The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digitization of the entire real estate experience and Zillow President Jeremy Wacksman doesn’t believe consumer behavior will regress back to old ways, even in an environment where there’s no longer a threat to public safety.
“COVID-19 has helped accelerate and usher in change and desire for change into a more safe and more digital world,” Wacksman told Brendan Wallace, the managing partner and co-founder of Fifth Wall Ventures, a real estate technology venture capital firm, during the latter’s “Fly on the Wall” interview series.
At the top of the funnel on the home search side — which was the company’s number one focus in its first decade — Zillow has seen a huge spike and interest in 3D and virtual tours.
The company has also seen a surge in interest in e-sign technology and remote notarization, which were typically physical, in-person tasks.
“What happens with any customer benefit technology is, once customers get a taste of it, that expectation bar rises,” Wacksman said. “Now that you can use a great 3D tour of a home or you can virtually tour a home with someone else walking you through it, you go, ‘Why can’t I do that on every home?’ And you start to want that and it becomes this customer expectation.”
“I think you’re going to see those technology trends continue and the pandemic has rushed them in their adoption moving forward, but I don’t think it’s going to regress,” Wacksman said. “Once people get a taste of that, they’re going to want more of it.”
Zillow launched its iBuyer Zillow Offers to push the industry closer to a “one-click close,” or fully digital transaction, but in the process, the company has learned that you’re not just coordinating a transaction, you need to be coordinating a move that requires a number of different partners.
“It’s not one click, it’s not better, if the entire translation isn’t integrated,” Wacksman said. “If you just get notary remotely done, or you just get the digital signatures versus having to wet sign by itself, it doesn’t help.”
Zillow Offers launched into a white-hot real estate market, and demand surged because the hassle of the transaction is so difficult, Wacksman said.
COVID-19 has created the digitization tailwind that is pushing that forward because it’s made the transaction even more difficult with various shelter-in-place or social distancing orders.
“To really enable and unlock that customer benefit, you have to wrap the whole thing,” Wacksman said. “That’s part of why iBuying and Zillow Offers — the appeal to the customer — it’s all about skipping the hassle.”
The push for more digitization also comes at a time when consumers are re-thinking the concept of home, Wacksman said. Zillow is seeing unprecedented demand on its search platform with consumers thinking about changing their living space for a variety of different reasons.
Whether it’s dreaming of a home office or moving to the suburbs because the commute doesn’t matter anymore, consumers are reevaluating what they believe home is, Wacksman said.
“We’re seeing that surge of curiosity and question-asking in a way that I don’t think we ever have before in real estate.”