We saw an example yesterday of a seller who didn’t have a problem finding a cash buyer who was willing to pay 10% below their original list price.
For the homeowners who are fascinated by the idea of selling quick and easy and might take a discount for such a convenience, I can now offer an ibuyer option as well as my retail estimate of value.
The ibuyer quote is from an independent third-party, not from me or Compass, and frankly, I think you should sell using my traditional method because I think you’ll come out ahead in the end. But if you can’t wait, I’ll set you up with an ibuyer who can cash you out right away.
I’m not crazy about the idea, but I think it is inevitable that every realtor will have to offer every option as part of their fiduciary duty to the seller.
I still think it is a conflict of interest for the agent to offer to sell the property traditionally AND make an offer to purchase with their own money.
If you’re interested, I can deliver a cash offer to you today!
Here’s research on the costs:
But what, exactly, do iBuyers bring to the table for home sellers? And, can this business model survive the housing market downturn so many are predicting?
That’s what Collateral Analytics sought to answer in a recent paper on the topic, which offered a deep dive into the strength of the iBuying concept.
First introduced in Phoenix by Opendoor in 2014, the iBuying concept offers home sellers the opportunity to sell and close on their home within days, hassle-free. The iBuyer then completes any necessary repairs and lists the home for sale.
“For motivated sellers who want a predictable sale date and need to move, perhaps a long distance from the current location, there is no question that iBuyers have provided a welcome alternative to traditional brokerage,” Collateral Analytics pointed out.
But all that convenience comes at a cost. The paper dissected the math behind the model, estimating that sellers end up paying between 13% to 15% more when they work with an iBuyer. This covers a difference in fees that ranges from 2% to 5% greater than a traditional real estate agency, plus an allowance for repairs and another 3% to 5% to cover the iBuyer’s liquidity risks and carrying costs.
The paper also noted that the iBuying model makes these companies susceptible to a number of risks, including the need to safeguard vacant homes and the possibility that the automated valuation models they rely on will overvalue a property, resulting in a loss.
They could also face troubles if home prices decline.
“A downturn in home prices, not forecast by the iBuyer market analysts, could be devastating as they ramp up their business platforms, particularly if the cost of capital increases,” the paper stated. “At the same time, downturns are precisely when the most sellers would want this option.”
While Collateral Analytics lists several companies that are investing big in the iBuyer model – including Opendoor, OfferPad, Zillow Offers, Redfin, Realogy CataLIST, Perch and Keller Offers from Keller Williams – it also states that only the most efficient firms with enough capital and market share are likely to survive.
And of course, this all depends on how appealing the concept turns out to be, mainly, how many home sellers are willing to pay for convenience.
“For some sellers, needing to move or requiring quick extraction of equity, this is certainly worthwhile,” the paper stated, “but what percentage of the market will want this service remains to be seen.”
The big money and heavy competition is causing ibuyers to juice their offerings.
Opendoor will buy your house for cash, they will buy your next house, they have rebates, and now they will even buy your house back within 90 days if you don’t like it.
Our belief is that everyone should love the home they just purchased, and we are going to stand behind that. Opendoor guarantees buyers will love the experience and purchase the home of their dreams at the best price, or we will buy the home back within 90 days. This guarantee extends to qualifying homes in Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Raleigh-Durham.
There are conditions, of course. This is the most intriguing (bold added):
In the case of a Third Party Home, we require a copy of a licensed general inspection report, and reserve the right not to offer the guarantee if there is any material defect identified in the report (e.g., foundation issues, roof damage, inoperable HVAC systems, unpermitted additions) or if Opendoor determines the purchase price is materially above the fair market value of the home. We will contact you within 24 hours of receipt of the report if this is the case.
They don’t have experienced, professional agents to represent you. Nope, just ‘tour assistants’ who open the door – so how will you know if you paid fair market value?
People will believe what they want to believe, and the company will help sway your opinion by having comments like this on their website:
A really good price, and a really good deal?
There will be buyers who jump at that!
These companies don’t want to get realtors involved, and the excuse is always because we cost too much.
But these disrupters don’t want the customer to know too much – either buyer or seller – so they can skim a few more bucks off them. It has the potential of creating an artificial market, where the companies tell you what the houses are worth – and you better like it!
