Mike Simonsen is the founder and president of real estate analytics firm Altos Research, which has provided national and local real estate data to financial institutions, real estate professionals, and investors across the country for more than 15 years. An expert trendspotter, Mike uses Altos data to identify market shifts months before they hit the headlines.
In this episode of the Top of Mind podcast, Mike Simonsen sits down with storied real estate trainer and broker Leigh Brown to talk about the state of today’s real estate industry.
Leigh discusses how to take advantage of volatility to gain market share, gives her take on why people should stop worrying about the number of realtors, and shares what people should know about Wall Street investors and the impact on local housing markets and the American dream. She also offers some surprising insights into how consumers are navigating 7% mortgage rates (and why she thinks mortgage rates could go even higher from here).
About Leigh Brown
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- What you need to know now about realtors and the growth of the real estate industry, and how to take advantage of volatility to gain market share
- Why people should stop worrying about the number of realtors
- How the market looks now that we’re past the end of the white-hot frenzy
- Surprising insights about how consumers are navigating 7% mortgage rates
- Why she thinks mortgage rates could go even higher from here
- What people should know about Wall Street investors and the impact on local housing markets and the American dream
- How she uses Altos market reports, what she’s learned from the data, and her secret technique for sharing market data with all kinds of people
Resources mentioned in this episode:
About Altos Research
The Top of Mind Podcast is produced by Altos Research.
Each week, Altos tracks every home for sale in the country - all the pricing, and all the changes in pricing - and synthesizes those analytics to make them available before becoming visible through traditional channels.
Schedule a demo to see Altos in action. You can also get a copy of our free eBook: How To Use Market Data to Build Your Real Estate Business.
Welcome to the Top of Mind podcast from Altos Research. This is the show where we talk to real estate industry insiders and experts about the trend shaping the market today. Enjoy the show.
Mike Simonson here. Thanks for joining me today. Welcome to The Top of Mind podcast. For years now, we've been sharing the latest market data every week in our weekly Altos research video series, the Top of Mind podcast, we like to add context to the discussion about what's happening in the market from, from leaders in the industry. Every week, of course, Altos research tracks every home for sale in the country, all the pricing, all the supply and demand, all the changes in that data. And we make it available to you before you see it in the traditional channels. People desperately need to know what's happening in the housing market right now. the market was frozen so solid last fall, and then the landscape changed suddenly again this spring. So what happens next? If you need to communicate about this market to your clients, go to altos research.com and just book a free consult with our team.
We'll review your local market and how you can use market data in your business. And speaking with that, of that, we have my guest today is one of the great pioneers of using market data in her real estate business. Lee Brown Lee is a, a well-known, highly accomplished trainer and speaker in the real estate industry with decades of real estate experience. She's a bestselling author of three books. I've read at least two of 'em. and she has a terrific podcast and she also shares her expertise with anyone looking to ignite their passions in real estate, like people growing their business and trying to understand this business. She also, not coincidentally has a very successful brokerage in Charlotte, North Carolina. So I've known and worked with Lee for probably 15 years. she's always has really smart insights on the market and I always appreciate her wisdom. I always learn something every time I talk with Lee. Lee has one of the best insights about using the Altos research products report, and she mentioned it to me years ago and I still teach people today to use Lee's technique about it. She's been a great supporter of Altos over the years, so yay Lee Brown, welcome to the podcast.
Well, thank you Mike. I'm kind of wishing I had you to start my day every day 'cause you said all those nice things.
Yeah, <laugh>, it's so
Great. Thank you for the kindness, but I'm, I'm kind of dying to know what it is I said that you've been using all these years because I don't remember what I say sometimes.
Well, let's start there. So the Lee Brown technique is you take your Altos market report, you go into the listing presentation, put it right on top of the stack, and you say, are you a big geek or a little geek?
That's right. Good job.
Because if you're a big geek, I'm gonna put the data in your inbox every Monday. It's going to show you all this stuff. But even if you're just a little geek, I want you to watch one number. Well, we got your house listed. You just look at this one number. If this thing's falling while we have your house listed, that's the market telling us that buyers are getting more scarce and maybe we need to get ahead of this curve. And it's such a straightforward, it's such good thinking. and I teach it to people. I kind of, sometimes I take credit for it today, sometimes I actually give you credit for it. but it's really it was it really, really useful in it's, you know, it's like the element of taking the data and communicating with the data and, and like I try to be very skillful with that. And very often I learn from the practitioners like, like you, so that's the Lee Brown technique. When you're talking about market data, are you a big geek or a little geek?
And that's actually really fair that you forget to give me credit since I forgot that I told you about that. So it, it kind of evens out since we're both medium age. But first of all, most real estate professionals do get scared of data. As you know, they are just not math people in general. And it's not that some of y'all can't do the math. I know that you can absolutely work any percentage we give to you, however you get intimidated by it. In fact, we talk to professionals about their experience as a professional realtor and they say the hardest thing was the math and pre-licensing. And now they're responsible for a lot of things besides the math. But the data can tell us a very good story that's not being filtered through anybody's opinion. And I love that about real estate because everything else in this business is subjective.
So what do you think about condition? And we're pricing houses in a range, and we're totally guessing all the time, but some of these data points are very finite and it gives you something on which to stand, especially with the consumers who need that, the engineers or the accountants. And I'm married to an engineer, so as y'all can guess, he's not the client any real estate pro wants because he's got three pages worth of questions. I'm the client they want. 'cause I'm like, I just wanna sell it. What's the number? Let's go, let's go. I'm not gonna sit and stew over the information. But if you're the real estate professional who jumps to the conclusion with somebody who's detail oriented, there's a huge disconnect. And that's how I started asking that question about how much of a geek are you, which would've been offensive to us in our lunchroom of the early eighties.
It would've been a very aggressive, ugly thing to say. But nowadays it's considered a compliment to be called a geek because we know they are frankly running the world right now. And so we may as well figure out where we can lean in, especially in a market like this. And when you figure out that the market is still moving, it just moves differently from day to day. It, I, our preference as a weird market, I don't know what it's gonna do today or tomorrow. It's very weird, but I know the market is always gonna have some activity in it. And my altos reports let me convey that to my buyers and sellers on that Monday drop. I love that. I can tell 'em, you're gonna get your email on a Monday same time as me. And so they also have this buy-in of transparency that I'm getting updated at the same time they are. So I'm not trying to play the old shell game of, well, I'll show you certain pieces of information, but not all of 'em.
