By Andrew Hirschfeld
A little more than a year ago I was desperate to get out of a bad living situation. My roommates at the time didn’t take COVID-19 as seriously as I did. I desperately scoured Streeteasy, ZIllow, and Facebook Marketplace to take advantage of those COVID discounts before it was too late.
I quickly found my dream apartment. It was a beautiful three bedroom apartment with multiple stunning balconies and a dishwasher. The location was close to perfect for my needs. I loved it. I was ready to put down a down payment but unfortunately was turned down for the apartment.
Three weeks later—while procrastinating on my responsibilities—I stumbled upon that very same apartment on Cash Jordan’s YouTube channel. At that point I thought to myself, “Is anyone actually finding an apartment this way?”
For Johanna Umek, that’s a yes.
Umek is 21 years old and a transplant from Austria. She moved to New York ready to pursue a career as an actress. Unfortunately, like many newcomers, she didn’t know a single person to help her navigate New York City real estate.
Her knowledge about the city was based on TV and movies. The West Village apartment from Friends or Carrie Bradshaw’s place in Sex and the City aren’t exactly the best reference points to start manuvering around New York’s notoriously ruthless real estate landscape. It’s not a surprise that she did not know what neighborhoods were desirable and which ones made sense for her needs as a student at the Strasberg Institute.
For Umek, TikTok was more than just an entertaining way to procrastinate—it was a lifeline.
It’s hard to meet people in New York, let alone navigate the cultural intricacies that make each individual neighborhood so unique. Even in its best moments, New York real estate is ruthless and merciless.
“I started looking for apartments in the beginning of the year and had been quite unsuccessful, ” Umek told Passionfruit.
Between the endless pit of options on Streeteasy and Zillow or the scammers on Facebook Marketplace, it’s easy to get lost, duped, and swindled.
“I sent a bunch of messages into groups and to people looking to rent out their place. Either people did not respond at all or I got a lot of responses that didn’t fit within my mindset of what I wanted my life here to be like,” Umek adds. “When you are looking for something in particular, there is so much that comes at you that you get very overwhelmed with.”
By happenstance, she stumbled upon agent and influencer Andy Klaric on TikTok.
let’s find you one! 🙂♬ Benny and Chiquitita – reymifasol
“I was looking for people who live in New York, who would post about their life in New York,” Umek said. “I would look at the places they were visiting, what they were doing, how they were decorating their apartment, and those things to think about.”
At that point, the algorithm picked up on her interest in starting a life in New York and connected her with Klaric. She sent him a message and within a month she landed her apartment.
TikTok has clearly been a successful avenue for Klaric. He says that 100% of his direct leads that are not referrals are through the platform.
Klaric gets a diverse set of clientele ranging from Umek to those looking to buy high end real estate.
“I just sold a Japanese style apartment for $472,500 about two weeks ago. We closed on that. That was a big TikTok campaign. I literally sold the apartment through TikTok,” Klaric told Passionfruit.
The rise of TikTok real estate was born primarily as a result of the pandemic. COVID made it near impossible to physically tour an apartment. That phenomenon didn’t let up as places began opening up and in-person commerce, once again, became a mainstay.
Real estate content persisted for a multitude of reasons, including the agents’ personalities. For Klaric, the importance of that is not just about being entertaining, but to make potential renters and buyers comfortable with him.
“They’re coming to me because I created that brand and I’m a personable person,” Klaric said.
An affable persona online can really make a difference in leads for many agents.
“Social media allows me to connect and build trust with a huge number of people,” Christina Kremidas, influencer and real estate professional, told Passionfruit. “If you are considering buying or selling real estate, would you rather transact with a random person, or someone who you consider a friend? Of course you’d choose a friend. My social media accounts allow me to build friendships with people who appreciate NYC Real Estate as much as I do, and over time, when my followers decide they’re ready to transact, they come to me to help them.”
Demand is still very high and inventory is relatively low. In Manhattan, the apartment vacancy rate is less than 2%. In other hot markets like Austin, Texas vacancy rates are the lowest they’ve been since 2014 at 4.6%. In Phoenix, Arizona the vacancy rate is around 3%. Rental vacancy rates in Seattle, Washington are less than 5%. For prospective owners, it’s even tighter. There is a 0.4% vacancy rate.
These conditions mean lines out the door to just get a glimpse at a prospective apartment in most major cities in the United States.
This could soon change though. New apartment construction has surged. According to RentCafe, there are currently more than 420,000 new units that will hit the market in the not so distant future. That’s big news for New York City and quite a few cities in the Sun Belt. In the Phoenix metropolitan area for example, housing inventory jumped by more than 10,000 since March.
That doesn’t just spell out good news for renters and buyers, that’s also good news for real estate influencers tasked with spreading the word like Klaric.
Real estate TikTok is more than just listings targeting the savvy 20-somethings or first time home buyers trying to figure things out. It’s high end real estate that targets the richest of the rich like a $25 million penthouse in Midtown Manhattan.
That’s where Kremidas is on assignment—documenting this stunning apartment with her iPhone. The apartment itself, has a jaw dropping view of the iconic Empire State Building, which whomever ultimately takes this apartment will enjoy especially from the Jacuzzi on the terrace.
While the apartment is ravishing, it’s been on the market for months. So, Serhant, the real estate firm representing the seller, brought in a plethora of influencers like Kremidas to check it out and push it on social media to her more than 14,000 Instagram followers and more than 19,000 TikTok followers.
“My social media audience trusts me, and therefore when I share a listing on social media, there is an immediate understanding that the apartment I’m sharing with them is desirable,” Kremidas says.
“I receive serious interest from viewers every day that result in in-person showings of NYC apartment listings at all price points,” she adds.
Even accounts that’s sole purpose is for entertainment has also helped bump serious interest in a listing. Samir Mezrahi is the mastermind behind the Instagram account “Zillow Gone Wild” which shows all the strange, eye-catching homes for sale across the United States, like this one in Michigan and this one in South Carolina.
While Mezrahi did not have specific metrics to share, he says that he’s seen that listings actually were in contract not long after he posted about them.
“I’ve definitely seen homes that I’ve posted go to pending sale within a couple of days or within the day,” Mezrahi told Passionfruit.
Mezrahi says that happens about 50% of the time. He also says real estate professionals have reached out to him for partnerships, but at the end of the day, this is a side hustle that he does as a hobby.
During the pandemic, TikTok’s user base grew by 75% just within the first wave. Unlike other apps that saw massive growth during the pandemic, it has not stagnated, nor is it becoming less relevant to daily life quite like Zoom has. As people continue to rely on platforms to find what they’re looking for, the agents who spoke to Passionfruit believe that TikTok and Instagram’s role in the real estate industry is only going to get bigger and more important in the years to come.