THE MIRROR OF MEDIA

Looking Back on 2021 – GeekEstate Blog


[Editor’s Note: We publish a Weekly Transmission for GEM members, a series of long-form articles covering the spectrum from shipping container co-living spaces to the battle for listing acquisition in the first iBuyer world war. Below, I look back on a year that saw the end of Zillow Offers, MLS transformation, exit from Katerradise, and an influx of climate capital. Plus, a variety of GEM members reflected on their 2021 predictions. Many links included are to members-only articles, so won’t be accessible without an account already setup.]

Following a year of record-breaking uncertainty, 2021 was the year that just was. We almost turned the corner on Covid-19. October sure felt like it—we hosted three networking events of more than 50 people and a private dinner for 22. And then, well, it all came to a screeching halt. That elusive-but-much-promised “return to normalcy” now looks like another bleak winter confined to activities with close family and friends—travel and conventions once again simmer on the back burner. In short, it’s a year we’re ready to have in our rearview mirror. Here’s what else changed in 2021.

1. Bye Bye Zillow Offers: The shockwaves of Zillow’s iBuying shutdown were large and long lasting…the industry topic de jour for weeks. Literally, I’ve never fielded so many questions about a single company announcement (the HomeSnap acquisition by CoStar probably rings in second). What’s the future hold for the once-again-a-media portal? Well, as long as its stranglehold on buyer demand remains, Zillow can be whatever it wants to be. I suspect that will include seeing Zillow returning to the same offers marketplace trough it frequented several years ago, and you can bet a portion of the cash lost flipping homes will be used for fresh M&A in the coming year. No need to dwell on this though, since it’s been discussed ad nauseum already. But don’t let that erode the fact that this was the defining strategic shift of the year, with implications years into the future for companies competing in its wake.

2: MLS Transformation: Even if it’s at a snail’s pace, consolidation is nothing new. With the DOJ threatening to divorce commissionsZillow gobbling up ShowingTime’s lock on some of the most valuable data in existence, and PE’s infiltration of CoreLogic, it feels like the MLS establishment is being attacked from all sides. A wide range of strategic moves are being made to counter: forming a tech collective seeded with Agent Inbox’s assetsbuying Remine as a group, and even making strategic venture bets. And data normalization continues to progress as RESO marches forward, one step after the other. As long as Sam DeBord is at the helm, count on that continuing. It’s a crazy time to be alive, but it’s definitely an even crazier time to be making a living in the MLS industry.

3. A Lone Dream Team Emerges: Lone Wolf Technologies is a serious competitor to MoxiWorks and Inside Real Estate. What began at the tail end of 2020 with the W&R Studios acquisition continued into 2021 with the acquisitions of HomeSpotter and LionDesk. Its historical roots in back-office and accounting make it the best positioned of the three due to the power of accounting software lock-in (look no further than Yardi, Entrata, and RealPage as proof in multi-family). Lone Wolf’s string of acquisitions all involve executives with long-standing reputations (including Greg Robertson, whom I would call the godfather of MLS tech) that will help cement Lone Wolf as a trusted (non-threatening) company to do business with.

4. Exit from Katerradise: This startup had been contech’s beacon of hope since its founding in 2015. However, bankruptcy filings showing $1.29 to $1.55 billion owed is a stark reminder of the pace of change. And, of the glacial movement on ground up development projects that are years in the making. Leaving employees out to dry, as well as abandoning hundred-plus million dollar construction projects midway through, will hurt future companies following in its path. Multinationals, city governments, and real estate developers with huge multi-year projects spanning apartments, houses, hotels, office buildings, industrial buildings will be even more hesitant to partner with an unknown tech entity—and rightly so.

The residential analogy is if Opendoor just went belly-up with bankruptcy filings, lay-offs, and an asset fire sale from one day to the next. The contech sector will be reeling from this one for years. For those curious to get into the weeds, read this analysis from Brian Potter, a Katerra employee from early 2018 to the end of 2020.

