“It took off like crazy”: How brokers use TikTok to rent apartments

Gen Z’s favorite app is helping agents generate leads

National Issue /
Dec.December 04, 2020 09:00 AM

When real estate agent Alexander Zakharin downloaded TikTok in February, he wasn’t sure what to expect.

Zakharin, a broker at GZB Realty in Manhattan, knew that the short-form video app had a rapidly growing audience. He was willing to give anything a try to grow his business and figured, at the very least, it could be a place to organize apartment tour videos.

But on a platform where 60 percent of users are between the ages of 16 and 24, would there be an appetite for real estate content?

Turns out, the answer is yes.

“Within three weeks, I had 1.4 million views on one video,” Zakharin said. The apartment, a one-bedroom loft near Union Square that was listed for $1.25 million, probably isn’t within most Gen Z-ers’ budgets. But still, he said, “it took off like crazy.”

Those views eventually translated into dollar signs: By August, Zakharin had rented three apartments to clients who found him on TikTok, all young professionals who were recent college grads.

He’s not alone. Real estate agents are increasingly turning to TikTok as a generator for leads. The app, owned by the Chinese technology firm ByteDance, has 100 million monthly users in the U.S., most of whom are there for dance trends and funny videos. But because of the way TikTok works — the “For You” section serves up videos based on users’ likes, shares and other interactions — agents’ videos have the potential to spread beyond their followers, reaching users who have previously liked or interacted with apartment content. 

“People have an impression that it’s not serious,” said Cash Jordan, a broker at Union Square Property Management who has 280,000 TikTok followers. “But users don’t see it as a joke.”

Jordan started using TikTok in December 2019, initially to upload videos from a recent trip to Japan.  But he soon began using it for real estate content and ramped his account up in April when the pandemic forced him to take his business virtual. He’s since created over 600 videos, including apartment tours, neighborhood reviews and tips for renters. Jordan said he’s initiated thousands of leads from  the app as well as sponsorship opportunities.

Agents on TikTok said that renters tend to be in their early- to mid-20s, and are often looking for their first New York City apartment. Those clients would have traditionally found a broker through a listings site like StreetEasy; now, they might see an apartment while scrolling through the app.

And while eye-catching videos will get eyeballs, the videos that generate the most interest from renters are more accessible. A one-bedroom on the Lower East Side renting for under $2,000 per month would do especially well on the app, Jordan said..

Doing business on TikTok has two notable benefits for agents: low overhead and stronger client relationships. The app allows agents to increase exposure for their listings without high-end production costs or extra fees, such as those charged by sites like StreetEasy.

“Even one lead and one deal that converts is a significant return on my time,” said Brad Galazka, an agent at Nest Seekers International.

When Galazka started using TikTok, he would create videos using photos he already had in his camera roll or content he previously uploaded to other social media sites. The app allows users to easily add music and filters to videos, so Galazka would add effects that were already trending. A video that he spent five minutes creating could get more than 445,000 views — and most importantly, it was free.

Agents also say relationships with clients from TikTok are markedly different. Apartment hunters show up having done their homework not just on the listing but on the agents themselves. Jordan said that the parents of a college-aged renter reached out to share that they felt more comfortable working with him because, through his TikTok videos, they felt like they already knew him.

“If a client is coming to view your listing from a website, they’re coming to see that apartment,” Zakharin said. “If they’re coming because they saw your video on TikTok, they’re coming to see you.”

And even though TikTok’s primary audience is likely not in the market to buy a home, surprises still happen. 

“The age demographic on TikTok isn’t buying $1 million or $2 million apartments,” Galazka said. “But those kids can turn out to have massive reach — their parents, their friends’ parents, the circle of connections just continues to grow.”

This summer, Galazka had an older client in Connecticut reach out to him about a luxury listing he posted on TikTok because the client’s 17-year-old daughter had shown him the video.

There is one wrinkle in TikTok’s newfound popularity among real estate agents. In August, President Donald Trump published an executive order banning downloads of TikTok and WeChat, another Chinese social networking site, over national security concerns.

ByteDance agreed to sell 20 percent of the company to Walmart and Oracle, and in October, a Pennsylvania judge granted a temporary injunction against restrictions on the app. The Commerce Department recently said it will not enforce a TikTok ban, but its long-term future remains uncertain.

But even if TikTok disappears, short-form videos in real estate are here to stay.

“Half of my business is now from social media,” said Zakharin, who has 50,000 followers on TikTok. “Wherever you have a following, you have the opportunity to monetize.” 


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