Amazon: Changing Our Homes And How They're Bought

Growing up, I’ve watched my mom take thousands of calls throughout the week and show up to social events on weekends to pass out her business card. Though I understood nothing about real estate then, it highlighted the extent to which the industry — whether you’re a real estate salesperson or mortgage loan originator — is driven by relationships. To succeed, real estate requires reaching out to those who you know and are willing to employ you; from there, you must get referrals and build a network. A 2017 survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) finds that “41% of sellers who used a real estate agent found their agents through a referral by friends or family and 23% used the agent they previously worked with to buy or sell a home.”

Despite the gradual emergence of real estate startups and platforms for buying and selling a home, the relationship component of the industry has remained fairly unchanged. For example, sites like Zillow and OpenDoor make it easier for people to buy and sell their property online. The NAR found that although 51% of buyers found their home through online platforms, 87% of buyers still elected to purchase their home through a real estate agent, a number that has grown from 69% in 2001. The situation is similar for sellers, 88% of whom hired a real estate agent.

Last year, Amazon quietly put up a test page — “Hire a Realtor” — underneath the Home and Business Services section of their website. The preliminary website, which contained a zip code search bar and a “coming soon” banner, was quickly taken down hours later. But what the website portends for the future of real estate still lingers. Amazon’s particular play here is within the real estate referral business, potentially disturbing the current system relying on personal connection and word-of-mouth for agent to obtain clients. Unlike small startups, the fact that Amazon already exists as a consolidated platform offering both physical products and services to millions of users every year means that if (or when) Bezos’ brainchild does officially roll out the service, real estate firms will be forced to adapt. Whether the system is for agents to pay to be listed in Amazon’s referral database or for agents to give a portion of their commission to Amazon the change will be; exclusion or neglecting to participate in the service could be damaging to salespeople, who struggle to find clients as buyers and sellers take to Amazon’s referral service instead.

Amazon is also looking to assert itself within physical real estate itself, partnering with Lennar, the largest home construction company in the United States, this summer. Together, they’ve begun rolling out model home and experience showrooms for people to try out. Their new smart homes include services like having Amazon replenish home supplies with the push of a button, to smart keys and doorbells, to a voice controlled Alexa that is integrated within components of the house itself. The idea of patented technology synced with other services and products that Amazon currently provides leads us to revise our idea of a “Smart Home” from having a couple of smart devices for our home, to one where the house is embedded with smart technology. Unsurprisingly, a ColdWell Market Survey done in 2018 finds that there has been a 33 percent year-over-year increase in Americans using smart home devices. As more and more people turn towards smart technology, Amazon’s distinct advantage within the smart home industry would further squeeze real estate salespeople who continue to sell traditional homes. Cumulatively, Amazon’s movement into real estate affects not only the way that we obtain a home, but what a home will look like in the future.