5. Climate Capital Influx: Climate change continues to see soaring interest: “Active climate tech investors rose from less than 900 in the first half of 2020 to over 1,600 in the first half of 2021,” and “the average size of a climate tech deal almost quadrupled … in the first half of 2021.” In our industry, the first CREtech Climate Virtual Summit has come and gone. Michael Beckerman of CREtech and Brendan Wallace and Greg Smithies of Fifth Wall recently went deep on the state of Climate Tech in the Built World. “Large [industry] players such as Equity Residential, Hudson Pacific Properties, Invitation Homes, Ivanhoe Cambridge and others” have joined Fifth Wall to the tune of $140 million. Let’s beat the drum again: The time is now. We’ll also continue making climate a part of the narrative in the GEM. Know an interesting company or story that should be on our radar? Let us know.


How did we fare? Let’s take the time to reflect on several of the predictions and trends published a year ago.

Without further ado …

SUPER TEAMS TAKE CENTER STAGE
Guy Gal // Founder & CEO, Side

Agent teams consolidating market share will continue to intensify, as it did throughout the pandemic. Everhome Real Estate, now netting north of $200 million in annual sales, is just one example of the formation of “superteams.”

This trend emerged at Side four years ago, and it will continue to play out across the industry until far fewer agents work in teams to represent a much larger share of total transactions. This is great for the consumer, for the public good, and for dedicated experienced full-time real estate agents and teams. It’s terrible for traditional brokerage models that make most of their money from less productive agents that pay much higher fees and facilitate transactions as a group of 1M+ part-time and casual practitioners.

DM: While the announcements have slowed heading into the holidays, the year was a flurry of activity…Compass to The AgencySotheby’s to CompassBerkshire Hathaway HomeServices to Compass were among the migrations we saw in 2021. Side continued to grow, helped by its $150 million Series D back in March.

Verdict: Win

RATES STAY IN THE ONE-PERCENT
Dan Green // Founder & CEO, Homebuyer

Mortgage rates will fall through at least Q1 2021. Home buyers blessed with fortuitous timing will get rates beginning with a one.

Eventually, rates will climb. They’ll tack on 100 basis points in a month. There will be talk that rising rates will grind housing to a halt. It will only be talk, though—actual home buyers won’t care that mortgage rates are up. They’ll continue to relocate, and first-time buyers will take advantage of the Biden First-Time Buyer Tax Credit in larger-than-expected numbers.

Furthermore, the FHA will reduce both upfront mortgage insurance premiums and monthly insurance premiums for its borrowers, reducing homeownership costs this year.

By Q4, mortgage rates will reach a plateau before slow-sliding into 2022.

Dan: More early than wrong!

Early in the year, a small number of home buyers paid points to access 1-handle mortgage rates but most buyers skipped those extra fees and took what the market gave them. Rates may retrace in early-2022.

First-time home buyers put steady pressure on the market’s bottom two tiers and, despite the $15,000 Homebuyer Act and $25,000 First-Time Home Buyer Grant still living in committee, U.S. buyers forged ahead. Demand for housing is rolling up into 2022, when one or both bills are expected to pass.

Furthermore, the FHA is holding a massive capital surplus and is expected to drop mortgage insurance rates shortly.

Verdict: Draw

OFFLINE TO ONLINE ACCELERATION + “THE GREAT RESHUFFLING”
Errol Samuelson // Chief Industry Development Officer, Zillow Group

2020 further revealed the need to simplify, streamline and digitize antiquated processes such as in-person appraisals, filings, and closings, to meet the needs of today’s home shoppers. In real estate, the shift offline to online is accelerating and the virtual tools consumers have adopted for safety are quickly becoming their expectations for convenience.

As we look at the broader housing market, we believe the trends we saw in 2020 will have a positive and lasting impact in 2021 and beyond. In 2020, home was the headquarters of our lives. We spent the year retooling the meaning of home, work, and life in between. The experience has uncorked new aspirations and hopes of what home can and needs to be.

