Virtual home buying doesn’t sacrifice real results
|Toronto Star 28 Nov 2020 at 14:43|
For the fourth month in a row, a global pandemic proved no deterrent for the Toronto real estate market. where things sat a year ago despite the fact that, at the outset of the month, the Ontario Real Estate Association nixed open houses . Might the move away from in-person showings contribute to the perennial toppling of sales records by enhancing the experience for home buyers?
Enter the online house tour. ReMax reports that, “Prior to the hit of the coronavirus pandemic , virtual 360-degree interactive tours and video walk-throughs were already trending as an add-on to MLS listings; in the midst of social distancing measures, these have now become a necessity for agents to showcase properties.” Necessity, I’ll suggest, because they remedy problems we never before tried to solve.
Traditional housing visits leave a lot to be desired because they leave so much up to chance. Stagers may try to control the first-impression narrative by lighting cookie-scented candles, but figurative curb appeal plummets when the literal curb is littered with cigarette butts. Inside, sensory overload continues to pummel would-be buyers. They mentally transform empty spaces into a house they could call a home. A side table in this corner, an accent wall there, et voilà: They fall in love, only to end up heartbroken and dismayed should they lose a bidding war.
It might be tempting, then, to flip all the affective switches off. Too much emotion short-circuits the system, so just delete it from the equation, right?
Decision psychologists like me have long had a soft spot for real estate. Unlike picking a stick of gum or a bottle of beer, investigating where people choose to live lets us tout the scaled-up implications of what we study. However, lacking nine-figure research budgets that would enable massive Oprah-style giveaways , we settle for simulation. We ask participants to imagine themselves on the market for new digs, then strip away the sights, sounds, and smells of HGTV-style house hunting to present undergraduate volunteers with abstracted choices between apartments A, B, C, and D, each neatly defined by the exact features our pet theory cares about.
Participants in our experiments make hypothetical decisions among made-up residences — and we find again and again that too little emotion is just as bad as too much. Deciders swim against a different, voluntary informational flood, making residential mountains out of researcher-concocted molehills.
Take Rom Schrift, from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. When his family was looking for a house, they refused to accept it when lightning struck. He told me that even though “the first house we saw was absolutely perfect for us,” they couldn’t shake the suspicion that “we can’t decide (to) close after seeing only one option.” Instead, he conflated exhaustive scrutiny with quality, browsed around only to return to that initial house, and earned a dissertation piecing together how and why others fall victim to the same tendency.
If deciders notoriously deliberate themselves into trouble, one solution appears to lie in dialing that impulse down . So my collaborators and I asked some participants to focus on their feelings as they learned about a set of apartments. This got people to stop thinking so much made them choose better. The gut-based boost goes on to play out over time. When people stop thinking so much and rely on affective cues , they just like their stuff more, even up to weeks later. People see their feelings as reflective of who they really are , so choices that consult those feelings .
Psychology studies inject a vaccinative dose of feelings into a too-deliberative process. The real-estate search, in embracing the immersive property tour, takes the opposite path by imposing a bit of much-needed, affect-reducing distance. Both routes navigate to the same happy middle ground between emotional id and nagging super ego.
As temperatures drop, cases surge, and new restrictions are ever on the horizon, Zillow and HouseSigma become a welcome alternative to Netflix and sourdough starters. Digital distance preserves the benefits of gut feelings while keeping them from overwhelming the decision-maker. Like a strategically shaken ice cube, virtual walk-throughs and browsing sessions temper an otherwise scalding affective heat without diluting it.
Sam Maglio is an associate professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Toronto at Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management.