Real estate canon used to be straight forward and for the most part consistent. For instance, if you planned a sale, you would target spring time because that was generally accepted as the time when home buyer activity was the greatest; or buying a home was a rite of passage. But since 2008, what was generally accepted has been persistently challenged; home buyers and sellers have shifted into a new paradigm with new rules.
It is no coincidence that Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate (by Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff and Chief Economist Stan Humphries, Ph.D.) comes at a time when significant changes in consumer beliefs and expectations about real estate have become widely recognized. The book is described by Zillow as “…poised to be the real estate almanac for the next generation.” And looking at the table of contents, you might think that the highly acclaimed tome is just another book about the buying and selling process; yet it seems to discuss practical aspects about buying and selling a home, as well as possibly confronting real estate myths.
It will remain to be seen how influential the work will become, as research has indicated that home buyers are typically well informed and out in front of housing trends.
A 2012 study by Karl Case, Robert Shiller, & Anne Thompson (What have they been thinking? homebuyer behavior in hot and cold markets. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, 265-315) revealed perceptions and expectations of homebuyers from four metropolitan markets over a 25 year period. The authors concluded that the surveyed home buyers were well informed and very much aware of home price trends prior to their purchase. Data suggested that home buyer opinions (beliefs) fluctuated over time; there was more agreement among respondents during strong markets, and increased doubt during times of market uncertainty. There was also a strong correlation between price perceptions and actual movement in prices. Although home buyers were “out in front” of short term market movements, their short term expectations “underreacted” to actual home price changes; while long term expectations were persistently “more optimistic.”
Suggesting a set of “guidelines” for real estate is a trap that implies that the housing market is straightforward and static; where personal and regional differences don’t matter and the market doesn’t change. However, David Wyman, Elaine Worzala, and Maury Seldin raise the question about becoming complacent with trends and models. In a 2013 exploratory paper (Hidden complexity in housing markets: a case for alternative models and techniques, International Journal of Housing Markets and Analysis, 6:4, 383 – 404) they discuss how rigid market models may lead to rules where buyers and sellers could make poor decisions.
The authors’ discussion of “complexity theory” in real estate in not unlike the application of “chaos theory,” which focuses on letting go of assumptions upon which rules are definitive; and view housing as a dynamic and changing environment. Citing incidents leading up to the financial crisis, the authors make a case for understanding the market as complex and using common sense before making (buying and selling) decisions.
So as we begin to understand the new real estate dogma, it is likely that the new rules will most likely change along with the market. And much like the housing market, consumer beliefs are also dynamic – which seem to be ahead of the industry experts.
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