It’s hard to scroll through social media or flip a channel without encountering a real estate influencer who is ready to either sell your home or make it more fabulous. And chances are, you are eager to hear what they have to say. After all, they are famous.
The rise of the ubiquitous real estate pro-celebrity makes sense. There are addictive reality TV shows like “Selling Sunset,” where you’ll binge on Grant Cardone‘s advice—along with his 4 million-plus, highly engaged followers on Instagram. Or maybe you tune in for makeover programming like HGTV’s “Property Brothers.”
There are many TV shows battling for attention in the home improvement/selling space, and major stars have emerged from the most popular ones. Most are eager to expand their digital footprint with spinoff shows, Instagram feeds, and YouTube tutorials.
So is real estate “influencing” here to stay? We asked housing experts for their hot takes.
The HGTV factor
Real estate agents have always played outsize roles in their cities and towns.
“When I was a child, my dad was well-known in our community after 30 years in the real estate market,” says Charles Catania, principal at Branding With Chuck, which provides executive branding services to real estate agents. “Realtors® are the purveyor of our housing hopes and dreams.”
But it was the advent of HGTV that allowed real estate pros to move from a local to a national stage.
The channel was launched more than 25 years ago, when the only home-improvement-focused national TV show was PBS’ informative (but relatively staid) “This Old House.” But HGTV shows didn’t begin gaining mass popularity until the early aftermath of the housing crash, according to the New York Times. Back then, everyone wanted to get in the housing game—and needed advice on how to buy, sell, and renovate their homes.
Since then, HGTV has not only redefined what we want from a home but also what we expect an agent to be.
“Reality shows on HGTV and Bravo made real estate agents much more influential,” says Rudy Boyd, an associate broker at Dwelling Michigan. “These days, there are numerous real estate agents with top Instagram feeds, who sometimes land or are featured on TV shows.”
The pandemic sped up the obsession
Many homeowners focused on home improvement projects when everyone was home 24/7 during the COVID-19 pandemic. (While the U.S. economy shrank 3.5% in 2020, spending on home improvements grew 3%, to $420 billion.) The focus on everything home just cemented the obsession with real estate influencers.
“The pandemic definitely increased the visibility of real estate professionals,” says Marie Bromberg, a licensed real estate salesperson with New York City’s Compass. “Now, a home is never ‘done’ for many people. So there’s always motivation to change the entryway or the kitchen.”
The changing perception of what agents do
Now, real estate agents are no longer just people we turn to when we need a house.
“Their influence goes well beyond that, and we look to them for advice that covers the entire field of homes and real estate,” Boyd says.
The increased prominence of the real estate agent in social media and TV has drawn many people to try their hand at what they think will be a fun and highly lucrative gig.
The simmering desire to pivot to real estate came to a boiling point during the pandemic when many people reexamined their lives and careers. As a result, in 2020 and 2021, more than 156,000 people became real estate agents, a rise of 60% over the two previous years.
Some of the newcomers find a big disconnect between the business as seen on TV and as it exists in real life.
“Real estate has always been tough, but when people go into it after seeing a real estate agent on TV land a huge commission on a multimillion-dollar sale, it skews the perception of the job,” says Christina DeSimone, a licensed real estate salesperson for the Miranda Real Estate Group in Saratoga Springs, NY.
As a result, some agents dislike the phenomenon of influencers, because it makes real estate look like a get-rich-quick scheme instead of a long-term wealth-building tool.
“But I don’t blame agents for using influencing to boost their careers,” says Marina Vaamond, owner and founder of HouseCashin in Houston. “This is a societywide phenomenon.”
Most real estate agents take social media seriously—even those who recognize the flaws in how reality TV stars have portrayed the industry.
“I started posting my listings and videos of me sharing homebuying, decoration, and renovation tips on social media several years ago when a mentor gave me great advice,” says DeSimone. “He told me: ‘Don’t be a secret agent.’ What he meant is that you want people to know what you do—and to think of you when it’s time to buy or sell a house.”
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