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They’re navigating a slew of potential regulatory changes. They hope to bolster the brokerage workforces they had to trim over the past year. And they’re even entertaining the idea of more serious talks of mergers and acquisitions.
Brokerage and proptech executives are already laying the groundwork for these emerging priorities, even in the wake of a deep housing downturn that has drained the market of inventory and eroded buyer and seller pipelines.
These are just a few of the key findings from the inaugural Inman Intel Index, or Triple-I.
The Triple-I survey goes out monthly to the Inman community. It aims to paint an evolving picture of real estate practitioner sentiment toward the market challenges of both today and tomorrow.
The first of these surveys was conducted in September 2023. Intel received a total of 397 responses from 235 real estate agents, 109 executives or broker-owners, and a group of 53 more real estate practitioners, ranging from mortgage brokers and bankers to proptech founders and investors.
The full results of September’s Inman Intel Index can be found in the PDF at the bottom of this post, across 126 pages of charts, graphs, and data. The results of the survey will be published monthly, exclusively for Inman Intel subscribers.
“What’s important to know about the ‘Triple-I’ is that it was born out of Intel’s core mission statement: expert analysis at the intersection of data and audience insights,” Inman Director of Research Chris LeBarton said. “We have a community that is at the forefront of the housing market, from the transactional player to the business leader, and everything in between.
“Our goal is to say what is happening in this business environment right now, and what everyone inside of that environment should be thinking about over the next 12 months.”
As decision-makers wait to see how the fallout of ongoing commissions trials will affect their businesses, brokerage leaders are still dealing with the core twin challenges of operating in a high-interest-rate environment while scratching and clawing to recruit and retain top agent talent.
Here are the findings from the Inman Intel Index of September 2023.
The buyer dilemma flying under the radar
High mortgage rates and tight inventory have placed a spotlight on the lack of homeowners willing to list their houses for sale.
But for the 235 rank-and-file real estate agents who shared their thoughts in this first-of-its-kind Inman Intel Index, the struggle to find another type of client stands out even more.
“It’s lack of buyers,” one agent reported. “Experts can say whatever they want but buyers are gold” right now, the agent added.
Indeed, 71 percent of agents reported having a buyer pipeline that was lighter in September compared to 12 months earlier, and 31 percent said they expect their buyer pipelines to worsen over the next year.
Compare that to the shrinking seller pipelines, where 59 percent reported worsening conditions over the past year, and 32 percent expect their seller pipelines to deteriorate in the 12 months ahead.
Still, despite some ongoing pessimism, agents were split roughly equally into three camps — those who are expecting pipelines to recover over the next 12 months, those expecting them to get worse, and those expecting about the same amount of buyers and sellers in the pipeline.
One thing that is clear, however, is that if the coming year does feature a transaction rebound, few agents expect it to be a big one. Just over 3 percent of agents said they expected to have a “substantially heavier” buyer pipeline 12 months from now. Nearly four times as many were strongly pessimistic, expecting a “substantially lighter” pipeline. The agents surveyed were similarly skeptical about a big resurgence of listing clients in the year to come.
“Unfortunately, there is no data to suggest that the supply-demand imbalance is going to change significantly any time soon,” LeBarton said. “So how does that square for the day-to-day operator? They’re doing everything they can to unearth buyers, but they can’t control mortgage interest rates. They can’t control a potential recession.”
In addition to these general findings about the market, the Triple-I is tracking the techniques that agents use that are working — and the ones that aren’t — in this flagging market.
Among the findings is that a majority of agents — 52 percent — report “old-school networking” is the activity that has produced the best return on their investment in terms of time and money over the past 12 months, LeBarton said. That’s compared to 16 percent who named social media as their best use of time, 10 percent who listed open houses, and 7 percent who said their best time investment came from buying leads, or lead-generation software.
These are areas that could change greatly over the next 12 months. Already, 31 percent of agents surveyed say they plan to prioritize more time beefing up their social media presence over the coming year, while 41 percent say they plan to double down hardest on networking. The Triple-I survey will track what works for agents as the market continues to evolve.
The view from the corner office
It’s against this economic backdrop that a growing number of real estate leaders are now bracing for the fallout of a series of lawsuits and settlements that have already begun to upend how some of America’s biggest real estate brands can do business, the survey found.
The responses below come from more than 100 brokerage leaders, proptech founders and C-suite executives who responded to the Triple-I survey.
What is the most challenging part of the business environment today vs. → what do you expect it to be 12 months from now?
