After being the subject of a Saturday Night Live sketch about lockdown-era millennials fawning over digital home listings, Zillow Group announced record profits for the fourth quarter. So reports Bloomberg.
The company said that surging use of its websites and apps led to adjusted earnings of $170 million during the period, before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.
Zillow CEO Rich Barton told Bloomberg in an interview that “the Zillow brand has broken through to a new level of awareness and cultural significance.”
Zillow Group Inc. has cemented its role in the pandemic-era zeitgeist, with “Saturday Night Live”poking fun at homebound millennials who lust after online home listings.
The growing popularity of the company’s websites and apps has also earned the company record profits during the fourth quarter, with adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $170 million, according to a statement on Wednesday.
That beat the average analyst estimate of $125 million and represented a wide swing from a $3.2 million loss a year earlier period. The results sent shares surging as much as 13% to $193.39. The company’s stock had already jumped more than 600% since bottoming out in March.
The rally comes amid a housing boom in the U.S. that has been fueled by low mortgage rates. With Americans confined to their homes, Zillow scrolling has become a national pastime.
“Because of all the people who are stuck at home, dreaming about a new home, and because of all the millennials having babies and shopping for homes, the Zillow brand has broken through to a new level of awareness and cultural significance,” Zillow Chief Executive Officer Rich Barton said in an interview. “There’s lots more shopping, lots more dreaming, and lots more fantasizing.”
Zillow’s websites and apps received 2.2 billion visits during the fourth quarter. That drove revenue growth in the company’s core marketing business, which brought in $314 million, up 35% from the prior year.
Zillow’s booming marketing operation has shifted the spotlight away from its nascent home-flipping initiative. The company acquired 1,789 homes in the quarter, compared to 1,787 a year earlier, as it returned to pre-Covid purchasing levels after slowing acquisitions earlier in the year.
Zillow also announced it has agreed to pay $500 million to acquire ShowingTime.com Inc., which makes tools for house-hunters to arrange home tours with agents. The purchase fits a key theme in the U.S. housing market in recent months, as socially-distancing efforts and the coming-of-age of millennial homebuyers drives more house-hunting functions online.
That theme has also been good for other companies at the intersection of technology and the U.S. housing market. Shares in brokerage Redfin Corp. have soared, and next-generation home-flipper Opendoor Technologies Inc. went public through a merger with a blank-check company.
Barton said that Zillow, along with consumers, will benefit from the increasing digitization of the homebuying process.
“The seller and the buyer are going to win from more innovation, happening faster,” he said. “It’s long overdue.”
Years before I ever dreamed of homeownership for myself, I was an HGTV connoisseur. In college, I double majored in “Property Virgins” and “House Hunters” and spent hours glued to the TV with my roommate, ogling other people’s granite countertops.
Fast forward nearly a decade, and the time had arrived for me to purchase my own home. (No granite countertops here—my house was more like the “before” scene in an episode of “Fixer Upper”).
Not surprisingly, TV homeownership didn’t prepare me for the real thing. There are lots of lessons I’ve had to learn the hard way.
If you’re gearing up for your own journey into homeownership, turn off the TV and gather ’round. I’ll fill you in on a few things I wish I had known beforehand, and a few surprises (some happy, some frustrating) that I encountered along the way.
1. A beautiful yard takes work
I never met a succulent that I didn’t kill. Even my fake plants are looking a little wilted right now. But even though I don’t have a green thumb, landscaping and yard maintenance are forever on my to-do list.
Each spring, I spray Roundup with impunity, attempting (and failing) to conquer the weeds. My husband handles mowing and edging.
I’ve slowly started to learn which plants can endure abuse, neglect, and a volatile Midwestern climate. I still have a long way to go in my landscaping journey, but all this work has given me a new appreciation for other people’s lush, beautiful lawns.
When you’re house hunting, keep in mind that those beautiful lawns you see—and that outdoor space you covet—come at a steep price. Either your time and frustration, or a hefty bill for professional landscapers, will be necessary to keep things presentable.
2. You might get a bill for neighborhood improvements
Your property taxes should pay for every improvement to the neighborhood, right? Not necessarily.
When my neighbors came together to petition the city for a speed bump on our busy street, the cost was passed on to us homeowners. It wasn’t covered by property taxes, so we got a bill in the mail a few months later. Surprise!
When you’re preparing to buy a house, make sure you budget for homeownership expenses—not just repair and HOA costs, but those pesky fees that crop up when you least expect them.
