The Inman community will gather virtually for Connect, June 15-17. It’s a powerhouse lineup of speakers, and our focus is on the New Normal: what business looks like on the other side of the pandemic. Let this conversation with one of our June Connect speakers serve as an appetizer, and don’t forget to grab your ticket to June’s Inman Connect before prices go up.
The Corcoran Group was founded in 1973 as a small firm in Manhattan, and has been growing its presence in key markets along the east coast since the early 2000s.
Despite the pandemic, Corcoran made some key moves in 2020 to further grow its business. Amid New York City lockdowns at the pandemic’s beginning, Corcoran quickly transitioned the brokerage’s agent development program, Agent Studio, to a completely virtual program to keep agents active, despite an uncertain market.
The company also launched the Corcoran Affiliate Network in February 2020 (previously known as Corcoran Franchise Group) with its first affiliate markets in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. In February 2021, the company launched its first international affiliate in British Virgin Islands, the company’s latest and only global affiliate. To date, the Corcoran network of company-owned offices and affiliates has expanded to 23 markets and over 100 offices throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean.
Inman recently caught up with Stephanie Anton, senior vice president of Corcoran affiliates, who came on to Corcoran Group in July 2020 after spending about 14 years at Luxury Portfolio International (the luxury division of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World) in order to help Corcoran get its affiliate network up and running. The following transcript of that conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
We are focusing on the “new normal” in real estate here at Inman in preparation of Inman Connect this month, and I’d love to chat with you about that theme and what it means for you. So, what does the “new normal” mean for you all at Corcoran?
You’re probably aware — we just launched the affiliate network in February of 2020, so our first affiliates came on board and three weeks later we shut down. So it’s just been a crazy year to be launching a whole new line of business outside our core markets. Corcoran’s been around since 1973, so it’s taken this long for us to decide to open it up to an affiliate network. And then I joined the company — I wasn’t here when we launched — I joined in July, and I had been at the same company for 15 years before that. So if nothing else, a new normal to me means change in a big way. And I think it can be a good thing and a bad thing. For me, it’s a really good thing.
But I was thinking about the concept of change as it relates to agents … I personally am very passionate about real estate, but I would say my frustration with the industry has always been adoption and resistance to change, and that’s always been the case with real estate. It’s been an old school industry that’s had some pockets of real innovation, but we’ve continued to do things the way we do things because they work for a really long time and this year has been sort of warp speed with change and I think it’s such a good thing. If you look back in 20 years at this year, I think it’s going to be the turning point and it’s going to be the place where we’ve proved that agents are the scrappiest, most creative and most inspiring group of people and even though they were resistant to change, when forced to change, they did it so willingly and passionately and quickly. So, I think the new normal is just framed with change, and I think we’re going to continue to see change.
Definitely. Things are so different than just a year ago … it seems like all this new technology is taking hold and will be really helpful for people in the industry moving forward.
And it’s such a good thing. To your point, everything from the marketing, the technology, and the business practices, but I think it’s also sort of the people, the willingness or recognition that change isn’t going to kill us, and that it will only make us stronger. So the business is so much better for it. Virtual notarization is the perfect example — that’s just something that was ridiculous that we didn’t have, or that it was in pockets, and now we look back and it’s like, how did we ever not have that? And that’s the definition of innovation, you know? So it’s nice to see and I’m inspired by the agents that I’ve been working with for so long, and people that were so scared and when they had no choice, they were the first in line. And that’s what I mean about scrappy. People, especially successful agents, have the ability to put things together with tape and silly string and make it work, and that’s why I love this industry.
Yes, it’s great. Aside from a scrappiness or an ability to adapt, are there any other specific qualities that you’ve seen come out in agents at Corcoran, or other interesting stories about agents at Corcoran over the past few months as they’ve been dealing with all these new things?
Yes, it’s funny — I shared that we launched this network in February of 2020 and that’s a terrifying thing in a market like this, but no one knew what was going to happen with real estate, and I think it has ended up fueling the growth for the Corcoran Affiliate Network and we had an unbelievable year in 2020, and everybody did — but not everybody did. We’re the fastest growing brand in Realogy history, and it’s because, I think, consumers and agents recognize that in a crazy competitive time and all this stuff that’s going on in this environment, I think brands matter more than they ever have before, and I think human nature is to lean into things that people are comfortable with and that you know. So I think we had a great benefit from having a really well known brand and great marketing and have the ability to really speak to people, so that helped fuel very quickly a lot of momentum for us to get a lot of people signed up really quickly.