Yeah, exactly. And that, and that, that phrasing has has, there's a lot of power in that phrasing. It's, it's not like, Hey, do you want this? It's, I'm gonna give this to you. How much do you wanna dive in? It's like a, it's an assumptive close. It's like, we are gonna put this in your inbox because it's good for you. And I'm, and I, and, and I'm not giving you an option for it. It's a really, really powerful phrasing. I love it.
Right. And you're, you're free to read it or not. And I also love that in the back end of my Altos account, I can see who's opening their reports. And actually in my office now, we, we pre guess after we've had the first consultation with somebody, like are they open report or not open report people. And we actually can guess based on the appointment if they're going to look at it every week or not. And then the other secret there too, since we're talking about the Monday drop of the reports, and by the way, y'all, this is one of the three things I pay for. I don't pay for a lot of subscriptions in real estate 'cause most of 'em are a bleed. This one's worth it to me for one reason. If I met with somebody a year ago and they weren't quite ready, one of the hardest things we have in this business is follow up with people who are thinking of selling.
We're great at following up with buyers. They're easy. We know when they're hot and cold 'cause of interest rates and inventory. But sellers, they're, they're not necessarily on the same timeline. So when I put a seller suspect into my Altos account and I'm watching these open rates, if I watch somebody who never opened anything and then suddenly they've opened it seven times, like oh, oh, oh, they woke up and in the following Monday they opened it 10 times because somebody who's changed their timeline internally but hasn't told anyone is actually gonna give us a hint preliminarily. 'cause they're trying to remember how to read the report. I know that's why they opened it multiple times. It's not because it's that fascinating, frankly. They're thinking, okay, Lee told me how to read this. I don't remember. I don't remember. And so then I reach out and it's very soft and say, Hey, just wanted to make sure you're getting your reports if you had any questions, if anything needs a refresh. So then I'm very soft in offering them information. But it's because I knew a little bit. So I guess I shouldn't complain about Big Brother 'cause I'm playing it too.
<laugh> <laugh> the we like to think that our big brother ness is benign and and useful to the, to the world. Right. <laugh>. So that's terrific. And, and I, I mean I could spend all time, all day talking about, you know, how you use the Altos product, but, but I'm really interested in, in also learning about your take on the market and stuff. But let's start with, for our listeners about a little, just a background. you're a real estate family. so tell me about your curve to where you got to here today.
So this is my 23rd full-time year in residential. I got in in 2000 and I already had my license because my dad, who got his license in 78 all along had told me, you should do this. And of course, like most kids have realtors, I'm like, Uhuh, I don't wanna do what you do. It's awful, it's terrible. But then when I was in the middle of one of my jobs, my dad said, just get your license at night. It's easy. It doesn't cost much. And so I did what many people do and got my real estate license at night in the basement of the realtor association with the most amazing instructor who's remained one of my mentors to this day, Cindy Chandler. And I got it and then I let it go inactive because I wasn't using it. And when that job ended, because I was miserable, I activated it and joined my dad.
And then my dad grew up with a dad who was a home builder. So I'm third generation real estate, we're just a little different in specialty because my granddad built custom houses, but it's not the luxury lakefront M b a kind of custom, this was a North Carolina brick ranch, 1,188 square feet, three bedroom, one and a half bath. But it was built because somebody asked him to, which I think is one of the law definitions of the custom real estate side, Mike, we think about custom as the super swanky stuff when in reality it's just built to order. And that's what he built. Well my dad of course carpentered for his dad and then after he had some career stops and starts, he landed in real estate and became very successful. And then after my stops and starts career wise, I landed in real estate and, and somehow I've looked up and 23 years have passed and I just can't get my mind around that <laugh>.
That's amazing. And you've run your, your own brokerage for now for handful of years.
Yeah. So we owned a re max franchise and loved the brand, but it was just time for me to go do something independent. My dad's been retired for some several years. And so in 2020 in January I went out on my own open independent brokerage. And then in March of 2020 we all went on lockdown. So it's actually a really good time to open a brokerage is when the world is in chaos, because about two minutes after we all figured out we weren't actually gonna be piled up on sidewalks, then the market went crazy. And I was so glad that I was independent, not because I didn't love my partners and my former agent colleagues just because we could pivot into the market in a different way and here we are.
Yes. and and that was interesting time. I mean, like, everything was was nuts and, and it could have gone the other way. Right? It could have been that timing. Yeah. Who
Because you know what was funny is like me and a lot of my realtor friends that had been in during the great recession on the day of lockdown starting, which was Friday the 13th, that March 13th, 2020, the phones stopped ringing and all of us were calling each other. We're like, are is, is this, is this happening again? Because the same thing had happened in August of 2007 and all of us were checking our phone cords, did we pay the bill? The phone's still working 'cause it went silent. And the same thing happened at the beginning of Covid, but it just didn't take much longer than that for everything to completely unfreeze and go wild, which did not happen during the great recession. But it was just that, that frozen moment was wild to think about because I was like, I don't, I don't wanna do this again, but I'm better positioned this time, but I don't wanna do that again.
Now we've stabilized some at the end of the white hot market and I still don't wanna do this again because I I have hated the multiple offers and we still get multiple offers now just because of the, the frozen inventory. But it's not as bad as it was in the height of covid. Whew.
Yeah. Yeah. So this is like a lot of threads that I want to go on here. So the, the transition from the end of the white hot market, I'm also actually interested in the the realtor journey and know your story of like you're miserable at a job and, and said, all right, it's time to go into this space. And it's such a journey for so many folks in real estate. but we're also in a point where we're coming off the white hot market and we have, there's a lot of realtors and what does that mean for the world? And a lot of the critics of the industry talk about use that number of realtors as a, as a real negative sign. So I, I'm interested in all your thoughts there. let's start at the where we are right now about being, we're at the end of the white hot market. tell me about what this year looks like and what you know, what you market wise and what your buyers and sellers are doing, and what, what should we know about what's happening right now?
