Friday Flash: Undisrupted

I had a paper route as a kid.

That’s right, I folded up newspapers, loaded them into a big canvas bag I slung over the handlebars of my bike, then rode around throwing the papers onto the porches of my neighbors, who then read the news of the day with quiet dignity.

Now we have Twitter. Oh well.

Anyway, the only part of the paper I ever read while sitting on the floor of my grandparent’s garage taking a breather from folding were the real estate ads. Back then, they were mostly classified-type things, all text: “Montclair charmer! 3-bed, 2-bath colonial. Half acre lot. Bay views! $289,000.” Some ads were bigger, and had either one black-and-white photo, or, for the fancy listings, a pencil sketch.

This was Zillow-surfing, 1983-style.

We’ve always been obsessed with real estate. Tech has merely fed what has always been there, and we are gorging.

As a young person, my only exposure to the real estate world was through the newspaper. Today, young people are fully immersed in its atmosphere.

Let me explain.

Last month, we fielded a nationwide survey of renters and live at home-ers aged 22-35 as part of our 1000WATT Inside program. We got a ton of interesting results, but the responses to two of the questions were especially striking:

68% are looking at homes online at least twice per week, swiping and scrolling their way through photos, videos, and 3D tours in a high-resolution real estate dream state the likes of which my pre-teen self could never have imagined.

But it’s not just homes. Check this out:

Yeah, young people dig agents. Big time. Surely, some of the “agents” being followed are reality TV stars. But celebrity agents are agents too. Of course, we all know a bunch of agents too, right? Our high school bestie? She’s now an agent, and all over Instagram. So it goes…

And have you spent any time on TikTok lately? It’s loaded with agents who have mastered the medium.

Real estate agents weren’t in my world like this when I was young. Today, people are practically growing up with agents.

It is unsurprising then that young people seem to have a higher regard for agents than older people. Our research has borne this out. Here are our 22-35 year-olds again:

You may recall that the Harris Poll used to do an annual ranking of how people think of various professions. Doctors were always at the top. Realtors and personal injury lawyers were always at the bottom. Historically, research has shown that people love their Realtor, but have a strong distaste for Realtors as a group.

I think that’s shifting.

Why things (don’t) change

Residential real estate is the Bermuda Triangle of category disruption. Billions of dollars and clever business models go in and… vanish. According to the NAR, more people than ever are using a Realtor. Redfin, the standard-bearer for the employee/process/discount-driven model of real estate, rolled back its buy-side rebate last year, a cornerstone of its “better deal” proposition, and no one cared. ibuyers are on low battery mode. According to Real Trends, aggregate real estate commissions have declined just 16% since 1991, and more than half of that decline occurred before Zillow and Redfin and hundreds more would-be disrupters launched.

Why is real estate so resistant to structural change? I think we’ve always known. Buying or selling a home is personal. Emotional. Rare. People need people at this moment.

When you listen to young people — the buyers and sellers of tomorrow — they’re sure not telling us anything that suggests that will change any time soon.

Paper routes are a thing of the past. Agents endure.

Enjoy the weekend.