Chris Kelly, President & CEO, Ebby Halliday Companies, North Texas;
2022 Broker Relations Liaison, National Association of REALTORS® (NAR)
Hoby Hanna, President, Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Sherry Chris, President and CEO, Expansion Brands, Realogy Holdings Corp., Madison, New Jersey
Rei Mesa, President, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Realty, Sunrise, Florida
Chris Kelly: If there’s a constant about real estate, it’s that there is no constant. The market changes all the time—as does the practice of selling real estate, especially in the age of technology. Yet in the seven or eight years since iBuying emerged, it has attracted reams of copy and tons of dialogue as an instant, hassle-free sales solution. So, what are the pros and what are the cons of the iBuyer strategy? How deeply is it impacting our industry? Perhaps more importantly, what can brokers and agents learn from it, and can we adapt it to enhance the way we do business? Hoby, how do you see it?
Hoby Hanna: Well, you’re right, Chris. It’s a sexy topic. But I think there’s been a lot more hype about it than the general consumer needs or wants. It isn’t available in every market, for one thing, and while it has a place in the scheme of things, it really only answers a need for a small segment of sellers. We’ve partnered with Zavvie as a way to keep our agents at the center of the transaction no matter what solution works for the client, but we don’t see iBuying as a threat to traditional real estate, especially in today’s hot market.
Sherry Chris: iBuying works for those who want to sell at a discount in return for an instant sale—homeowners who want to skip the showings, maybe, or heirs who want to cash out right away. There will always be a place for it, which led us to launch our RealSure offering. It’s a program that provides instant solutions for both sellers and buyers, and it’s a great tool for our agents to have in their back pocket, but it will likely be at its most popular in a more balanced market.
Rei Mesa: I agree. The iBuyer offering is currently limited to only a few of our markets, and in any case, is less relevant in today’s low inventory environment while prices are increasing and most homes are selling very quickly.
CK: You may be right. According to some sources, even in cities with the highest percentage of iBuyer transactions, such as Phoenix or Atlanta, iBuyer transactions comprise something less than 5% of all sales. But it was a force to be reckoned with early in the pandemic, when the market was in a far different place. What’s to be learned from that?
RM: New offerings pop up out of need. Even before the pandemic, people were experimenting with online real estate models, and that accelerated when everything live shut down. But in every transaction and in almost any market state, the majority of buyers and sellers still want someone at their side. They rely on their agent to know the market, to answer questions, to negotiate on their behalf. So, what we take from the iBuyer offering is intensified dedication to improving the customer experience in whatever ways work best.
HH: Rather than being a disruptor, in fact, iBuying has inspired us to be more creative. The customer is at the center of everything we do, and programs we’ve added—like the “buy before you sell” and bridge loan options—open up viable new customer options while keeping the agent relevant.
SC: We see iBuying in 24 markets and growing, and we’ve done the research to learn why and when it works. We know we can keep a competitive advantage by utilizing the best parts of it and adding more to our agents’ toolbox.
CK: I think what you’re saying is that iBuying is not an all-or-nothing trend…
RM: It’s a different way to sell, and it only works for a small percentage of sellers. But it has helped us step up to the plate and shorten the time from listing to close—doing needed repairs up front, for example, and getting the title search done ahead of time.
HH: The question should always be, what does this seller need—and how can we best provide it? That’s how we keep our agents at the center of every transaction.
SC: At this point, while there is an abundance of competing buyers out there, iBuying is a complementary offering for those who need an immediate sale. At the same time, new technologies will continue to emerge, and we must be responsive as an industry. The goal is always enhanced customer care and arming agents with the best resources.
The Power Broker Roundtable is brought to you by the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) and Chris Kelly, NAR’s Broker Relations Liaison. Watch for this column each month, where we address broker issues, concerns and milestones.