The overall economy is expected to fare well in 2024 according to economists from across the spectrum. However, real estate sales will likely remain muted through much of the year due to low inventory and elevated interest rates.
An anticipated recession failed to materialize in 2023, and now the economy is predicted to experience a soft landing in Q1 2024. Goldman Sachs is especially optimistic, projecting U.S. GDP growth to hit 2.1% in 2024 compared to other economists who see growth in the 1-1.8% range for the year.
“It was fair to wonder last year whether labor market overheating and an at times unsettling high inflation mindset could be reversed painlessly,” said David Mericle, Goldman Sachs Research chief US economist, in a recent economic report. “But these problems now look largely solved, the conditions for inflation to return to target are in place, and the heaviest blows from monetary and fiscal tightening are well behind us.”
Joe Brusuelas, chief economist for RSM, a global network of independent assurance, tax and consulting firms, also sees a slow first quarter, followed by an uptick to 1.8% in the second half of 2024 and possibly accelerating into 2025.
“We expect that policy tailwinds from both the fiscal and monetary authorities will set the stage for strong productivity and growth in the years ahead as inflation eases back to a much more tolerable range,” Brusuelas said in his 2024 outlook report in the December edition of The Real Economy.
While all indications point to economic fundamentals being strong enough to keep the overall U.S. economy on stable ground in 2024, consumer confidence and real estate sales are likely to remain at a low ebb next year.
Looking at the economy through a consumer lens, The Conference Board is a bit more pessimistic, noting in its November forecast that the economy is likely to buckle early in the year, leading to a short and shallow recession.
“This outlook is associated with numerous factors, including elevated inflation, high interest rates, dissipating pandemic savings, rising consumer debt, and the resumption of mandatory student loan repayments,” they noted. “We forecast that real GDP will grow by 2.4% in 2023, and then fall to 0.8% in 2024.”
On the upside, consumer confidence was up 2.9% in November after three months of decline. The Conference Board Measure of CEO Confidence, however, fell to 46 in Q4 2023, down from 48 in the third quarter, as most business leaders are also anticipating a mild recession in early 2024.
Interest rates freeze real estate sales
With interest rates hovering in the 7.5-8% range as we bid goodbye to 2023, prospective homebuyers will continue to face a double conundrum in 2024:
- High interest rates have put many more available properties in the unaffordable range.
- Fewer homes are coming on the market as homeowners with low rates are staying put.
Some relief is on the horizon as homebuilders remain cautiously in the market to fill the supply gap. Many regions of the country are reporting strong new home sales, as homebuyers ready and willing to invest drift away from the paltry supply of existing homes to the new home market.
Freddie Mac statistics support this idea, with the GSE reporting that existing home sales were at their lowest level in 13 years in the month of September, but new home sales were showing remarkable resilience.
“New home sales have taken on increased importance for the housing market as the share of total home sales that are new increased to 16.1%, the highest share since 2005,” Freddie Mac reported. “The U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that new home sales in September 2023 were at an annualized rate of 759,000, up 12.3% from August and 33.9% from September 2022. Overall, the inventory of new homes for sale has decreased 5.4% from last year.”
Fannie Mae sees existing home sales declining in the near term but surging again as 2024 progresses.
“Regardless of whether the economy manages a soft landing or enters a mild recession, the ESR Group forecasts mortgage rates in 2024 to retreat from their recent highs and average 6.8% by the fourth quarter,” Fannie Mae said in its November assessment. “As such, the ESR group expects home sales to begin to increase modestly over 2024 but to remain constrained by the likely persistence of the low supply of homes for sale.”
Navigating the market
Interest rates, while high, are not in uncharted territory and homebuyers in the past have learned how to navigate higher interest rates through a plethora of tactics.
Real estate agents and loan officers who are knowledgeable and consultative with their customers may help keep the market afloat in 2024 by assisting their prospective homebuyers with a range of options, such as:
- Backpedaling expectations towards more affordable homes.
- Encouraging buyers to increase downpayments to lower their monthly payments.
- Educating borrowers about alternative products such as adjustable-rate mortgages.
- Negotiating seller concessions.
- Working with homebuilders to moderate costs in new home construction.
Of course, none of these concessions makes up for lack of supply. Luring home sellers who are locked into mortgages in the 3-4% range back into the market is going to continue to be a challenge until overall rates begin to moderate, which by all predictions is unlikely to happen until the latter half of 2024.
Keeping an eye on fundamentals
As we enter 2024, it will be imperative for business owners to keep their eye on economic fundamentals both nationally and in their own market as they navigate a slower real estate market.
Although the job market has slowed in recent months, the outlook remains strong for stable employment in 2024, with some anticipation of a modest increase in unemployment. Regional variations are likely to have some impact on the real estate outlook in specific markets.