The path forward is becoming more clear. Zillow is rapidly expanding their ibuying enterprise, and because they are so well-known, they have a shot at a major disruption.
In the video below, Mike describes how homeowners who used to rely on their zestimate for a home valuation are now getting a written quote from ibuyers – for free. In Phoenix, the center of the ibuying universe, 40% of homeowners get a quote from an ibuyer before selling their home.
In effect, ibuying is the new zestimate, and more tangible because if you like the number, you could sell your house instantly.
Sure, Zillow is losing money, but their first-year volume is remarkable:
Since launching Zillow Offers in April 2018, more than 170,000 homeowners have requested an offer through the program. In the second quarter alone, there were 70,000 requests.
Zillow reported that it made $1,578 on each home it sold in the second quarter before interest expenses are calculated. After interest expenses, the company, on average, lost $2,916 per home. Barton believes that, eventually, the company will earn 400-500 basis points of return before interest expenses on homes it sells.
It’s an improvement, however, over the company’s first-quarter numbers, where it lost, on average, $3,268 per home it sold, after interest expenses.
“Over time, our unit economics should benefit more from other adjacent services, like mortgage origination, title and escrow,” Barton said in a letter to shareholders. “We expect to be able to leverage these services to support Zillow Offers and improve the consumer’s overall transaction experience, while also generating cost savings for Zillow and our customers.”
They are the only real estate company that has been willing to spend $100 million per year in advertising, and it’s what made them who they are today. It won’t matter if they charge 7% to 13% for their service, all that matters is that they advertise it – which may not be that costly.
Because many or most homeowners have saved their home on Zillow (giving up their email address), they will get regular solicitations to sell their house to Zillow.
Look how easy it is – one click and you get a cash offer…….just like 500+ others near you:
If you have 18 minutes to spare, Mike’s presentation below is a full examination:
Mike mentions that he thinks the companies who position themselves at the start of the consumer journey will win. Stay tuned for a Compass announcement shortly!
We were talking with some friends last night about how much financial support is going towards kids, and how it will affect real estate in the future.
On one hand, it’s the Bank of Mom and Dad, and helping to keep the market afloat when funding home purchases at these lofty prices for those kids with regular jobs.
However, for those kids who never get to the point of financial stabilization, the selling of the parents home will become the lottery ticket to solve their money issues.
I suggested that this is where the ibuyers could do the most harm by taking advantage of people who want and need a quick sale and who aren’t that familiar with the values.
When we were in Las Vegas for that one-day vacation, I saw more than one ibuyer ad on TV, and they were very enticing. The kids who have been strapped for years and then inherit their parents’ house might jump at the chance to get their hands on quick money – and likely leave some on the table.
Will anyone step up to protect the unsuspecting? A new challenge/opportunity for realtors!
But as more players jump into the space and markets are saturated with various competing platforms, profit margins that are already paper thin get squeezed even more. Zillow says it’s making $1,723 per home flip at a minuscule 0.6 percent profit, which leads one to wonder if this space is really worth getting into if you don’t have multiple modes of monetization.
That’s where the concept of a one-stop shop for home buying and selling becomes especially attractive. If one company can seamlessly integrate each individual component of the real estate transaction—buying, renovating, insuring, and selling—and optimize operational efficiencies along the way, there’s a path to becoming the truly dominant real estate company.
Being the one-stop shop has been the goal of most large real estate operations, where the owners can make profits on every related service – escrow, title, loans, etc. It’s why these outside companies all jumped in to the ibuyer space – the cumulative profits look very enticing, and making as little as $1,723 per home flip doesn’t look bad as long as they get the other fee income too.
I think they will be able to dominate in the homogenized lower-priced tract neighborhoods where there isn’t much variance in values. They can make their own market too, because a first-time homebuyer won’t balk over paying a few extra thousand in price to get an easy entry into a renovated home. If great salespeople are employed, the ibuyers could make a killing.
It will also enable the ibuyers to dabble in the higher-priced areas, where losses can pile up quicker. No need to risk big money when there is no pressure on them to buy anything. I would expect their purchase quotes in the higher-end areas will be well under retail, to give them plenty of cushion.
How will sellers, buyers, and realtors react?
