Q&A With Rocket Homes CEO Doug Seabolt: Is the Industry Changing?

Above, Doug Seabolt

Doug Seabolt, CEO of Rocket Homes, spoke to RISMedia in the days before the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) chose to settle seller commission lawsuits and make significant changes to real estate compensation practices. While the focus is now on those immediate policy shifts, Seabolt was already envisioning an evolving real estate landscape, driven more by markets, consumers and the practical needs of those who buy and sell homes.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Seabolt talked about what pain points are most urgent, who is driving change in the industry and how the home transaction might change.

RISMedia: In the wake of lawsuits and other changes in real estate, have you noticed a change in consumer behavior, specifically in how they approach the home-buying or -selling process?

Doug Seabolt: I can’t say that I’ve seen a change in consumer behavior that would suggest that they’re wanting something different. I would say, though, that it’s an interesting question, but I guess I would see it this way: it gets back to the fundamentals of why we want to offer choice. 

I don’t think the consumer is coming out of the woodwork and saying, “We need something different or better,” and although I think there are things that can and will be better, if you’re asking if there’s a proliferation of that right now, I can’t say there is.

What we focus on every single day—and this may not be the answer you’re looking for—is how do we eliminate the stress and confusion? They’re often associated with buying and/or selling. And so when you say, “what can change?,” that is our everyday focus. The way in which we go about it is if you get to this stage in the process, and it’s causing confusion, it’s causing stress, what can we do about it to eliminate it? 

Could we ever eliminate all of it? Maybe not. I mean, buying a home, I think that should maybe come with a little bit of stress. It’s a big decision for consumers, but it isn’t specific. I think it’s a series of things, and it’s just the simplification of the process.

RISMedia: Are new business models or alternative methods for homebuying and selling likely to change the industry significantly?

Doug Seabolt: Here’s what I would tell you. Obviously I’m close to the industry, and we talk about change, and there’s a lot going on within the industry. I think there’s been a lot of focus brought to the industry because of the lawsuits.

But I also think that at the end of the day, there are certain fundamental things relating to residential real estate and people buying and selling homes that won’t change. Our focus is always on simplifying the process, but here’s the way I see it. I still believe that. I know that if it’s me or maybe you or whomever, if we’re going to buy a home, we want to physically go see it, we want to physically drive around, maybe in the neighborhood and things like that. 

Could a company figure out a way to where you could buy a home online, three clicks? Probably, but from a consumer perspective, is that what we want? I think the easier we can make it, the better. However, the aspect of a consumer wanting to see a home—the inside and the outside—and just due to the fact that it’s a major purchase in someone’s life, again—yes, there are many things that we can do to make the process better, but then again, there are aspects of it that I don’t think will change—that being one.

RISMedia: Who or what is most likely to drive change in the near future? Is it regulators, consumers, media?

Doug Seabolt: In my opinion, we’re not going to land on an answer to that. What’s the change going to look like? I don’t think we’re going to land on that anytime soon, either. There are a lot of things going on out there in the industry, but there’s one thing, there’s one truth that you and I know—and that is that most people, most consumers aspire to own a home, and our job and the real estate industry and mortgage industry is to help clear that path to get them there with as much transparency and little confusion as possible, to help them make the very best decisions on a very big purchase in their life, and whatever changes can occur to help with that. 

Those are the changes that I focus on, and like I said, the changes that aren’t going to help—it’s just a limitation to that change.

RISMedia: One of the biggest, most persistent pain points is in the process of buying a new home when you sell your home. Is there a solution to that?

Doug Seabolt: What I said earlier about a stressful, confusing process—you’re hitting on one of the bigger points. I would say it’s something we’re looking at every day. That’s really about all I can say to that. We as an organization are well aware of the pain point—and look, there’ve been a lot of different companies that have worked on solving for this. 

I think the biggest dilemma we face today here in the U.S. of course, is we have this lack of inventory. We have this lack of homes out there. Even in a more normalized market, it’s still a challenge for consumers. What you bring up, the timing, I’ve got to sell to buy, but can I find a new home? Even in a more normalized market, that continues to be a challenge. But in today’s market, I think you’re right. It’s a much, much bigger challenge just because of low inventory, so I don’t have the exact answer. I’m just telling you, maybe foreshadowing, too, that we see it the same way you do, and we’re working on it every day.

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