Agent optimism is higher than even before the pandemic. In our recent Top Agent Insights report, which tracked agent sentiment and trends throughout the first three months of COVID-19, we found that optimism hit a pretty extreme low of 56% across the country. Somewhat surprisingly, though, that’s since reversed course, hitting a record high of 82%, which exceeds even pre-pandemic levels. It goes to show that once we were all able to take a moment and center ourselves around how to safely and most effectively do business during COVID-19,
As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Drew Uher, Founder and CEO of HomeLight, the only objective, end-to-end platform working to make buying and selling real estate simple, certain, and satisfying for clients and real estate agents.
Drew has been named one of the 100 Most Influential Leaders in Real Estate by Inman News. Under his leadership, HomeLight has been recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in North America by Deloitte and a best place to work by both Inc. Magazine and the San Francisco Business Times. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Management Information Systems from Texas A&M University and a Master of Business Administration from Stanford Business School.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Iwas raised in a small town in Nebraska with less than 20,000 people. After graduating from college, I took a job with Morgan Stanley and moved to New York. Over time, however, I realized I wanted to build a business that could fundamentally help people’s lives at a broad scale. I enrolled in the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and moved west to start my entrepreneurial journey.
It didn’t take me long to stumble on the lightbulb moment that led me to starting HomeLight. My wife, Paige, and I were getting settled in San Francisco and starting the bewildering process of buying our first home. I consider myself pretty financially savvy, but the process of buying and selling real estate was opaque and complex. As a first time homebuyer, it felt impossible to navigate. Considering it’s one of the largest financial decisions any of us will likely make in our lives, it was incredibly frustrating to feel so lost. We hit roadblocks every step of the way, from finding the right agent for our needs, to eventually almost losing the home of our dreams when the lender failed to file certain paperwork on time. I realized that almost every touchpoint in the home buying or selling process could be improved to bring greater certainty and simplicity for people just like us.
That was eight years ago; soon after, HomeLight was born. Our mission is to give control back to homebuyers and sellers, empowering them to make smart decisions during one of the biggest moments of their lives. We’ve created an end-to-end solution that helps people and their agents transact real estate in a simpler, more certain, and satisfying way. I’m proud of how far we’ve come: HomeLight now facilitates billions of dollars of real estate on its platform and connects hundreds of thousands of people with top real estate agents every year.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Built to Last comes to mind. It’s an incredibly well-researched book and shows that a good idea isn’t everything. Rather, you have to possess specific characters to drive towards success. It shows that there’s no right or wrong in building a successful company — what really matters as an organization and as a leader are your passion, your values, your vision, and your purpose. It’s been an inspiration to me every day both in how I lead and how I think strategically about building our products and company.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”?
Humans are incredibly resilient. When COVID-19 first hit, it was a shock to all of us personally, professionally, and culturally. We’re living in unprecedented times with a lot of fear around exposure to an invisible, dangerous virus. Our own health and the health of our loved ones was and still is paramount.
At the same time, housing is a basic need for all of us. Life events like starting a family or relocating for a job are still driving people to buy and sell homes — and they’re not stopping just because of the pandemic. We all had to work together to rethink how to support and protect real estate agents and their clients in order to safely buy or sell homes.
The good news? Businesses across the industry have adapted quickly, building innovative tools and technologies to help us all navigate these challenging times safely and with certainty. At HomeLight, for example, we launched a Move Safe Certification program that recognizes real estate agents who have the best tools, technology, and practices to help clients buy and sell safely during COVID-19. We’ve also found incredible new ways that existing products have been able to help homebuyers and sellers during shelter in place restrictions.
Take our Trade-In product: HomeLight directly purchases a client’s existing home, providing immediate liquidity for a future home purchase. We then use the traditional listing process with a top agent in our network to sell the home and share 100% of the profits with the original owner. This product, like many others, has taken on new meaning during the pandemic. Since we unlock liquidity for the homeowner, they’re able to quickly and safely make a competitive offer on their new home. That then allows us to safely stage, show, and sell the empty property without putting the owner in danger of potential exposure.
The pandemic has made it clear: with a few thoughtful changes, business and life can — and do — go on as close to normally as possible. We’re all more resilient and creative than we think. For us at HomeLight, that resilience and creativity has helped us have laser focus on ensuring our platform reflects what people care about most during these challenging times: making the process of buying or selling a home as safe, certain, and satisfying as possible.
Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Agent optimism is higher than even before the pandemic. In our recent Top Agent Insights report, which tracked agent sentiment and trends throughout the first three months of COVID-19, we found that optimism hit a pretty extreme low of 56% across the country. Somewhat surprisingly, though, that’s since reversed course, hitting a record high of 82%, which exceeds even pre-pandemic levels. It goes to show that once we were all able to take a moment and center ourselves around how to safely and most effectively do business during COVID-19,
- People are still buying and selling homes — even a pandemic hasn’t stopped that. A life event like a new job, having a child, or even a divorce can feel like an insurmountable amount of change. Add in a pandemic on top of it, and it’s easy to feel hopeless and alone in your struggles. It’s important to take a step back and realize that even if it feels like it, you’re not alone. Our data shows that market temperature has already risen to pre-pandemic levels, with 79% of agents reporting seller’s market conditions, reflective of a rebound.
