Welcome to another edition of “Ask the MLS.” Here, we talk to people running innovative MLSs around the country and ask them questions about their markets, their members, and what keeps them up at night.
Today’s post features Dave Wetzel, President & CEO of MLSListings Inc. MLSListings is the premier MLS for Northern California. Specializing in the counties of Monterey, San Benito, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz, approximately 16,000 real estate professionals in over 6,000 firms representing 28,000 square miles conduct business utilizing the MLSListings platform. Here’s what Dave had to say:
Tell us about how your market has been affected by COVID-19. Have you seen a big outflux of residents during the work-from-home period? Do you expect them to come back?
In a pleasant surprise, once we passed the initial days of shelter in place, our subscriber brokers and agents adjusted quickly, and market activity resumed at a remarkably active pace. By the end of 2020, home sales in the MLSListings counties actually surpassed 2019 sales.
Because of our unique status as an agile, locally-based, technology-driven MLS, we were able to listen to the needs of our subscribers and rapidly introduce solutions to help them not only function, but thrive in the new COVID-affected business landscape. For instance, we enhanced our virtual marketing tools to allow our agents to satisfy their clients’ needs while spending less time physically at properties.
While there was a lot of talk during the pandemic about the need for a “Zoom Room” or an extra bedroom or office, the demand for “larger” homes was not higher than we generally see throughout the cycle of a year.
The real effect of COVID-19 on the real estate market in terms of people leaving the area or region will likely not be known for several years. However, we did see areas of the Bay Area which are farther away from traditional work centers increase in price and sale-to-list price ratio, suggesting that with a daily commute largely out of consideration, space and sometimes lower price points were attractive to buyers.
How will COVID-19 affect home prices in MLSListings in the long term?
There are many factors that influence home prices. COVID-19 is an important consideration, but not necessarily a driving force for home prices in our market. For years, MLSListings counties have been a high demand, low inventory market because of the attractive high-tech business climate in Silicon Valley and the inability of developers to add new housing to the inventory. In all likelihood, COVID-19 will be a relatively short-termed event and the longer term, bigger picture of our local economy will continue to be the main driver for home prices.
Four of the five counties we serve saw all-time high prices for single-family homes at some point in 2020. Additionally, 2020 exceeded 2019 in both the number of sales and sale volume in all of the counties we serve. We also saw all-time high sale-to-list price ratios (what buyers pay over asking) in many of the counties in 2020. Moreover, there were generally fewer price declines in 2020 than 2019 in the various counties.
All these facts tell us that while these diverse real estate markets were temporarily disrupted by the pandemic, each have a demand that exceeds the current supply.
How have your members adapted their practices – marketing, client service – over the course of the pandemic?
First, we empowered our subscribers to adapt to new market conditions by enhancing the ability of buyers to preview properties virtually, requiring fewer live showings and reducing the amount of physical time required to visit properties. Knowing more about a property before seeing it was already an emerging trend that was accelerated out of necessity by COVID-19.
Second, shelter-in-place restrictions compelled us to move previously in-person activities such as our training classes and tour meeting presentations to a virtual environment, and our subscriber agents and brokers had to adapt accordingly. Attendance for our online classes and webinars have grown dramatically, and we are reaching more real estate professionals via our online presentations than we did at prior in-person meetings.
Finally, given the strict California rules implemented in light of COVID-19, such as how physical showings could be managed (posted rules, documentation on safety procedures, etc.), our subscribers became more efficient at scheduling appointments. In our high-demand market, being on time for an appointment became critical. Motivated buyers don’t hesitate for fear of missing out on opportunities.
In the big picture, our subscribers increasingly leveraged many of our technology tools to improve the quality of their communications and customer service with their clients and marketing efforts to prospects.
When we are allowed to travel again, what is your first travel destination?
To be honest, while my family and I truly miss traveling, I’m still a bit apprehensive about the pandemic-related risks involved, particularly with flying on a crowded plane. So, I think our first travel destination would be someplace within driving distance. Fortunately, living in the San Francisco Bay Area gives us plenty of options for family vacations reachable by car.
Have you adopted any fun or enriching pandemic activities over the last 9 months?
Yes, I’ve adopted several fun activities on both the work and home fronts.
MLSListings has been remote since the start of shelter-in-place in March 2020. While working at home, I’ll find open slots during the week to go for short walks with my wife. According to my records, I logged 102 hikes in 2020. For comparison, we would typically do 30 to 40 hikes or walks in a normal year. As you can imagine, we soon grew bored with just walking in our neighborhood, so we started driving to different nearby neighborhoods and walking there.
On the work side, working remote is most effective if you find a way to increase communication with your team. That’s resulted in more frequent but shorter “all hands” meetings. To add an interesting flair, we include an optional “theme” for each meeting, such as Hawaiian theme, 50s theme, Western theme, Beach Party theme, Winter in July theme, Dream Vacation theme, and so on. Employees will often join these meetings wearing amusing costumes in front of a related Zoom background. We have prizes for best theme participants! It’s a lot of fun!