Digitalization of the Housing Search: Homeseekers, Gatekeepers, and Market Legibility

Geoff Boeing, Julia Harten, Rocio Sanchez-Moyano

In recent years, digitalization has reshaped the housing search. Today, online platforms facilitate housing market information exchange and expand the legibility of the housing market for sellers, buyers, landlords, and renters. Such platforms can democratize information access and diversify homeseekers’ information supplies. This in turn can expand choice sets, increase search radii, reduce search costs, and sideline traditional gatekeepers to help homeseekers realize a more efficient housing search with a superior outcome. However, certain market participants benefit more than others, and the promise of digitalization is muted by its drawbacks. This paper explores how these online platforms shape the housing search by influencing information supplies, presentation, and consumption. Tensions arise as old gatekeepers develop new strategies to maintain power in the digital realm and new gatekeepers emerge to capitalize on digital trends. Policymakers can play an important role in maintaining and developing the societal benefits of housing market digitalization while better mitigating its harms.

This paper was presented as part of “Panel 3: How Is Digitalization Transforming How People Find and Finance Housing?” at the symposium Bringing Digitalization Home: How Can Technology Address Housing Challenges?, hosted by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies in March 2022.