The verdict is in — the old way of doing business is over. Join us at Inman Connect New York Jan. 23-25, when together we’ll conquer today’s market challenges and prepare for tomorrow’s opportunities. Defy the market and bet big on your future.
The past several years have brought about waves of unprecedented change, as the coronavirus pandemic turned the world upside down.
Many people hoped 2023 would be the return to normal life; however, the universe had a few more cards up its sleeve as mortgage rates reached new highs, buyer and seller sentiment crumbled to new lows, ChatGPT stoked fears about the rise of robot overlords, and several headline-making antitrust and sexual harassment lawsuits exposed the next frontier of change for the real estate industry.
As 2023 winds down, Inman reached out to some of the industry’s best leaders and brightest minds to get their thoughts on the happenings of the past 12 months along with their wishes for what 2024 will bring. Their comments have been edited for brevity.
Sue Yannaccone, Anywhere Brands and Anywhere Advisors President and CEO
Many of this year’s headlines about Anywhere have surrounded the Sitzer | Burnett, Moehrl and Nosalek buyer-broker commission lawsuits, as the holdings company was the first to offer a settlement. Anywhere received preliminary approval for the $83.5 million it offered to sellers included in the Sitzer | Burnett and Moehrl suits, and the company has yet to reveal the details of the settlement for the Nosalek suit.
Outside of its involvement in several antitrust suits, Anywhere has spent the year reorganizing its leadership structure and taking on several cost-cutting measures, including the closure of iBuyer RealSure. Some of Anywhere’s best-known brands, including Coldwell Banker Realty, ERA Real Estate and Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, saw new leaders take the helm after the early-year departures of M. Ryan Gorman and Sherry Chris.
The company charged forward on CEO Ryan Schneider’s digital blueprint through partnerships with companies like RealScout and reclaimed its profitability after falling into the red during the third quarter of 2022.
Anywhere Brands and Anywhere Advisors President and CEO Sue Yannaccone said 2023 was a “crossroads” for real estate, and she’s proud of Anywhere’s ability to navigate difficulties and lead.
“I’m proud of how we have navigated uncertainties — whether they be complex market conditions, shifting consumer demands, or evolving needs for managing our businesses,” she said. “We won’t always know exactly what the future holds, but Anywhere is entering 2024 prepared to lead this industry through its next phase, building upon the foundation of trust that we, along with our storied brands, have built with agents, brokers, franchisees and consumers.”
Ginger Wilcox, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate President
Like ERA Real Estate, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate experienced a major shakeup with the retirement of Sherry Chris, a revered leader who served as the chief executive for both brands. BHGRE’s parent company, Anywhere, tapped former RealSure co-CEO and chief revenue officer Ginger Wilcox to take the reigns in June with the hope that Wilcox’s deep tech experience would help BGHRE take its relationship with Dotdash Meredith, the owner of sister brand Better Homes and Gardens magazine, to the next level.
Wilcox said the biggest challenge of 2023 revolved around waning consumer confidence, which led to buyers and sellers delaying or canceling their transaction plans.
“Our focus was on guiding buyers and sellers on how to effectively navigate the real estate market for lifestyle-related moves, emphasizing the significance of expert real estate advice in these situations,” she said. “My key message to Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate professionals is that real estate demands perseverance and effort, with today’s hard work paving the way for future success.”
Looking to 2024, Wilcox said she plans to leverage BGHRE’s place as “the industry’s lifestyle brand” to help consumers navigate life events, such as marriage, births, job changes and retirements — the primary factors behind most real estate transactions.
“With around 50 million new job holders in 2022 and a significant portion of the population aging, the market dynamics are evolving,” she said. “As the industry’s lifestyle brand, Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate has unique insights into the consumer needs and wants in their home.”
“We anticipate buyers and sellers returning with heightened expectations for quality and service,” she added. “Our goal is to reinforce the value we bring and communicate it clearly to our clients, ensuring they understand and appreciate the services we offer.”
Mike Miedler, Century 21 President and CEO
Century 21 has been stealthily operating under the radar for the past several years, as the brand’s leaders steadily built upon the company’s 2018 “relentless” rebrand. In a previous interview with Inman, President and CEO Mike Miedler explained how Century 21’s measured business approach paid off throughout 2023, as the brand was able to recruit and retain several major affiliates across key markets on the East Coast.
