NEW YORK – In a wide-ranging talk to the troops, Bruce Zipf, president and CEO of real estate brokerage giant NRT, exhorted an audience Thursday to embrace change while maintaining the personal aspect of the business.
“The real estate industry has undergone more change in the last 10 years since its inception,” said Zipf during a presentation at Real Estate Connect. “But in many ways, that’s positive because it’s creating new energies and new excitement in the business. The industry is at a real crossroads in its existence.”
Zipf said there is no bubble in real estate, but that there have been and will continue to be corrections. “There has never been a bubble. If you look at real estate in the last 50 years, even during the worst recessions, real estate has always increased in price. There have been regional adjustments.”
Zipf said the economic future is very bright, whether considering the unemployment picture, low interest rates or the GDP. “There is another interesting phenomenon and that is more of a balance in the real estate market in the 15-18 months. Yes, there is more inventory, but that is allowing the buyer to have additional options. To a certain degree, it’s also going to stabilize prices. The more inventory, the more choice for the consumer, the more equilibrium we will have.”
Changing demographics were also a subject Zipf expounded on. “Demographics are spurring this market and will continue to do so until 2011-12. Never before has the industry had so many pools of buyers and so many different generations buying real estate,” he said.
“If you go back 20-30 years, there were only two generations — veterans and the beginning of the baby boomers. They are still prominent but the other 50 percent are made up of Gen X, Gen Y and another pool of buyers that never really existed in the mass that they are today: the emerging immigrant population. The convergence of all these generations who have different needs is creating the excitement and innovation and technology that we’re hearing about.”
Zipf pointed out that the new generation demands a different way of doing business, with Gen X and Gen Y having different ways of looking at things and different behavior patterns in buying and selling.
“Being responsive and efficient are a must because this is a very impatient group,” he said. “A rich Web site is critical and don’t keep them in dark. And since that generation doesn’t need to visit an office, the office of the future will probably be smaller. And there are the ‘digital’ kids. They’re only 10 years old now and we don’t know about them but they will be another breed.”
Zipf also urged less government intervention. “Real estate is a very competitive business,” he said, “but we have some regulatory authorities who do not think that real estate is competitive enough. Our position is to let the consumer decide and set the standards and let us operate accordingly. We don’t need the government telling us how to operate and how to set minimum standards regarding how we service our clients. As a seller, you have an array of different firms — from national firms to regional firms to full service to small boutiques. On the buy side, you can buy directly from the owner, have a listing agent or deal with multiple agents or shop the Internet. I don’t know of an industry that provides the consumer with the choices that we do in the real estate business. Real estate is healthier due the competition that exits today.”
Zipf concluded with an upbeat look towards the future with a word of caution. “Right now, we’re at 115-117 percent affordability index at the current interest rates. A market begins to head into a recession when the affordability index drops below 100 percent.” For the affordability index to drop to 100 percent, he said, interest rates would have to be at 7.3 percent, which no one is predicting. “As a result, there is a very robust market on the horizon. It is shaping up that real estate in 2006 will have many of the traits that 2004 and 2005 had. And technology will allow us to work smarter, but there comes a point in the process where technology stops and a person takes over.”
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