What you should know is that what you're experiencing is wildly dependent on the zip code that you serve. And I, I just can't stand Mike listening to National Economist or anybody with a national opinion about real estate because it's crap. I am so glad not to be in the Bay area of California. They're experiencing in a very challenging market that's going to probably get worse before it gets better because of the challenges on the commercial real estate side. New York City, Manhattan is experiencing the same kind of upheaval of what's going to happen on the commercial side, has an impact on residential. That does not mean those markets are dead. That just means those markets are very specific. Austin, Texas has a fall off in prices right now, but if you look outside of town to Bastrop 30 minutes away, their market's not dead. And so it's just so hyperlocal and we all forget that in the social media world.
We start scanning and scrolling and you look at your buddy and you're like, well, that's what stop it. Just, just stop it and look at the data for your own zip code. When I look at our market, north Carolina's one of the fastest growing states. We're number three. So I know that there's economic development that's continuing to drive people here. We also call 'em economic refugees 'cause they were trying to escape California, New York, New Jersey because of high tax environments. And frankly, they just wanna live in a happier place. And the South is a happier place with our nice four seasons and it's very green outside and it, it's hot and humid, but it'd be fine in a month. So we know people are coming here, but our sellers still aren't selling because of other pressures on the market, which would be their old interest rates on their old mortgages.
But it does not mean they won't move. So it's just different. And even where I am, my office is in downtown Concord, that's 2 8 0 2 5 known as Old Concord. And 2 8 0 2 7 is five miles south, and that's known as new Concord. And they just behave differently because of the housing stock, because of the proximity to the interstates and the jobs. And when you start looking at all those things, your market predictions have to drill right back down to where you are. So I can confidently tell somebody coming in, in our county, the county I'm in, we're 4,000 rooftops short based on our last housing study. So when buyers say to me, I just don't know if I should buy, the market's gonna crash, I'm like, if it's gonna crash, we've already got a huge delta we're gonna have to solve for because we have a massive shortage of inventory.
So what you're waiting on is a crash that if it started today, would still not expose itself for 24 or 36 months. And in that timeframe, your rents are doing this. And so let's just talk about the fundamental realities of what that means to your budget. And then it also allows me to tell sellers, if you sell right now, you might be giving up some upside. However, when we look at the data on interest rates and what the Fed is doing, those rates might go up on the buy side. So how much risk are you willing to undertake? And I always go back to the underlying data for the zip code to help me guide people in making their own decisions because I will never say it's always a good time to buy or sell. That's a, a word that we should never use in real estate.
I just said never. So we shouldn't use never and always, but I did. But I'm in talking right now with your clients, though it should be, some people should be selling right now and some people should be buying and some people should hold tight. And that's got to be where we personalize the decision for the consumer based on the personalized data for the zip code we're in. And I look at where my business is right now. We are having a very solid year. We're up right now, even though the market has fewer transactions and the market has fewer sides going on, as we say. But that's because when the markets are volatile or weird or however you wanna describe it, a consumer's going to migrate to somebody who's got some experience and also can back up whatever they're saying with information. They're not looking for fluff and fake, they're not looking for selling sunset, H G T V, they're looking for somebody who's completely dialed in.
So that's why my phones are ringing. But it's also why I have an obligation as a broker to make sure that my agents are fully educated so that when the phone rings for Lee Brown in all her years, but I don't have the bandwidth to help every caller. If I give them to one of my trusted agents, my agents are equipped to even be better than I am. And that's a, a multi-pronged situation. But back to your little question there about the size of the profession and and how many licensees are out there, we should always remember there's about double the number of licensees that there are realtors. And so if we have one and a half million realtors, there's probably 3 million total licenses rolling around out there because some people just don't belong to the trade association. Now that does not mean that all of them are competing for the consumer, buyer and seller.
A lot of the people who are licensees or who are realtor members that don't sell anything, they are administrative professionals. They are closing transaction coordinators. They are paralegals who wanna have access to the information and wanna make sure they're fully educated. They are appraisal members who don't show sales transactions but are involved in the business and wanna provide an independent verification of value. And then you start realizing the chart, large chunk of the membership and the licenses never intended to sell, but they provide massively important services in and around the transaction. And then inside the selling body, you've got people who may have very little experience right now, but they are focused, they built a business plan, they are learning the information and the data and the neighborhoods and the builders, and they are determined to make it. They will do great even in a volatile market.
And by that same token, you have some agents who've been successful for decades who are not continually updating their skillset and have not responded or reacted positively to the market who are gonna watch their sales drop off. And so anybody can gain market share right now with the right attitude and discipline, and anybody can also lose market share with lack of discipline and lack of willingness to grow their knowledge. But the last little asterisk I'll put on that is that with the, the last three years have just been a painful market, Mike, and you've talked to a lot of agents too, they're just exhausted because for the last three years they haven't had a day off because if some house hits the market, you have to rush over there and write an offer and everything is so panicked in last second. And so people are strong, really thin, and especially our very seasoned realtors, we're about to see a large tranche of members retire who would have retired sometime during the great recession, but because they were called off guard financially maybe weren't ready to take their savings and call it a day.
And so they've continued to work and I've talked to a lot of 'em. They're like, I ain't doing this again. I am, I've got some stockpile now because of covid. I've learned how to save this time because I learned the lessons from last time and I'm gonna start to hang up my hat. So we're gonna see some transition there that's gonna provide opportunity for that early career realtor with a business plan and discipline and the drive. So it's just a, it's such a fluctuating piece. And I wish that the public knew when they hear the scope of our membership size, that there is a broad array of experience in there. There's a broad array of specialties in there, and there's also members who are still figuring out where they belong, but they're not necessarily out there harming anybody. I, I get crazy with the mainstream media's approach that having too many realtors is harmful to the consumer. It's got nothing to do with that. So, or do we have mediocre and less skill skilled people? We do and we should focus on figuring out how to raise their skill level or escort them to the door. But just the number is not an indication of lack of expertise or competence.
Yes. Excellent. You, there are a couple of things in there. I really like the, tell me how this reacts to you. I have this hi hypothesis about because it's relatively easy to become a realtor and also to leave again the, the industry that it's an efficient market and therefore we always have exactly the right number of realtors. Does that resonate with you?