“2023 was a tough year to say the least, but it was also one where I watched our affiliates lead with resiliency,” he said. “As a brand leader, I’ve learned the most important thing is to keep the lines of communication open, especially given the challenges our industry has faced, including commission lawsuits, the rise of AI, continued market volatility, elevated mortgage rates and low inventory.”
“When we communicate and are fully transparent on these issues, we can better understand the needs of our people and use the facts to make sure that our agents and brokers are educated and confident with what they need to do to succeed,” he added.
For 2024, Miedler said he’s confident in C21 affiliates’ ability to lead their respective markets and shift the narrative about the industry and agents’ worth.
“I’m looking forward to watching our people continue to lead in this industry. This past year really shone a new spotlight on the value of the agent within the real estate process,” he said. “Those agents and brokers who maintain a growth-focused mentality will continue to increase market share, productivity and profitability.”
“They don’t sit back. They work to be better,” he added. “They have a continuous focus on best serving the needs of the consumer because an improved market is when our clients achieve their goals and dreams in the smoothest way possible.”
Kamini Lane, Coldwell Banker Realty President and CEO
Coldwell Banker entered the year on a tumultuous note, with the sudden departure of longtime Anywhere executive and Coldwell Banker CEO M. Ryan Gorman. Gorman’s exit raised several questions about the 117-year-old brand’s trajectory; however, Lane’s appointment to president and CEO of Coldwell Banker’s company-owned brands quickly eased qualms.
Lane streamlined and supercharged Coldwell Banker Realty’s recruiting, retention and growth strategy with a major restructuring effort in June, a move that’s since paid off with several headline-making recruitments from competitors Compass and Christie’s International.
“You certainly can’t look back on 2023 without focusing on interest rates,” she said. “What truly impacted us in 2023 were the ultra-low rates of 2021 and 2022. Because many people purchased or refinanced at historically low rates during that time, when the Fed had to change course and raise rates it created a lock-in effect.”
Lane said the year’s economic woes required Coldwell Banker Realty agents to lean on their “deep expertise” and “true consultative approach” to get deals done.
“As a leader, you get very adept at focusing on what you can control, and I don’t control Jerome Powell,” she said. “Knowing the macroeconomic environment has a huge impact on our business, I’m focused on making sure we are investing in the tools and resources that move the needle for our agents, and help them thrive in a challenging market.”
Coldwell Banker Affiliates President Jason Waugh seconded Lane, saying the economy was the biggest challenge for Coldwell Banker franchisors.
“While lawsuits stole headlines, the volatility of interest rates and lack of inventory created the most headwinds in 2023,” he said. “Fortunately, a storied brand like Coldwell Banker has a deep leadership bench that has experienced every type of real estate market.”
Looking forward, Waugh said he’s excited about the unique growth opportunities that arise during a challenging market and the ability to continue proving why Coldwell Banker is still a market leader more than a century later.
“We are excited about the growth opportunities in a complex market,” Waugh said. “Given the complexities in the market and economy today, data is our most valuable currency. We have an incredibly skilled, informed and agile worldwide network that is laser-focused on the consumer in a time when they need the insight, leadership and guidance of subject matter experts – a trusted advisor in the asset class of housing.”
Lane said she looks forward to the lock-in effect easing if the Federal Reserve follows through with its proposed cuts. Beyond economics, Lane said she hopes 2023’s scandals will lead to a better and safer industry for everyone, especially women.
“From an industry impact standpoint, I want to again honor the bravery of the women who stepped forward and shared their stories of unfair treatment in the workplace,” she said. “We need to hold bad actors accountable, and NAR must enact unbiased structures, policies and equitable practices that ensure a safe and respectful workplace for all.”
Mark McLaughlin, Compass Chief Strategist
Compass led the year with several cost-cutting measures, including a third round of layoffs and the decision to sublet a portion of its NYC headquarters. The strategy has paid off, as evidenced by three consecutive earnings reports with narrowing net losses and improved cash flow.
Although Compass slowed on market expansions, the brokerage pushed the pedal to the metal on recruiting. The company was successful at reclaiming “boomerang agents” it had lost in 2022 and even sparked a fleeting back-and-forth battle with Coldwell Banker Realty over several notable multimillion-dollar agents and teams.
