Big Capital, Precision Technologies, and Structural Power in the US Housing Market

Desiree Fields

Over the past decade, US social relations have undergone reorganization associated with the rise of algorithms and digital platforms. This research specifically responds to the dual surge of the real estate sector and the tech industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has seen a flood of capital chasing limited residential real estate investment opportunities, and increased reliance on digital communication and commerce. Considering the expanded role for iBuyers, a major new wave of investment backing institutional-scale landlords in single-family rentals, and the growth of business models that offer a path to homeownership through renting or provide non-professional investors exposure to the home rental market, I examine how the intersection of big tech and big capital reshapes market power. Situated at the intersection of real estate, finance, and digital platforms, this research demonstrates how finance capital and digital technologies are jointly expanding rentier relations in the US housing market, shaping housing futures that will deepen inequalities of wealth and affordability for generations.

This paper was presented as part of “Panel 2: How Is Digitalization Changing Investments in 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.