The shift to remote work will have a lasting and positive impact on real estate. First-time home buyers in major cities are no longer tied to neighborhoods close to the office, and many are searching for homes with more space for a home office or other family needs. This shift is what we call “The Great Reshuffling,” and we believe it will be the defining cultural trend of the decade. Demographics support our expectation of a lasting interest in home-buying as millions of Millennials are entering their prime home-buying years. As people reimagine and reshape the way they work, live and play, they increasingly will be relying on new technology to safely navigate their lives.

Verdict: Win

CONTACTLESS TRANSACTIONS
Dave Garland // Managing Partner, Second Century Ventures

The pandemic has paved the way for touchless experiences across the entire real estate sector from virtual staging and listing tools to digital escrow and remote online notarization. Sizeable deals illustrate the flow of capital to support the incredible demand for contactless tools including;

  • Compass acquisition of digital closing startup Modus
  • Stewart acquisition of NotaryCam
  • Video tour software company Realync’s recent $22M raise
  • A surge of investor confidence in shares of DocuSign

While the pandemic has been a catalyst for demand, many of these virtual tools have been around for years, some inhibited by regulation.  As demand rises at unprecedented levels with continued pandemic restrictions in place, we expect to see more support on a federal level for digital products and services. Online notarization, for example, is currently only available in 23 states–though legislation introduced in March through the SECURE act would open it up to consumers in all states.

Contactless tools will also serve the commercial sector as businesses return to offices at adapted capacities and as developers evaluate alternative space planning.

Verdict: Win

MORE POLICIES PUSH TECHNOLOGY IN RENTALS
Ryan Coon // Co-founder & CEO, Avail

Governments will continue enacting policies to improve rentals for landlords and tenants. We’ll see more efforts to encourage reporting of on-time rent paymentssecurity deposit alternatives, and perhaps even a rental registry. With technology, rental markets will become more transparent, more efficient, and more fair for everyone.

Ryan: As expected, the government stepped up in a big way to support landlords in renters who were affected by the pandemic. More than $12 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance has been distributed so far, with roughly $30 billion still unallocated. We’ve also seen efforts to increase reporting of on-time payments by entities like Freddie Mac and Esusu. There’s still a lot of room to make local rental markets operate more smoothly, and I expect we’ll see more developments in the year ahead.

Verdict: Win

BFR IS A BFD
Dennis Steigerwalt // President, Housing Innovation Alliance

The single-family homes Built For Rent (BFR) category is experiencing significant growth as both a housing product and an industry.

Over the next several years, single-family residential construction will experience a period of rapid growth, adaption, and innovation impacting the way the industry operates and evolves to deliver both for rent and for sale products.  Although BFR makes up small portion of residential construction today, with established industry leaders and emerging players quickly taking strong positions and billions in new capital allocations announced almost monthly, there is an implied need for speed, quality, and performance with a long-term investment horizon which creates a game-changing opportunity for widescale adoption of innovation.

Outside influencers and stakeholders are looking at this through the lens of industry analysis developed by teams at McKinsey & Company and Dodge Data & Analytics. This tipping point for innovation, in what has been a slow-to-digitize space, will not only affect rental product but yield positive spillover effects into the single-family for sale solutions. This opens the door for long-awaited industry advancements in automation, integration of robotics, new building materials, and new partnerships which will significantly disrupt the existing supply chain.

The net result will be both an opportunity and threat for existing players through the evolution of new and more productive business models, partnerships, and capital opportunities.  We believe that the BFR industry will be a key element in the improvement of the productivity of the overall housing industry and will be an important driver in the improvement in housing availability and attainability.

What to watch for…

  1. Single-family homes built new, specifically for rent, at scale and in communities, has come of age.  It took a decade to be understood and accepted but that acceptance is now set. Many of the underlying trends, such as suburban migration and the erosion of societal bias towards renting, supporting this segment were accelerated by the pandemic.
  2. The next stage of industry development will be in the refinement of the business model, including the introduction of more digital tools for customer acquisition, an expansion of factory-built off-site solutions for production, new forms of customer financial relationships, and an evolution in a customer service model that will drive higher value.
  3. These evolutions will serve to accelerate products and methods that will prove to be superior to those currently used in the for sale industry, these will be translated and adopted by for sale builders – accelerating innovation there as well. Increasingly, companies with this product as their primary offering will be joined by others where both rentals and sales are offered side by side.
  4. Many of the coming changes will be driven by new entities, Joint Ventures, and partnerships.  Supply chains will be reformed and new relationships among existing players will be developed.

