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Jokes, Pop Music and Radical Honesty: How TikTok Is Changing Home Sales

A new generation of real estate agents is going off-script to find leads.

Bloomberg Businessweek

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Illustration of hands holding phones with TikTok logo on the screen or "For Sale" signs

Illustration: Shira Inbar for Bloomberg Businessweek

In an effort to court first-time buyers, some real estate agents are trying a new tactic: radical honesty.

Videos sprouting up on social media are relying on pop music, off-color jokes and unconventional commentary (“This kitchen’s turning me on”) to stand out from highly produced walk-throughs that promise seemingly perfect homes. Agents say it’s helping them reach clients where they’re most comfortable. On TikTok alone, 5.3 million posts now carry the hashtag #RealEstate; the platform reports a 40% increase in such posts during the first two months of 2024 compared with the same period in 2023.

One contributor to that rise is Cesar Gutierrez, who operates Milestone Real Estate Group with Keller Williams in Laredo, Texas. At the urging of his wife, he flipped the script on his cookie-cutter walk-throughs and infused a particular strain of Spanish-language humor into his clips. Now his casas mamalonas format—which translates roughly to “badass houses”—reliably cranks up hundreds of thousands of views.

In a recent video, Gutierrez highlighted the long living room of a three-bedroom listed for $369,000. “When you buy your house, you won’t have any more money to buy furniture,” he joked in Spanish. His solution, demonstrated with push-ups and lunges, was to use the space as a fitness center: “Free membership to your home gym.” He estimates that he’s received about 60 leads, 9 contracts and 12 pending listings from TikTok after he switched his approach in February. First-time buyers are reaching out, too.

“I’m letting them say what they’re actually thinking instead of having them feel all tense because, ‘Oh, I’m talking to a professional real estate agent,’” Gutierrez says. “They’re looser, more, ‘OK, let’s have fun with it.’”

The posts tap into a time-honored tradition of being nosy about how other people live as well as changing behavior when it comes to TikTok, LinkedIn and Meta Platforms Inc.’s Instagram and Facebook. Increasingly, these networks are being used like search engines, and audiovisual media stands out in those queries, says Pinar Yildirim, an associate professor of marketing and economics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

“Reading about a house is not as exciting as being able to walk through a house, or even a simulated walk-through,” Yildirim says. “Real estate agents might understand that this is where people are looking for things, this is where they’re getting their inspiration, and move more of their marketing efforts to these platforms.”

Finding new buyers is critical. Last year, sales of previously owned US homes were the lowest in almost three decades, and a legal settlement by the National Association of Realtors this month may pressure commissions for agents. One in 3 US adults use TikTok, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted last year. Viewers also skew younger—62% of 18- to 29-year-olds use the platform, compared with only 10% of those 65 and older—which makes TikTok a good place to connect with potential first-time homebuyers in particular.

Videos are still at the mercy of algorithms, so there’s no guarantee that an audience that’s served a real estate clip lives in the target market. And the looming fate of ByteDance Ltd.-owned TikTok, which US lawmakers are trying to either ban or force a sale of, only reinforces the desire by agents to use as many platforms as they can to reach leads. Not everyone needs to be a comedian to successfully market their listings. Often, picturesque staging and soothing background music will do the trick.

The sheer amount of content on offer can make it tricky for listings to stand out, especially as more agents take to the platform. In a survey that the National Association of Realtors conducted last October, 15% of 2,600 respondents said they use TikTok as a business tool, up from just 5% in 2021. Over the 12 months prior to the 2023 survey, social media was the No. 1 source of quality leads for 54% of respondents.

Brad Scott, a real estate agent in San Antonio, was an early adopter—he started posting walk-throughs to Instagram four years ago—but his initial videos didn’t get the results he was after.

“It was your basic, run-of-the-mill content,” Scott says of his early work. “Either you got a hundred views or you might get lucky with a few thousand views. But that sort of engagement without a face in front of the camera, without a personality, there really wasn’t much that came from it. It was just like, ‘Oh, that’s a nice kitchen.’”

It was only when he began leaning into his own personality and “dropped the businessman act,” he says, that his videos began going viral. He posted the first “aggressive” home tour on Jan. 27. Now he has more than 115,000 followers on TikTok, and his clips amass tens of thousands of views. His popularity has even led to a second job: content creator. He’s started charging $250 a listing to help other agents make their own videos.

“New home sales consultants realized, ‘Hey, this is a great service to get some eyes on my neighborhood,’” Scott says. “If I do a video maybe three days before the weekend, you can expect 20, 30 people coming in, just who watched that video.”

Andy Klaric, an agent in New York City with Serhant Real Estate, leans on an in-house team dedicated to helping agents make content for their listings. A spokesperson says the studio produces about 125 pieces of social content per month, and 1 in 4 of those videos are meant for TikTok specifically.

Although real estate agents can use certain location tools to help get a video to its intended audience, sometimes casting a wider net pays off. Klaric regularly generates listings and sales through his almost 237,000 followers on TikTok. Often, someone adjacent to his clients sees videos in which he taps into app-specific trends to increase their reach.

“Most of the time, the first interaction with my leads comes from the kids, the assistant, the housekeeper, someone else,” Klaric says. “And that leads to so many other opportunities.”

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This post originally appeared on Bloomberg Businessweek and was published March 26, 2024. This article is republished here with permission.

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