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How Attractive Real-Estate Agents Affect Home Buyers

Research explores how a real-estate agent’s appearance and descriptive language affect house hunters

What I Did
I was responsible for assigning pieces that explored the behavioral economics of real estate. Most relied on custom data and scholarly research.


More examples of behavioral economics:

-Curb appeal boosts home  values 7% to 14%

-Why young adults move back home (The No. 1 reason: a broken heart)

-Why homes closer to the brokers' offices sell faster

-The premium buyers pay for a newly built home

-The average length of time to build a house, by geographic region 

By Adam Bonislawski


Do attractive real-estate agents make a better impression on potential home buyers than less-attractive ones? The answer might surprise you.

In a study published in the current edition of the Journal of Housing Research, 1,594 potential home buyers from across the U.S. were asked to rate the appeal of a property after taking an online, agent-led tour of the house. The agents leading the tours differed in attractiveness—as assessed by a separate group of subjects—and whether or not they used "pathos," subjective words used to describe the property.

Some of the findings: Home tours conducted by attractive female agents using pathos yielded the highest ratings overall, but these agents were actually more effective with male buyers who identified themselves as homosexual men than heterosexual men. Married buyers had a better impression of homes listed by attractive males using pathos than single buyers. And buyers without a college degree had a higher overall impression of homes listed by attractive females who avoided pathos than buyers with a degree.

The study, conducted in 2014, dispelled the notion of "homophily," the expectation that buyers would best associate with agents most like themselves. The hypothetical agents featured in the listings were all Caucasian, but Caucasian buyers were no more positively influenced by them than were non-Caucasian buyers. Likewise, male and female buyers showed no preference for male or female agents. The one exception: Men were more positively influenced than women by the less-attractive female agent avoiding pathos.

"Similarity for the sake of similarity we did not find to be significant," says Michael Seiler, professor of real estate and finance at the College of William and Mary and a co-author of the study. Prof. Seiler collaborated with researchers at Old Dominion University, the University of Central Florida and Johns Hopkins University.

The professor says the findings raised interesting points for follow-up, but little in the way of suggestions as to how agents might tailor their approach.

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