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Moving through 2021’s “champagne and caviar” days into the reality check of “a much slower market” in 2022 was not a surprising transition for Bess Freedman, CEO of the Manhattan-based global firm, Brown Harris Stevens. That doesn’t mean it was not without its challenges, however.
“This is a challenging market, and I think we rose to that challenge and did very well considering inflation, rising mortgage rates and an inventory crunch,” Freedman said for RISMedia’s 2023 Power Broker Report and Survey. “These are the moments when an agent’s true value shines. People depend on them more than ever to make adjustments and find the best path forward.”
In this exclusive interview with RISMedia, Freedman shares how she navigated her firm through the market shift in 2022, while making investments in technology, partnerships and education while keeping her agents motivated and the company growing amid unprecedented circumstances.
Brown Harris Stevens
No. 17 Sales Volume
No. 105 Transactions
Was your company’s performance in residential sales volume and transactions for 2022 in line with your expectations for the year? Why or why not?
I am really proud of what Brown Harris Stevens accomplished over the last year. 2021 was the best year ever in real estate across the board…champagne and caviar. Some of that exuberance carried into the first half of 2022, but we all knew that momentum was unsustainable. The second part of 2022 was much slower because of inventory shortages. Demand is still very much there, but there are so few homes to sell. If something comes on the market and it’s priced well, it’s gone in a few days. This is a challenging market, and I think we rose to that challenge and did very well considering inflation, rising mortgage rates and an inventory crunch.
What was the biggest contributor—positive and/or negative—to your results in 2022?
Lack of inventory is the No. 1 issue facing my agents today. When mortgage rates go up, prices usually go down, but we are in a market now where there are not enough homes to sell, and that’s keeping prices high. However, these are the moments when an agent’s true value shines. People depend on them more than ever to make adjustments and find the best path forward. Our commitment to customer service and knowledge of the market is what sets us apart from our competitors.
What is the most significant change your company is making this year to ensure success in a shifting market?
We have invested a lot in technology over the past year, including starting a partnership with the Metaverse Institute. Although it’s controversial, crypto is a growing part of our clients’ wealth portfolio, and agents need to know how to advise them accordingly. Web3 technology isn’t going away anytime soon, and we all need to get up to speed on how to implement it in our business.
How are you keeping agents motivated and productive in the shifting market?
Communication is key. I cannot stress enough how important it is to check in with agents and get a sense of how they’re doing. A phone call. An email. An in-person meeting—all of these little things add up and make big differences. We also host a companywide webcast to keep everyone on the same page, but it’s the day-to-day connections that really count in this business.
What are the biggest opportunities for growth ahead?
Web3 technology is a huge opportunity for growth, and one every agent should be familiar with so they can have meaningful conversations with their clients about how it might impact their real estate investments. I also believe now is a time to have honest conversations with buyers and sellers so they can meet the market and get deals done. This is not the time for aspirational pricing nor sweetheart deals—but it is a time to negotiate, and there is opportunity in that.