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After more than two years of vigorous growth and innovation, the real estate market has hit an inflection point.
Record-high inflation, steadily rising interest rates, flat wage growth and untenable housing costs have industry leaders and consumers white-knuckling their way through a period of great uncertainty.
“I am very direct around what is going on in the macro, how we’re going to react to it, and what my employees should expect,” Divvy CEO Adena Hefets told the Connect Now crowd on Thursday. “With our customers, I see it as a time to get up, fight to create that new product [that will help them], and not sit back and hide in our cave.”
“No — you stand up, you create a new product, you put out innovation in the world, and use this as an opportunity to drive some of the best growth that you’ve ever seen,” she added. “Take lemons [and] make them into lemonade.”
Hefets, Homeward CEO Tim Heyl and Flyhomes CEO Tushar Garg, said the pandemic provided a unique opportunity for a new class of alternative financiers, dubbed Power Buyers, to help homebuyers effectively compete in a rough-and-tumble market with cash backing.
Although market dynamics are changing, Garg said there’s still immense value in what Power Buyers have to offer in helping buyers compete with cash backing, and helping sellers navigate the perennial issue of selling one home while simultaneously securing another.
“Everybody’s looking at it from a different angle and wishing for different things, but in my mind, at least not for the end consumer,” he said. “If you’re a homebuyer today, you’re worried that, ‘Hey, would the interest rates rise even more? And should I now get into the market? Or should I? Or have I missed my window?”
He continued, “Now as a seller, should I sell my house and [am I] still going to get the highest money? Am I anchored to the house that was just sold a month ago in my neighborhood? Or has something changed? If I sell the house, I have to go buy another house where all of a sudden, I have to now pay a different interest rate than the one I’ve been locked in for so many years.”
Garg said Power Buyers enable consumers to have the “agility and nimbleness” needed to navigate the market with cash backing, buy-before-you-sell bridge loans, and in-house mortgage options that streamline the transaction process.
“I think companies like us can bring a lot of data to the decision-making for the consumers, which I think is also an advantage,” he added.
Heyl, Hefets and Garg, who collectively serve homebuyers in almost every part of the U.S., said data and agent knowledge will be invaluable for Power Buyers, as they handle the fall of overvalued markets, the rebound of undervalued markets and everything in between.
“Homeward launched in Tampa recently, and that is like a market that is just on fire or has been on fire. So you start to see some of these [markets] were overdone just a little bit,” Heyl said. “You’re going to see some states and cities still have some appreciation growth, and you’ll see some that go backward for probably what looks like a national flatline.”
Heyl admitted current market fluctuation has caused a decline in cash offer requests, as massive bidding wars dwindle to skirmishes, with at most four or five offers on the table. However, buy-before-you-sell has continued to remain popular — which all three said serves as a window into what consumers need most now.
“I continue to see, regardless of all of these dynamics, that sort of chicken or the egg problem existing,” he said. “People have to move because of life situations, regardless of the financial aspect. And I think agents will need to be leading with solutions to that predicament.”
As cash offers lose steam, Hefets said Power Buyers need to focus on tackling affordability and finding innovative ways to tamper buyers’ monthly mortgage costs.
“We’re switching to a buyers market,” she said. “You no longer need to have a cash offer in order to win the bid which you needed to have for the last two years and the new focus for consumers is going to be on affordability.”
“How can I afford to buy the money to buy a home?” she added. “How can I afford the [debt-to-income ratio? How can I afford the monthly payments with a 6 percent 30-year fixed-rate mortgage? At Divvy, we’ve been driving innovation continually to try to bring down our payment and offer customers more flexibility.”
She continued, “Cheaper and more flexible — that is what customers want. It is probably the first time in Divvy’s history that Divvy is cheaper than actually getting a mortgage, which I could not have said in the prior five years.”
Garg and Heyl agreed with Hefets, saying that combating worsening affordability will be the single biggest challenge for the real estate industry, as the gap between living costs and wages widen.
Heyl said the solution must be multilayered, with solutions to raise wages, improve credit scores and credit access, help buyers more effectively save down payments, control home price growth and create even more alternative financing options.
“I think the two things that I hear from you [Adena] was [buyers] either don’t have the credit to get a mortgage that makes sense, or they don’t have the downpayment to do it,” he said. “And the two solutions that have existed for that are either like rich parents, which most people don’t have, or predatory lending.”
Hefets responded, “Fannie Mae is not innovating on what the next important product is gonna be when you have incomes that haven’t kept up with inflation. It’s really on us as startups to figure out how to do things cheaper for the customer.”
In addition to collaborating with each other, all three said startups must invest in their relationships with real estate agents who, day-in-and-day-out, work to meet consumer needs.
“We’re commercializing consumer-oriented solutions that have somewhat existed in some way for decades. We’re just trying to do it in a consumer-oriented way that can really scale,” Heyl said. “So real estate agents coming and partnering with startups and being able to work together hand in hand to bring these solutions [is crucial]. The government’s not going to do it.”