Compass CEO Robert Reffkin: COVID created a ‘permanent shift’ in real-estate demand

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Compass CEO Robert Reffkin: COVID created a ‘permanent shift’ in real-estate demand


Compass
COMP,
+1.76%
,
the residential real-estate brokerage, went public Thursday, at a time when both the IPO and real-estate markets are at something of a crossroads.

Ahead of its debut, Compass reduced its target price range and trimmed the number of shares sold by nearly a third to 25 million. The company set its initial public offering at the low range of its target range, at $18, but the stock rose as much as 23% following its debut.

It closed at $20.15, which was 11.9% above the IPO price of $18.

Compass CEO Robert Reffkin compares the company to Shopify. “If you’re a merchant, you can go to Shopify and get all your needs met in one place,” Reffkin told MarketWatch. “[Real-estate] agents deserve the same, and Compass is the only company building that.”

Yet some analysts remained skeptical of the company’s attractiveness to investors ahead of its IPO.  Analysts at New Constructs argued that Compass isn’t much different from competitors like Realogy and that its success stems from having “access to large amounts of capital from SoftBank that allows it to burn more cash than its competitors.”

Prior to its IPO, Compass had attracted over $1 billion in venture-capital backing, including support from SoftBank. The company offers a more generous split for real-estate agents’ commissions than some of its competitors, The Wall Street Journal previously reported.

Compass’ IPO comes amid growing skepticism regarding the strength of the IPO market. While Compass’ stock popped, other companies that went public this week were less fortunate, including Frontier Group Holdings
ULCC,
-0.79%

and Deliveroo
ROO,
-1.90%
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So far, 10 companies have opted to postpone going public this year.

But the brokerage is also going public at a critical time for the nation’s housing market. Like other real-estate businesses, Compass has benefited from the COVID-fueled boom in real estate. The company boasts nearly 19,400 real-estate agents who sold roughly $152 billion in residential properties last year.

Many Americans rushed to buy homes last year to take advantage of historically-low interest rates and secure more space in the new era of remote work. With the inventory of homes for sale already limited and some sellers reluctant to move amid a global pandemic, competition for properties is fierce. Now, home prices have risen in the fastest pace since the Great Recession, and mortgage rates are increasing again — a challenging combination for prospective home buyers.

MarketWatch spoke with Compass CEO on the health of the housing market and the timing of the company’s public offering. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

MarketWatch: The timing of this IPO is notable, both because of what we’ve seen from IPOs in recent months and how hot the real-estate market is. Did you time the IPO in light of how both those markets have been performing?

Robert Reffkin: The IPO was mostly driven by the team and the results. We wanted to wait until we had the right team and the right results. I think the results speak for themselves. The average agent grows their business 19% after their first year with Compass. We have better outcomes for their clients. We sell homes in 21% less days on market than our peers, and because of those outcomes we have industry-leading agent retention. We have retained our agents above 90% every year that we’ve existed. Those are some of the key outcomes and results that tell investors that we are building the future of real estate.

MarketWatch: What have you been hearing from your agents in terms of the state of the housing market right now?

Reffkin: It’s as busy as it’s ever been. There was only one market that was struggling last year — New York City — and now it is back. There were record sales in New York for multiple weeks in a row. And from a country perspective, what COVID has done is created a permanent shift in the demand curve. Here’s what I mean: Everyone now wants more space — more indoor space, more outdoor space, more private office space, more second home space — and it’s not going to go away because people now have the flexibility to work from home.

They’re not going to have a mandate to work from home forever, but if they have the flexibility they’re going to take advantage of that. And so having a private office is more important.

And then in terms of second homes, not all homes have to be in the Hamptons or Santa Barbara. You can have a nice second home and place like Raleigh, North Carolina, Nashville or Austin, where it’s getting much cheaper. You could work there three months out of the year. That opens up a whole new world, and then you can rent it out on Airbnb when you’re not there. It creates a whole new world of opportunity, and it’s going to take years to meet that demand.

MarketWatch: One of the challenges in the real-estate market today is the low supply of homes for sale. How does that create problems for your company’s agents? Are they losing out on business they might otherwise get if there were more homes to go around?

Reffkin: Historically, there are very, very low interest rates. If anything, at this level it creates urgency, and buyers want to get in before the interest rates go up further. On inventory, as prices are going up and up, there’s more being sold on the market that’s not publicly listed where people can take advantage of the prices they can get right now.

That’s why you need a really good real-estate agent. Good real-estate agents are able to create inventory that is not publicly available.

We have a lot of tools at Compass to help them do that. An example is our Likely-to-Sell tool,  where we have likely to sell scores. Any agent in their company CRM can rate all their clients by how likely they are to sell using a bunch of proprietary data as well as mortgage record data, listing data and Census data. That helps our agents identify people in their sphere of influence who are likely to sell to create inventory. When they reach out to people who are likely to sell, they get 61% more conversion into listing then when somebody randomly enters the CRM.



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