Dennis: This asset class is aggressively sought after and the subject of heated policy debates. With $40B+ in capital looking for projects, we’re seeing new types of partnerships forming to accelerate time-to-market, and new entrants are carving out their niche. A number of industry executives estimate that build-for-rent housing solutions could be as much as 20-25% of annual housing starts in the next five years. Similar to recent announcements from Bettr Homes, we’ll see this asset class continue to accelerate the adoption of new building methodologies, systems, and products to deliver a better home and experience.

Verdict: Win

BIG DATA BECOMES A BIG DEAL
Rachel Allard // SVP Strategy, Union Street Media

The technology used to collect and use consumer data is changing. And major tech companies are battling for the survival of their ad businesses as they know it. Increased focus on privacy and regulation such as GDPR and CCPA have forced changes to third party tracking, which fuels online advertising. For example, Google is eliminating support for third party cookies and Apple will require apps to receive permission from users before collecting their data—Facebook is waging a war against Apple to prevent that change (with 100 million iPhone users in the U.S. alone, the Facebook app would be hugely affected). These changes could fundamentally shift how real estate companies acquire and reach their customers online.

There is a solution: Invest in first-party and big data capabilities. Companies are really going to have to think about how they structure, track, and take action from their owned and operated digital properties and the people who interact with them. This likely means an end to rapidly spinning up new content without an overarching strategy, and the start of reconsidering how to create and measure the best customer experience, as well as how to marry online and offline data. Other industries have focused on this for a decade plus, so it’s about time real estate catches up.

Rachel: Like many things, there’s a wide range of investment in data capabilities in the real estate industry. This year saw some notable acquisitions, such as JLL’s acquisition of Skyline AI to, among other things, better predict future property values. In the building operations space, companies like SmartRent are using big data to provide valuable solutions, such as parking space optimization. In the residential space, innovation and adoption still lags. Privacy changes have forced some updates to how data is handled and the opportunity still exists to marry online and offline data to create a better online experience for buyers and sellers. The data’s there; it’s a matter of connecting and applying it in new ways.

Verdict: Draw

A NEW AGE OF AFFORDABLE URBAN HOUSING RISES
Bryan Copley // Founder & CEO, CityBldr

In its quest to upset everything we know, 2020 has offered a possible fix for the affordable housing crisis. Where that housing will be located is the real surprise: in the heart of large cities.

Commuting to the office previously drove workers to live near their workplaces. The work from anywhere phenomenon (and the success of this global, synchronized experiment for many companies) has driven the epicenter of housing demand outside the urban core.

Housing prices have shot up in the suburbs in response to excess demand for all housing types, but only luxury and class A housing has seen major price declines in cities. Why? Because those who can’t work from home still want housing near their jobs, and 88% of jobs are located in metro areas.

Because of this, affordable urban housing has virtually inexhaustible demand.

Reasons cities will start delivering unprecedented volumes of affordable housing in 2021:

  1. Steep rent declines. Urban rents have dropped—a trend that will continue into late 2021. This increases the affordability of existing multifamily housing stock as work from anywhere proliferates beyond the pandemic (albeit at a slower pace due to the COVID-19 vaccine and an inevitable end to the pandemic).

  2. Modular housing companies are maturing from early stage (Seed and Series A) to growth stage—where the mandate shifts from realizing product market fit to accelerating growth at scale—at the perfect time.

  3. Cities will either throw weight behind promising solutions to the urban affordability crisis or suffer the one-two punch of rapidly declining tax bases coupled with rapidly increasing homelessness. Things can still worsen from here. Smart cities know this, and will act decisively before the problem is beyond their control.

Let the new urban age commence.

DM: The need is there, but affordable housing stock remains in short supply.

