In Case You Missed It: The Rise Of REX
Florida Times Union chronicles role REX is playing in helping New Yorkers find, purchase, and move into Jacksonville-area homes online throughout the COVID-19 pandemic
The following article first appeared in the Florida Times Union on July 14, 2020…
Home sales technology firm REX Real Estate Exchange seizing the moment in Northeast Florida.
Some real estate businesses are seeing robust activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush thinks he knows why: They are taking advantage of “disruptive technology” whose use has leapfrogged many prognosticators’ most optimistic imaginings — specifically because of the virus’ impact on society and culture.
Bush took part in a recent Zoom virtual media event hosted by REX Real Estate Exchange, a leader in AI and online tools that work to streamline home buying and selling. The company is making strong inroads in Jacksonville and other Florida markets.
“REX is ... taking away friction and the cost of a very obsolete way of buying a home,” said Bush, who has a background in real estate and finance and is an unpaid adviser to the company. “Those trends are going to accelerate. Homeowners can now do all of the due diligence of home searching and pricing. To facilitate that and not duplicate it is the disruptive technology.
“Ultimately the same applies for title insurance and contracts ... and all of that will be done completely seamlessly online, and that’s going to save people a whole lot of money.”
In the case of REX (RexHomes.com), which operates in 17 states and has been active in Northeast Florida for about a year, interest and activity in its offerings such as 3D tours and virtual home walkthroughs has caught on dramatically, company officials said.
The company, whose full-service online platform for residential real estate buyers and sellers offers a 2-2.5 percent transaction cost compared to the typical 6 percent fee (it does not charge buyer-side agent commissions), reports local seller leads in Jacksonville are up 79 percent since the start of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, by mid-June, it had already listed 57 percent more homes across Florida compared to June 2019.
Seller leads have grown 33 percent since shelter-in-place orders were issued in February, and in June, seller leads were double what they were at the beginning of 2020.
Before COVID-19, REX said that about 17 percent of its home tours in all its markets were virtual, but since February they are up by 1,000 percent. In Florida they are up 100 percent. In the River City area, virtual home tours have risen 250 percent since February.
Angela Cook, a customer relationship manager with REX who offered a sample virtual tour of a St. Augustine home during the Zoom event, said any listing at RexHomes.com comes with free options for in-person or virtual walkthroughs, “so everyone can see a home to their own comfort level.”
“We can have a buyer come through wearing a mask with the agent, or another option would be the agent comes through wearing a mask and will host the tour with the buyer via Zoom,” she said. “Or the seller hosts a Zoom meeting, does the tour while the agent is on the other end of the camera along with the buyer. There are a multitude of options so everyone gets to stay safe through COVID. We’ve actually sold more listings that way where a buyer never has to set foot in the home.”
Cook said she always recommends the seller leave during an in-person showing to reduce physical interaction. She also carries peroxide, wiping down doors and sanitizing locations before and after tours.
Even though REX has always been a tech-forward company, Cook said many people weren’t really intrigued with virtual services, but that’s changed dramatically since the pandemic hit.
“Even sellers, especially those who are immune-compromised, have told me they love that they can feel safe selling their homes and still move forward with their life plans, and know they have all of these options,” she said.
Jacksonville’s affordability is drawing a great deal of attention from homebuyers in the Northeast, she added: They can see a REX listing online for a 3,000-square-foot home with a nice pool for $400,000, which is “crazy” compared to where they live.
In fact, Cook said, “We sold just in the last couple months, four listings, to out-of-state buyers who greatly appreciated that we offered these 3D tours and virtual walkthroughs, and they felt that they were so comfortable with the home — without even setting foot in it — that they were able to make an informed decision offering and accepting the home and moving forward with the purchase.”
Ultimately, Bush believes that COVID-19 is going to reshape the real estate market, and how companies react will be crucial.
With an extensive history in real estate, advocacy for technology and as an elected official who shepherded Florida through eight hurricanes and four tropical storms in a 16-month period during his 1999-2007 tenure as governor, Bush was asked by The Build-Out for his assessment on how politicians have handled the pandemic and whether they’ve taken full advantage of all the technologies available to them.
“There’ll be an after-action report on the White House and governors and all that. I’m not going to get into that,” said Bush, who ran for president in 2016. “But I will say that public leadership in times of crisis really matters. And you’ve got to tell the truth with the facts that you have.
“It’s really easy to second-guess people’s decisions in a crisis like this, but we’ve never had the convergence of massive economic dislocation along with a virus that is really unknown of its effects; we’re learning as we go along. And I think the key is to be humble enough to know what you don’t know and have an adaptive strategy that changes with time. ... and then offer some hope, because people are scared. This is a scary time.
“Ask me next year to give a grade to the [President Donald Trump] administration’s response, or to [Florida] Gov. [Ron] DeSantis’ response or to [California] Gov. [Gavin] Newsom’s response,” Bush said. “I think it’s better to be supportive of our leaders right now, and to govern ourselves as well, to have personal responsibility. I mean, I don’t know how it is in Jacksonville, but I don’t see a lot of people wandering around without masks on.”
Bush said that post-pandemic, he thinks the skyrocketing use of digital technology will change society and bring families closer together, improve use of healthcare and advanced education and learning in general.
“When I finish this [event], I’m going to go on my Peloton bike, and [then] I’m going to cook my beautiful wife [Columba] a meal,” he said. “I’m more productive and healthier ... and so the home is a place where a lot more things are going to happen, and REX is going to be a great intermediary to make it possible for people’s dreams to come true.”
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