According to Goldman Sachs, real disposable income is forecast to grow nearly 3% in 2024. Solid job growth, real wage growth and an increase in interest income should keep consumer spending strong.
Higher interest rates are likely to take a toll on business investment, but if recessionary fears continue to abate, this may become a non-issue in 2024.
U.S. imports, which reached a zenith during the pandemic, have eased back in the past year. According to Goldman Sachs research, U.S. exports are expected to show some improvement in the coming year, as foreign economic growth accelerates, narrowing the trade deficit.
If interest rates begin to moderate in the latter part of 2024, real estate sales could improve under the strength of a wave of Millennials who are eager to move up to home ownership.
However, the specter of even a mild recession coupled with diminished consumer savings so necessary for a downpayment, growing credit card debt, lack of affordable housing, and high interest rates could delay a real estate market comeback well into 2025, especially for first-time homebuyers.
Creating an inclusive workplace is a complex task. After all, people are anything but simple. None of us have merely one “self.” Every person is a mixture of intersecting identities that influence how people see us and, conversely, how we see them.
How, then, can a business foster an inclusive workplace, particularly around the holidays? As Stacy Stolen, HR Manager at Alliant National, explains, it requires being mindful of how our biases shape our perceptions while working toward a culture where everyone can be recognized and respected. I spoke with Stolen on the complexities of this work, what Alliant National is doing to promote inclusivity, and takeaways for agencies looking to build inclusive workplaces during the holidays and year-round.
Inclusivity begins with empathy
When asked how she defines inclusivity, Stolen said, “Simply put, inclusion and being inclusive is to have empathy,” adding that, “at a company-level, it takes developing a shared understanding that we all have our own unique experiences that occur within a society filled with inequalities.”
Once this understanding is established, productive work can begin. “We can then start to relate and learn from others. This is important because empathy allows us to humanize one another and feel responsible for everyone’s safety and well-being. We can positively influence our surroundings and ensure everyone feels seen, validated, and heard – even if we don’t directly relate to everyone else’s experience,” Stolen said.
Easier said than done
What makes this easier said than done, however, are social constructs and the unconscious biases they produce. Identity composes a wide range of attributes – from race, sexuality and ethnicity to education level, family of origin and belief structures. Some of these identities, said Stolen, carry more power in the world than others. Depending on how someone identifies, they may find themselves unjustly stereotyped by the dominant power structures of society.
Building an inclusive workplace, then, necessitates building a culture where people can feel safe and supported enough to interrogate their biases and push back on the inclination to stereotype. A first step involves simply accepting that such biases exist and that typically we have little opportunity to reconsider our ingrained beliefs. As Stolen explained, “Quite often, we interact with folks who look, feel, act like us, or have identities roughly like ours. Therefore, we can’t do anything aside from perpetuate these stereotypical beliefs about folks in other social groups. That’s because we aren’t being exposed to anything different to dismantle these inaccurate ideas. We need to break this cycle and cultivate mindfulness to expand our idea of what collective community looks like.”
It also involves seeing this work as more of a journey rather than a destination. “This work requires consistent and intentional engagement with yourself and others that you interact with daily,” said Stolen. “Just like anything else you aspire to change in yourself or in your environment, you must commit that same time and effort in showing up as an ally and advocating for necessary change.”
So, what does this look like in practice? Stolen noted that Alliant National’s commitment to building an inclusive workplace involves investing in culture awareness training and dialogue. Additionally, in the New Year, the company is launching an internal committee dedicated to ensuring that its priorities are considered through an inclusive lens.
Stolen described how these efforts are not viewed as one-offs by the company. Instead, they are part of a continuous, holistic and ever-evolving move toward a more inclusive culture. This is an important feature of Alliant National’s larger goal of being a workplace where every employee feels comfortable bringing their authentic self to work and can:
- Remain present even when uncomfortable;
- Accept that we are all part of the problem and must work to change society for the better;
- Learn how to empathize with others’ experiences that are different from their own;
- Make mistakes while striving for a better tomorrow;
- Educate themselves and those around them; and
- Not expect those with the least power in society to do the brunt of the work.
How to promote inclusivity during the holidays and everyday
Holiday periods are a perfect opportunity to promote an inclusive culture, Stolen noted. For many, holidays are informed by cultural identity. It is important to be mindful around language and emphasize respect for all regardless of individual beliefs. “Just because you don’t celebrate certain holidays doesn’t mean that you are exempt from being aware and educated on holidays and religious practices that others celebrate,” Stolen observed.
Of course, there are many other ways to build inclusivity year-round, including:
- Researching histories of marginalized groups and investing in cultural awareness development.
