SAN FRANCISCO — “It has been a really great year for all of us,” said Amy Bohutinsky, COO at Zillow Group.
It was, after all, about a year ago that Bohutinsky was named COO (she was formerly the chief marketing officer), and she sat down with publisher Brad Inman at Inman Connect San Francisco on Wednesday to talk about where the company is going.
And while she was on stage, she spent some time busting frequently held myths about how consumers use real estate online — based on some yet-to-be-released research from Zillow Group.
Although she spends “a lot of time looking inward and focusing on our people” — Zillow Group employs 3,000 across 9 locations — that’s not where most of her day is spent.
“I spend most of my time on the consumer and I have since the very beginning. As a company philosophy we’ve always felt that if we know the consumers really really well … and build great products that they love, other things will fall into place.”
A big report on consumers (conducted by Zillow Group) is coming out in the fall. And Bohutinsky gave attendees a sneak peek at some of the research.
What’s happening on the first-time buyer front?
“Today in 2016, 53 percent — more than half of all buyers this year — are buying for the first time,” Bohutinsky said. “Homes, despite being more expensive than they’ve been in recent years, they are more affordable than they’ve been in decades because of the exceptionally low mortgage rates.”
Which “myth” is this data busting? The National Association of Realtors releases an annual generational trends report on buyers and sellers, and those numbers do look different — NAR pegged first-time buyers at 33 percent in March 2016, the second-lowest number since NAR began collecting data in 1981, in the most recent report.
Differences in results can be caused by variances in survey methodology, sample size and sample population, and standard deviation. Still, Zillow’s data seems to contradict the standard industry narrative.
What’s that mean for agents? “More than half of all buyers today have never worked with a real estate agent before,” Bohutinsy said.
She added that today, homeowners spend an average of 14.8 percent of income on their mortgages, as opposed to 21.2 percent in the years between 1985 and 1999.
Personal referrals help agents connect with buyers
This one is true, Bohutinsky allowed, “but not for long,” she said.
First-time buyers are searching online reviews in increasing numbers — Zillow Group’s research showed that 57 percent of buyers say they read agent reviews before choosing an agent, and 28 percent said they found their agent online. (NAR’s latest numbers indicate that 10 percent of buyers find their agent online.)
A larger proportion of respondents to Zillow Group’s survey (32 percent) said they found their agent via referral, but Bohutinsky thinks it would be a mistake for agents to ignore the online aspect.
“Make sure that online profile is where it should be, and ask your former clients to review you online,” she suggested.
Would Zillow ever try to monetize reviews, Inman asked? Bohutinsky said that it wouldn’t be in the company’s best interest: giving consumers unfettered access to information.
When do buyers shop for homes?
What’s a (shockingly) big week for app downloads? The week between Christmas and New Year’s, said Bohutinsky.
And this means that December is a month when you should be bolstering your profiles and asking for reviews. Although the traditional “homebuying season” starts in the springtime, Bohutinsky points out that people get lots of devices during the holiday season as gifts.
What do they do with those devices? Hook them up and start downloading apps, including Zillow’s — and then, they start looking at homes online well before they get down to serious buying business.
So make sure your profile is in tip-top shape on Christmas morning, agents.
What about millennials?
“We asked people, ‘What do you think about homeownership?'” And “millennials really want to own homes,” was the response.
“The average homebuyer is 36 years old, and 53 percent of homebuyers today are millennials. This is where your first-time buyers are coming from who have never worked with an agent, and they spend all their lives on their phones.”
So what happens if those listings on their phones have, well, not-great photos or incomplete information? Those millennials will be moving right along.
Are FSBO listings bad for agents?
Bohutinsky said that the for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) listings on Zillow garner “a lot of flack” for the company — however, she noted that although sellers might be eschewing an agent, that doesn’t mean the buyer in the transaction is making the same decision.
In the survey, Zillow Group looked at a subset of buyers who shopped for homes exclusively on Zillow and found that those buyers were 32 percent more likely to use an agent than those who did not exclusively shop on Zillow.
This indicates that buyers who see a FSBO listing on Zillow, and who want to learn more about that listing, are more likely to contact an agent than to contact the seller directly, said Bohutinsky.