So I think that’s just the brand piece of it, and the way that that connects to, the reason brands work and the reason why people choose Heinz ketchup over Hunt’s ketchup is because you know the name, it’s familiar and therefore you trust it and that’s why brands work. So, I think at a time when people are unsure even more, that’s been the case. So that’s kind of a general example, in terms of for the company and the business, that’s sort of how we’ve seen it impacting us really, really immediately.
So what has it been like for you transitioning into Corcoran during such a crazy year?
I think in some of the same ways that the business was open to change, I think I have felt the change for me personally be really easy also because everyone was already so in upheaval. Everyone was working from home, it wasn’t like you know, you walk into an office, and [it’s] like your first day of school, and everyone’s together and you just walk in. Everyone was sort of still figuring it out. Because I joined in July so it was only a few months after things really opened up again, and I should say, real estate started taking off again. So, in a lot of ways I think it was actually a really good time to make the change because the openness to change, you know?
Great. Well, thinking about this new normal theme and change, where do you think our new normal will be in six months or maybe a year from now? How will the industry be different?
I think it’s a little bit like when someone’s running down a hill and you give them a push from behind — I think it’s kind of, we’ve started a rolling boulder and it’s just momentum. So, I think we’re still going to see a lot of change in the next six months or a year. And I think the market, barring any unforeseen circumstances obviously, because so much of what we’re dealing with is the change in preferences and people really reprioritizing, and home meaning everything, that coupled with the lack of inventory, which is going to take a long time to catch up. So I think that like, interestingly, talking to friends when they say, ‘is the bubble going to burst?’ — don’t worry I’m not making specific predictions — I think it’s going to be strong for a while. And that this momentum and this activity and this level of movement we’re going to see for a while still.
So where we’re going to be in a year, I don’t know, but I know it’s going to look different than today. I think the inventory thing is really a huge driver and we’re seeing the inventory shortages at every price point now, and we know that the affluent consumers just got wealthier through this process, so I think they’re going to continue to buy homes and second and third and fourth homes, and we’re still going to see people investing and really hunkering down …
For agents though, I will say this too — I’m excited for the panel [at Inman Connect] that we’re doing, just because the one that I’m participating in is going to be about managing the chaos, so there’s the other side of that. There’s all of this activity and momentum and lack of inventory, but then I think for agents, the chaos piece to it is probably not going to settle down anytime soon. And it’s funny because, historically we always knew we could count on, there were things that we could predict, right? So they would be like, seasonality, or you sort of knew when someone was going to buy or sell … But all of that is just up in the air now. So, I think for agents managing this chaos, it’s more important than ever that they take a minute and take care of themselves. I think most agents I know have this tendency to say, ‘Oh it’s a hot market right now and I have to work as hard as I can right now to take advantage of it because it’s going to slow down because that’s just the cycle of real estate.’ And that’s true, but eventually, yes, everything that goes up must come down, but like, they’ve got to slow down. They’ve got to take care of themselves …
Absolutely. I’ve been noticing just over the past month or two — a big part of my job is reaching out to real estate agents — and it’s been really hard to get people on the phone, and I know they’re just so crazy busy, it must be really tough.
They’re busy and it’s hard to have to be working, especially if they work with a lot of buyers, or sellers even. With buyers, it’s like, just managing disappointment and shifting the way people think about buying a home. I read a really interesting article recently about how the price of a home now should be considered the opening bid, and it’s like a total shift from that was the price that you, that was where you negotiate from, and that’s just not the case anymore. And a big part of agents’ jobs is educating people on that and then managing disappointment with having to lose multiple properties oftentimes before they actually get a bid accepted and that’s so stressful for agents because agents tend to be people that are just so human first. So I also think people like, every agent, dedicating part of every day to getting listings I think is so important because a) our inventory issue, and b) just working with buyers is going to be a really hard thing to continue to do, so balancing their book of business and nurturing their sphere, because you just never know when someone’s going to come out of the woodwork and want to buy a third house.
True, it’s unpredictable. So along these same topics, is there anything that you hope that other leaders in the industry will try to address or topics they’ll try to tackle in our upcoming Inman Connect event in particular that you’d like to hear from them?
Sure, I mean I think that that is a big piece of it — it’s top-down, it has to be modeled, so culturally, I think making sure that people are taking care of their people and giving people tips on that and making it a priority, mental health. You know, it’s not just always about business, but it’s about the humans in the business, and we always hear some of that for sure, and I always deeply appreciate that, so that’s great. I always love hearing about the changes to the business and the new models and helping get great tangible tips on how to work and being educated about new models, not just new models, but the new trends and things that people are seeing out there, I always learn a lot from Inman on those things.
Update: This story was updated on June 8 to correct the name of Corcoran’s franchise/affiliate group to Corcoran Affiliate Network.