Do you have a Zillow Addiction?

United States Housing Market

The United States is in one of the most robust housing markets in recent memory. Home prices across the country reached record-highs in five of the first six months of 2021. Throughout 2021, the housing market has seen stratospheric prices, brutal bidding wars, and record low inventory. You would think this type of market would dissuade would be home seekers, but houses across the country are being bought over listing price, with lines for open houses around the block.

COVID-19 Pandemic Screen Time

A recent study found that there was a 50 – 70 percent increase in internet use during the pandemic among U.S. adults. This was due to COVID-19 restrictions, regulations, and stay-at home orders over the past 18 months. Where people stayed indoors, offices remained shut, and human interaction was done mostly through our devices. As a result, the usage of digital devices increased manifold across the the country and world.

Zillow

Zillow is an online real estate database that is the most-visited real estate website in the United States. Zillow offers customers a digital experience for selling, buying, renting, and financing real estate. The company was founded in 2006 by former Microsoft executives.

Zillow has data on over 110 million homes across the United States. The company offers several features including value estimates of homes, value changes of each home in a given time frame, aerial views of homes, and prices of comparable homes in the area. It also provides basic information on a given home, such as square footage and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms.

Over the past few years, Zillow has focused on being the digitalization leader in the online real estate industry. During the pandemic, Zillow accelerated its digital offerings, aiming to be the “digital-first future of home shopping”. It aimed to take full advantage of the booming housing market described above. This digital strategy included launching:

  • Machine learning to pull together various media content with an interactive floor plan
  • A self-tour option on all Zillow-owned homes
  • Digital floor plans augmenting Zillow 3D Home virtual tours, providing shoppers with a more immersive experience
  • More virtual tours, virtual staging, increased customization and enhanced safety standards

These leading digital features have resulted in Zillow recording a record 9.6 billion page views over the past year, up 19% year-over-year. Zillow had 245 million monthly unique users in 2020 alone.

Zillow Addiction

Are people really addicted to Zillow? A survey highlighted in Bloomberg found that more than half of respondents were spending 1 to 4 hours a day browsing Zillow. The following survey results show how much of an impact Zillow has had on people’s lives:

  • 58% have missed an important deadline at least once because they were browsing Zillow
  • 56% have cancelled plans with a friend at least once to browse Zillow instead
  • 57% have been late to an event or appointment at least once because they were browsing Zillow
  • 41% of people say their Zillow browsing has caused problems in their work or personal life

Zillow addiction among Americans has become so widespread over the past year that Saturday Night Live created an entire skit based on how “pleasurable” browsing the website is.

SNL is clearly joking about the Zillow fantasy, but in a survey conducted by a California-based insurance agency that surveyed 1,000 people, 49% said they would rather browse Zillow than have sex.

Zillow has proven not only to be a leading digitalization company for serious real estate buyers and sellers, but those daydreaming about a new life in a far off destination. Whether that’s a tropical bungalow with ocean views or modern mountain mansion with ski access. Zillow has allowed us to get closer to our fantasies and far our daily lives. With so much time spent at home during the pandemic, millions are living out their digital fantasies on Zillow every day.

Parting Thoughts

I had a Zillow addiction during the pandemic. In October, my girlfriend and I purchased a condo in Boston and had spent many months prior on Zillow trying to find our place to call home. During this “research” it became a habit to check Boston Zillow listings multiple times a day. That led to checking listings outside of Boston to areas that I dreamed of moving to. A ski house in Crested Butte, a tiny home in Vermont, a retreat in the Berkshires. I realized my Zillow addiction when I still continued to visit the website daily after we had already purchased our new home. Why on earth was I wasting my time doing this?! The answer is simple. I had become obsessed with finding new listings which led to new life possibilities I could daydream about.

After researching for this blog I quickly realized that I was not the only one who had spent a bit too much time on Zillow. In fact, there have been millions of us over the pandemic that have used Zillow as an escape from the pandemic.

Am I the only one in class who has used Zillow as a retreat? Are there others who have become too familiar with the infinite life possibilities that Zillow offers?

13 comments

  1. I was completely obsessed with Zillow at the beginning of the pandemic. My husband and I had just decided to start looking for a condo a week before shutdown and knew prices were about to sky rocket. Safe to say, the cramped 700 sq ft apartment and the inability to leave triggered a Zillow addiction. Constant monitoring and help from family/friends equally as bored as we were, we bought a home by May. After reading your blog, I realized that our support group (family/friends) were pulled into the same obsession.

    I think pet adoption sites like Adopt a Pet and PetFinder played a similar escape opportunity for people during the pandemic. I…again…fell victim to this trap as well!

  2. Quite a few neat bits of information in here. I wouldn’t say my wife and I have a Zillow or Trulia (also owned by Zillow) addiction, but we have certainly used it to ballpark a budget for our next move in summer 2022. I doubt we would ever purchase a property listed on Zillow since the best deals in real estate are the ones done off the market. Over the years it has been interesting to see how Zillow has capitalized on its low churn rate such as offering to buy your come for its “Zestimate” price or partnering with an all cash offer broker to make home buying less competitive.