3. Brush/trash removal? It works differently in every city
As a kid, I spent many fall weekends scooping leaves into yard waste bags that we left on the curb for pickup. But when I became a homeowner, I realized that my early brush with brush removal was unique to the suburb where I grew up. Every city handles it differently, if the city handles it at all.
In Milwaukee, where I live, homeowners can put leaves on the curb for pickup on designated days. For big branches, you need to request a pickup, or potentially dispose of them yourself. Check with your city to find the ordinances and regulations where you live.
4. You’ll want to clean (or hire someone to clean) your nasty windows
Window maintenance was never on my radar as a renter, probably because I never had more than a few windows in an apartment. But then I became the proud owner of many, many windows—and all of them were coated in a thick film of gunk after years of neglect.
After we moved in, I started to tackle the cleaning on my own. But I quickly realized I was getting nowhere fast, and there was no way I could safely clean the exterior windows up in the finished attic.
So, I swallowed my pride and hired window washers. It was some of the best money I’ve ever spent.
5. You may feel a sudden urge to stock up on seasonal decorations
I never looked twice at a $50 wreath or decorative gourd before becoming a homeowner. Now, I have a burgeoning collection of lawn ornaments in the shape of snowmen and spooky cats. Sometimes I don’t even know who I am anymore.
6. You’ll need to create a budget for Halloween candy
At least I did in my Halloween-loving neighborhood, where the trick-or-treaters come out in droves.
I spent upward of $100 on candy my first year as a homeowner, and most of it was purchased in a panic at the Dollar Store after I noticed that our supply was dangerously low just halfway through the evening.
Now, I stock up in advance and shop with coupons to save a few bucks.
7. DIY renovation is equally rewarding and soul-crushing
For the first few months after we closed on our house, my husband and I spent every free hour after work and on the weekends ripping out carpeting, pulling nails one by one from the hardwood floors, and scrubbing away at generations’ worth of grime in the bathrooms and kitchen. It was some seriously sick stuff.
Being frugal and ambitious means we can accomplish a lot on a small budget. But acting as our own general contractors became a full-time job on top of both of our full-time jobs.
Simple pleasures like “having a social life” or “Friday night with Netflix” became distant memories. It’s easy now to say it was all worth it, but at the time, I daydreamed about winning the lottery and hiring a team of pros to handle our rehab.
Watch: Here’s How Low You Can Go in Making an Offer on a Home
8. My impulse to check real estate listings lingered for a while
When I started house hunting, I obsessively searched for new home listings every day, poring over MLS descriptions and swiping through photos. Reaching for my phone to refresh the realtor.com app became muscle memory.
But after we closed on our house, my impulse to follow the market didn’t disappear overnight. Even though I was a homeowner, I also had a phantom limb where “checking the real estate listings” used to be.
A friend of mine put it best when she wrote about the sensation of loss she experienced when she “no longer had an excuse to occupy [her] free time with these real estate apps.” It’s surprisingly challenging to turn off your home-buying brain after months of being on high alert.
9. You’ll never want to go back to sharing walls
I like my neighbors. I like them even more because, for the most part, I can’t hear them. Gone are the days of people above me making bowling sounds late at night.
Now, I enjoy the sweet, sweet silence of detached living—no adjacent neighbors blasting music or loudly quarreling. All the yard work in the world is worth it for this level of quiet.
Ready to start your home search? Here’s where to begin.
Chances are you’ve considered buying a home — maybe you even attended a couple of open houses and ran the numbers. But once you get serious, there are a few points you need to consider before signing a contract and heading to your closing.
Buying a home takes more time and research than, say, buying a tablet or smartphone. Before diving in, it’s important to understand the process. Every home buyer’s journey happens on a slightly different timeline, but here are some steps every prospective buyer should take.
1. Search and discover
The home-buying process often occurs organically, and may begin a year or more before the actual purchase. You’ll get started by viewing home listings online to discover what types of homes you can get in different price ranges.
Look at homes in your favorite neighborhoods, and review statistics and reports on home values. Use this time to dream about some of your favorite home features, and start to put together your list of priorities.
Most buyers will find a property during this phase that prompts them to move to the next stage.
2. Do the math and your required homework
Most would-be home buyers need a mortgage to purchase a home. While the process has gotten easier as we’ve moved farther away from the financial and lending crisis, it can still be challenging if you’re not prepared.
