CARY – The organization that manages the listing database of available and closed real estate in the 16-county Triangle region, Triangle Multiple Listing Service, has a new executive director.
Matt Fowler, joined TMLS, which is managed by the Raleigh Regional Association of REALTORS (RRAR), earlier this month, and sat down for an interview with WRAL TechWire recently.
Fowler, who after college began working at a camera shop only to have a friend of his coordinate a meeting with his boss, a real estate appraiser with a doctorate in mathematics, found himself working in a commission-only role for the appraiser’s company.
“I would write appraisal reports, and he would give me a portion of the fee, so that’s how I got into real estate,” said Fowler.
As it turned out, his boss took an outdated mathematical model that had been used in the mining industry, and applied the underlying mathematics to the real estate industry, using the model to accurately predict home values, nearly 20 years before the term “automated valuation model” or its abbreviation, AVM, came to be used as a term for modeling values of existing properties and transactions within a real estate database, such as those managed by multiple listing services.
“Back then , there wasn’t a name for this, we called it “Stan’s crazy idea,” but it actually worked, so while we were using it, and selling it to banks,” said Fowler. “The MLS in our hometown approached us and said, well, if you can do that, then you can help us, and that was two years after AOL started, so it was super early.”
Fowler became a technology entrepreneur, assisting multiple listing service organizations in bringing their databases online at the dawn of the Internet age. “We won a bunch of competitive contracts across the country,” said Fowler, in the early years, enabling the company to grow to the point of being named to the Inc. 500 list for fastest-growing companies two consecutive years in 2004 and 2005. “Winning a contract in your hometown is one thing, but winning in Los Angeles, when you’re in Alabama, is something else,” he said.
Fowler sold the company to a well-respected competitor, FBS, whose CEO Fowler jokingly referred to as a “frenemy,” then stayed on with the organization for an additional three years.
He left the company in 2020 as it sold off a portion of its business and became a new company, TRIBUS, and he also moved to North Carolina. When David Phillips began as the head of the Raleigh Regional Association of REALTORS in November, Phillips called Fowler to see whether he would recommend anyone for the role at the helm of TMLS.
Fowler told Phillips he might be interested. Now, Fowler leads the organization at a time when the Triangle housing market faces a housing shortage that some have called historic, leading to rapid price appreciation in both the sale and rental markets.
What 2022 will bring
“I lived in a house with an entrepreneur, and my dad started 10 companies, and a few of them even worked, so I didn’t think that starting, then failing, was a big thing,” said Fowler. “That was okay, you’d get up and you’d do it again, and every successful entrepreneur that you’ve ever heard of has done that at some point.”
In Fowler’s household, failure was normalized. Now, Fowler wants to normalize homeownership for every resident in the Triangle.
“My goal next year is to do just that, for households where they don’t feel the permission, the access, they don’t think homeownership is an option for them,” he said. “One of my missions in for next year is evangelizing homeownership.”
There is still opportunity, even with “historically remarkable” price appreciation, said Fowler, for people to become homeowners or to capture equity gains in their existing property should they be willing to downsize or move to a less expensive local housing market.
“My crystal ball is cloudy,” said Fowler, when asked about forecasting the market in the year to come. “My answer, as a data scientist, and in this role, is that no one knows what is about to happen.”
Still, Fowler described what is in process in the Triangle as a historic corporate realignment, similar to what could happen when the U.S. military realigns operations, opens new bases in some areas, and closes some bases in other areas.
The Triangle is attracting companies, and that’s occurring in all of the 16 counties, not just in the more dense cities, said Fowler, noting that each area has its own local economy, its own economic development plan, and its own opportunity.
“The Triangle, you could describe as a bubble, created by the enormous economic engine, where we continue to see industrial and business relocation into the area, and it is inflating the demand in a healthy, natural way,” said Fowler. “There are tiny bubbles, all over the place, and there’s a bunch of them, not just one, in the Triangle area as well.”
Fowler’s undergraduate degree is in economics, and his previous company served 160 local multiple listing service organizations. “I do have a broad view of the real estate economy, and the economy,” said Fowler.
“I think you would be remiss if you weren’t watching inflation closely, but if you look at the correlation between inflation and the 10-year bond, which has historically been a pacesetter for mortgages, there doesn’t appear yet a threat of rising interest rates,” said Fowler.
“I think you’ll have to watch for that on the horizon as headwinds, on the market,” he added. “Right now, our headwind is capacity, and that is only solved over quarters, not weeks and days.”
The Federal Reserve did signal it could raise interest rates in 2022, earlier this week. “It [the price appreciation in the housing market] won’t continue like this indefinitely, that’s the only certainly that we have, but the banking industry and the Federal Reserve have gotten pretty good at shaving the peaks and valleys off the business cycle shifts, so it is less volatile than it once was.”
Meanwhile, there are opportunities in the Triangle, as the rejuvenation of housing stock due to the unprecedented increase of value in real property, said Fowler. “There is a tremendous amount of infill development, of tear-downs, I think housing stock is being improved dramatically because of the rise of equity in these properties.”