All week, Inman is taking a Deep Dive into Keller Williams. We’re talking to key executives, unpacking its strategic movesand reporting live from the virtual KW Mega Camp, with the goal of telling you everything you need to know about KW right now. Watch for future Inman Deep Dives into top brokerages coming in the months ahead.
Keller Williams wrapped up its Mega Camp event Thursday after three days of discussions about the market, teams, COVID-19 and other forces currently shaping real estate. The event also featured appearances from major Keller Williams names, most notably Gary Keller and Marc King, and rising stars, such as Jay Papasan and Julia Lashay Israel.
Overall, the event offered a useful barometer of where and how Keller Williams is evolving. And by extension, it also highlights where the major battlegrounds in real estate lie today; Keller Williams’ size and clout mean its strategy will inevitably prompt responses from competitors, and of course, that strategy is itself a response to the industry landscape.
With that in mind here are five takeaways from Mega Camp:
What goes up must come down
The state of the market has been the subject of intense speculation for more than a year and a half now thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Most economists — including Keller Williams’ own Ruben Gonzalez this week — have said they don’t think there is a bubble waiting to burst. Such assessments have helped maintain confidence in the market during troubled times.
However, early during Mega Camp Gary Keller offered something of a cooler assessment. He noted that prices have been rising faster than they historically have, and when that happens, he added, “there’s going to be a price correction.”
Keller wasn’t predicting a collapse, but his prediction that a correction would eventually come was still a startlingly honest assessment; certainly no one believes prices will go up forever, but it’s easy to forget about real estate’s inherent cyclicality in times like these.
All of which is to say that even though the market is up now, things won’t always stay the same.
Asked about what kind of timeline the industry might be looking at before a correction could arrive, Gonzalez floated the idea of three to five years.
Teams teams teams
Teams are one of the hottest topics in real estate right now, and their constant ebb and flow between different companies is one of the things fueling real estate’s biggest rivalries — some of which include Keller Williams.
Mega Camp highlighted Keller Williams’ commitment to teams in two ways. First, the company appointed Cody Gibson to serve as director of expansion for the KW Expansion Network. The company only just launched the network this summer, and it is designed to help teams grow beyond their home turf.
Gibson’s appointment to the role indicates that the Expansion Network wasn’t a one-and-done announcement, but instead, it will represent an ongoing commitment to teams.
Second, Keller Williams devoted several of its breakout sessions specifically to teams. There were for example sessions on team expansion, team leadership, and building “lean” teams. There were plenty of non-team sessions as well, but given the wide array of relevant topics in real estate, the fact that teams got that much bandwidth is notable.
All of this suggests that Keller Williams sees winning over teams as a major opportunity, and possibly that losing them could be a threat.
The pandemic is still on everyone’s mind
It’s no surprise the pandemic dominated Mega Camp, given that Keller Williams at the last minute took the event virtual due to rising COVID-19 case counts. But the coronavirus still permeated much of the discussion to a notable degree. From Gary Keller’s remarks about the market to sessions on luxury and buyer competition, much of the Mega Camp happened through the filter of the pandemic.
It was also significant that Keller explicitly told agents to get vaccinated — a possibly controversial exhortation in some circles given the slowing vaccination rates in the U.S.
In any case, the takeaway from all this pandemic talk is twofold: First, the COVID economy is going to be with us for awhile. Gonzalez, for example, told Inman this week that supply chain problems could last years, and thus, even when the actual health crisis subsides, its financial ramifications could linger.
And second, some things may never go back to the old normal. For instance, Keller noted that workers in industries such as hospitality and construction are already back in person, but knowledge workers have been much slower returning to offices. Additionally, luxury consumers have undergone significant priority shifts during the pandemic.
If any of such trends become permanent changes, that could have significant impacts on real estate.
Tech isn’t everything
In the lead up to Mega Camp, Inman began talking to both Keller Williams insiders and outside observers about what themes dominate the company right now. Technology came up again and again in these conversations, and Inman eventually reported a story about the challenges and victories of Keller Williams much-discussed pivot to tech.
Given how much attention Keller Williams technology work has garnered in recent years, then, it was a mild surprise that it wasn’t a bigger theme at Mega Camp. To be clear, it came up many times and was the subject of repeated conversations.
But juxtaposed against COVID-19, teams, training, the market and many other topics, it was notable that tech didn’t dominate as the single biggest theme of the conference. There was no “we’re a technology company now” moment.
In other words, technology may have been a somewhat smaller theme at Mega Camp than it has been in the broader, overarching public narrative that has formed around Keller Williams over the past several years.
Diversity is a business strategy
In May, Keller Williams appointed Julia Lashay Israel to spearhead the company’s diversity training efforts. Israel has a background as an agent, and in her new role, she is tasked with developing diversity-oriented training resources.
Israel’s appointment came amid a broader discussion in real estate about the need for greater diversity. That discussion has touched on corporate diversity and discrimination that consumers face when buying homes.
Much of this discussion about diversity has focused on its moral components. For example it’s simply wrong for some people to have less access to housing that others because of their skin color. That’s certainly true and a major part of the conversation.
But during Mega Camp, Israel also focused on a different argument: The business case for diversity.
“We have more people to serve,” Israel said of agents working with clients from diverse backgrounds.
Israel’s comments and elevation within Keller Williams indicate that the company believes diversity will continue to be a major issue moving forward, and that how agents respond will have a connection to their bottom line.
It was also significant that Israel was given a prominent platform from which to make her comments; she presented (virtually) on the main stage and as part of a conversation with Keller himself. And that suggests Keller Williams sees diversity as a headlining topic going forward.