Compass Chief Strategist Mark McLaughlin — who returned to Compass this year after a two-year hiatus to focus on his ventures — said unfavorable market factors and the litany of class-action lawsuits were the industry’s biggest challenges in 2023.
“Units sold in 2023 resembled 2009 to 2010 and the great financial crisis. As I wrote in January 2023, if a brokerage business had not either already begun or rapidly addressed fiscal course correction, it was likely a very challenging year,” he said. “[Mortgage rates] constrained units sold in the U.S. by [approximately] 30 percent.”
“These market dynamics were then combined with the realities of several class action lawsuits,” he added. “The lingering liabilities to the brokerage industry are clearly unknown other than it will likely be expensive to be named and engaged in the legal tussles.”
McLaughlin said artificial intelligence and the rise of ChatGPT were highlights of the past 12 months and will continue to play a major role in the industry’s future.
“The advent of AI combined with ChatGPT will forever change our industry. Deployed appropriately, this technology will eliminate the ‘routine and the mundane,’” he said. “AI [and] ChatGPT could save real estate professionals 30 percent of their time.”
“[That’s] time to be reinvested into client relationships. The gap between companies [and] professionals with AI [and] ChatGPT deployed versus not will widen significantly in the next two years,” he added. Technology will continue to improve our service offering; however, we are in the ‘people business,’ both in those professionals at our Compass and the clients we serve. If we don’t get the people and culture right, nothing else much matters.”
Alex Vidal, ERA Real Estate President
As one of the smaller brands under Anywhere’s vast portfolio of companies, ERA Real Estate often operates in the background with what former president Sherry Chris described in a previous Inman Interview as a “quiet strength.” The brand has worked to be more visible this year, with ERA making plenty of noise in Las Vegas this March with its annual, three-day Fuel conference. When Chris retired in June, ERA called longtime Anywhere leader Alex Vidal to the helm — making him the first Hispanic president of a major real estate brand.
Although Vidal entered the president’s seat midway through the year, he said the biggest challenge for ERA was helping its 40,000 affiliated agents navigate a volatile economic landscape with high prices and scant inventory.
“Market volatility due to perceived high-interest rates and low inventory were definitely the hot topic of 2023,” he said. “What we learned was that the Realtors who took the proactive approach of educating their customers on the benefits of homeownership regardless of interest rates and went above and beyond in their efforts to find their customers their dream homes did very well this year.”
“In an industry that prides itself on the latest and greatest in technology, it was those who got in front of the customer, had deep conversations that addressed the customer concerns, determined true wants and needs, who did exceptionally well,” he added.
Going into 2024, Vidal said he’s excited to focus on a “new era of collaboration and sharing of ideas” through a revamped training and strategy that helps affiliates leverage technology and master customer service.
“I’m hopeful that training will return as a staple of every brokerage and that every agent will participate no matter their experience levels as we all recognize we have entered a new period in real estate,” he said. “The topics of training should include the basics of connecting and reconnecting to past clients, expanding our spheres and negotiation skills, but also a full understanding of financing options, knowledge about more affordable nearby communities, multi-family units and a commitment to understanding local buying and selling trends.”
“We also have to become comfortable with how we should be utilizing AI to improve our capabilities. While those immersed in technology knew that ChatGPT and other platforms were imminent, almost everyone else was blown away by what was possible,” he added. “We rushed into figuring it out. But just as we’ve done with the iPhone, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and other social platforms, we will figure it out.”
Mark Willis, Keller Williams CEO
Keller Williams has found itself mired in multiple controversies over the past year, from being named as a defendant in multiple headlining buyer-broker commission lawsuits to facing multiple suits from former CEO John Davis and several other franchisors over the brokerage’s market cap changes. The decision to cut former agents’ profit share earnings added fuel to the fire; however, it has been difficult to gauge the financial impact on the company, as it hasn’t released a quarterly earnings report since the first quarter of 2023 (as a privately owned company, Keller Williams is not required to release its earnings).
Still, Keller Williams has had several wins this year, primarily the return of Mark Willis, first as a strategic advisor and then as the company’s new CEO. Last year, Willis was at the center of a recruitment battle between Keller Williams and eXp Realty.
