Bidding wars, record mortgage rates and lots of Keller Williams news dominated the conversation, and Inman’s headlines, in 2020.

The past 12 months have been unlike any other period people living today have seen. Thanks to a global pandemic, economic chaos and a presidential election, 2020 has seen an onslaught of news that no one could have anticipated.

This news spanned the gamut, from tragic to uplifting, from frightening to novel. But overall the stories that Inman readers gravitated to this year tended to focus on big shifts. Several stories on plummeting interest rates, for example, were among Inman’s most-read in 2020. A handful of items on unexpected turns from Keller Williams also struck a cord. Politics, regulation and the National Association of Realtors (NAR) were popular topics this year as well.

And if there’s one takeaway here, it’s that in a year of big news the stories that most struck a cord were those about big changes in real estate.

With that said, here are the biggest stories from 2020:

20. Keller Williams is shutting down Smarter Agent

Credit: Keller Williams

Keller Williams acquired Smarter Agent in 2018 with the goal of building an end-to-end platform and completely revamping consumer search. But after two years, Keller Williams ultimately decided to throw in the towel. Read the story.

19. NAR passes ethics changes to crack down on social media harassment

Credit: mariakraynova / Shutterstock.com

At the tail end of a year that featured intense debates about racism and discrimination in real estate, the NAR okayed a controversial new code of ethics governing agent behavior — even when that behavior isn’t related to work. Read the story.

18. Agent attacked at open house faces long recovery

Lenora Farrington Credit: Alexandra Huebner

Virginia-based Keller Williams Realty agent Lenora Farrington was hosting an open house in June when one visitor bludgeon her over the head more than 10 times with a crescent wrench. Read the story.

17. Realtor.com operator Move announces layoffs

Credit: Spencer Platt and Getty Images

Amid widespread chaos in the real estate industry this spring, realtor.com let go of more than 100 employees. The layoffs were prompted both by COVID-19 and a broader restructuring. Read the story.

16. Robin Williams’ Bay Area estate cut in price by $1.25M

Credit: Jacob Elliot and Compass

In 2008, actor Robin Williams bought a home with sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay. It then hit the market for $7.25 million in 2019, before dropping down to $5.955 million. The home finally sold this fall. Read the story.

15. Zillow to hire agents as employees for iBuyer transactions

Credit: martin-dm and Getty Images

In a shift from the way Zillow has managed transactions since launching its cash offers program, the company announced in September that beginning next year iBuyer customers in Georgia and Arizona will work directly with a Zillow employee. Read the story.

14. Economists say consumers should lock in low mortgage rates now

Credit: marcos mayer on Unsplash

The U.S. was just days into its coronavirus outbreak in March when mortgage rates hit their lowest point in 50 years — triggering advice that consumers needed to act fast. Read the story.

13. Fannie Mae forecasts mortgage rates under 3% for 2021

Credit: Fannie Mae

Falling mortgage rates dominated the early days of the pandemic, and by late April experts at Fannie Mae were indicating rates would stay extremely low through next year. Read the story.

12. Ex-Compass agent held showings at home of COVID-19-infected couple

Credit: Compass

Compass ultimately parted ways with agent Gary Wat after the company said he held showings for a home in Altadena, California, where the sellers had allegedly contracted COVID-19. Read the story.

11. Gary Keller steps back from CEO role in massive leadership shuffle at KW

Credit: Keller Williams

Gary Keller is a towering figure in the real estate industry, but in October his company announced that he would now transition into the role of executive chairman of the newly created holding company KWx. Read the story.

10. Keller Williams to end lifelong profit share program for defectors

Credit: Keller Williams

In a move meant to reward company loyalists, Keller Williams announced last winter that associates who joined the firm after April 1 and then later jump ship to a competitor will no longer be able to receive profit shares from the company’s lifelong revenue program. Read the story.

9. Keller Williams is removing Seth Campbell over sexual harassment allegations

Credit: Keller Williams, Seth Campbell

Seth Campbell owned multiple massively successful Keller Williams market centers and an expansion network that spanned the country. But in July the company was in the process of ending Campbell’s affiliation with Keller Williams after a months-long investigation into multiple allegations of sexual harassment. Read the story.

8. $100M Coldwell Banker agent leaves Compass after 3 weeks

Credit: Coldwell Banker

Steve Frankel joined Compass right as 2020 was beginning, but quickly returned to his prior home at Coldwell Banker, citing the “parallel values” he shares with the company. Read the story.

7. Stimulus package likely to include unemployment for agents

Credit: Alex Wong and Getty Images

The first U.S. stimulus package of the coronavirus pandemic delivered $2 trillion in aid, including checks to every American and unprecedented unemployment benefits to contract workers such as real estate agents. Read the story.

6. 30-year mortgage rates hit lowest point in 50-year history

Credit: Precondo CA on Unsplash

Real estate had a rough late winter and early spring, but the one bright spot for consumers and their agents was falling mortgage rates. By early March rates were down to 3.29 percent, and the drop likely helped the housing market quickly rebound in the ensuing months. Read the story.

5. Redfin is furloughing 41% of its real estate agents

Credit: Redfin

Along with other companies, Redfin suffered through the early spring, furloughing nearly 600 agents and laying off 7 percent of its workforce. The furloughs were supposed to last until September, though a rebounding market prompted Redfin to begin bringing back agents sooner. Read the story.

4. DOJ sues NAR, alleges illegal restraints on Realtor competition

njene and Shutterstock.com

The U.S. Department of Justice surprised the real estate world in November when it revealed a lawsuit against, and a settlement with, NAR over what it said were various illegal restraints on competition. Read the story.

3. These 10 housing markets are poised for serious trouble

San Mateo, California Credit: Jonathan Clark and Getty Images

The pandemic prompted a widespread shift in priorities among real estate consumers, and as the fallout became more clear a study by GoBankingRates suggested some cities, such as those in California’s Bay Area, could have a harder time than most in the future. Read the story.

2. Mortgage rates drop to 30-year low

Credit: Andrii Yalanskyi and Getty Images

Rates were already falling in March, but by April the average interest rate for 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages dropped to 3.45 percent — the lowest it had ever been in the history of the Mortgage Bankers Association’s 30-year-old weekly survey. Read the story.

1. Bidding wars intensify nationwide as mortgage rates hit new low

Credit: Frederick Warren on Unsplash

Though it wasn’t clear during the early months of the pandemic what 2020 would have in store for agents, by the summer low rates and shifting consumer preferences were fueling intense bidding wars across the U.S. Boston, San Diego and Salt Lake City were all bidding war hot spots by July. Read the story. 

Email Jim Dalrymple II

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