The pandemic, a big acquisition and the specter of Zillow were all significant parts of Coldwell Banker’s latest gathering.

All week, Inman is taking a Deep Dive into Coldwell Banker. We’re talking to key executives, unpacking the company’s strategic moves and reporting on the Gen Blue Experience event — taking place virtually and in New York this week. Click here to read Inman’s coverage of the event. 

Coldwell Banker’s Gen Blue Experience wrapped up this week. The event, which took place both virtually and in-person in New York City, featured an array of instructional sessions as well as presentations from top leaders including CEO M. Ryan Gorman and Chief Marketing Officer David Marine.

The gathering covered a lot of ground. But some of the big themes had to do with the pandemic, the current strong market and how Coldwell Banker sees itself in relation to other players in the real estate industry.

Here are the big takeaways:

A focus on sellers and the specter of Zillow

Several days ago, Coldwell Banker chief marketing officer David Marine spoke to Inman exclusively about the company’s upcoming focus on sellers. The idea here, according to Marine, is that inventory is going to be an issue for some time but most companies have focused on the comparatively low hanging fruit of working with buyers. Coldwell Banker thus wants to be a pioneer by creating a website that caters specifically to sellers.

During a presentation on Tuesday at Gen Blue, Marine also added a critical detail: “Zillow has spent the last decade as the lone website giving something to sellers: the Zestimate. Everyone is trying to play catchup.”

The comment is significant because it highlights just how disruptive Zillow has been in real estate, and identifies what Zillow is doing that is unique. In other words, Zillow’s strength isn’t just its portal — which other companies can and do replicate — it’s the fact that it alone has figured out how to cater to an otherwise neglected niche.

While criticism of Zillow is easy to find in the real estate community, it’s somewhat rarer to hear tacit praise and an acknowledgement of just why the company remains the 800-pound gorilla of the business. And ultimately, the comment lays out the objective of Coldwell Banker’s new seller focus: Catch up to Zillow.

David Marine at Gen Blue Tuesday. Credit: Coldwell Banker

The market should stay strong

In the lead up to Gen Blue, Gorman outlined to Inman how he believes the strong market is going to continue into next year. During a presentation on the event’s main stage Tuesday, he went into more detail.

“Demand is strong and about to get stronger,” he said. “Supply is limited and it’s probably going to remain limited.”

Among other things, Gorman went on to say that both investors and the Federal Reserve appear to be bullish on housing, and that foreign buyers are likely to begin returning as pandemic-related travel restrictions gradually ease.

Gorman also doesn’t think newly built homes are going to flood the market and drive down prices. He noted that “builders were burned so badly in the Great Recession that seemingly bottomless demand isn’t enough” to unleash a torrent of new construction. On top of that, buildable land is more scarce now than it was in decades past, labor is in short supply and there are still disruptions in the supply chain for materials.

On the other hand, Gorman described the evolution of housing regulation as a potentially promising area. The idea here is that as greenfield development becomes more difficult, cities are racing to make infill — or new, often denser, housing dropped into existing neighborhoods — easier to create.

Even so, the takeaway is that Coldwell Banker is not anticipating a significant housing downturn in the near future.

“The fundamentals of this market, of this sellers market, continue to be very strong,” Gorman said on stage Tuesday.

The pandemic changed everything

Throughout Gen Blue, the coronavirus pandemic was lingering in much of the background. For example, Gorman’s comments about the market and Marine’s announcement of a focus on sellers were both a response to market conditions that emerged during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The phrase the “new normal” came up more than once, and that seems to capture the idea that when it comes to real estate, COVID-19 isn’t just going to go away and leave the market the way it was in the past.

The pandemic came up in other ways as well. During a session on the importance of social media, panelists noted that COVID-19 compressed trends into a few months that might otherwise have taken years.

It was no surprise, then, that helping agents hone their social media skills was actually one of the focuses of the event’s instructional sessions; the pandemic has turned platforms like Facebook and Instagram into some of the most important tools in real estate.

Frederick Warburg Peters, Clelia Peters and Gorman at Gen Blue on Tuesday. Credit: Coldwell Banker

The Warburg acquisition

The single biggest piece of hard news to come out of Gen Blue was Coldwell Banker’s acquisition of Manhattan-based Warburg Realty. Though the news broke early, Gorman officially announced the deal on stage Tuesday while accompanied by Warburg CEO Frederick Warburg Peters and President Clelia Peters.

The Warburg deal puts Coldwell Banker right in the middle of several big real estate trends, including an abundance of mergers and acquisitions and the competition for top talent. The deal also makes Coldwell Banker a major player in the race for the high-end Manhattan market, where the company has historically struggled to gain traction.

Citizenship matters

Once upon a time, the job of a company was to make money. In more recent years, however, people have increasingly come to expect companies to play a more proactive role in tackling societies various challenges. This principle was on display during Gen Blue thanks to a number of sessions that tackled topics such as diversity.

Also featured during the event was Coldwell Banker’s announcement that it has received the the 2021 St. Jude New Partner Campaign of the Year award. The award comes after company partnered with St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and raised more than $500,000 to combat childhood cancer.

Coldwell Banker also plans to continue its partnership with the hospital next year, and the partnership highlights how companies are increasingly investing in citizenship initiatives.

Email Jim Dalrymple II

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