Michael Montsko: Student debt crisis and stagnant wage growth are big challenges

Weichert Lead Network president offers real estate outlook for 2015

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Michael Montsko is the president of Weichert Lead Network.

Are you optimistic about the economy in 2015?

I’m moderately optimistic about the economy next year. Most economists believe the U.S. economy will be slightly better in 2015 than in 2014, and I agree with them. I am concerned about the global economy and its potential impacts on the U.S.

The housing market?

Yes. Thanks to the improved economy and a larger inventory of homes, we should see steady increases in both home prices and existing-home sales.

Your success?

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Yes, I’m always optimistic about Weichert Lead Network’s success. In 2015, we are planning on making substantial investments in Weichert.com and our lead management and incubation systems. I’m confident that those investments will generate more leads for our agents and increase our sales conversion rate.

What are you worried about?

Mortgage rates increasing.

How much do you fret about global events?

These days, I’m more concerned with the way Americans react to global events. The hysteria caused by Ebola is a perfect example; the stock market plunged 460 points and the airlines took a major hit. Ebola is a real threat in Africa and needs to be addressed by the global community, but the panic it has caused in the U.S. is unjustified. This viral Twitter quote sums it up: “More Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died in the United States from Ebola.”

Will mortgage rates go up or down next year?

Up, unfortunately.

Will home prices appreciate next year?

Yes, but at a slower rate.

Will agents be more productive next year? Why or why not?

Yes, because restrictive mortgage lending regulations have had a negative effect on 2014 home sales. The recent regulatory changes, including the elimination of the requirement that borrowers make a 20 percent down payment in order to get a qualified mortgage, should make it easier for buyers to obtain a mortgage. That, combined with an improving job market, will lead to more transactions.

Will the portals play a bigger role in real estate next year?

The major portals will continue to play a bigger role in real estate, which has become one of the most competitive online sectors. News Corp.’s recent acquisition of realtor.com will make it even more competitive. The impact of Zillow’s and Trulia’s success has caused many brokers to re-evaluate their marketing strategies. In 2015, we will continue to see more and more brokers shifting marketing dollars to online media. Their impact goes beyond a shift in advertising dollars. Brokers are now investing more dollars into their websites and their technology offerings to agents. Weichert Realtors continues plans to make substantial investments in our website and our lead management tools for agents.

What will be the biggest source of real estate leads next year?

Personal referrals will remain king. Leads from Internet marketing channels and the major portals will continue to grow.

Are you making plans to expand, contract or maintain your business this year?

Expand — in 2015, we plan on making a significant investment in Weichert.com.

What is the biggest challenge for the industry in the coming year?

The combination of student debt crisis and stagnant wage growth will make it more difficult for members of Generation Y to purchase a home. There’s a very good chance I will be wrong about this prediction, though. Realtor.com Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke predicts it will be a good year for millennial homeownership because 2014 was a banner year for millennial job creation. I hope he’s right.

Do you want to share your outlook for 2015 with Inman readers? Email us at contributors@inman.com.