2019 was an exciting year for real estate. An unexpected low-interest-rate environment in the second half of 2019 spurred market activity; the iBuying wave gained momentum; and investors poured billions of dollars into proptech solutions

At the center of all this activity were industry publications like October Research and HousingWire who helped the public and real estate professionals stay informed in real-time on marketplace changes. 

At the Future of Real Estate Summit held in Austin, Texas last week, Qualia’s Director of Communications, Erica Perng, moderated a panel session with HousingWire President & CEO, Clayton Collins, and October Research Owner and Publisher, Erica Meyer, to discuss real estate trends in 2019 and their predictions for the year ahead. 

The iBuying wave

October Research and HousingWire covered iBuying extensively in 2019. Collins quantified HousingWire’s mentions of iBuying to illustrate the acceleration of the topic this year. “In 2018, we had 19 mentions of iBuyers. In 2019, that number jumped to 164,” he said. 

Not only is the conversation growing, it’s also evolving. Collins noted that the iBuying narrative flipped from iBuyers as hypothetical market-changers to iBuyers as true market players this year. Collins cited figures from a contact at Opendoor to illustrate this point: “iBuying is a real part of the market. [According to my contact] consumers are using iBuyer platforms to purchase a home every 28 minutes.” 

Meyer and Collins agreed that iBuyers could become a substantial component of the real estate ecosystem in the years to come. 

eClosings: it’s now or never 

“At the start of 2019, survey data demonstrated that only 15% of title companies were doing some form of eClosings,” Meyer noted. “I expect that number will increase in the years to come.” 

While most title & escrow businesses have not practiced eClosings, Meyer noted that the environment in 2019 will likely push title companies toward eClosing adoption in 2020. 

Lender partners are one factor Meyer believes will push the dial toward digital closings. In the mortgage lending space, eNote usage exploded. “In a single month–October 2019—there were more eNotes registered than all of 2018,” she said. 

According to Meyer, eClosings only account for 1.3% of all homes sold; however, she believes this is only the tip of the iceberg as legislation, lender activity, and other factors help push the industry toward digital closing options. 

What happened to blockchain? 

Blockchain was the major topic in 2018. Experts believed that blockchain solutions would revolutionize title record keeping and that fractional ownership through blockchain solutions would completely change home ownership. 

This year however, blockchain conversations fizzled. Collins noted that he was surprised that blockchain conversations fell off the map. “We thought that the innovation was already here, but it has not really come to fruition,” he said. 

His team saw a sizable dip in mentions of blockchain this year compared to 2018. “We saw a peak in blockchain conversation in January of 2018, and then it’s really fallen off a cliff in the last 18 months,” Collins said. 

Topics to watch in 2020

To wrap up the conversation, Collins and Meyer discussed their areas of focus for the year ahead. Collins noted housing affordability and related market indicators as a theme of focus for HousingWire in 2020 while Meyer cited industry consolidation, election year happenings, and technology investment as key areas of focus for October Research.

For the HousingWire team, housing inventory and affordability are topics of high interest due to the reverberations of affordability for the future of home ownership. Collins believes the current mismatch of supply and demand means that less people will enter the home ownership ladder leading to unhealthy dynamics 10 to 20 years out.  

“Our newsroom is strategizing on how we can provide industry professionals better indicators on the market for housing affordability,” Collins said. “Right now, we have many individual articles on these topics, but we’re working to deliver a more holistic view for readers to get a better sense of the housing market.” 

Meyer and her team are looking closely at the impact of industry consolidation and acquisitions as well as the impact of the political environment during an election year. She also believes conversations around technology will become more action-oriented. “The refi market helped businesses financially this year, and now businesses have more money to invest,” she noted. “I think we’ll see more conversation around technology spending this year.”