Yes. Because I don't buy into this current modern monetary theory, this m m t craft that's ruining us on the, the macro scale <laugh>, I'm an old economics person. I'm all with you. This is absolutely an efficient market. And you know, what makes it even more efficient is that because there are so many realtors out there, and so it's so competitive. I mean, I I really feel for new licensees when they come like, oh, I can do this. It's gonna be easy. And I'm like, you, you, you, you're gonna find out how hard it is to survive and how much you have to learn to survive. But then I look at that individual realtor and their personality set, their skillset, their unique ability to communicate. They're never going to be the right agent for everybody. And so the other efficiency of the size of the membership is that there's truly somebody for everybody there can be a best fit.
Just like I'm not everybody's ideal agent. They should be able to find the person with whom they can communicate honestly and transparently and get the kind of service they're looking for. And it's not that I wouldn't do a good job for anybody, but you just don't g and haul with everybody. And that's not a bad thing. It's great. 'cause the consumer can say, you know what? I want X, Y and Z. Let me go find it and I can guarantee it's gonna be out there. And so when I look at that piece of it, I also look at the number of relationships any of us can manage. And it's some research that was done, it's called Dunbar's Number. It started in the nineties, a rid of psychologist. And he was evaluating how many relationships any adult human can actually manage with bandwidth. He said the number averages out to one 50.
Now any realtor worth their salt is gonna argue with me up and down. They can absolutely manage more than 150 people. And I say, you're lying because if you are really in relationship with somebody, you knew that their mama fell and broke her hip, even though you didn't see it on social media, you're in their inner circle or you knew that they were having a a rough spot with their teenage kid because you're in their inner circle. So that's your inner circle. And if that's only 150 relationships, it doesn't mean you can't work with other people or be impactful to other people. I'm not suggesting that that's your max. I'm saying that's how many you have the human bandwidth for now, the 150 that I influence are different than the 150, that agent, that agent, that agent and that agent influence. It's not because of any immutable characteristics or any fair housing violations.
So anybody that's already spotting that stop, I mean, for heaven's sakes, just stop. You're friends with who you're friends with. But if your circle is different than my circle, my circle craves knowledge from me because they trust me. They know me. I'm their person. You agent Bob your circle, trust you listens to you because you're in their circle. If I'm not in the business, who are my people gonna listen to? They're gonna get divvied up and then they gotta build trust and they gotta find somebody with competence and expertise. So the way I look at it is because we have all these little, if you put a little Venn diagram on any real estate professional, there's a tiny bit of overlap from agent to agent. Maybe you have kids in the same school or you're on the same ball team or you go to the same church, whatever it is, there's gonna be some overlap, but it's never a hundred percent. And so that's why we need so many real estate professionals so that every consumer has access to somebody who can show them a pathway to whatever they want real estate to look like, whether it's land ownership or building a house or their first generation home or a business opportunity. There should be a realtor they can call on and it's probably not gonna be the same one.
That's a great, great explanation. You you mentioned, I I I think about Dunbar's number a lot. I've thought about it in a number of contexts. there's some real insight there, but you mentioned something else in there which was there's a large tranche of realtors who are getting ready to retire, and I hadn't heard that before. Are we about to get to a, have a shortage of realtors?
I don't know that you could really ever have a shortage of realtors, but I think you could have a shortage of highly skilled, highly knowledgeable, excellent communicators. Those kinds of realtors could be in shortage. And and here's why I'll say that the ones that are in that retirement space tend to be boomers. And you have some silent generation because you don't have to retire from real estate. It's one of the pros and cons of the business. They are known for reading body language. They're excellent with eye contact. They understand how inflection can tell a story. And I don't mean this to sound ugly young people, but if you're young people listening and watching this millennials and generation Z and I have two generation Zs that I'm raising. I have two teenagers, one's heading into college, one's a senior in high school, they are not skilled at body language and eye contact even though I, as a parent am shoving it on them nonstop.
My kids are gonna be better though than 90% of their peers. So if you are a real estate professional who's a millennial or a zoomer, you're in a very large generation that has a real gap to one of the things that we need as professionals to understand the person we're trying to serve. Because most people don't tell their story through their words. They tell their story through their reactions with their body and with their face. So the generation that's retiring, I'd love it if more of our early career realtors would find a mentor in that generation and say, I want to eat more lunch with you and have more coffee with you so that I can learn from you how to respond and react in a way that honors that consumer. Because communication is not about you making money though. It's about how you honor the consumer by listening in all these different ways to give them a good answer.
We're gonna be facing a huge number of people going through divorces that's going to be happening. And I know this 'cause my aunt's a divorce lawyer, she's been telling me for the last couple of years that the pipelines are full and they're all just watching for the moment that's going to allow it to finally settle itself out. Because the secret of the suppressed inventory to Mike is that people who would leave the marital home and then go buy two properties or go rent two properties there's nowhere for them to go either. And so a lot of 'em have hit a truce in the house. One's over in this side, one's on this side, until they can hit that point of moving forward. And I mentioned this because if you're a skilled communicator and you sit down with somebody going through that event, which is the most traumatic thing a lot of people go through, it devastates their routines, their family structures, their family fabric and their finances, but they don't wanna tell you about it 'cause their, their pride is hurt, their feelings are hurt.
It's just so painful. But you need to know about it very quickly so that you can serve. So when you're a good communicator and you start to spot the signals, you should learn how to temper your conversation, change your tone of voice, start asking different questions, start talking about yourself as somebody who's good at confidential information instead of somebody who's a braggart on social media because the needs are different. And that's where we're gonna have a gap, I think, is that ability to communicate. Because realtors love email because it's easy. They love text because it's easy. But where the rubber hits the road is in person where it's hard. And when things are hard, that's when you have a chance to really shine and excel. That's, that's what I see as an opportunity. I'll just say it's an opportunity for our early career people to go gather something their peers don't have.
And by the way, if you're millennial who's excellent at eye contact and body language, you will knock the cover off the ball because the older generation loves giving young people a chance. My first clients, when I got in as a single person in my early twenties, it was the older clients that gave me a chance as their buyer's agent or listing agent because they wanted to help the young person out. You're probably not gonna see that from your peers. They're like, no, I'm good. We'll see what you do in two or three years and maybe I'll use you then just start embracing our generational differences. Not to drive us apart, but to say there's something to offer here. There's something to offer here. And when you add it together, it serves every neighbor and every zip code, which should be our goal as professionals.
