Herding behavior can interfere with real estate decisions

herding real estateHave you ever wondered why real estate trends develop? When we’re buying and selling a home, we like to think we act rationally and with intention. However, our decision making is influenced externally. We are affected by the attitudes of the experts, family and friends, from whom we solicit advice. We are also consciously and unconsciously influenced by information we get from TV, the internet, social media, news papers, and even from eavesdropping conversations. Your decision making may be based on others’ behaviors that signaled it was the correct thing to do, and in turn magnifies and strengthens the signal to others – which is described as herding behavior.

Herding behavior plays a large role in our daily lives, as well as in our real estate choices and conclusions. Decisions about home buying and selling, which agent to hire, sales prices, and even whether or not we should default on our mortgage can be influenced by herding behaviors.

A 2013 study of herding behavior in strategic default revealed significant findings about our vulnerability to information (Luchtenberg & Seiler (2013).The effect of exogenous information signal strength on herding. Review of Behavioral Finance, 5(2),153-174). To refresh your memory, strategic default (allowing a home to go to foreclosure when financially able to pay the mortgage) became a significant trend that was widely covered in the media during 2010-2012. Luchtenberg & Seiler’s research into decision making and herding behavior suggested that those who are susceptible to information can be easily swayed. Their findings among professionals revealed that low consensus information (“weak information signals”) caused herding when asked to make a personal choice; while high consensus information (“strong information signals”) caused herding when providing advice to a friend.

The notion that the housing and financial crises were caused by herding behavior is not new. However, economist Christian Hott researched if housing bubbles are caused by herding behavior (Hott, C. (2012). The influence of herding behaviour on house prices. Journal of European Real Estate Research, 5(3),177-198). Citing others, Hott explains that herding behaviors are formed by those who are “imperfectly informed” and “learn from the decisions” of others; and that people tend to “overestimate the likelihood of an event” to occur to them when they hear it happened to someone else (expecting the same experience that someone else had). Although Hott concluded that herding was not the only contributor to the housing market collapse, and suggested that mortgage banking was also likely responsible; the findings indicated that herding behavior does play a role in home price fluctuations and housing bubbles.

Cognitive dissonance may also be at work to reinforce your herding behaviors. You may act on information that is not widely acknowledged just because the source is significant to you (such as a relative, close friend or co-worker). And the stronger your belief in the information, the more likely you will in turn confidently give the same advice to others, even though it may be inaccurate and/or irrational.

Breaking away from the herd is difficult; buying and selling a home may not seem to be a rational process – even when confronted with facts. People don’t always base decision of logical choices, but rather base decisions on psycho-emotional needs and/or fears (such as status, acceptance, and avoidance of failure). However, seeking balanced information and becoming aware of your motivations may improve your decision making.

Copyright © Dan Krell

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.