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The digital face of Real Estate, your best bets this year

closeup of model house with man and stock market chart in background

Traditional businesses typically become stagnant or outright 'boring' due to a combination of positive and negative factors. On the positive side, stagnation and stability come from the 'if it's not broken, don't fix it' attitude of doing things the same as before just because they've been working.

However, on the negative side, not adopting technological advances places a tight cap on the potential growth of the space. Today, real estate can be argued to have fallen into this category since it is a business that has been done virtually the same way since it started. The business model of buying and selling could use a bit of tech, don't you think?

There are a couple of businesses that can come to aid the industry in today's market, carrying the typical growth and upside potential that you would expect from technology stocks. The difference is they are directly helping the expansion and streamlining of real estate.

A perfect trio

Covering nearly all of the industry's value chain, names like Zillow Group (NASDAQ: Z) will streamline and optimize the listing and sales process for properties. At the same time, other names like Airbnb (NASDAQ: ABNB) and Booking (NASDAQ: BKNG) can expand the inventory of available properties to be rented out.

Apart from being part of the technology stocks sector, these names have other factors in common, such as recent declines that have thrown them into what Wall Street characterizes as a 'bear market,' more specifically, a 20% decline from all-time - or current - high prices.

These stocks also stand out as clear outliers in each of their respective industries. This is another factor to consider when building your case for a potential buy. Upon closer inspection, you will notice that the market is rewarding these business models, and for good reason.

Now that the real estate sector is in its own bear market, as judged by the Vanguard Real Estate ETF (NYSEARCA: VNQ) breaking below its 20% declines from highs, the dynamics undertaking the industry today could surely use a hand from these tech firms. 

While rising property prices, caused by a bottleneck in available supply, will likely boost profits for Buffett's newest holdings in construction and developers, the consumer is still hung out to dry for now.

Knights in shining armor

Just like Shutterstock (NYSE: SSTK) successfully beat its recent quarter by adjusting to market trends, so can these digital real estate firms, and it looks like the shift is already underway.

Where companies like RE/MAX (NYSE: RMAX) fail to be flexible, Zillow can take over with a more streamlined and varied listing process, enabling a more optimized connection between buyers and sellers.

Another factor to consider is that the industry that connects buyers and sellers as a whole is valued at an average price-to-earnings ratio of 22.1x. And this same market is pricing a premium valuation on Zillow stock by rewarding it with a 31x multiple, that's a 40% premium!

Now, why would markets be willing to overpay for a stock? Why would you be willing to overpay for a particular doctor or car? Might it be because the perceived quality justifies the cost? Well, the rate in Zillow's earnings sure does justify the premium being commanded.

Analysts are on board with this thesis, as they have assigned a net upside of 36.5% from today's prices. Now, how about the other players on this list? Do they share the same preferential treatment?

Booking sure fits the profile, as it trades at a 93% premium to travel and accommodation competitors like Expedia Group (NASDAQ: EXPE). Its analysts are also expecting the stock to rally as much as 17.5%, a move that implies supreme confidence considering the company's $110 billion market capitalization.

Now for what is probably the most popular stock on this list, Airbnb. Its respective industry carries an average P/E of 18x, while the stock is calling for a 30.8x multiple, that's over 71% of the industry's fair value!

Analysts have no problem rewarding this name with a 24.6% upside; after all, it is attempting to lend a helping hand to the consumer who is being priced out of rising home prices and outrageous rental rates today.

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