Sean O’Toole is founder and CEO of ForeclosureRadar.com, a company that focuses on California real estate foreclosure statistics. He will speak about foreclosure realities and opportunities during the Inman News Real Estate Connect conference in New York City, which runs from Jan. 7-9.
He responded to a set of questions posed by Inman News:
What do you see happening in the real estate market in 2009?
I see the return of affordability completing its course in 2009. The hardest-hit markets have likely already corrected, with perhaps a few now overcorrecting. The markets that have remained strong will likely now crack under rising unemployment. These corrections, while certainly painful, will bring affordability back to sustainable levels. Though it will likely still take a couple of years to deal with the trillions in negative equity created during the bubble, the return of affordability will ultimately create a stable, sustainable housing market — an outcome that is in everyone’s best interest.
What advice do you have to help real estate agents and brokers get through this market?
I’d advise them to give up the mantra of real estate as investment. Rather than pushing people to stretch beyond their means in the hopes of real estate riches, consider helping them find the comfort and security of a home they can truly afford. This simple shift in focus can lead to trust, not only in them as an individual but in our industry as a whole.
What sparked the idea to start your company?
After starting software companies for more than 15 years, I took a break and started buying foreclosures. I bought more than 150 properties at foreclosure auction and along the way I developed my own foreclosure software and data. In 2006 it became clear that professional Realtors and investors would need better tools and data than those provided by foreclosure list and media companies.
What’s been your biggest challenge in running the business?
Finding great help — people who are both talented and enjoyable to spend time with.
Can you share any future plans, goals?
With the release of our new platform (I expect to see) our product delivered to tens of thousands of new customers … and regular additions to the product’s depth and its coverage.
What lesson did you learn in the last year?
Often what everyone thinks you should do is exactly what you shouldn’t do. You can’t lead by following the crowd and doing what everyone else does.
What would your second career choice be and why?
No second choices — (that) requires the assumption you’ll fail to achieve your first choice.
What is the biggest problem in the real estate market today, and how would you fix it?
Negative equity is the number one problem in real estate today. Looking at the Fed Flow of Funds data, it is clear that we need to effectively wipe out $3 trillion to $4 trillion in mortgage debt to return to a healthy housing market. Fixing that is not a simple prescription, but generally I believe that the burden for this correction should be shared such that no one either has to bear the full brunt nor gets a free pass.
What do you most enjoy about working in the real estate industry?
I like the variety and depth of opportunity it offers. There are so many unfulfilled or half-met needs in this industry in everything from little tiny niches to overall vision.
Tell us something we don’t already know about you …
I took a two-year break from my career in high-tech to own and run a Homes & Land Magazine covering every island in Hawaii except Oahu in my early 20s. I took over just as the market turned downward in the last cycle. Needless to say I’ve paid far more attention to market cycles since.
Sean O’Toole will speak during the "Clearing the Decks: Dealing with Foreclosures in your Market" session at the Real Estate Connect conference in New York City, which runs from Jan. 7-9. He will be joined in the discussion by Rick Sharga, senior vice president of national foreclosure data company RealtyTrac.
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