Terrific insights. Let's switch to the market. so like talking about the market. So interest rates, they were in the sixes, they're in the sevens, they're over the seven. Are you noticing is there things that we should know about how consumers are acting or reacting to where mortgage rates are now or, you know, fluctuations in 'em? What's, what's going on in your world?
Well, first of all, they're, I hate these devices. They're a poison. None of us can focus anymore. We have no attention span. We are distracted all the time because we look at notifications. But there's an upside to all of our brains having been horribly rewired. Today's buyer has effectively forgotten about 3% interest rates that we had in March of 2022. I
Was wondering where you were going with that <laugh>, that threat. They're
So, they're so filled by noise. Like the noise is so loud all the time in March of 22, remember the buyers had seen 3% interest rate since 2008 since they had artificially lowered them and kept 'em low. So all the buyers had known was a 3% environment, maybe 2, 7, 5 or three and a quarter. But it was just artificially low old people like me. Like I bought my first house at 11 and three quarters. Don't talk to me about expensive. 'cause I know expensive. Well, when it went from three to four in April of 22 and from four to five in May and from five to six in June and from six to seven in July. And all of us were like, it was a real shock to the system. However, we've now been in that six and seven range, just kind of chunking around up and down, maybe down to five and three quarters, maybe up to seven and a half.
But it's been in a different range now for a year and a half. Our buyers are accustomed to it. So now when I talk to a buyer on the phone and they say, you know, what am I looking at for interest rates? I'm like, eh, let's just use seven as a guide. So we have a ballpark and they're chill with that. Whereas a year ago they were still thinking, I should wait for it to go back down. I can go back down, I can refinance because I'll, I'll just tell you one of my previous jobs, I did work on Wall Street. I do have enough financial knowledge to be entirely dangerous. I am bearish about interest rates. I don't agree with the national economists that believe it's gonna go back down. That's simply because the rate of inflation has not been solved yet because we've had too much quantitative easing, which is also known as printing dollars. So for those of y'all that wanna know what QE means, when you hear it in quantitative easing, that's the treasury running the print and press trying to solve their own problems. And that does not solve your problems anymore than you having a fuss with your husband means you should go get four more husbands. That is not going to make your problems better. <laugh>,
I've never thought about that analogy before, but it's totally gonna be like what you clip out for TikTok and just make sure you tag me in it 'cause that was great, <laugh>. Now I want you to think about this. When our interest rates are volatile because of what's happening in monetary policy, that does not make you a bad guy for telling a buyer. We're at seven right now, we could go to eight. I think a lot of professionals are afraid to say rates could go higher because they may, and I do think they will. I don't know when, but I just feel in my core we're gonna wind up around nines for a while before we see it pull back. But here's what that means. If I'm right and they buy at seven, they're gonna be glad. If I'm wrong and it does pull back to five and a half, then I will talk to them about what a refinance looks like.
I'll make sure they know there are fees and costs associated with it, which is currently driving me crazy and marketing for real estate professionals. But just refi, if it goes down just refi, like you should probably tell 'em the refi does involve money. And so I'm gonna make sure all of my clients have the pros and cons of ups and downs because I could be wrong and it may go down and, but if I'm right, they'll be glad they listened right now. And I guess the moral of that story is you cannot be all the time positive or all the time negative. Your job has to be, it could go up, it could go down, it could go sideways, which is also, well my altos reports, that's how I explained the seller demand. And I explain all of the trends in the market. It might go up, it might go down, it might go sideways, I don't know.
But here are your scenarios so that you can make a good choice. And if you think I'm crazy for being bearish about interest rates, I want you to be a history person for just a minute. Not on Wikipedia, but with a real book or a real historian. Go look at the Weymar Republic in Germany in the thirties post-World War I, pre-World War ii. And when you start to understand the damage that can be caused by monetary policy that does not take into account how regular people live, you'll start thinking about things in a different way. And here's where you'll wind up thinking, you'll say, well, if money goes crazy, you know what doesn't go crazy real estate? Because it is a tangible asset. So even if numbers go wild, if I can handle the payment, I'm good. I'm in a house, I've got a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen, I'm solid.
And that's what we also have to drive the conversation back to is that even when we're talking about market conditions, ups, downs and sideways and interest rates, what we're ultimately talking about is that tangible asset. And if you're a primary residence realtor, it's where they live and eat supper and lay their head down at night and they're gonna have to do that somewhere. So would they rather do it in somebody else's property or in their own? The question becomes what's the difference in the rent and the mortgage and can their budget it? And then you realize you've actually taken interest rates outta the conversation altogether, which is what we should be doing for the public to help them let go of their panic and take care of their realities. And if there's one phrase I could eliminate right now, it would be this crap that's running around saying, date the rate, marry the house.
No, no, no, no, no. It's date the rate, marry the payment, take the house out of it for a second. It's just about the payment. If they can handle $2,000 a month and be all right, go out to eat once in a while and go on vacation, that 30 year fixed is the best hedge we have against inflation. Now you can't control property taxes and insurance, but those are gonna be fairly nominal changes to the payment as opposed to what's happening in the rental market. If they can't handle the payment, then don't let 'em buy the house. That's what it should boil down to,
Right? If you can afford the house and you love the house, it's okay to buy the house. If you can't afford it or you don't love it, don't buy the house. I think your insight on interest rates is novel and I appreciate that. I'm not sure we should discuss the why my republic on the podcast here, I'll let you you take that. What is
History theory though, Mike? Like, it's crazy to me because there are people that would take that and run with it in an extreme position. When I'm saying if you look at how the German people were hammered at the end of World War I because of their own actions, the reaction that was done by the government created more issues, which led us into a despot in power who then caused World War ii. So if you have, remember the despot comes out of bad monetary policy and well frankly just, you know, spawn a Satan, but outside of that, you, you have all these things we should be watching. And I'm not suggesting that the same that World War III comes out of our bad monetary policy here, but when you see wheelbarrows full of printed money, it causes unrest. And I don't want any more unrest in the country. I think we have way too much as it is.