Now that Willis is back at the helm, the CEO said he’s focused on leaning into the storm — a key phrase Keller Williams co-founder Gary Keller used to motivate agents during the company’s Mega Camp and Family Reunion conferences.
“In 2023, we further embedded Generative AI and machine learning capabilities into our services to save our agents time and money,” he said. A common myth is that you can time the housing market perfectly; that’s false. Any market has excellent homeownership opportunities, and agents unlock that potential.”
“With recent industry-level lawsuits, we see an opportunity for agents to continue to focus on delivering and communicating their powerful value proposition,” he added. “No matter the market, agents who serve clients as solution-oriented fiduciaries and local economists will thrive.”
Going into the new year, Willis said Keller Williams is focused on creating a legion of brokers and agents who have the skills to generate sales and grow their businesses.
“Agents who understand we’re in a skill-based market and remain focused on the right lead generation and customer service activities will grow their business and thrive in 2024,” he said. “We also see an opportunity for further growth as inflation and mortgage rates continue to decline.”
Malte Kramer, Luxury Presence CEO
Cost-cutting has been the name of the game for much of the real estate industry in 2023, with agents attempting to save their coins by taking their marketing and technology needs into their own hands rather than relying on the third-party vendors they love. A cooling market forced Luxury Presence to lay off 44 staff members at the top of the year; however, the company has bounced back with the hotly-anticipated launch of its AI-powered Presence Copilot mobile platform.
Kramer said the rise of AI in 2023 was “the biggest technology shift since the invention of the internet” and will change the way real estate professionals work “for good.”
“AI tools not only changed how we manage data and interact with clients but also challenged us to rethink traditional business models,” he said. “As a leader, this disruption has reiterated the importance of staying nimble and being early to embrace new tech.”
“We’re now infusing AI into almost every part of our product service area, from our recently-announced AI-powered mobile platform to our forthcoming AI lead nurture tool,” he added.
With the launch of Presence Copilot on the horizon, Kramer said he’s excited to help agents stop fearing AI and instead leverage it to become more effective business owners.
“I’m excited for more agents to experience the technology’s benefits firsthand. Taking mundane tasks off their plate. Improving their lead nurturing. Giving them the answer to any client question at their fingertips,” he said. “AI is going to help agents do their jobs better and give them time back to focus on what’s important, from building their businesses to spending more time with their loved ones.”
Carrie Wheeler, Opendoor CEO
The past two years have been difficult for iBuyers, a class of companies that had found growing success purchasing homes from sellers, all under the guise of eliminating the rigamarole and uncertainty associated with a traditional transaction. However, a series of sharp market shifts from 2020 to 2022 knocked many iBuying frontrunners out of the race, with Zillow Offers being the first to shutter its doors in November 2021.
Yet, Opendoor has remained strong amid several challenges, namely Eric Wu’s sudden decision to step down as president and CEO in December 2022, its stock dropping to the $1 range in January, and several rounds of layoffs, one of which impacted 22 percent of operations staff.
The company’s moves paid off in Q2, as Opendoor announced its return to profitability and two headline-making partnerships with Zillow and eXp Realty. Opendoor lost its profitability a quarter later; however, CEO Carrie Wheeler is still bullish about the company’s trajectory, as evidenced by the plan to double the number of homes Opendoor purchases each month.
“Despite the adverse rate environment, 4 million people still moved this year,” Wheeler told Inman. “Life does not wait for ideal market conditions, so, for us, being able to show up for our customers when they needed us was deeply rewarding and further demonstrated the value of a certain and simple sale to Opendoor.”
“I’m looking forward to the possibilities ahead,” she added. “There is still much progress to be made in terms of bringing modernized experiences to more homebuyers and sellers. The vast majority of people still endure the friction and uncertainty of a traditional transaction process; it’s about time that changes.”
Damian Eales, Realtor.com CEO
Realtor.com’s 2022 woes followed them into 2023, as the portal struggled to reverse declining real estate, referral model and traditional lead generation product revenues and falling traffic numbers. The company also faced intensifying competition from CoStar, which claimed its portal, Homes.com, had officially usurped Realtor.com as the second most popular portal in the U.S. based on traffic data. In response, Realtor.com has deployed a more aggressive marketing strategy to assert its dominance in a rapidly changing homebuying and selling environment.