Go to open houses, make appointments and see as many homes as possible. Before making an offer, you’ll need to know the market inside and out. The more homes you see, the more you will know about your local real estate market, and the more confidence you will have when that dream house comes along.
And if you miss out on a deal or two, it’s okay. It’s all part of the process. Don’t feel rushed, and realize that the home search often becomes a part-time job. Have fun with it.
If you find yourself in the real estate market prior to doing significant research, you may be jumping the gun. Unlike a tablet, smartphone or even a car, a home is a long-term investment — and a special one at that. It’s where your life will happen. Move too quickly and buyer’s remorse can creep in.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.
Now that the first COVID-19 vaccines are being delivered across the U.S., it seems like the end of this surreal stay-6-feet-apart, shelter-in-place existence is—finally!—in sight. And yet, some of the adaptations we’ve made this year are likely to stick around. First-run movies streamed to your TV? Sure. Gourmet meals available for delivery? Heck, why not?
The same goes for house hunting, buying, and life at home in general. The pandemic has accelerated a shift to technological tools that make life easier for everyone involved in real estate transactions. For home buyers, a lot of features have gone from the “nice to have” to the “essential” column. In our coverage this year at realtor.com, we’ve seen it all unfold.
Here are all the changes that came to real estate in 2020 that are likely here to stay.
Big-city living loses its cool—and suburbs will never be the same
This year completely changed the way we viewed our homes and what we wanted from them.
It turns out that sheltering in place is a great way to find out if you really, really love your home—and being able to work remotely means there are more options if you don’t. The biggest wake-up call this year was for city dwellers who’d long justified the high expense of their tiny apartments with the many perks of urban life—until those suddenly became unavailable.
It’s always been the case that, as young people get older and start families, they’re more likely to move to the suburbs. But as realtor.com®’s chief economist, Danielle Hale, put it, “COVID-19 accelerated this trend. People are looking for space and affordability, and [the suburbs are] where they can find it.”
In the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, shoppers were spending more time checking out suburban listings than homes near the city center, according to realtor.com research. Asking prices also shot up faster in the burbs, boosted by the surge in demand.
And as the transplants settle in to their new surroundings, they’re likely to make their mark on the suburbs, as well. After all, why can’t they have their single-family home with a yard and more options for dining and entertainment?
As our econ data team points out, if employers continue allowing eligible employees to work remotely, this suburban shift is here to stay. And judging from the number of people who’ve already made the leap and bought a home in a more remote location, we’re guessing it will.
Technology is making house hunting and buying more convenient
House hunting in the time of the coronavirus means relying on technology more than ever. Cruising for home listings on sites such as realtor.com has been a basic first step for years. But this year, with orders declaring real estate work essential in some areas, and inessential for others for weeks at a time, folks were forced to move their home searches primarily online. Some folks ended up buying a home they’d never even seen in person!
And after all, why waste days driving around with a real estate agent, viewing house after house, when you can eliminate many options while sitting on your couch, at a time that works for you? The catch: There are some things that are harder to perceive in a video tour—so you need to know what signs to look for.
Other aspects of the home-buying process are now commonly facilitated by technology. There’s no need to sit in a mortgage broker’s office to discuss loan options, or sign piles of paperwork in a room at a title company. Remote mortgage pre-approvals, inspections, appraisals, and even closings are becoming the norm.
Buyers expect more from their homes
Hopefully, we’ll all soon be able to go back to our gyms, send kids to school, and even, if we want, do our work on an ergonomic desk. But the lesson of 2020 is that you need to be prepared if those things aren’t possible—and that means buyers are paying close attention to homes with plenty of space for work, school, exercise, and enjoying the fresh air.
Millennials, many with young children, are now the largest group of home buyers, and their preferences will shape home buying for years to come.
That means savvy home sellers will have to get their homes in shape for a new generation’s expectations. These days, homes with a home office sell faster, and for more money, than homes without one.
Sanitary features have come into focus lately, too. Smart, touchless options for faucets, lights, and locks are not only convenient, they also cut down on the transfer of germs. (The cold and flu aren’t going anywhere, for now.)
Also, 2020 brought us more than a global pandemic! For buyers and homeowners in the West, choking wildfire smoke highlighted how climate change is likely to affect our air quality in coming years. It’s also helpful for those with allergies or pets to get up to speed with air purifiers and filters.