- Developing ally programs/affinity groups and creating places for folks to find community and to encourage dialogue around challenging topics.
- Hosting “Lunch and Learns” that expand cultural humility and awareness. Alliant National, for example, recently hosted one titled, “Challenging Stereotypes and Microaggressions.”
- Surveying your workplace to better understand understand your company’s culture better and find opportunities for improvement.
There is no time like today
Building an inclusive culture takes work; there is no doubt about it. But as the holiday season continues, there is no better time to begin nurturing greater respect, empathy and belonging in the workplace. Stolen noted that when companies commit time and resources to encouraging inclusivity, great things can happen. “Workplaces that commit to inclusivity become more instrumental to their employees, customers and communities.”
Virtual private networks (VPNs) are a type of technology that allow businesses like yours to secure and encrypt connections to corporate networks and resources from remote locations. If you think back to the COVID-19 pandemic and the explosion of remote work, then it becomes easy to understand why VPNs have surged in popularity in recent years. If you’re considering taking the plunge and purchasing a VPN solution for your agency, you’ll want to read on for some best practices and tips.
VPNs are used across industry verticals and are particularly common in finance, healthcare and, yes, insurance. These fields routinely deal with large amounts of highly sensitive information. Ensuring data security and cyber resilience is integral to business longevity, making selecting a VPN provider a strategic business decision.
Focus on top features and industry compliance
As you explore the market, you will quickly see there are many VPN providers to choose between. Cut through the noise by focusing on key priorities and features like:
- Robust encryption: Look for a VPN provider that offers 256-bit encryption, which is the industry standard for ensuring that data sent over your network is unreadable to unauthorized parties.
- Secure cybersecurity protocols: Verify that your provider offers tunneling protocols like OpenVPN, L2TP/IPsec or IKEv2/IPsec.
- No logging: Unprotected online activity is logged by a variety of sources – including internet service providers,cookies, search engines and third-party services.A VPN service will protect you from this type of surveillance and tracking.
Any VPN you choose must also be compliant. Before implementing a service, stay apprised of all regulations that your title agency may be subject to and verify that your VPN will meet and exceed any requirements.
User management and ease of use
Ease of use and intuitive management are critical factors when considering VPNs. This goes double if you are working with a team that is heavily dispersed. Inquire with vendors about the learning curve involved with adding this tool to your security stack. Any worthwhile provider will walk you through how to set up or remove users, add permission levels or implement two-factor authentication.
Scalability and flexibility
Your business is always evolving. Therefore, you need to work with a VPN provider whose product is flexible and scalable enough to support your team as it continues to grow. Some factors to consider include:
- Network capacity: You will want to inquire into any provider’s network and carrying capacity. Remind yourself to ask about how they handle fluctuations in network traffic and how they prevent service quality from degrading during periods of high use.
- Remote work: Your VPN provider should also support remote work – regardless of whether your agency currently has a telecommuting policy. You need to know that your provider’s solution can handle simultaneous, dispersed connections.
- Load balancing: Another critical point to investigate is load balancing and redundancy. A VPN that can scale effectively along with your business should come with strong measures in place for distributing network traffic in a way that avoids failures and downtime.
Stay safe and productive online
When your team is armed with a good VPN, they can stay productive and secure regardless of whether they are in the office or working at home. Following these tips can help you gain this additional level of protection, allowing you to then do what you do best: continuing to meet the needs of your customers.
Developing and launching an email campaign requires several steps. One of the most important is “affirmative consent”: the process of gaining explicit permission from your audience before you send them messages. By not fulfilling the requirements of affirmative consent, you run the risk of annoying your email recipients at best to violating compliance requirements at worst. Let’s talk about how you can gain this consent from your audience.
Demystifying affirmative consent
What does affirmative consent need to look like in practice? Primarily, it needs to be unambiguous. Affirmative consent consists of your recipient taking a clear, direct action to indicate that they want to receive further contact from you. Examples include checking a box, filling out an online form or putting a name and an email down on a contact sheet.
Another part of affirmative consent is making it clear to your audience what they are signing up for. To do this, create a self-serve subscription page that people can navigate to and opt into the different types of messaging that you offer. Specify, in detail, what the mailing is and how often they should expect to receive it. You will also want to add a link to your data privacy page and instructions on how to opt-out.
Speaking of opt-outs, it’s important to have a page where your audience can go if they no longer want to receive communications from your agency. Here are some best practices:
- Clarity and brevity: Get to the point as quickly as possible by listing how people can end their subscription to your email marketing.
- Tailored options: You can provide the option for your readers to modify the type of content they are subscribed to and how often they receive it.