- As the U.S. muddles through economic limbo, the housing sector is proving to be a bright spot. This comes as good news after fears of infection and restricted movement crushed home sales and new construction earlier this year. Record-low mortgage rates are fueling demand, and builders have expressed renewed confidence. Housing rebounded to 17.3% in June as existing home sales leaped nearly 21%. This isn’t 2008, and a healthy housing market bodes well for Americans’ overall financial future as real estate remains an asset we can count on.
- New ways to buy or sell homes are empowering people more than ever before. During COVID-19, vacant homes have sold faster, for more money, and far more safely. Take one of our customers, Nancy, a retiree. When the perfect house hit the market three doors down from her daughter’s family, Nancy made an offer, only to lose out to an all-cash buyer. Nancy’s contingent offer was simply too risky, even after the original all-cash offer fell through. It wasn’t safe to host open houses and sell the traditional way. It also wasn’t financially feasible for Nancy to vacate her home without a bridge loan. Enter HomeLight Trade-In, which helped her receive an above-asking offer after only two days on the market. Nancy was able to purchase her dream home with a cash offer. She’s now happily babysitting her grandchildren during shelter-in-place restrictions.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
- Build a network of helpers around you. We’ve built a business on the idea that finding the right people to help you at a pivotal moment in your life can change everything for the better. That’s true in times of crisis, as well. Build a network of helpers around you so, when you need them, you can reach out and know a safety net will be there.
- Don’t be afraid to be a sounding board for others. It’s important to recognize when you need help, or even need someone to be a sounding board for your thoughts, questions, or anxieties. Pay it forward: offer to lend an ear to your colleagues, friends, or family. Just as you build your own network around you, ensure that you’re an active supporter for others, as well.
- Know the resources that are available to you. One of the first steps of empowering yourself in any difficult situation is to know what can help you — and perhaps most importantly — what can’t. What are the tools and technologies at your fingertips that can help you and your loved ones stay safe? Making a simple list can help assuage your fears and guide you on where to focus your energy.
- Focus on how you can uniquely help others. At the beginning of COVID-19, we were all scrambling to understand how to live in our new normal, with the underlying fear around our health, our loved ones’ health, and the health and futures of our businesses. When in doubt, consider how you are uniquely positioned to empower others. Giving back gives us purpose. For us at HomeLight, that guided all of our decisions during the pandemic, allowing us to develop resources for customers based on what they needed in the moment, and empowering them to stay safe during an incredibly difficult and unpredictable time.
- Understand that while it might not feel like it, you’re not alone. It’s easy to feel isolated, especially while we’re all socially distancing. We can fall into the trap of being myopic about our own situations, problems, or fears. Recognize when you’re falling prey to this behavior, and look out for it in others, as well.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
Reach out those around you. These are incredibly challenging times, made even more difficult by the fact that we’re physically separated from one another.
From the beginning, one of HomeLight’s core values has been: “Be a part of our family.” Across the board, our team is pulling for each other, and we have each other’s backs through thick-and-thin. That’s true for our customers, as well. We’ve built our business around connecting people with those who could help them the most. In trying times, it’s incredibly apparent just how important — and impactful — it is to build those connections.
Personally, I’ve made it a point to check in with team members across the company on a regular basis, even if our day-to-day work doesn’t overlap. That moment of contact reminds me that we’re all going through this together, even if it may not feel like it in our shelter-in-place bubbles.
In fact, it’s been so helpful that we’ve built company-wide check-in processes. Each week, we distribute an anonymous survey to everyone on the team to see how they’re doing. That allows us to foster a community of trust and transparent communication about how we all feel and where we need support — and also reinforces that we have each other’s backs. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to not be afraid to reach out to those around you.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
The tech industry often fixates on disruption, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the right path for every person or product. In my own life, it’s been much more powerful to follow a simple concept: “Don’t disrupt; work with existing forces.” The idea for HomeLight was born out of experiencing the existing forces of the real estate industry and its inherent challenges. Our products reflect that: we provide the tools and technology to empower real estate agents and ultimately make real estate simpler, more certain, and satisfying for everyone. We don’t want to disrupt or replace them.
It’s been a valuable way of thinking in the rest of my life, as well: how can I work with what I have, knowing the existing forces at play, and drive towards a positive outcome?
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I come back time and again to the idea of simply empowering people to find and build the connections that matter. We built HomeLight to do just that — to give people the tools, resources, and connections during one of life’s most important moments: buying or selling a home. When we do that — and do it well — it ultimately makes real estate simpler, more certain, and ultimately more satisfying. We empower people to achieve a better outcome during an incredibly important time in their lives. The power of that simply can’t be understated, especially during a global pandemic.
What is the best way for our readers to follow you online?
I love talking to our customers, agents, and partners, and do so frequently. Feel free to reach out through HomeLight’s accounts:
- Instagram: @gohomelight
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/homelight/
Or my personal accounts:
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!