Sellers usually have a price in mind, and tend to be a little uncomfortable with interviewing several candidates/options. If ibuyers advertise effectively and get the first call, then all they have to do is get close to the seller’s price-in-mind, and convenience will be what decides it.
If a realtor gets the first call, and comes in with seller’s price-in-mind or higher, they will get the listing. Realtors will feel the need to quote higher-than-ever list prices.
Sellers who want quick money and convenience won’t worry about leaving a little money on the table, and take the ibuyer deal. Those sellers who want top dollar will list with a realtor.
With everything being high-priced, buyers will probably gravitate to the homes in top condition, and just pay what it takes. Hopefully we won’t run out of buyers.
Crafty agents might offer third-party reviews of the options. Sellers will already be getting biased opinions from ibuyers and realtors, and they could use a consultant to help sort out the best option. But sellers would have to be deliberate and analytical to resist winging it themselves.
The Big Question? With sellers having more equity than ever, will they mind leaving some on the table?
The successful ibuyers doing volume could smooth out any bumpy markets, because they will be determining the home values to suit their bottom line. If they can’t sell, they can always rent instead.
Home prices have been on a tear for ten years straight, and are at their highest levels ever.
Is this bubble going to pop too?
Let’s look at the statistics first. I took the most recent 45 days to get the latest scoop, plus the MLS prefers to calculate the smaller sample sizes.
NSDCC Detached-Home Listings and Sales, April 1 – May 15 (La Jolla to Carlsbad)
# of Listings
# of Sales
It is remarkable that all-time-high prices aren’t causing more people to sell!
In previous markets, once prices started reaching new highs, homeowners would jump at the chance to move. The inventory would grow and cool things off, and/or we’d hit an economic downturn and foreclosure sales would direct the market. But not today!
We are a mid-level luxury market. The more-expensive areas like Los Angeles, Orange County, and the Bay Area feed us downsizers who think we are giving it away.
Homebuying has de-coupled from jobs. We do have substantial employers like Qualcomm, bio-tech, etc. but not near enough to justify these lofty prices. How do we keep afloat? It’s the big down payments; either from previous home sales, successful business ventures, or the Bank of Mom & Dad.
They changed the rules. Banks have to give defaulters a chance to qualify for a loan modification before they can foreclose. With everyone enjoying their equity position, they will find a way to hang onto their house or sell it for a profit, instead of lose it.
Reverse mortgages are an alternative for those who need money. They might crank down the amount of money you can tap, but as long as homeowners are flush with equity, they will be able to get their hands on some of it via reverse mortgages or the typical equity line.
Buyers have been full of money, and willing to blow it. I’ve seen sales close for 10% to 25% above the comps this year, so it doesn’t seem like people are worried about a bubble. Those sales could be creating unsustainable comps, and be short-lived values, but will the next buyer question them enough?
Coming Soon vs. ibuyer. We need a gimmick to transition us to the ibuyer era, and the ‘Coming Soon’ off-market sales will be the sexy distraction. The price of an off-market sale isn’t necessarily lower than retail, and in some cases they can be higher when the buyers get jacked up about the opportunity.
The ibuyer era could be the last hurrah for open-market real estate. If the big-money corporate buyers can build enough credibility and begin to dominate the space, they will be able to dictate the prices paid for their flips, and control the marketplace. If so, they will make sure we won’t have another down market!
In the meantime, we might see prices start to bounce around, instead of the constant trend higher. But if it gets harder to sell, then many will just sit tight instead.
If you think a bubble pop will happen, ponder this question. Who is going to give away their home now?
Sure, they offer convenience, but the reason it works is because it’s so vague – sellers will never know the money difference between selling to an ibuyer or an open-market sale. The trendy-hip, sell-with-a-click factor could lure sellers into giving up an extra 5% or so without ever realizing it.
(pay 3% more in ibuyer fees and then sell for less than open-market sale)
Hat tip to reader ‘just some guy’ for sending in the article:
When Dora Cagnetto decided to sell her townhouse in Phoenix this year, a real estate agent told her that she could get around $375,000 for it. Maybe $390,000. But she would have to replace the carpet and paint the walls. At 68 years old and recently retired, she thought it sounded like a lot of work.
One evening, after the carpet had been ripped up, Ms. Cagnetto saw an online ad for Zillow Offers. Zillow, better known for telling people what their homes are worth, would buy her home itself. She uploaded some photos and got back an offer: $382,000, minus a fee for Zillow. No repair work or open houses necessary. And Zillow paid cash.