Yeah, well, and, and, and you know, to be, to be like dive into that for a second, you know, we have we have a government and the Fed who is very focused on inflation and you know, and is indeed, but that's I think why your first comment about 8%, 9%, like those could, we could indeed see higher mortgage rates from here because the Fed is definitely focused on inflation. So inflation's falling, it's not done yet. And the economy continues to grow instead of like, you know, I've been, you know, we've been talking about recession signals for a year and a half
And we've had 'em, and yeah, they're there like the numbers look recessive on paper, but the economy's not behaving recessive. It is, it's weird. It's weird on the financial market side, the stock markets should have fallen by now with the PE ratios we're looking at, and they haven't. It's just weird and people are employed and there's not enough workers. It's just, it's, I mean we're living in some crazy, crazy times.
And it does imply that that rates, they don't have to fall from here for years. Like they could indeed be at a new place, a new level
Point something out, Mike, the new level they're at is, oh, on the 40 year historic average. So plug, plug, all the 30 year interest rates, the 30 year fixed into a plot over the last 40 plus years. And the last time I ran the signal loan, and I think the average came out at 6.4% on the average 30 year fixed over 40 plus years. So we are still sitting within a variance of that, which means maybe we just landed where it's supposed to be, and I don't have to be super bearish anymore and we'll just kind of hang out here for a while. But I still feel as a professional, even if I'm bullish, my job is say, here's the bull's opinion, here's the bear's opinion so that the consumer can decide where they wanna fall. I can't walk in there with a crystal ball and say, I know all things because that's the mark of a, a amateur real estate person in my opinion.
Yeah, that's right. and I, and, and the date, the rate marry the payment I think is a terrific observation. The and and really though the gem there is that consumers home buyers have essentially, they've already forgotten about 3% rates. They look at 7%, it's 7% and we're making decisions on 7% and it's time to live my life. That's really fascinating. And okay, so that's that's really great. thoughts there. I, and, and exactly what we wanted to get out though. so let's talk about other trends in the market. Charlotte, big investor market, big ibu. What do we need to know about right now in, in like that those like cash buyers, like all of that? What are you seeing out there in Charlotte? What's new this year? Our, our investors selling or like Airbnb folks like panicking? Is you see anything like that that we should be paying attention to?
No, we don't have the Airbnb panic here because this was, I mean, Charlotte is known as the most boring of the big cities. If you look at the list of the 20 big cities in the country, we are right in there usually hovering between 14 and 16. All the other cities though, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, just have the name of the city. You get the Charlotte, Charlotte, common, North Carolina. I'm like, y'all aren't even sure <laugh> what state we're in because we're so forgettable and that means that we actually still have a shortage of Airbnbs. And so if you wanted to stay here, you won't have as many options as you would in somewhere. Like for example, Asheville, North Carolina up in the mountains is dealing with regulatory pressures because of the number of Airbnbs and they actually still need more. But that's a whole different environment. So here we still see people looking for them, trying to figure that out.
We've had a bigger issue with the institutional investors. This has been a target market for the BlackRock, kind of ibu, the big guys, the hedge funds. And we've estimated that 30% of the housing stock in Charlotte is owned by institutional investors. That's a three zero, which is a huge concern on the real estate side because that means a, a huge piece of our housing stock is owned by Wall Street, which means it's owned by bottom lines and spreadsheets. It's not owned by people who dial into the P T A and the community and run for office and volunteer and, and work on the arts council and, and spend at the grocery stores and are belong here. Which means that we all have this sort of Damocles hanging over us where we wonder if the financial markets take a tumble. If the stock market were to have an issue, would then the institutional investors cut loose of a large block of that inventory and flood our market?
I don't know, but it's something that I have to always be looking at as a possibility just because any macro event can change my zip code. So I have to pay attention to those possibilities. And again, I'm not trying to be a negative Nancy, but I am the person who looks at everything with this multifaceted viewpoint because that's out of my control now what's happened with the large percentage of the stock being held by them, we have a high renter market now and again, we still have a shortage. And so all this goes back to it is just, it's weird, but the jobs are still coming here we are seeing the B T R neighborhoods crop up build to rent where an investor puts together a plat, builds a neighborhood, looks single family looks like you could buy them, it's got a playground and they got little fenced yards and they're all single family, but they're all rented, they're not for sale.
And to me, the concern there is that if you're renting a really nice home and it feels like you're an owner and it feels good, maybe you just start losing your desire to chase the property ownership American dream. And there's a lot of people out there that debate and discuss should housing, should house ownership be part of the American dream? And I say it does because owning a home for most people is the only financial stability they have in retirement. And it may be it, it is forced savings. I always hear people on the internet talk about a house that's forced savings. But I'm okay with that because for a lot of people, they don't have the discipline to save if the house forces them to save and now they have equity one day, I am okay with that. 'cause we also know that home ownership leads people to being more vested where they live.
They give back more. We build community differently than renters do. It's not that renters are bad, it's just they perceive a community differently than an owner does. And there's something different about having a stake in the ground. We also know that in home ownership positions, people do better with healthcare outcomes. There is a decrease to the state's Medicaid burden when people are living in owned houses. Kids do better in school when they have the stability of the house that their people own. And those things are gonna be scalable impacts on communities that are concerns to me when we don't stay focused on how we get people into home ownership in some way and to get people into home ownership in a growing market where we have an increased number of jobs, we have to also focus on price diversity and make sure that there is a diverse option at the lower end of the price point scale.
Which does mean we have to be creative with tax credits and with getting our local governments to get out of the way so developers can find a way to work within the price constraints of labor and material so that people have a chance at it. And that's all. Again, these are big macro conversations that stem from local elected officials and what are we doing with permits and zoning and regulatory burden because all of those things add up to whether the lady waiting tables over here on the side hustle to get her down payment together. 'cause she's a teacher full-time if she's ever gonna get into home ownership, we as the professionals paying attention to this, have to be driving the discussion to say there's gotta be a little something for everyone in our community because we know if she gets on the first rung, she's got a better chance of going to the second rung five years from now, if we never get her on the first rung than the latter gets really out of reach. And I don't wanna see that for any of my neighbors. So I really don't know what question I was answering before I started proselytizing about local elected officials there. Mike.
We well, so we were talking about, about the, the changing nature of the buyers and the money and things in the market. Well
I guess I kind of answered that then <laugh>.
