Above, Anywhere Brands and Anywhere Advisors President and CEO Sue Yannaccone delivers the opening keynote at RISMedia’s 35th Annual CEO & Leadership Exchange. (Photo by AJ Canaria)
Change in real estate usually moves at a glacial pace. But just like the massive chunks of ice floating in the arctic, occasionally movement comes suddenly—and dramatically.
Sue Yannaccone, president and CEO of Anywhere Brands and Anywhere Advisors, told an audience of hundreds of brokers at RISMedia’s CEO & Leadership Exchange Tuesday that these past couple years have been analogous to a deep-sea upheaval, with both seismic shifts and surface maelstroms roiling the industry.
“We have a totally different set of existential problems, challenges and opportunities facing us,” she said. “I think it’s really important that we understand how to focus on things that we as leaders can control in our industry.”
Yannaccone’s keynote address comes at an incredibly fraught time for the industry. Literally minutes before she took the stage, Anywhere reached a preliminary settlement in the two biggest ongoing class action lawsuits that threaten to upend the basic functions in real estate.
And just a few days before, National Association of REALTORS’® (NAR) president Kenny Parcell resigned in the face of widespread allegations of sexual misconduct, with others calling for further house cleaning.
Yannaccone did not touch directly on the lawsuits in her speech. But she did immediately—and forcefully—speak out on the issues of sexual harassment and gender discrimination, saying she was “disturbed” by the reports and urging everyone in real estate to “be an ally.”
“As a woman in this industry, who has spent her entire life in this industry, I know what it’s like,” she said. “I know what it’s like to have a voice that is not always heard and not always respected…I love this industry. I love what I do. We should all be proud and be honored to be able to help people on the journey of home ownership.”
As both those stories continue to develop, with NAR and other major industry players grappling with the fallout, Yannaccone turned her attention to more fundamental ways that real estate has shifted.
“There’s always a cycle. But I think what we look like at the end, what we look like to be successful going forward, really better be different,” she urged.
In front of a rapt audience of some of the country’s most influential brokers and executives, Yannaccone said that she was not going to prognosticate macro conditions. Instead, it was the practical, fundamental elements of running a real estate business that she told the audience to focus on, and be prepared for changes.
“I challenge you to look really hard at both yourself and the people around you. Are you driving the right message for change? Are you focused on the right mindset for what you need to do to take advantage of any single market?” she asked.
Those big, cyclical changes that drive markets are mostly out of the average broker’s control, meaning that there is only so much you have to gain by Fed-watching or tracking the national pace of home sales, Yannaccone said.
And it is not these things that drive the evolution of the industry, she explained. Technology and policy are going to provide tremendous opportunity for those willing to change, and leave others behind, regardless of the current state of the market.
Yannaccone specifically called out the mentality of growth “for ego’s sake” and excessive reliance on office space, rather than the kind of growth that can boost your bottom line in any market.
“We have seen over and over again when we are providing the right tools and services to our agents, even in a reduced office, brick and mortar footprint world,” Yannaccone said. “They love coming together, because the excitement and the enthusiasm when you get a larger group of people together is so much better than when you go into an office without a lot of people there.”
Meeting agents where they are is a huge step, and will allow businesses to recruit and retain in a “more mobile, more digital” world. Just as important, though, is understanding the new expectations of home buyers and sellers, which are changing quickly and are not going to revert when mortgage rates fall or inventory increases.
Demographics are a huge part of that, with Yannaccone singling out Hispanic homeownership trends and urging brokers to track those in their local markets. Understanding generation trends is also vital, with ascendent Gen Z potentially approaching homeownership on very different platforms and vectors.
“(Young people) are on social media in a different way,” she said. “Where’s that next generation coming from? It’ll probably be something other than TikTok—by the time they can buy houses, that’s where they go to find information.”
And that is the key, Yannaccone said, in a world that is changing this fast. With brokers looking for guidance, gathered together in person to share insights and support in a time of turmoil, Yannaccone urged her audience to begin the process of change proactively, and to do so without fear—because at this point, it should be obvious to everyone that change has arrived.
“Do you have the right talent in your building, in your operations with the right mindset to drive the change for the future?” she demanded. “Because what got us here will not get you there. It won’t. Everything has changed.”