Verdict: Loss

DEBUNKING THE CITY EXODUS
Brad Cartier // Head of Marketing, Hostfully

Despite the ongoing analysis and data surrounding the flight to rural, small town, and suburban living as a result of the pandemic, we will begin to rethink the positive value of city-living.

Outside of a handful of expensive urban centers (NYC, Seattle, Austin, etc), city planners, architects, investors, and community organizers will find new ways to optimize real estate assets for safe and enjoyable interaction between residents/tenants and spaces. The “15-minute city” (see: Newsletter #147) will become mainstream, and the increased popularity of light densification initiatives will propel a renewed interest in urban spaces for all.

Brad: The suburban shift promoted by the pandemic is easing, and the trend toward light densification will only increase. Since the start of the year, the massively controversial SB9 in California was passed which essentially bans single-family zoning and allows up to 4 units on a single lot in most areas (more of my thoughts here). Affordability will only get worse in 2022 with low supply, high demand, and labor and supply shortages. For 2021, the light densification with upzoning and allowances for duplexes and accessory dwelling units by right increased dramatically: CaliforniaBerkeleyConnecticutSeattleWashington stateBloomingtonRaleighChicagoAustinTucsonSarasota, and even the Federal Government, to name a few.

Verdict: Win

TAX POLICIES FUEL UNPRECEDENTED CORPORATE ENTERTAINMENT SPEND
Brian Mommsen // Founder & CEO, Resident

As vaccines are deployed and we reach herd immunity, companies will race to bring human connectedness back–both internally as well as with external customers/partners/stakeholders. Though I suspect the shift back to five-day a week office life will be a multi-year crawl, new tax policies will trigger an explosion of corporate entertainment spend by year’s end. Deducting 50% of meal expenses on federal taxes has been the case since the 1980’s. However, “A proposal championed by the White House and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) would increase that deduction to 100 percent,” according to The Washington Post.

Restaurants and brands strong enough to survive could see their best margins in decades thanks to increased corporate spending, lower rents, and an expanded outdoor dining footprint.

DM: The news here is that the world still hasn’t kicked Covid-19 to the curb…thus, corporate entertainment spend hasn’t exploded.

Verdict: Loss

Overall 2021 Trend Score: 6-2-2


RESI PREDICTIONS

STOCK PRICES FOR ZILLOW, REDFIN, AND REALOGY TUMBLE BY AT LEAST 20%
Terry Dwyer // Consultant

All three companies have track records going back at least a few years and all three (along with a good part of the market) have benefited tremendously from what Alan Greenspan described in the late 1990’s as “irrational exuberance.” By any rational valuation measure, all three are way overvalued. At some point, common sense will return to the stock market and this will result in some of the air being let out of these three balloons. A year from now, we’ll see at least a 20% decline over present prices.

Terry: Notwithstanding Zillow’s iBuying implosion, this was pretty easy to call. Q4 of 2020 had all the earmarks of a statistical outlier in terms of the housing market and stock prices in the sector.

Verdict: Win

COMPASS TAKES THE SPAC
Drew Meyers // Founder, Geek Estate

The SPAC proptech flurry is here to stay, and Compass is up next. Despite my initial questions and skepticism (which I’ve heard echoed by many others privately), the company will have no trouble portraying itself in a favorable light to the public markets. How it fares once there, well, that’s a discussion for another time. The brokerage juggernaut, complete with stellar marketing and more money than the brokerage industry has ever seen, will pull the trigger on a strategic SPAC partnership before we ring in 2022.

DM: While the company is now a public entity, it didn’t take the SPAC.

Verdict: Loss

BUY-SIDE COMMISSION RATES NOTICEABLY TREND DOWNWARD
Terry Dwyer // Consultant

I would predict that the average buy-side commission rate will drop 50% by this time next year, but things don’t move that quickly in the brokerage business. However, by fall of 2022, I predict it will have dropped 50%. The proposed NAR/DOJ settlement will also result in a bunch of buyers’ agents dying on the vine because a 50% drop in the cost of doing business will not accompany a 50% drop in their commission rate. Jeff Corbett explored the implications of the divorcing of commissions for those interested.

