Keller Williams Realty Boise adapts to survive

It grew during a depressed time for the housing market under the watch of CEO Carla Thompson.

zkyle@idahostatesman.comJuly 16, 2013 

Carla Thompson missed the gravy years of the Boise housing market.

She took over as CEO of Keller Williams Realty Boise in fall 2008, right as the market - and all of the realty offices in it - tumbled into the post-housing bubble doldrums.

Thompson, 45, came from Vancouver, Wash., where she spent nine years working as a real estate agent, including three at the Keller Williams office there. When she took over in Boise, the office had about 250 agents and $299 million in sales. The office has since grown to about 380 agents and more than $728 million in sales last year, according to Intermountain Multiple Listing Service. That's more than any other real estate firm in the Treasure Valley. The office closed more than 4,400 transactions last year.

Thompson credited the office's growth to her agents targeting the short sale market, as well as Keller Williams' strong education program to help agents adjust tactics with the shifting market.

She talked about her difficulty taking over a large office during tough business times, her office's strategies to combat the struggling market and where she sees Boise real estate heading.

Q: What did the Boise housing market look like when you took over in 2008?

A: They were coming off the very big markets of 2005 and 2006. This was an incredibly fast-growing area. There was a lot of new construction. We were coming off those high numbers of sales. It was starting to slow down when I got here in August, and then sales slowed down quite a bit that fall. January 2009 was a very, very quiet month for sales. We were starting to see the market shift abruptly at that point.

Q: Many of your agents learned the real estate industry when times were good. How difficult was it for your agents to adopt?

A: When the market dropped abruptly, our agents had to really learn how to cope with emotions and loss, and how to sit at the table with somebody whose dream home was now worth 30, 40 percent less. There's a great deal of shame or angst or depression involved in losing your home. Real estate agents [had] to be able to sit at the table with sellers and really help them find a new future. Help them understand how to get to the process of selling their home when there's so much sadness around it. And that was happening every day. Pretty much every seller you talk with is either losing their home, have lost all the equity in their home or have suffered significant losses.

Q: What were strategies your agents used to adapt after home values dropped?

A: We taught our agents analogies to help sellers understand the market. For example, if a buyer had $75 to buy a new shirt, and they see a beautiful shirt at Macy's for $75, they'll buy it. But if they see a $190 shirt on the sale rack marked down to $75, they'll buy that instead. It's a better value.

Of course, the $190 shirt in this analogy is a short-sale home. This helps home sellers wrap their minds around what's going on in the market and hopefully help them understand how to go about pricing their home to get it sold. They had to be competitive and be aware of the homes they were competing against.

Q: What are you seeing in the short-sale market?

A: The short-sale market has dropped off substantially in the last year and a half. I had an agent who at one point had more than 50 percent short sales. He's down to about 10 percent now. Where are things going? In comparison to the nation, in Boise we had a dramatic upswing in appreciation in 2005 and 2006, which led to the dramatic downswing. I think the graph of the Boise market is still correcting (from the downswing). It still has a ways to go.

Q: When did things start to return to a seller's market?

A: We started to feel momentum gaining in January and February, but I'd say March of this year was when we started to see a real shift, when people started saying, "Whoa! Where's the inventory?" That's when we were in a seller's market again.

Q: What trends do you see developing in the Boise market in the coming year?

A: I wish I had a crystal ball, but all of the signs show we are going steadily up. We aren't going to see a vast upswing, but things are good.

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Edited for length and clarity. Zach Kyle: 377-6464

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