Zillow CEO Rich Barton — and a number of other real estate leaders — have spent the better part of 2020 talking about how much COVID-19 has acted as a tailwind for technology transformation in real estate, whether that’s increased use of 3D and virtual tours or digital closing services.
But as more and more positive vaccine news comes to light, will those trends continue?
“It’s hard to say exactly,” Barton said, Wednesday, during a conversation with Mark Mahaney, an analyst at RBC Capital, during the virtual RBC Capital Markets Global Technology, Internet, Media and Telecommunications Virtual Conference, when asked if a COVID-19 vaccine would reverse those trends.
Barton invoked the theory of hysteresis, a physics term adopted by economists that essentially asks, if you push on something, then let go, does it spring back immediately or is it permanently changed?
“My feeling is, the concrete hasn’t set completely, but it is setting,” Barton said. “The further we get into this thing, the more we’ve been knocked out of old habits and we’re discovering new and better ways to do things, the less likely we are to go back.”
“I think that this feels like a long-term trend, to me, towards digital,” he added.
Consumers, Barton explained earlier in the conversation, want to shop for homes digitally, more than ever before, the company’s own user data suggests. Zillow.com set a traffic record in the third quarter of 2020, beating a record set the quarter prior.
“People want to shop virtually, they want to tour virtually, they want to let themselves into homes with just their app, etc.,” Barton said.
A safe, effective and widely-available COVID-19 vaccine will affect the real estate industry in a number of other ways outside of the technology trends, whether that’s through migration pattern shifts or climbing interest rates.
But more importantly, it will have a lasting impact on humanity, which Barton also recognized while discussing the impact on his own business.
On Wednesday, Pfizer released the latest results from its vaccine trial that shows the COVID-19 vaccine developed by the pharmaceutical giant to be 95 percent effective, with no serious side effects. The company planned to apply for emergency approval to start making the vaccine in mass doses, according to a New York Times report.
Just days earlier, Moderna also released the findings from a vaccine trial which revealed that it, too, had created a vaccine that trials showed was 95 percent effective.
“It’s great, the vaccine news. It’s a miracle, it’s probably the most advanced science ever done and done really quickly,” Barton said, referencing recent news that both Pfizer and Moderna have released vaccine trial results that show significant promise, in the past two weeks.