Homeowners are going to be more self-reliant
DIY projects used to seem like something fun to do in your free time, but when you want to reduce exposure to additional people, making simple upgrades and performing basic home maintenance yourself is a necessity. And once you’ve developed those skills, you’re less likely to reach for the phone when you have something that needs fixing.
Plus, homeowners have always known that doing things yourself is great for the bottom line, especially when you target projects that offer a good return on investment.
“Self-reliant” doesn’t just mean keeping everything running, either. Many people discovered tending victory gardens this year as a way to enjoy fresh air and manage stress while ensuring a supply of fresh produce. As everyone knows, homegrown just tastes better—and once you’ve had it, it’s hard to go back.
Selling a house during winter comes with its own unique challenges. Snow, for one, can bury your home’s best features. Your normally lush landscaping may look drab and lifeless. And truth be told, all you want to do is cozy up at home rather than welcome buyers through your door.
Still, if you’re game to sell during winter, it’s essential that you put on your snow pants and put some effort into making your house shine. To help, here are some classic mistakes to avoid once the temperature drops, and why they can make such a difference. Just avoid making these all-too-common winter-selling fumbles in order to get top dollar.
Mistake No. 1: Setting down the shovel
You cleared off enough of the driveway for your car, but potential buyers won’t be entering through the garage like you do.
“Blazing a path through 3 feet of virgin snow makes a lousy first impression,” says John Engel, a Realtor® with Halstead Properties, in New Canaan, CT.
Don’t put away your snow shovel until you’ve cleared a path to your front door. Or save your poor back by hiring a snow removal company to keep your paths walkable.
“Not only does it make it more inviting for buyers, but it avoids potential safety and liability concerns,” says Massachusetts Realtor John Ternullo.
Mistake No. 2: Giving in to the winter blahs
Gray skies and barren trees make winter a particularly depressing time to sell. But you don’t have to let your home look as doleful as the weather.
“Pops of color by the entryway, like a seasonal wreath and topiaries, can add some interest to the front entrance as well as make it more inviting,” Ternullo says.
And don’t wait until buyers schedule showings to add some life: Colorful curb appeal transforms your listing photos from drab to dramatic.
Mistake No. 4: Not scrubbing your windows
Colder temps have robbed your trees of their leaves, leaving your home to look a bit sadder in winter’s wake. But that’s not the only problem. Those full trees previously shielded your home from direct sunlight. And now that it’s pouring in your windows, potential buyers will be able to see everything.
Scuffs, fingerprints, and streaks are “never more apparent” than in the wintertime, Engel says, so you should make sure you’re vigilant about keeping windows clean. Alone, that grime might not be enough to turn off a potential buyer, but it might make them wonder what other details you’ve missed.
Mistake No. 5: Displaying outdated summer photos
Your Tudor looks particularly glorious in the summer, but if your only listing photos were taken in April, buyers will immediately suspect a problem.
“Nothing says ‘old, tired listing’ more than the photo you took nine months ago,” Engel says. Talk to your Realtor about taking new photos that make your home look festive and seasonal. Feel free to keep older photos in the listing—your buyers might want to know what the home looks like when the gardens are in full bloom—but updated photos will make your listing seem fresh.
Mistake No. 6: Turning down the heat
“Frugality is great, but not when you’re trying to sell real estate for top dollar,” says Brian Davis, a real estate investor and co-founder of SparkRental.com.
Turn the heat up before you leave for showings, your utility bill be damned. Stick to 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit to keep everyone comfy.
“It will make the house feel homier and more welcoming,” Davis says. “It also gives the impression that the house is energy-efficient and well-insulated.”
Mistake No. 7: Denying access
It’s New Year’s Eve and a buyer wants to stop by. How dare they! Shouldn’t they assume you have a fabulous party to prepare for?
Maybe. But if you want to sell your home in the off-season, the buyer has to come first. You’ll need to work with your Realtor to devise a strategy for squeezing in showings, even in between all of winter’s holiday events and family gatherings.
“While it may be inconvenient, it’s crucial not to deny showings, as that could be a missed opportunity,” Ternullo says. “There may be less buyers compared to spring, but winter buyers tend to be serious.”
Mistake No. 8: Leaving out your draft stoppers
Your hand-knit draft stopper might look adorable snuggled against your door, but it “sends a clear message to buyers,” Davis says. “This house is drafty and loses heat easily.”
Not that you should lie. But every home has hidden problems, and it’s best to let the buyers make their own assessments and discoveries during the inspection period. Don’t leave out little things that could sway their decision.