Terry: Between the DOJ activity and increased market share for iBuyers (including Redfin), there’s still a good likelihood that they will trend downward more noticeably in 2022.

Verdict: Draw. For now.

EXP ACQUIRES REALOGY
Drew Meyers // Founder, Geek Estate 

Rather than raising $400 to pay down debt, why not sell Realogy to eXp, the virtual brokerage growing like a weed? With eXp’s market cap ($4.23B) approaching triple that of Realogy ($1.68B), such a takeover would be a bold and risky move–but one that wouldn’t completely gut the balance sheet. There’s nothing like bringing the largest competing franchise under its umbrella, despite its debt, to kick off the new year.

DM: It didn’t happen. That’s the takeaway.

Verdict: Loss

IBUYER FAILURE (carried over from 2020 reflections)
Jon Boller // Sales Leader, AWS Startups

I’m still a believer, but let’s push this 2020 prediction to 2021. Covid-19 delayed the impending failure because iBuyers stopped buying homes entirely—activity is down 80% year-over-year in Q3 according to Redfin numbers. But, now Opendoor is publicly-traded, Offerpad has partnered with new construction buyers, and Sundae raised a cool $36 million Series B to go after truly distressed properties.

No public company will get away with this level of volatility. I see the stock prices of publicly traded stocks converging, ZG’s stock price is up due to three things:

  1. traffic growth leading to increased leads due to Covid-19 (revenue crush in this segment);

  2. iBuying revenue volume (OPEN will neutralize this as it gives a clear a/b test à la Uber/Lyft, and in this case OPEN is Uber);

  3. better execution (this will continue to get better) due to changes in internal legacy teams.

With a supply and demand imbalance making an even worse outlook, I look forward to watching the model fizzle as the world returns to normalcy post-vaccine.

DM: Zillow exited iBuying in grand fashion.

Verdict: (Resounding) Win

Overall 2021 Resi Prediction Score: 2-1-2


Stephen Del Percio // VP & Assistant General Counsel, AECOM

THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION WILL ACT ON INFRASTRUCTURE WITH FEDERAL STIMULUS 

The knock-on effects will be positive and profound for contech/proptech startups. “Infrastructure” will also include significant increases in spending on 5G rollout, data center construction, and other digital infrastructure.

Stephen: This prediction looked pretty dicey for a spell during the summer while the bi-partisan infrastructure bill was held up in the House. But in the end, President Biden’s  $1.2T Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) crossed the finish line this fall, authorizing $550B in new spending on surface transportation, transit, clean energy investments, and (as I predicted) broadband. In fact, the IIJA purports to spend as much on digital infrastructure ($65B) as it does on rail and Amtrak ($65B).

Verdict: I could quibble that the overall amount of new spending could (and should) have been more, but this is a big win for the industry, for the country, and for my prediction. Win.

CONTECH VC WILL CONTINUE TO GROW YOY

From $1.3B in 2020 (up 56% from 2019), let’s call it an even $2B that will flow to contech in 2021. Startups in the labor, remote inspection/robotics, and supply chain sectors will outperform as COVID continues to impact industry productivity and efficiency.

Stephen: This prediction was a hanging curveball that hasn’t landed yet. According to CEMEX Ventures, over $4.5B was invested in construction tech startups in 2021—more than triple the $1.3B in 2020, and topping the previous record of $1.5B in 2018.

Verdict: Win

AEC CONSOLIDATION 

Call it “COVID consolidation” if you want, but a flurry of M&A activity in the AEC sector will be led by large publicly traded players sensing an opportunity to capture increased market share and improve efficiencies. Coupled with COVID, the industry’s persistently tight margins will drive employee-owned and mid-sized public companies in particular to seek sanctuary in the arms of those large buyers.

Stephen: For the first time ever, the U.S. AEC industry saw more than 400 M&A transactions in 2021. Fueled by private equity and small- to mid-sized firms either recapitalizing or selling out, this was a 33% increase over 2020 (and we still have a couple of weeks left in the year.) But none of these deals were a transformational combination of “large publicly traded players” as I predicted a year ago.