Realtor.com CEO Damian Eales said the past 12 months have forced the company to remain steadfast in the face of adversity and continue to focus on building a quality pipeline ready for a market rebound.
“Mortgage rates have been higher for longer, and I’ve taken inspiration from many of our customers who have used these difficult times to become more resilient,” he told Inman. “We’ve had to cut our own cloth to fit, and that has meant becoming very focused on the need to grow a quality audience that will generate quality leads, and better support our customers to prepare for when the trickle of leads and listings eventually turns into a torrent.”
Looking forward, Eales said the year’s antitrust lawsuits have created a lane of opportunity for Realtor.com to support buyers’ agents as they navigate a seismic change in consumer attitudes toward commissions.
“The various antitrust lawsuits have sparked a lot of debate about the value of buyers’ agents and how they should be compensated. Some have talked down their value,” he said. “However, I’ve seen this as an opportunity for Realtor.com to openly support an open, transparent and competitive market, and advocate for professional representation for both buyers and sellers in what is typically the biggest financial transaction of their lives.”
“Looking ahead, we as an industry can do a better job of building the professionalism of agents, and then communicating the importance of that profession on both sides of the transaction,” he added.
Nick Bailey, RE/MAX President and CEO
The past 12 months have been a mixed bag for RE/MAX, as the Denver-based franchisor grappled with five consecutive quarters of declining revenues alongside steadily sliding profits and agent count.
The Sitzer | Burnett and Moehrl buyer-broker commission lawsuits added to RE/MAX’s financial woes, with the company ultimately deciding to settle for $55 million in September. Still, there’s a growing silver lining for RE/MAX with its new technology platform MAX/Tech by kvCORE and its robust mortgage arm, Motto Mortgage.
Like others, Bailey pointed to volatile mortgage rates as the primary villain of the year. Although 7 percent to 8 percent rates aren’t near the record-high rates of the 1980s, Bailey said the speed at which rates rose between 2020 and 2023 has pummeled affordability and locked many new and move-up buyers out of the market.
“It’s estimated 90 percent of people have interest rates of less than 5 percent and half of those are less than 3.5 percent. As a result, those potential move-up buyers are staying on the sidelines and keeping their homes off the market,” he said. “New construction isn’t coming fast enough.”
For 2024, Bailey hopes mortgage rates and home prices will continue to stabilize, and more municipalities will adopt progressive zoning laws.
“I would like more homes built. Zoning and local regulations have made new construction far more difficult than it should be,” he said. “And with the high costs of materials right now, builders could use a break in order to get more projects moving. We absolutely need more homebuilding activity.”
Philip White, Sotheby’s International Realty President and CEO
Economic headwinds and legislative changes, such as mansion taxes in California and Illinois, have had the luxury real estate market on its toes this year. Still, Sotheby’s International Realty has managed to brush past challenges to strengthen its presence in the U.S. with expansions in New York, Louisiana, Alabama and Texas, launch new operations in Türkiye and Argentina, and recruit a handful of star brokers, including longtime Engel & Völkers broker Nicole Beauchamp.
“Mortgage rates certainly impacted the overall real estate market in 2023; however, the high end of the market is closely tied to the stock market, which is up 20 percent this year, which helped the Sotheby’s International Realty business perform better than the overall market,” White said.
Sotheby’s Concierge Auctions President Chad Roffers chimed in on the luxury market’s progress, saying that inventory shortages and the growing list of buyer-broker commission lawsuits often worried luxury buyers and sellers. Despite those challenges, Roffer said Sotheby’s Concierge Auctions came through with flying colors.
“Despite the uncertainties and chaos that characterized the year, as a leader at Concierge Auctions, I discovered that maintaining transparency with our customers was crucial,” he said. “Even amidst the tumultuous environment, we not only weathered the storm but also achieved our best year yet.”
White and Roffers said they’re looking forward to a more friendly interest rate environment, which will hopefully lead to a boost in inventory and sales activity.
“I anticipate ongoing volatility in the real estate landscape, with there seemingly being a retreat in interest rates,” Roffer said. “The persisting challenge of limited inventory and the industry’s ongoing turbulence, marked by litigation and change, contributes to an atmosphere of uncertainty.”
“In the face of these challenges, it is crucial for us to reinforce to our clients and customers that our platform provides clarity and simplicity amidst the confusion prevalent in the market,” he added.