On Thursday, in conversation with Brad Inman at ICNY, Reffkin weighed in on the portal wars, predicted an improved market in 2024 and revealed he takes public transit around New York.

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As a battle of words and philosophies rages between major real estate portals, Compass CEO Robert Reffkin on Thursday jumped into the fray and threw support behind the newest entrant in the space, Homes.com.

Reffkin made the comments while on stage for a session of Inman Connect New York. Near the end of the session, moderator Brad Inman asked Reffkin about Homes.com’s “your listing, your lead” strategy that aims to direct consumers to listing agents, and about Andy Florance, CEO of Homes.com parent CoStar.

“Do you agree with him?” Inman asked.

“Yes,” Reffkin simply replied.

Reffkin then went on to say that “agents are my customers” and he wants what they want. Then a moment later, he reiterated his support for Florance.

“I’m very supportive of Andy and Homes.com and I want to support his success,” Reffkin said as the session wrapped up.

Though the moment was brief, it was significant. The contest between the various big portals has been one of the defining stories in real estate over the past several years, beginning with Florance’s pugnacious comments at Inman Connect in 2021 in which he accused Zillow of “hijacking” agents listings. Around the same time Florance also claimed Zillow’s StreetEasy brand “blackmails” agents.

Florance appeared at Inman Connect this year and again offered some criticism of Zillow, but this time he also targeted Redfin and Realtor.com.

Alternatively, Zillow President Susan Daimler appeared at Inman Connect Thursday as well, and said that her company has a program that effectively does the same thing as Homes.com’s “your listing, your lead.” However, she characterized the program as something of a niche product and, in an implicit critique of Homes.com, expressed doubts that the strategy would work well scaled up across the entire real estate industry.

Brad Inman, left, and Robert Reffkin at Inman Connect New York on Thursday. Credit: AJ Canaria Creative Services

The back and forth — much of it in the form of veiled and implied criticism, rather than explicit bashing — highlights how the major portals are, in fact, competing philosophically to define the way consumers engage with real estate professionals. On top of that, Florance’s operation in particular has been aggressive in touting its growing reach, despite being newer than its rivals. CoStar acquired Homes.com in 2021.

All of that is background information. But it’s also critical context for understanding Reffkin’s comments Thursday; to voice support for Homes.com is to wade into a much broader and long-simmering conflict. That said, it is perhaps not surprising that Reffkin would express solidarity with Florance. Both executives lead companies that are powerful and well-funded, but which have also played the role of disruptor to real estate’s status quo.

In Reffkin’s case, Compass has also managed to grow into the largest brokerage of its kind in the U.S. by sales volume — a fact Reffkin mentioned on stage Thursday.

“We’re the number one brokerage firm in the country, for the second year in a row,” Reffkin told the packed Connect ballroom.

A moment later, Reffkin pushed back against Compass’ naysayers.

“Every single year for 11 years people have said Compass is in trouble, and every single year we’ve continued to perform,” Reffkin argued. “There’s not a single bone in my body that thinks we’re in trouble.”

Robert Reffkin

Brad Inman, left, and Robert Reffkin at Inman Connect New York on Thursday. Credit: AJ Canaria Creative Services

In addition to weighing in on the portal wars and defending Compass against critics, Reffkin also discussed the market Thursday. Among other things, he said that 2023 was extremely difficult and that he saw many top-producing agents go through tough times. He recalled seeing successful agents cry, consider retirement, and even “question their manhood” because they couldn’t provide for their families.

“Last year, I’ve never seen so many top agents question whether they should leave the business,” Reffkin said.

Nevertheless, Reffkin said the market is recovering and he expects 2024 to be about 10 percent better than 2023. Conditions should continue to improve even further in 2025, he added.

Reffkin additionally noted that as time goes on, fewer and fewer homeowners are “locked” into their existing properties with low rates.

“In two years, only a third of people will be locked out, or restricted by their low mortgage rate,” he said.

At another point during the session, Reffkin touted his company’s recruiting efforts, noting that Compass has had 300 agents leave and then return a short time later — a phenomenon sometimes referred to as boomeranging. Reffkin said many of the agents have returned to Compass due to the brokerage’s proprietary technology and despite the fact that the company no longer offers cash and stock-based incentives.

Though much of Reffkin’s session focused on the market and other major real estate issues, he did offer a few fleeting personal details. His family recently got a dog, he revealed near the beginning of the session. And when Inman asked Reffkin how he planned to travel from the Connect venue back to his Manhattan office, Reffkin — in a somewhat surprising answer given his role at the head of a major corporation — replied that he’d be taking the subway.

“You,” Inman replied, “are a real one.”

Email Jim Dalrymple II

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