: ‘Real estate is your sex now’: SNL sketch skewers people’s obsession with Zillow — 3 reasons why millennials can’t stop scrolling

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Ever found yourself up late at night scrolling through home listings, comparing the marble countertops and steam showers? Or fantasizing about living in a mansion or lakeside property in some farflung town you have never visited or even heard of?

Then you might feel personally victimized by one of the latest sketches from NBC’s CMCSA, +1.67% “Saturday Night Live.”

On the latest episode, host Dan Levy of “Schitt’s Creek” fame and SNL’s cast members paid homage to the latest fad: Zillow Z, +4.42% ZG, +3.27%. The sketch, themed after late-night ads for phone-sex hotlines, needled millennials for how they obsessively pore over real-estate listings as a form of entertainment.

“Real estate is your sex now, and our listings are just standing by waiting for you to browse them,” SNL castmember Heidi Gardner coos. “I’d never live in North Carolina, but if I did I’d buy a big gross mansion,” Levy adds.

Zillow took the jokes in stride, with the company’s CEO Rich Barton later questioning on Twitter TWTR, +3.38% whether Zillow has been taking the wrong approach to its marketing.

Amanda Pendleton, home and trends expert at Zillow, said, “We were honored to be included in something as iconic as Saturday Night Live, and we’ve been overwhelmed by the response. So many people think that this is just painfully accurate.”

The team of writers and performers at “Saturday Night Live” are far from the first to pick up on the popularity of fantasy scrolling on Zillow.

The real-estate website Curbed recently introduced a recurring column called My Week in Zillow Saves, where celebrities and influencers share the homes that have attracted their attention. Meanwhile, the Instagram FB, +1.26% account Zillow Gone Wild, which shared user-submitted listings of stunning homes across the country, has over 700,000 followers.

People are fleeing cities

While plenty of people were surfing real-estate websites before COVID-19, it has grown even more popular during the pandemic and became a sort of past time for many people — especially those living in tight quarters in major cities. And people aren’t only visiting Zillow.

“We’ve seen record traffic growth during the pandemic as people search for homes to better accommodate a more house-bound lifestyle and dream about their future,” said Lexie Puckett Holbert, a spokeswoman for Realtor.com. (Realtor.com is operated by News Corp NWSA, +2.44% subsidiary Move Inc., and MarketWatch is a unit of Dow Jones, which is also owned by News Corp.)

Scrolling through sites like Zillow or Realtor.com is the 21st Century equivalent of driving around the neighborhood to stop by open houses and gaze upon (or laugh about, for the more nihilistic) neighbors’ décor.

“There are lots of people who like looking at houses for a hobby,” said Bill Gassett, a real-estate associate with RE/MAX Executive Realty in Hopkinton, Mass. “Visiting open houses is definitely a hobby. With COVID, they are all on the computer instead.”

Online window shopping in 3D

Real-estate listings have evolved with the times, themselves. Gone are the days of grainy, pixelated pictures shot on a cheap digital camera. Today, a growing number of real-estate agents are investing in 3D home rendering technologies that provide a more immersive experience for those visiting a property from home.

“These tech tools have really exploded during the pandemic, obviously as a result of safety,” Pendleton said. “People are just not comfortable touring homes in person right now.”

‘This phenomenon certainly proves that the American Dream of homeownership is alive and well.’

— Rick Sharga, executive vice president of real-estate data company RealtyTrac

For actual home shoppers, new-and-improved online listings mean they can cut down on the amount of time they spend getting in their cars and actually touring homes in person. Instead, they can winnow their options down in advance using the 3D tools and digital floor plans, without having to worry about missing out on a better listing.

More millennials are buying homes

Behind the humor of SNL’s spoof commercial, the real-life trend of people fantasy-scrolling on Zillow is indicative of another trend: As the millennial generation ages, more of them are buying homes.

The myth that millennials were not interested in becoming homeowners — or if they were, at least not homeowners in the suburbs — has all but been busted at this point.

“This phenomenon certainly proves that the American Dream of homeownership is alive and well,” said Rick Sharga, executive vice president of real-estate data company RealtyTrac. “All the previous chatter about millennials not being interested in owning a home has proven to be completely unfounded.”

Millennials are the largest generation in American history — and now, they also represent the largest pool of home buyers. As of last spring, millennials make up over half (53%) of mortgage originations, the largest share of any generation, according to Realtor.com.

Near the beginning of the pandemic, there were concerns whether the outbreak-related job losses and economic downturn would hurt millennials’ ability to become homeowners.

Certainly many millennials’ dreams of homeownership will be deferred. But for others, the pandemic has led to other changes that will make it easier to envision buying property. COVID-19 precipitated a steady decline in mortgage rates to a record low below 3%, which once seemed impossible.

At the same time, the rise of remote working capabilities has meant that millennials looking to settle down and have kids can buy that larger, more affordable home way out in the suburbs or beyond without worrying about a long commute every day.

Millennials represented over half of all new mortgage borrowers as of Spring 2020.

In 2020, some 4.7 million millennials turned 30, which is generally considered the beginning of people’s home-buying years, according to data from Realtor.com. In 2021, another 4.8 million millennials will reach that milestone.

For the millions of Americans now looking at home fore sale on Zillow, all that time spent fantasy scrolling could come in handy. After all, people are just taking in the pretty pictures. They’re getting a sense of pricing (thanks to Zillow’s somewhat-controversial Zestimate), design trends and what to expect for different budgets.

“We’re going to see home shoppers come into the market more educated than ever,” Pendleton said.