Metropolis

Zillow Isn’t Buying All Of The Homes on Your Block

The dangerous allure of using easy anecdotes to explain complex problems

Coby Lefkowitz
Marker
Published in
11 min readSep 28, 2021

--

Zillow for sale sign in a residential subdivision. Source: Zillow Media Room

It all started on TikTok. These 5 words could probably explain much of what’s happening in popular culture today. They also inspire fear, excitement, or confusion depending on who’s reading them. Instead of touching on the latest dance craze, “life hacks”, celebrity drama, or cute dog videos here, though, this piece is focused on a much more sober subject — the housing market.

In the last year, home prices have risen dramatically. Since the middle of 2020, the Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index has gone nearly vertical. But this much is obvious to anyone who has even passively been following the news. This piece doesn’t seek to explain why prices are increasing (if you’re interested in learning more, though, read here), but the public reaction to those prices. And right now, there’s no better barometer for that sentiment than social media.

Last week, a real estate broker from Nevada took to TikTok to discuss what he viewed as the manipulation of the housing market from real estate listings platforms like Zillow and Redfin. In it, he discussed iBuying, the relatively new strategy used by listings platforms to acquire properties all cash from sellers on their platforms sight unseen, who in turn are looking for a quicker, more efficient closing process than has traditionally been the case. They then make some repairs, and try to flip the properties for a profit. He criticized the practice, claiming (without evidence) that these platforms were scooping up homes around the country in an attempt to artificially increase market prices by selling one of those homes for an inflated rate. It’s worth noting that he, along with other brokers, stand to lose a great deal with iBuying, as these platforms make traditional realtors redundant by cutting out the middlemen, and taking far lower fees. In the days since, the video has been shared widely. It has amassed more than 2.8 million views at the time of writing. Many viewers seemed to be sympathetic to the criticism, with the comments section on TikTok, and commentary on other social media platforms like Twitter, full of consenting voices and personal anecdotes.

--

--

Coby Lefkowitz
Marker
Writer for

Urbanist, Developer, Writer, & Optimist working to create more beautiful, sustainable, healthy, equitable and people-oriented places.