- Interest rates: 49% → 41%
- Regulation: 5.5% → 16%
- Recruiting/retaining talent: 26% → 20%
- Margin compression: 20% → 23%
The biggest issues of today are tied to interest rates and recruiting and retaining talent — and they’re expected to continue to be the biggest challenges over the next 12 months. But some of the C-suite and brokerage executives surveyed are already turning their eyes toward regulation as the potential No. 1 challenge in the business environment ahead.
Regulation marked the biggest shift in focus among the challenges leaders surveyed, followed by the ever-present concern that profits will remain squeezed.
It’s an early trend, but one worth watching in future surveys, LeBarton said. When these leaders responded in late September, the first of two major commission-related trials was still weeks away from beginning. And the full details behind multiple major settlements by Anywhere and RE/MAX had yet to be disclosed.
LeBarton said he wouldn’t be surprised if this number moved even more significantly in future months as more news of policy changes at major brokerages and developments in the lawsuits that are still ongoing emerge.
“This industry is changing — right now,” LeBarton said. “Twelve months ago, there was far fewer people in the industry that were even aware of the lawsuits. Inman’s tracked that. Now, our readership has it in their faces. Their business leaders are talking about it. They’re preparing them for eventualities.”
Most real estate leaders said their companies were not seriously involved in talk of mergers and acquisitions over the past 12 months. On a scale of 1 to 5, with “5” being most involved in talks for these types of deals, only 37 percent of respondents said they were at a “3” or above today. But looking ahead to the coming 12 months, 49 percent of leaders surveyed said they envision discussions at a “3” or above.
This may be partly due to how constrained capital is right now for real estate business owners. Nearly half of real estate leaders surveyed — 45 percent — said they either felt worse than 12 months ago or generally pessimistic about access to capital. Only 22 percent said they felt better or about the same but optimistic, with the remaining respondents saying the question did not apply to their business.
Notably, a number of business leaders who reported slashing payrolls over the last 12 months now believe they’re done with cost-cutting. Twenty-seven percent of respondents reported their headcount declined over the last year, but only 9 percent of real estate leaders expect to have to trim their workforce further over the next 12 months.
And many are preparing to beef back up — mostly at a moderate pace.
How did your headcount change over last 12 months vs. → how will it change over the next 12 months?
- Substantially lower: 3% → 0%
- Lower: 24% → 9%
- Same: 43% → 44%
- Higher: 24% → 38%
- Substantially higher: 7% → 8%
For more insights from this group, see the full report at the bottom of this page.
A mortgage-rate reckoning
It’s no secret that potential real estate clients — buyers and sellers — are waiting on mortgage rates to fall.
The question is how long it will take until they give in and accept that higher rates may be here to stay.
Generally, the real estate practitioners surveyed across the board believe rates would have to fall back below 6 percent to move a significant amount of inventory back onto the market or bring a larger share of buyers off the sidelines.
Of the real estate agents who answered this question, only 18 percent said mortgage rates stabilizing above 6 percent would be enough to meaningfully increase home transactions, based on their conversations with clients.
A few mortgage lenders and bankers also weighed in on this question. While this surveyed group is a smaller group of real estate professionals — 10 mortgage brokers or bankers responded to this inaugural survey — LeBarton says it’s a group that the survey will continue to track and expand as Intel seeks insights from the mortgage side of the industry.
Six of the 7 lender respondents said they expected buyers to have to change their expectations for mortgage rates by “a lot” or “completely” in the next year. Most said that at least 40 percent of their new buyer clients have “unrealistic” expectations for mortgage rates, and 5 of 7 said that at least 40 percent of their mortgage clients have said they are waiting on rates to fall.
For these insights and more — including what agents say they want in a lender, and what lenders said they wanted from an agent relationship — see the full report below.
Full findings from the Inman Intel Index — September 2023
The September findings from Inman Intel Index are available to absorb in their entirety in the PDF below, exclusively for Intel subscribers.
Results from the previous month’s survey will be released on the third Wednesday of each month.
Methodology notes: This month’s Inman Intel Index survey poll was conducted Sept. 23-Oct. 1, 2023, and the entire Inman reader community was invited to participate, and Intel received a total of 397 responses. Respondents for this survey were directed to the SurveyMonkey platform, where they self-identified their profiles within the residential real estate market. Respondents were limited to one response per device, but there was no limitation to IP addresses. Once a profile (residential real estate agent, mortgage broker/banker, corporate executive/investor/proptech, or other) was selected, respondents answered a unique set of questions for that specific profile. Because the survey did not request demographic information for age, gender, or geography, there was no data weighting. This survey will be conducted monthly, with both recurring and unique questions for each profile type.