Before NAR settlement, headcount hopes were losing steam: Intel



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Most brokerage leaders in February still expected to be better-staffed this time next year, the Intel Index found. But that optimism was weakening even before NAR’s $418M settlement Friday.

This report is available exclusively to subscribers of Inman Intel, the data and research arm of Inman offering deep insights and market intelligence on the business of residential real estate and proptech. Subscribe today.

Even before brokerage leaders began to wrap their heads around last week’s National Association of Realtors settlement, they were already losing faith that their plans to bolster their headcounts over the next year would come to fruition.

These weakening tailwinds for brokerage hiring make up one of the key February findings of the Inman Intel Index, a survey that most recently sought the insights of 811 real estate professionals, including 166 people in leadership roles at brokerages or associations. 

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Most of these leaders still held a positive outlook about the developments that the market will hold for their businesses in the year to come.

But as mortgage rates remained high and Federal Reserve officials made clear they were prepared to hold rates higher for longer than once hoped, much of the industry has begun to moderate its hopefulness for the year to come.

It’s an outlook — still optimistic, but weakening — that shows up in nearly every aspect of the industry tracked in February by the Intel Index, including expectations for client pipelines.

And it’s one that may be tested further in the aftermath of the NAR settlement, which Intel will be tracking in the weeks and months ahead.

Dive in deeper in the full report below.

Hopes for hiring wane

Heading into 2024, the story was clear: Many broker-owners and agents believed the market had already bottomed out for their business and was poised for a small-to-moderate rebound, the Intel Index found.

For brokerages, the staffing that supports agents is largely tied to transaction count. If there are more agents or more sales, firms require more assistance with the other levels of the transaction.

Today, that picture is still largely accurate. But a lot has happened since then, and much of it has served to dull the industry’s sharpest hopes.

  • The share of brokerage leaders who expected a higher headcount in 12 months dropped from 57 percent in January to 48 percent in February.
  • The percentage of brokerage leaders who expected a lower headcount in 12 months rose from 7 percent in January to 13 percent in February.
  • Still, many brokerage leaders remain on the fence, with 36 percent in January reporting they expect their headcounts to remain about the same over the next year — a share which ticked up to 39 percent in February.

This shift in attitudes, to be clear, occurred prior to news of the NAR settlement. The March survey, which opened today, will paint a clearer picture of how industry sentiment is evolving in light of the recent news.

In addition to this outlook, the survey held insights into why the underlying market conditions have eroded.

Negativity deepens, for some

What’s driving these tempered expectations for the coming year?

Some of the macro factors are apparent: Delayed rate cuts by the Fed, stubbornly high mortgage rates and lower-than-hoped-for transaction levels are all possible contributors.

But we can look to the Intel survey for more context.

  • The share of brokerage leaders who reported having a lower headcount today than 12 months ago remained roughly the same from January to February — hovering most recently around 23 percent.

However, the breakdown within that group has skewed more negative.

  • Nearly 5 percent of all brokerage leader respondents reported in February their headcounts were “substantially lower” year over year. 
  • In January, that same share was below 2 percent.

At this stage, it can be tricky to figure out how much movement like this can be attributed to market forces, or simply changes in the surveyed population between January and February.

But one thing seems likely: Last week’s settlement news is still setting in, and may serve as a significant jolt to the prevailing opinions tracked by the Intel Index.

Intel will continue to follow this story and offer forward-looking insights as the industry responds.

Methodology notes: This month’s Inman Intel Index survey was conducted Feb. 20-March 3, 2024. The entire Inman reader community was invited to participate, and Intel received 811 responses. Respondents for this survey were directed to the SurveyMonkey platform, where they self-identified their profiles within the residential real estate market. Respondents were limited to one response per device, but there was no limitation to IP addresses. Once a profile (residential real estate agent, mortgage broker/banker, corporate executive/investor/proptech, or other) was selected, respondents answered a unique set of questions for that specific profile. Because the survey did not request demographic information for age, gender or geography, there was no data weighting. This survey will be conducted monthly, with both recurring and unique questions for each profile type.

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