Verdict: Draw, but I plan to roll this prediction over into 2022 on the heels of the IIJA, so stay tuned.

CONTINUED SPAC ACTIVITY 

At least one SPAC will merge into a well-known startup in the contech space.

Stephen: SPAC transaction volume will hit a record high in 2021. But pundits questioned the long-term sustainability of the model during the second half of the year as newly minted SPACs underperformed against market indices and regulatory scrutiny increased. Either way, this prediction also fizzled out. For example, ProCore took a traditional route to the public markets through its IPO in May, seeing its stock surge nearly 35% on its first day of trading. A robotics firm called SPARCOS did merge with a SPAC, but it’s a stretch to call this manufacturer of exoskeleton equipment a “well-known” contech startup (even if its Guardian product looks pretty cool/terrifying).

Verdict: Loss

INCREASED SPENDING ON AR/VR APPLICATIONS FOR BUILT ENVIRONMENT ASSETS 

According to the International Data Corporation, 37.4% of all 2020 spending on AR/VR occurred in the consumer market sector, followed by distribution (23.4%) and manufacturing (19.3%), with infrastructure lagging (4.1%). Expect that last figure to increase in 2021 post-pandemic as technology improves, AEC firms continue pivoting to digital, and governments ramp up further stimulus (see my first prediction).

Stephen: Unfortunately, 2021 was not the transformative moment for AR/VR in the built environment that I predicted. The biggest AR/VR story this year was Mark Zuckerberg betting Facebook’s future on the metaverse. Reaction there was tepid, to say the least, which could portend a bull case for the future of AR (rather than full VR) applications. I remain upbeat, however, about the potential for AR applications across the built environment. For example, at AECOM this year, our Digital AECOM unit launched a new interactive public project review product called PlanEngage, successfully deploying it with the Arizona Department of Transportation during the stakeholder environmental review process of an interstate highway project.

Verdict: Draw

KATERRA BANKRUPTCY

My last—and boldest—prediction. For the sake of the industry, I hope I’m wrong about this one. But Katerra is facing headwinds, competition, and bad press. Only $200M from Softbank prevented this prediction from already coming true in 2020.

Stephen: I don’t take much pleasure in being right on this one, so I won’t say much about it.

Verdict: (Resounding) Win

ADDING TECH LEGS TO BUILDERS
Dennis Steigerwalt // President, Housing Innovation Alliance

We’ll see an acceleration in innovation programs, where solutions are developed in partnership with national production builders acting as strategic investors to mitigate research and development risk in commercializing the next generation of game-changing core building system technologies (such as rheia’s HVAC air distribution system).

In an accelerating and disruptive environment, R&D helps create new value that also helps to differentiate from those who do not invest in R&D. Most industries invest 2-6% of revenues into R&D efforts. Broadly speaking, homebuilding barely invests at all. This “miss” lies at the feet of the boards of those companies as it gives away long-term strategic advantage and enterprise value.  Who does or provides R&D to industry players, how the R&D is funded, and then what capital is needed to commercialize these new products, methods, or tools will be one of the great opportunities for those with vision in the next decade.

Dennis: The programs underway in this area were conducted behind the scenes and with little press or fanfare. However, the Rheia story was highlighted mid-year and celebrated as a winning pathway to adoption and commercialization. While it may not have taken the shape we anticipated—direct partnerships between builders and new tech companies—pooled R&D platforms through government and private platforms are underway. We’ve also seen increased interest and investment from builders and real estate developers into investment vehicles operated by established venture teams. These innovation platforms have become even more sought after as we seek to understand the impact on businesses taking proactive, environmentally-friendly measures to deliver the built environments society needs to live, work, and play.

Verdict: Draw

Overall 2021 Contech Prediction Score: 3-1-3


And with that, let’s turn the chapter on 2021. Our “2022 Predictions” and “The State of Geek Estate” will come out after the New Year. Have a happy holiday season.


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With a mission to attract the 1,500 most forward-thinking, and diverse, innovators, we’re looking for the best and brightest in all the land...

Membership is $129 / quarter

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