As the Houston housing market remains undeniably strong, with the Houston Association of Realtors reporting all-time record sales once again for 2019 and positive indicators across the board going into 2020, home buyers and sellers continue to have some cause for uncertainty when it comes to what it actually looks like to work with a Realtor today. Boulevard Realty Broker/Owner Bill Baldwin tackled these ongoing challenges head-on at his company’s annual kick-off meeting earlier this month, where he also celebrated the firm’s success over 2019.
The continued disruption in the local real estate industry with mergers, acquisitions, and buy-outs by national or multinational real estate brands has led to the firm now standing among the only 2 truly independent, locally owned and operated firms inside the loop. While some independent firms took a step back last year due to the city’s changing real estate landscape, Boulevard had its best year ever, with over $239 million in sales. Baldwin recognizes that it was a successful year for the firm, but more than anything, he is excited for the future. “2019 was a monumental year for Boulevard, not just because of our record sales production at a time when many were struggling to adjust to disruption in the industry, but in our ability to stay competitive while remaining true to our independent, client-centric spirit.”
At the kick-off meeting, Baldwin acknowledged that he was proud of the contributions of each and every one of Boulevard’s 50+ agents, and that every transaction, from leases to large sales, helps to tell the story of the firm. He especially recognized the firm’s Top Producing agents, who sold at least $5 million in real estate for the year. This core yet ever-expanding group included Baldwin, Melissa Kubala, Star Massing, Cynthia Mullins, Jaye Tullai, Brandon Krueger, Drew Platt, Lauren Alff, David Diamond, Yenny Mattei, Jim Ford, and Robert Zahn. Baldwin also took the time to hand out a few awards, with Kruger receiving the Shining Star Award, Alff being presented with the Rising Star Award, and Zahn being inducted into the Boulevard Realty Hall of Fame. As part of their recognition, Baldwin provided each agent with a fund to support a local, independent business of their choosing.
While Baldwin focused first on recognition, he also used the annual meeting as an opportunity to express to Boulevard’s agents and staff that continued success in 2020 would largely hinge on the firm’s ability to compete and exceed in an increasing culture of convenience. One way Boulevard plans to stay competitive in 2020 is by providing a seller resources package that will expand on the types of services the firm has provided for years now as part of its boutique brand of service. “Since I founded Boulevard in 2008, we’ve continually added to the in-house services we can offer our clients—a design selections coordinator, a construction manager, a stager, an agent concierge,” Baldwin explains. “The seller resources package that we’re rolling out for 2020 is really just a natural evolution of those services.”
When asked what advice he has for home sellers and buyers this year, Baldwin hints at some economic and regulatory disruptions that will touch all segments of the market, ultimately expressing no cause for major concern. “From a market standpoint, I think we are all bracing ourselves for a recession that just doesn’t seem to be on the immediate horizon. The indicators just aren’t there, so it shouldn’t have any bearing on home values, the cost of borrowing, or the number of homes sold,” he explains, continuing, “The major shift from a consumer standpoint will be your Realtor’s ability to market your home as a ‘pocket listing’, ‘coming soon’, or ‘off-MLS’.”
Baldwin is referring to recent regulatory changes and recommendations advanced by the National Association of Realtors in what is known as a Clear Cooperation Policy. This prevents agents and firms from listing and marketing a property for any period of time without making it available for the widest pool of consumers on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), with the exception of being able to market the listing “in-house” to other agents in the same brokerage. In Houston, the MLS is known as HAR.com, since it is owned and operated by the Houston Association of Realtors. This practice is often pitched to sellers as giving them the ability to pre-market their home without adding to the Days on the Market metric on the MLS, though Baldwin points to a number of factors that have led to the adoption of the Clear Cooperation rules.
“In almost every instance, it is not in the buyer’s or seller’s best interest to market a property off the MLS,” cautions Baldwin, “It is in the agent or brokerage’s best interest and actually puts sellers at a disadvantage. I have not allowed this practice at my firm for some time now.” Thus, Baldwin feels that Boulevard will have an easier time than most firms when it comes to adjusting to the Clear Cooperation Policy. “Many of the changes we’re seeing center around agents acting ethically and not discriminating against anyone,” Baldwin muses. “Putting the interests of our clients first, while staying true to our ethics has always been our mindset, so despite what seem like major changes, in many ways it will still be business as usual for Boulevard in 2020.”
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