Ms. Cagnetto estimated she effectively paid $10,000 to $15,000 for the privilege of turning over to Zillow the job of replacing the carpet and the bathroom countertops and doing other light repair work.
“My son, he’s like, ‘Well, oh, I could have done that,’ and maybe he would have saved a little money,” Ms. Cagnetto said. “But to me it was like, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to hire somebody to do that, I don’t want to put carpeting in, I don’t want to paint these walls.”
The Phoenix area has become a hub of the iBuying phenomenon. With its relatively new housing stock and miles of buff-colored subdivisions, the market is affordable, uniform in look and steadily growing.
Whether iBuying works outside markets like Phoenix and Las Vegas is an open question. The model has yet to break into the Northeast, where the housing stock is older, the weather drives up maintenance costs and there are fewer of the kind of cookie-cutter subdivisions that the industry’s algorithms assess best. Prices are higher, too, making mistakes costlier for the companies.
While the old tradition of broker cooperation via the MLS is slowly eroding, there is an opening for others to intrude. Two quotes seen this week in different articles:
Founder and CEO Rich Barton said in a radio interview on April 1st that he sees Zillow Offers as an evolution of Zestimates. In fact, at some point in the future, a Zestimate and a cash offer may be the same thing, he said in an appearance on National Public Radio.
“Ideally, I would like to have the Zestimate be a live offer on every home in the country,” said Barton, adding, “It will take quite some time to get there.”
Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin, a real-estate brokerage that has also got into the home-flipping business, said he still believes the endgame for Opendoor, as well as his own company, is to get buyers to purchase homes without necessarily using an agent.
“A large number of these companies, Redfin included, are going to be selling direct to consumers,” he said.
Will consumers trust them enough to buy and sell houses based on their fabricated estimates of value, without a realtor on their side? All that needs to happen is for these ibuyer companies to overwhelm the public with advertising, and convince you that their value estimates are close enough.
The advertising is the key. Consumers don’t have much real estate experience and education, and it’s not easy finding helpful resources (how many real estate blogs are there?). They just want to click and go!
It will be like TrueCar, where they advertise that their valuation system gives you an advantage, and to go down to one of their dealers to buy the car for that amount. TrueCar has sold over 2 million vehicles!
Mike has been the leading resource on the ibuyer industry, and he sees it the same way I do – Zillow wants (and needs) to commit fully to their ibuyer program because advertising income from agents is starting to lag, which could be a major shift in the real-estate-selling business. He is having a seminar for those who might be interested.
Zillow, the world’s largest real estate portal in terms of revenue, recently underwent a major shift in strategy. In effect, its advertising revenue stream has run out of runway; while still a billion-dollar business, growth has stopped. Thus, it is reorienting towards iBuying and its Zillow Offers program.
In the world of grand strategy, the move is a rare, bet-the-company moment focused on one thing: the battle for the start of the consumer journey. Designed as a maneuver to simultaneously disarm competitors and strengthen its already powerful position, it’s either a masterstroke or a mistake. But in either case, Zillow is clearly “all in” on the gold rush that is iBuying.
Zillow has set lofty goals: buying 60,000 houses per year and $20 billion in revenue. The stock price is up and the company is valued $2 billion higher than it was pre-announcement. This is big.
This Friday I’ll run through all of the major points from this move, complete with charts, data, and insights. I’ll look at the numbers that matter, the metrics to keep an eye on, and what it all means for the larger ecosystem. I’ll also answer your questions! Read more details and register.
Who should attend the webinar?
Zillow’s competitors and potential competitors (portals and iBuyers).
Real estate incumbents looking to formulate their iBuyer strategy.
International real estate portals looking to learn from Zillow’s move.
Investors interested in iBuying and what the market impact will be.
Start-ups with a desire to understand the new landscape, and how they fit in.
When the announcement was first made two weeks ago, Zillow stock went from 34 to 44, but it is back down to 38 today (LINK).
Buying 60,000 houses a year isn’t the game-changer by itself. What matters is what their nationwide advertising does to the seller’s psyche – and will agents keep spending big money to get connected to the sellers who want more $$ than Zillow is willing to pay.