You did, you did. And and that there is a really significant impact in Charlotte, in your market with those kind like those types of institutional buyers. I had had Doug Bryan, who's the c e o of a company called Mind. He was one of the founders of Starwood Homes, the first wall Street buyer of single family rental homes and real pioneer in in the space. And he he talked about it as a shifting of the American dream in a world where, you know, we have, we have affordability problems for ownership. And so rental is a part of that. that was his perspective on it. You look skeptical
Because he's making money like this. He's doing what the young people do when they're talking about cash. And that worries me, Mike, because if you tell renters that long enough, they will believe that they don't have a chance. And my job as a real estate professional, any neighbor I meet, I'm gonna tell 'em, you have a chance. We might have to get creative, but I want you to have that chance because when you're paying rent, you have no equity, you have no interest, mortgage interest deduction, and you can't even paint your daughter's bedroom. If she says she wants to paint her because it's her turn in the house. You can't say yes because it's not your house. If you want to grow your own tomatoes, 'cause you don't like this G m o food, they keep shoving at us. You want some heirloom tomatoes, you can't plan 'em because it's not your property.
And you're thinking, well maybe my landlord lets me. I'm like mm-hmm <affirmative>, you had to ask permission. The house I live in, I can go plant tomatoes because it's my yard. And that's gotta be something that we get people back to is that pride of ownership and then not just the pride of ownership, but the benefits of ownership about how it feels when you have that freedom to make decisions. And let's look at it this way too. You're renting a three bedroom house and you lose your job, alright? The landlord's still gonna want the rent and you don't have the flexibility to rent out your spare bedroom to a buddy because your lease doesn't allow for that. You have to ask permission. The landlord said no because if you leave, he can get 200 more a month from the next guy coming in because there's a shortage. However, if you own that house and you lose your job, you could do what the young people call house hacking. You could sell the spare bedroom to a travel nurse who's gonna pay you $400 a month. Now you can patch it through. And why do you have that flexibility? Because it's yours.
Awesome. I love that you do a lot of community level. You do a lot of policy things. Are you doing any work in this area about like, what should we be building or allowing people to buy? Like do we do like, or, you know, there's a lot of, like you said in in Asheville Airbnb a lot of, you know like, like restrictions coming into place. What do you think about those and are you doing any of them?
Yeah, I don't like restrictions. I will say that this year I am the president for the North Carolina Realtors and we are pursuing conversations at the state level to get rid of restrictions on short-term rentals. And it's for that very reason I described there. They often get a bad rap because people say, well, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and they're loud. Well, you probably have noise ordinances where you live, so maybe just maybe if your local government would enforce the noise ordinances, you wouldn't have a bachelorette party going wild. But that's probably not who's in that short-term rental because we've seen growth in short-term rentals for people like travel nurses. They're not gonna stay long enough to need a long-term lease. They're not ready to buy because they're out there solving medical gaps throughout the country. We see contractors needing somewhere to live a couple months. I've got relocating executives that wanna do a short-term rental for three or six months while they get the job going before they bring the family in.
And so people all have these interesting time gaps in life. That mean there's, you don't really wanna be in a hotel that long, you don't really wanna do a long-term lease because you'd like to have the flexibility and you're not ready to buy because of your situation as well. It's just not ready. Short-term rentals give that flexibility to the market, but also we look at economic volatility, which we're all experiencing that because of the cost of fuel and food and everything else is more expensive. The person who is now stretched because their job situation changed, they can if with the short term rentals, if there's no big regulations, you can rent that room. One of the fastest growing places with Airbnb is Airbnb rooms and where people will rent a room in their house. And of course you wanna y vet people, you get to make that decision, but it's your decision.
And I think it's also a pretty elegant solution to the housing shortage that we have. That travel nurse, for example, that's gonna make a hundred dollars an hour going in and spot gap fill wherever they need to go. They just need somewhere to put their stuff and be able to sleep for 24 hours when they stop. And that's a really elegant solution. Instead of them renting a two bedroom apartment that they're gonna use to sleep for 24 hours once a month and then they're, they're taking up space they're not using. So I just like flexibility in the markets. I like the back to the efficiency of the markets. If you let people do what's best for them, they're generally not gonna do something that's negative on their neighbors because what's best for them, it's keeping their neighbors up too. It's the, I'll be really controversial, I Rand and Atlas shrugged and in the fountain head her philosophy's called Objectivism, which a lot of folks look at her stuff and say it's pure selfishness, but she called it the virtue of selfishness, which the concept she talked about was if you're doing what's best for you, it's often going to also result in what's best for your neighbor because if you let them fall off, it drags you down too.
So it's, I'm not saying she's right about everything, but it's just a new way to think about it. And we have to get there with property rights just because of our shortages. And in fact, I'll even give California props. I don't often do that because California's crazy. But when they did statewide approval of accessory dwelling units, the ADUs, that was a move in the market that says, look, we trust that what you're gonna do on your property is probably gonna be helpful if you let that detached garage become an apartment for somebody else. Now of course there's challenges and intricacies to it, but I think there's an efficiency to that too, that people aren't going to do something that's in their own detriment. They'll do something in their best interest, which might be the best thing for the community too. on that policy front, in my community, one of the things that I have pressed for in my county and in any county, in fact other counties too, 'cause I'm glad to go to a county meeting and stand to the microphone, is what do we do with infill lots?
These are all over the country. There are vacant lots in neighborhoods that aren't being utilized in the neighborhood that's maybe already got water and sewers that the infrastructure's there, the curbs there, sidewalk street, the whole bit. But an old vacant lot, maybe the house was demolished or somebody had owned an extra lot years and years ago there at sets. I love going to local officials and helping them think about what to do with it. Because often they look at that lot and say, well it used to have a single family house. That's what has to go there and here's the building envelope and here's the rules. And I can go to them and say, but what if you put a creative duplex on that lot? And what if you made two properties and their head they're thinking, ah, slumlords. You're like, eh, there's a lot of really cool designs out there.
So I'll go to a county meeting and I'll bring a floor plan design that they didn't realize duplexes could be cute and it could fit on that lot and we could do creative things inside a building envelope or, and this is crazy for a lot of our local elected officials, I'll talk to 'em about conditional variances. And I was at a town meeting Mike, this was, I don't know, about three years ago. And I was there and in the historic district was a vacant lot and it was vacant because it had had a foreclosure on it that I represented that we had to demolish because there was no way to bring this house back. And the neighbors were pitching a flaring fit over anything happening to that lot. And I talked to the town, I said, we can put something cute here that will solve a hole in the street where it's an overgrown lot that had a dilapidated property on this could be great.
