The Inman News editorial team is keeping an eye on 10 people we expect to shake up the real estate industry next year. Here are our picks for who to watch in 2008:
1. Errol Samuelson, president, Realtor.com. Samuelson was appointed president of Realtor.com in February and also continues to lead Top Producer Systems, a separate Move company specializing in contact management software. With a heavy background in technology, Samuelson represents a stark change from Realtor.com’s outgoing president Allan Dalton, who is best remembered for his outspoken views and traditional real estate marketing background. We’ll be watching Samuelson as he leads Realtor.com in a time when competition is growing by the minute from sites like Zillow, Trulia, Google Base and the most recent entrant, Frontdoor.com.
2. Sheila Bair, chairwoman, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. In 2007, Bair led the push for mortgage loan servicers to engage in wholesale workouts with troubled borrowers facing interest rate resets. After Bair floated the idea in September — citing a report that servicers had modified less than 1 percent of troubled loans in early 2007 — the Bush administration negotiated an agreement with major servicers that it’s hoped will prevent as many as 1.2 million foreclosures. Although critics say the agreement with members of a “HOPE NOW” alliance may only help a smaller number of borrowers, Bair helped make an idea that once seemed radical to the administration a reality. Lawmakers are likely to call on Bair again for insight in 2008 as they consider new laws and regulations for lenders.
3. Lockhart Steele, founder and publisher Curbed.com. Steele has long been on our radar ever since he launched Curbed.com as a blog where all things New York real estate can be discussed, debated, degraded and celebrated. We’re watching Steele and the snarky Curbed crew next year as they take their newfound funding and continue to expand the blog network into new cities and new niches.
4. Sam Zell, Chicago billionaire. Though the relationship has a rocky history, the marriage of newspapers and real estate has long been joined in classified advertising. That is fast changing as industry practitioners have more advertising and marketing choices online. We’re watching Sam Zell next year as this former real estate magnate crosses over into newspaper publishing with his $8.2 billion purchase of Tribune Media Co. Zell is expected to take over as chairman and CEO of the company as a result.
5. Kerry Killinger, CEO, Washington Mutual Inc. Although Countrywide Financial Corp. founder and CEO Angelo Mozilo has come to symbolize in many minds the embattled mortgage lending executive, Washington Mutual CEO Kerry Killinger is in a similar position, with many investors unhappy about the bank’s mounting losses. WaMu’s home loan unit went from generating a $1.03 billion in profits in 2005 to a $43 million loss in 2006. While WaMu sold nearly all of its past subprime mortgage production in 2006, the bank recently announced plans to lay off 3,150 workers in the face of an estimated $1.6 billion in fourth quarter charge-offs for loan losses — twice the amount previously expected. The losses and layoffs have some observers wondering whether WaMu can remain a major player in mortgage lending, and whether Killinger will join the ranks of executives who have lost their jobs in the fallout from the housing downturn.
6. Andrew Cuomo, New York attorney general. Watch for New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to grab headlines in 2008 as his probe into allegedly inflated appraisals of properties that served as collateral for mortgage-backed securities sold to investors during the housing boom. Cuomo sued First American Corp. and its subsidiary eAppraiseIT in November, accusing the companies of bowing from pressure from Washington Mutual to provide inflated property appraisals. WaMu is not named in the lawsuit, and all the companies named have denied the charges. Cuomo has also subpoenaed Wall Street firms that securitize mortgages, and government-chartered mortgage repurchasers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as part of the probe. The subpoenas of Fannie and Freddie drew a rebuke from federal regulators, but so far Cuomo — whose predecessor, Elliot Spitzer, used the office as a springboard to the governor’s mansion — shows no sign of backing down.
7. Dustin Luther, founder, 4realz.net. Luther first came on the real estate radar when he founded Rain City Guide, a Seattle-based real estate blog in 2005. He later worked at Move Inc., as the director of consumer innovations and interactive marketing. We’re watching him in 2008 as he leads his next venture at 4realz.net, a real estate technology consulting firm. We’re betting Luther will spread the word on social media marketing and blogging at a time when many real estate practitioners are looking for ways to boost their business and stand out.
8. Lawrence Yun, chief economist, National Association of Realtors. As top economist for the industry’s most powerful trade group, Yun is in a tough spot. He’s called on to make forecasts in a market that is down and gray while helping the 1 million Realtors who make up NAR’s membership remain optimistic about the future. His rosy forecasts have made him a prime target for criticism from analysts and bloggers who say his overly optimistic views of the future do a disservice to consumers and the trade group. We’ll be watching Yun next year to see whether any of these forecasts come true.
9. Ben Bernanke, chairman, Federal Reserve. Bernanke has had a tough first run as the nation’s newest Fed chief. Housing markets have been on the decline, which has forced him to reverse course and cut short-term interest rates in 2007. The collapse of subprime lending led to a serious credit crunch this year and foreclosures are on the rise. We’ll be watching Bernanke next year as he struggles with fighting inflation, the possibility of a recession, and turmoil caused by the credit crunch.
10. Kurt Pfotenhauer, CEO, American Land Title Association. After serving as the top lobbyist for the Mortgage Bankers Association for more than five years, Pfotenhauer could be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire in 2008 as the new head of ALTA, a trade association representing the title insurance industry. If problems in mortgage lending took some heat off the title insurance industry in 2007, that may not be the case in the new year. A Government Accountability Office report issued in April concluded that title insurance is marketed to lenders and real estate brokers instead of consumers, and recommended that regulators step up oversight and enforcement activities. Although state regulators have collected millions in fines from title insurers accused of paying kickbacks for business referrals, the report found some have been frustrated in their attempts to get federal officials to investigate such allegations. In rolling out an industry plan to increase competition in September, ALTA President Gregory Kosin called the report a “fair and thorough review.” ALTA’s plan includes a consumer education campaign and a Web site, homeclosing101.org.
Also on our watch list:
Presidential candidates. Of course everyone’s watching the 2008 presidential candidates to see who will be the next leader of the United States. But we’ll be watching them closely to see how they deal with a messy housing market that’s quickly trickling its stains into the overall economy. No one wants a recession during an election year and a candidate or two of the past have won and lost on the big ‘E’ factor — the economy. Who will come out with a winning track record?
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