to work the system to their advantage and make money off consumers.
Tech is the minority: Tech companies are getting a ton of press, but these brands are the minority in the market right now by a long shot. For instance, Opendoor has 70 listings in the Sacramento region. That’s impressive for a start-up, but at the same time it’s only 1.4% of all listings. My guess is Zillow will be aiming to represent 2-3% of the market this year in terms of sales volume. Again, this is impressive, but let’s remember the vast bulk of sales in coming time are going to be sold traditionally.
The irony of the Zestimate: Zillow won’t be using their Zestimate as a basis for making offers. I get it, but I also find it ironic since they’ve built their brand around the legitimacy of the Zestimate.
Affordability: The unfortunate thing here about big corporations entering local real estate is it doesn’t help affordability. I’m not saying tech companies are going to cause prices to rise, but when the focus is on flipping homes, this won’t help keep prices lower.
Service fee vs commission: Lots of tech companies say stuff like, “Hey, we don’t charge commissions like real estate agents,” but this is disingenuous because there is a “service fee” that is basically the same amount or even more than we find in a typical real estate transaction.
The narrative of convenience & profit: Like many tech firms, Zillow is preaching the idea of convenience rather than profit. Their goal is to make escrows easier and smooth rather than helping a seller net the most money. If you listen carefully, few of these companies are saying sellers will actually make more because it’s simply not true in most cases. Remember, these corporate real estate machines have to buy low in order to make a profit. They’ll also be asking for credits for repairs, which makes sellers net even less.
Doing math: I strongly recommend for consumers to do the math when it comes to selling to a tech company vs selling on the open market. You’ll likely yield more profit on the open market if money is your concern.
Data issues: The data geek in me is thinking about numbers. I’m worried about properties being listed off MLS and data being watered down because there are missing sales. The good news here is I’m told homes bought by Zillow are going to be listed for sale on MLS (fingers crossed this happens). By the way, Zillow is going to be using a local brokerage for their acquisitions and sales.
Small investors: Corporate flippers coming to the market will make it more difficult for small investors because there’s an extra layer of competition now.
The price cycle: We are closer to the top of a price cycle, so I find it ironic to see tech brands jumping into the game. My guess is it’s much easier to find success in an up market than a down one. We’ll see how it pans out.
Other: What else? Please comment below.
Closing thoughts for real estate friends: It’s not easy when change happens and I know lots of people are worried about the future of real estate because of what we’re seeing right now. If I could offer any advice though, I’d say to accept the reality that tech companies are going to be a part of the real estate scene. For now it looks like the vast bulk of homes are going to be sold traditionally though, so I recommend focusing your time and energy on the larger portion of the population that won’t be working with these tech brands. Most of all, prove your worth. Why should someone hire you instead of a tech firm? What is your value proposition in a changing market? Prove it with uncommon service, deep knowledge, and results.
I hope this was interesting or helpful.
MY COMSTOCK’S ARTICLE: I wrote a piece in Comstock’s magazine this month on the invasion of tech companies in real estate. I can’t believe it happened to be published on the same day Zillow made their big announcement.
Questions: What stands out to you most above? What are your thoughts about tech companies entering real estate? I’d love to hear your take.