  3. This was a fun one to read! Perhaps my favorite pandemic activity was meeting my mom for walks in different neighborhoods, picking out the houses we liked, and “Zillowing” them. I think it’s a true sign that something is ingrained in culture if the noun becomes a verb, and it did for many of us. I will say, some of the stats were surprisingly alarming, not sure whether to laugh or be a little scared…. “41% of people say their Zillow browsing has caused problems in their work or personal life”…. sheesh…

  4. Wow, I never would have thought people were addicted to searching on Zillow. But after reading your blog, I totally get it. Although, I did not find refuge on Zillow in the pandemic, I did suddenly become addicted to PetFinders to buy a doberman. Also, like Jake mentioned above, I was also shocked when you said Zillow causes 41% of browsers to have problems in their work and personal lives. It fact, its no surprise that visitors on Zillow increased, other digitally native home/rental firms experienced a surge in online traffic at the height of the pandemic. This was very entertaining read.

  5. Excellent blog! Big fun of Zillow! I am always looking for houses that I can’t afford and places that I am not looking to move into, but let me tell you, I am glad I am not addicted to Zillow. I was shocked to read some of your findings. I believe Zillow has revolutionized the housing market for the general public, but I am defiantly reconsidering keeping this app on my phone after reading your blog. Thank you very much for sharing!

  6. I might be the only person here who doesn’t have a Zillow addiction but that will likely change once I move from a renter to a homeowner. but I definitely struggle with unplugging. I’ve done my best to minimize screen time but can’t say I’m super great at it. I feel better when I do it so why is it so hard?

  7. If you haven’t checked out the Facebook group “Zillow Gone Wild,” it’s definitely worth a moment to do so. I’m not sure I’d say I am addicted, but I do enjoy blazing up Zillow while traveling to see what the local market is like. That, and watching our cape house go up in value by about 50% over the last year or so.

  8. This could make for an interesting study. We’re all aware of the social media addiction many people have, and also having a short addiction to certain trends such as surfing certain websites. I see myself addicted to online shopping looking for deals during the Fall and I can’t help myself. My roommate is addicted to Facebook Marketplace and though he has more than he needs, he’s constantly buying more. Granted this is a profitable flipping site, his behavior justifies otherwise. Zillow is the same, once you’re looking for a home, you’re constantly looking for deals. This potential psychological study could prove our addictions to surfing these types of sites, and could create some talk about how we can avoid building these habits and stay unplugged from the internet for a bit. Zillow is interesting because its model encompasses so much more than buying a home.

  9. I am definitely a fan of searching Zillow every once in awhile. We can all dream right!? That being said the survey results of Zillow usage are a bit alarming!

    I just read @bengreen123 post about Lemonade and I am wondering if there is an opportunity for partnership. If Zillow wants to be a digitalization leader perhaps a partnership with Lemonade Insurance, another technology forward company, could put them ahead. I am imagining a calculation could be listed on each of the home listing that says what the home insurance would cost if you purchased the particular property. The calculation could link directly to Lemonade’s website, thus making it so the user has to type in less information. I believe people would appreciate the convenience.

  10. Interesting time of this blog post! I was with my friends that just bought a house in Roslindale and a house had just gone up for sale a block from where they just bought. The wife of the couple within minutes had pulled up the Zillow listing for the house and was comparing their house to the listing. In previous years she would have to have remembered the agency selling the house and search their site. Also, for houses sold in the area she would have had to go through the city to pull public information.

    As a side, I actually use to be on Zillow all the time pre-pandemic but have noticed my interaction with the site has drastically lowered. After realizing that I had a bit of a problem (ha!) I deleted the app from my phone.

  11. I’m happy that Zillow was in its infancy when my wife and I were looking for a house in 2007-2008 otherwise it would have been a huge time sinkhole!! That said, I still use the site quite a bit just to get a lay of the local housing market (I’m in Milton). The SNL skit was a hoot – and like most effective humor, not too far from reality!

  12. I too was addicted to Zillow, the addiction started a few months before the pandemic as I helped my parents search for another house. What got me was the walking tours, 3D pictures and the details of the property which would make comparing potential finds a lot easier. I found myself leisurely on the app months after they had bought the house and broke that habit just recently!

  13. What a fun read. Got to admit I was shocked by some of those statistics. Missing deadlines, canceling plans! Man that’s nuts. Just to look at properties. Crazy. I’ll admit I consider myself fortunate that my wife and I bought our home back in 2019 before the market got even crazier (yes it was still a pain the ass to buy in 2019 but I feel for the folks trying to buy now) but I just can’t picture spending 4 hours a day on zillow. That’s quite a radius someone must have regarding where they want to live!

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