- Automate where possible: Use your email software to set up an automated confirmation email that is sent to those who successfully unsubscribe. You should also automate the opt-out logging process. Recording and maintaining a history of opt-outs is an important part of CAN-SPAM Act compliance.
For additional guidance on setting up trigger emails, check out these resources from major marketing providers like MailChimp and Constant Contact.
Why it all matters
The consequences of not gaining affirmative consent are significant. They can range from getting banned from the inboxes of potential leads to receiving CAN-SPAM fines to the tune of over $50,000 per email.
Even if you set aside the consequences, however, you still would not want to start blasting emails to folks who have not given you permission. Why? It just isn’t very effective. Email marketing success hinges on sending the right messages to the right people at the right time. Emailing people who don’t want to hear from you probably won’t pay off. In the end, all it will do is alienate a potential audience.
The tortoise and the hare
In the story of the tortoise and the hare, we get a timeless lesson on the virtue of going slow and steady to win the race. That same idea holds true for email marketing.
While it can be tempting to send mass emails to any contacts you have, you simply shouldn’t do it. Instead, work toward gaining affirmative consent by building out the right infrastructure like subscription centers and opt-out pages. You’ll be glad you did once you start seeing improved results.
To learn more about email marketing compliance, check out our recent blog.
Alliant National’s Rae Jeanne Steele discusses the values that have defined her career.
Rae Jeanne Steele is no title industry newbie. Having built a successful career spanning several decades, she has a vivid perspective on how the field has changed over time. Yet Steele’s story also speaks to the age-old saying: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” While technology, processes and workflows have shifted from year-to-year, Steele’s commitment to persistence, relationship-building and service have remained just as relevant as ever. These values are front and center in her work today at Alliant National.
Steele’s first exposure to the industry was in the 1980s when she started helping at her mother’s Texas-based real estate agency. Back then, the industry barely resembled what it is today. As Steele explains, “I can remember when we had an MLS book that was printed once a month. Nothing could be updated digitally the way it is now, and so, by the time you wanted to show a property, it might already be unavailable. Then there was the actual process of getting into a home, where you would have to call individual brokerage offices to schedule a showing and pick up the keys.” Over time, of course, technology started to change the industry. According to Steele, today “AI, mobile apps, smart home technology and digital lock boxes are all being used to streamline operations.”
Even amid such profound technological transformation, Steele’s approach to her work has remained remarkably consistent year-after-year. Many of her professional values originated from the period when she returned to working at her mother’s real estate agency in the mid-1990s, this time as a fully licensed agent. “My mom taught her realtors to have persistence when going after a goal,” said Steele. But that wasn’t all she learned back then. She also saw how much importance her mom placed on relationship building: “Following up. Building relationships. Keeping up with relationships. These are things I learned at a very young age from her.”
Other values that have grounded her over the years include having a spirit of service, and not just in her professional life. A long-time volunteer at her church, Steele and her family have frequently been involved in charity work, including scheduling, coordinating, cooking, and serving meals for hundreds of people as just one example.
Keeping these values close has served Steele well as she progressed in her career and eventually found her way to Alliant National in 2021. Persistence has been key, for instance, in her taking an active, intentional approach to expanding her industry knowledge and dealing with difficult professional moments. Instead of merely hoping to “live and learn,” for instance, she has chosen to rely on “education instead of merely experience to overcome challenges.” Her people skills have also been highly useful, particularly in achieving consensus around challenging topics with diverse parties: “I think one of the most surprising aspects of my job is the amount of time I spend explaining regulatory differences between real estate brokerages and title companies. There is a huge need to bridge that gap.”
As for the spirit of service that has long animated Steele’s life? Well, that is not just a feature of Alliant National but baked into its very foundation. “Alliant National is building a company where every agent can find a home,” she explained. She then noted how this requires serving agents’ needs by focusing on tangible business value. Steele dubs this approach as delivering “serious service based on sells” – that is, service that revolves around helping agencies gain advantage in real dollars and cents.
One way that Alliant National accomplishes this is through delivering topical educational resources through Alliant National Academy. Policy issuing agents of Alliant National have access to a growing catalogue of classes that focus not just on title insurance but also hot topics like leveraging AI for business gain. In addition, there are courses on how agents can nurture relationships with key stakeholders such as Realtors for mutual benefit. For Steele, offering these resources is not merely a competitive differentiator in the marketplace. It aligns perfectly with Alliant National’s overarching mission to empower agents, protect property owners and inspire innovation throughout the industry.
Our industry is always in flux, yet it’s timeless values like persistence and a commitment to service that provide our solid foundation. These are the principles that professionals like Rae Jeanne Steele bring to the forefront, equipping you with the unwavering support necessary to deliver the exceptional service your clients expect.