A securities expert told an audience at the National Association of Realtors' (NAR's) annual conference that cybercrimes against real estate agents and companies are increasing at a record-setting pace. Robert Siciliano, CEO of Safr.Me, said those crimes, which include transfer fraud and compromised records in real estate transactions, have increased over the past two years. This year, due to poor security systems and neglectful behaviors, the crimes appear to be growing faster than ever. Agent and companies have to defend information from spyware, malware, ransomware and keyloggers.
"Equifax's data breach affected 143 million people," Siciliano, who was once a victim of a cybercrime himself, said "So, the bad guys already have your identity. Maybe you have been affected, maybe not, but it's just a matter of time. Bad guys are more organized than ever," he added . "And now that they have your information, they turn that into cash."
He advised individuals refrain from using weak or common passwords for email or other accounts, recommended having a password manager, in addition to using a two-step verification for email and other accounts that require a sign-in. He also stressed the importance of doing a "credit freeze" with credit reporting agencies Experian, Transunion, Equifax or Innovis. Without these precautions, "you're running naked through the woods and you're going to get pricked."
He warned the Realtors that hackers have capabilities to intercept emails between clients and real estate agents and that could enable the thief to successfully steal closing funds. It is common for hackers to monitor a housing transaction and wait for the time of closing when the hacker can pose as the agent and communicate with the buyer to wire the money to an illegitimate account. "Hackers say once they own your password, they own the email, he said, "Because they can pose as you."
He told the agents they must have "these uncomfortable conversations with your clients." 'If you get any emails from me with wiring instructions, call me.' If it isn't had ahead of time, you're going to lose that sale, and someone is going to get sued."
Another discussion at the conference touched on current economic trends and some possible innovations to make homeownership possible. Lawrence Yun, chief economist and senior vice president of research at NAR, said the nation's economic outlook is promising. "I do not foresee a recession in 2020," he said, citing healthy consumer activity and job creation in every state. He added that, because the country has gone more than 10 years without one, some analysts believe the country is "due for a recession." However, he believes current conditions are better than they were before other recessions.
"The U.S. is in need of more new housing," he said. "Historically, anytime that we have needed to build, there was never a recession. This is an incentive for builders to start more construction. If they do, I think we will have at least 12 consecutive years of economic expansion."
Because other countries are experiencing more dire circumstances, including Germany, which is said to be currently in a slight recession, Yun noted that even if the U.S. avoids a recession, restricted global activity would consequently harm the U.S. "The hope is that no other country has to deal with that. If other countries go down, it would be impossible for America to grow," he said.
While saying his outlook was less likely than Yun's, Kenneth T. Rosen, chairman of the Rosen Consulting Group, slightly disagreed with it. "I think there is a rising risk of recession. If some things go wrong, we could get a recession." Failing to form a truce with China over tariffs, combined with political ramifications in the 2020 presidential election, could spur a decline of some sort. But he added, "If we're smart, we'll get a truce on this and we'll go forward."
Patrick Kennedy, president and owner of Panoramic Interests, discussed a forthcoming project that is expected to address housing shortages, using an animation to show how his company would build more quickly using modular homes. His project is equivalent to a 40-unit apartment building. However, unlike such a unit that would take at least a year to build, his housing could be erected in a given community in about 14 weeks. "Price is the best amenity," he said. "The cost is 20 to 30% less and done approximately nine months sooner."
Kennedy says the design would go a long way to provide affordable housing in California and that it can be duplicated on a massive scale in any community. His target would be a person who wants to move to an area - perhaps for a job - but is otherwise unable to afford traditional housing or increasing rents. "The housing isn't ideal for everyone. It's for a niche group of people and it offers a first rung on the ladder."
Another conference presentation, by Laura Brady, founder and CEO of Concierge Auctions, dealt with iBuyers. These entities use technology to make an instant offer on a home with the intention of then reselling it, presumably for a profit. Companies involved in iBuying include Zillow, Redfin, and Opendoor.
Brady says her company is not an iBuyer but she has followed the process and understands its draw and popularity. Sellers usually want to ensure they are getting the best possible deal in a given transaction, she said, but there are also sellers who place more value on time and efficiency
"Unfortunately, there will always be the four D's," she said. "Those are people who need to sell [or buy] quickly because of death, disaster, debt or divorce." In those cases, maximizing profit is not always the paramount concern. Time is short. They need to move quickly and may ask, 'what is someone willing to pay?
Not one iBuyer company has so far turned a profit. In 2018 alone, 6 million homes were sold - 99.8 percent were sold in a traditional manner, while 0.2 percent were iBuyer type transactions. As technology advances, Brady believes these companies will become bigger, more effective and perhaps one day be responsible for 10 to 15 percent of home sales.
But agents and brokers need not fret, she says. It is unlikely that iBuyers will ever replace an agent. In fact, she thinks agents should use iBuyers to their advantage. "How much would your bottom line be positively affected if you were able to generate more expedient sales? Your volume would rise, and your time would be freed to move on to the next transaction. It's a similar question to 'Would you pay a referral and reduce your fee if a deal were handed to you?' Of course!" she said.