And they said, but if we say yes to that, we have to say yes to everything. I said, no baby. That's not what a variance is. A variance is you can say yes this time and you don't have to say yes every time. And for three hours we were round and round about a conditional variance 'cause they could not get their minds around it. But it's because angry historic district lady was at the other microphone yelling about how it had to be a historic house. And until we as reasonable rational people start showing up at these meetings, we are not there to counterbalance crazy cat lady over here who wants the neighborhood to never change. I don't think change is necessarily perfect all the time, but change happens. And as as we know, you're either growing or you're dying. And so if I look at a neighborhood that's got a vacant lot while we have a shortage isn't my responsibility to help think of solutions that will help my neighbors. And we, we have to get back to that mindset of don't do it the way it's always been done just because we always did it that way.
That's I love that. You know, I live in San Francisco, I've been to those community meetings in San Francisco and oh man, they don't want to change anything. It's wild.
But then they still get mad about the way things are. But don't change it. But we don't like it. But don't change. You're like, come on man, work with me here.
But I do now have an a title for the episode and this is Lee Brown loves California, her props for California. Like that's <laugh>, that's my title.
I'll be so done in any future political opportunities. Mike, you'll destroy me forever. <laugh>. But you know what, I'm probably gonna have to start a third party to fix the world Anyway, so I guess bring in
<laugh>. Alright so let's wrap up one last question. and, and I'd like to get your take on the longer term future, second half this decade. What's hap what do you see in the market? what's happening in focus on Charlotte, if you like, or national Charlotte, common North Carolina. for those who need specific. So
Funny man, go look at the top 20 list. You're gonna crack up <laugh> and and what do you see in the long-term future? And then we'll wrap it up.
Well, in the long-term future there will still be real estate professionals helping people buy and sell houses. Now, there might not be one and a half million of 'em. We may see some shrinkage because of changing economic climates. I do think we're gonna see a, a major economic hiccup going into 2025. And if you wanna know why, it's because a lot of the covid spending will sunset at that point. And we know that our officials on the local and state level get a little drunk on spending and none of them you can't show me, but maybe one around the country that's good at cutting spending. They're mostly very good at spending and at adding to it. They don't like to make cuts. And I do think we're gonna have to see some cuts happen. I just don't know where they're gonna be. My hope is that they don't cut down payment assistance and they don't cut the things that we're doing to help introduce more opportunities into the market.
But that's gonna depend on who shows up at local meetings for city and county and town officials and who's willing to go to the microphone. And if you're the one who's not willing to then make a friend who is, get them educated by your local realtor professionals, the government affairs directors or a wonderful resource, help them, they, they'll help you with talking points. They'll help you get ready to speak to it because we're gonna have to get creative about the housing shortage. We're gonna have to get creative about getting people onto the first rung of home ownership. And we're gonna have to be prepared for spending cuts because what's gonna happen is the first place elected officials like to go is property taxes. And we all know that increases in property taxes are gonna hit senior citizens first 'cause they're on fixed income. They're gonna hit low income houses first because they are stretched as it is.
They're not necessarily gonna hit the ones making the decisions. And so somebody's gotta be in the room to speak on behalf of those that don't think they have a voice, even though they really do. So what we're gonna see in the next 24 months, I think is gonna drive the next five years after that. But when you look at all of that in North Carolina and specifically in the greater Charlotte area, we're 10 years behind on building. So even if the sunset of the covid spending causes an economic hiccup, even if we see some job loss, we're so far behind the eight ball, I think that we're probably going to go flat. Maybe we'll tail off a little bit like an army crawl. I don't see anything happening that would drive us over a cliff, but I could be wrong. And I look at those things as positives for the market and I even tell people that.
I'm like, if you stay put, most people right now are averaged a little over seven and a half years in a house because people are staying longer with the cost of money and the lack of inventory. So look over the seven year window, that house you bought price might go up, might go down, might go sideways, but we're not gonna worry about it. 'cause what we're worried about is you payment. And that's why I'll have a job. No matter what happens. The people who are at risk are the ones who don't take this job seriously. They're not willing to do the research and do the homework and have policy conversations. 'cause I do think a serious real estate professional is willing to have policy conversations, particularly with the other side of the aisle where the ideas may be wildly different, but perhaps just perhaps the other side has something that when added to yours is the solution we're looking for.
Those are serious professionals that are willing to look at all pictures. They're willing to be visible in the community so that somebody's available to ask you, you're there to answer for them. You're a neighbor first and a real estate professional Second, that's gonna determine who survives over the long haul. And frankly, I look at the technology and the AI and all that stuff and I think all of that is definitely just a something else people are gonna chase. It's gonna be the new shiny object. Sure, you wanna look at it as a tool, but if you're not focused on policy and you're not focused on data, that AI is not gonna do anything to help you serve your neighbors as they figure out what real estate means in their lives.
Lee, that's a tremendous conversation. I appreciate you very much. Thank you for, for coming on. where should our folks follow you? You, you are active on social, you do a lot of, a lot of Instagram. Where, where are they following you?
I mean you follow me wherever you like, right? So if you're a Facebook person, follow me on Facebook and of course I'm Lee Brown or Lee Thomas Brown, however you look for me. The headshot matches me. I know that's wild and crazy and Realtor World on Twitter, I'm Lee Thomas Brown and on Instagram, I'm Lee Thomas Brown and Pinterest and there's a TikTok account that my staff runs because they're younger and I don't understand TikTok and I don't have the bandwidth to learn it, but I'm over there too. But if you message me on TikTok, I'm not gonna see it 'cause that's my people running that account. So full disclosure, but you can always go to lee brown.com and that's where all my social handles live, all my resources for real estate professionals, lots of free stuff on there. Go check it out. And at some point, if you're in real estate, you're gonna have to decide if you are standing at the edge of real estate if you're all in. So if you're all in, then you're probably my people. So go drink up some of the videos, let me know if there's questions I can answer for you. But most importantly, figure out who in your zip code needs to know you exist and then figure out what they need you to bring to them and go deliver.
Lee, thank you so much. Really terrific. Alright everybody. Yay. This is the top of Mind podcast. We'll be back in a week or two with the next one