A heavy note of caution accompanied the conversation on home-buying trends at the Feb. 27 Business Breakfast Forum.

Startups in metro markets around the U.S. have sprung up, offering quick sales through new technology that is designed to appeal to millennials looking for homes. Backed by billions in investment from the venture capital community, new online platforms are promising to close deals in a matter of days. The goal: to capture a portion of the $100 billion real estate agents earn in commissions every year.

Three real estate professionals – Dava Davin, broker and principal, Portside Real Estate group; Sue Quilty, senior vice president of loan operations, Residential Mortgage Services; and Michael Sosnowski, owner and broker, Maine Home Connection – brought their insight into home-buying trends here in Maine.


Here are some of the takeaways:

People will still need a human being to offer guidance through the complications of buying or selling a home. Quilty said there’s concern that efforts to serve millennials will mean more tech and less human contact, “but we’re not going to replace having a trusted partner.” She said a lot of the new tech-driven options in the mortgage market now are “smoke and mirror” products, and that there’s a lack of oversight of advertising of these types of products.

Online listing sites offer buyers and sellers a global view of properties on their mobile devices, but they fall far short is providing the kind of information most home buyers really want, said Sosnowski. Buyers want to know where they can walk a dog; is there plentiful parking; what is my real commute? “They won’t have that data on Zillow,” said Sosnowski.

While technology is streamlining back-end operations for real estate agencies, it’s not sophisticated enough to handle nuanced transactions, said Davin. Noting that the VC investment totaled $12 billion last year in home sale technology, Davin said it’s not a point where local Realtors have to worry.

“There’s an art to the deal, and you want to maximize the value to your client. So is there an opportunity to split the lot, or do something creative with owner financing?” said Davin. “A bot isn’t going to be able to handle those nuances or negotiations.”

One of the most troubling trends Quilty sees is the emergence of some new investors in the mortgage market who are pushing riskier loan products – harkening back to the kind of practices that triggered the financial crisis of 2008 and the ensuing recession. These companies are “not verifying income streams and just using deposits on bank statements… not having to get tax returns for someone with a certain credit score …” activity that is making regulators “really nervous.”

Sosnowski says the biggest trend he’s seeing is the interest in energy-efficient homes. He mentioned hearing a radio broadcast that morning on a proposed carbon tax, which jived with the heightened interest he’s seeing in energy-efficient homes. He said prospective buyers are asking lots of questions about things like solar panels, insulation and energy-efficient windows.

“There are more questions comments, and interest in those kinds of things in the last year … than I saw in the last 10 years combined,” he said.

Asked how home-buying might change in five years, Davin said “not at all in Maine.”  She referenced the online platforms are not in Maine yet. The algorithms used by online companies that make an offer on a home sight unseen need a critical mass of cookie-cutter homes to ensure accurate valuations. Maine’s mix of housing stock undermines that.


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