Friday Flash: The year things got weird

As I reflect this morning in front of my screen bursting with Slack notifications, calendar alerts and texts from my teenage daughter, I come to one calmly considered conclusion about this year: 

This is when things got weird. 

I don’t mean Softbank, lawsuits, policy 8.0, real estate platform bro-wars, Long Island, consolidation or even Zillow’s big pivot, per se. 

No, 2019 was the year consumers, also known as people, began to do very strange things in very significant numbers. 

Two years ago, many in the industry thought the idea of a home seller paying 7-10% in fees for the privilege of getting a low-ball offer on their home was crazy, a pathway only for the desperate.   

Turns out lots of people were willing to do this in 2019. 

I have been saying for years that when “regular” people start exhibiting behavior that many consider weird, or even risky, in the moment — watch out. Big changes are coming. 

Consider early adopters of Uber, who embraced what was essentially smartphone-controlled hitchhiking and happily slid behind smoked-out windows into the backseats of unvetted randos. 

Or those who, 10 years ago, started sleeping in axe-murderers’ strangers’ spare bedrooms through a brand-new service called Airbnb. 

Weird, right? 

Not so much any more. We don’t even think about it (even when we probably should). 

And so it will be henceforth in real estate. People’s current behavior relative to iBuying still feels weird, but will be taken for granted soon. 

2019 has been the pivotal year. Headed into 2020, not only will the behavior become normalized as more people see their friends and neighbors choose this path, but the rational calculation will continue to improve. The difference between market price and iBuyer price is shrinking by the day.

People power

Taxis still exist. So do hotels. I think agents and brokers will too. There will just be fewer of them — those good enough to prevail through the convulsion.  

I am hard pressed to find a problem with that.

Some markets and price bands will be left untouched. But it will be rough for many. Consumers are now the shot-callers. 

I’ve been in this industry since 1997, and since the very beginning, we have found it fashionable to proclaim the empowerment of consumers. It seems quaint, and not a little patronizing, in retrospect. It also wasn’t true.  


The thing

I’ve written about a lot of things this year, but this shift in consumer behavior is The Thing

Whether or not Compass can turn a 500-person product and dev team into something that is meaningfully more than a story, whether Keller Williams can continue to keep the growth fires burning, or whether or not pocket listings continue to mushroom all pale in significance. 

These industry dynamics all kind of net out the same: some people move here, some people move there. Some people get rich, some people don’t. 

The future is now being determined outside of all that, by consumers. 

That’s what 2019 was all about.