Grabbing and keeping the attention of millennials online these days is a challenge for any company. But when it comes to engaging with first-time home buyers who might be scared off by affordability concerns, it’s an especially daunting task in the real estate business.
Seattle-based Zillow Group thinks it may have found an answer to the problem with the launch today of RealEstate.com, a new brand aimed at younger home shoppers that puts budget concerns front and center.
Keying into finances the way a typical renter thinks, RealEstate.com lets a user search for properties based on a dollar figure that rings a familiar monthly bell.
“They don’t think about $300,000 to $500,000 a house,” Zillow CMO Jeremy Wacksman said during a preview of the new site. “They think about $3,000 a month, because that’s what they’re paying right now.”
Don’t forget utilities! RealEstate.com’s “All-In Monthly Pricing” is a quick calculation of all of the costs associated with a particular listing. (Zillow Image)
When a user adds budget criteria to a search, RealEstate.com calculates an “All-In Monthly Pricing” for each home. That figure shows up front and center for any listing that is clicked on. It’s not just a mortgage payment with principal and interest and maybe taxes. It’s all of the fees that the site estimates you might have to pay — sourced through local data depending on the market — such as utilities and HOA fees, if applicable, as well as closings costs and more.
Jeremy Wacksman, chief marketing officer at Zillow. (LinkedIn Photo)
“This really helps paint a picture and help with, ‘What can I afford and where can I live and how do I make that decision?’” Wacksman said.
Affordability isn’t just a challenge for first-time buyers in Seattle and San Francisco’s Bay Area and other metro markets across the country where young people are flocking to a higher percentage of tech-driven jobs. Affordability over the last couple years has become priority one for everybody, Wacksman said, and getting pre-qualified, dealing with record low inventory and weighing rent affordability against purchase affordability are huge factors for millennials, who make up 56 percent of today’s first-time buyers.
While the effort to launch a new brand plays off what Zillow learned in its 2016 Consumer Housing Trends Report, it’s an idea that the company — also home to Trulia, StreetEasy, HotPads and Naked Apartments — has been looking at for a couple years. In fact, the RealEstate.com domain, available on desktop and mobile web, was acquired as part of its 2015 purchase of Trulia.
While the site can function like a typical real estate site with all the filters a user would expect, RealEstate.com is designed to be very quick and very visuals driven. Wacksman repeatedly referred to its photo-heavy layout as “Pinterest style.”
And beyond the budget focus, there are also first-time home buyer guides which can be accessed from the home page. And because the first-time group skews higher in more diverse backgrounds, users can search and see information in English, Spanish and Chinese. It’s the first of any Zillow Group sites to do this, and other languages will be added.
This really helps paint a picture and help with, ‘What can I afford and where can I live and how do I make that decision?’
Zillow also found that first-time buyers aren’t just looking at dollar signs when they’re searching for real estate online. The group sill has a strong interest in neighborhoods and schools, and Wacksman said this is because millennials are generally bypassing the starter-home phase of real estate purchasing.
“It used to be that first-time home buyers bought a cheap home and maybe traded out of it three or four years later,” Wacksman said. “And now they’re waiting longer, partially because of affordability, and then they’re thinking about it, like, ‘OK, I better find a place that could last me a while.’”
As for real estate professionals who rely on Zillow Group sites to drive buyers to them, RealEstate.com is just another site to make that connection, as listings come directly from multiple listing services, real estate brokerages and franchisors. Agents will receive the same listing treatment they currently have on Zillow and Trulia and buyers will be able to connect directly from the listing details page on the new site.