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Hud Bixler and Greg G. Sax, Head of Communications, RESO

Welcome to “Three Questions,” an interview series that introduces you to real estate industry professionals, their businesses and how they interact with real estate standards. The goal of the series is to humanize the tech side of the industry, fun included.

This week we spoke with San Francisco Association of REALTORS® CIO and drummer extraordinaire, Hud Bixler, about broker tech vs. MLS tech, artistry in MLS and housing affordability. Enjoy!

Q1: You came over to the MLS world from brokerages such as Pacific Union, Zephyr and Corcoran Global Living. What are some particular differences between working in broker tech vs. MLS tech?

Hud: The difference is really the governance and restrictions you have in the MLS. In brokerage, your responsibility is to win people over – one brokerage competing with another based on the tech stack. In MLS, it’s more of an egalitarian thing.

Budgeting makes tech buildout more challenging in brokerage. From the MLS standpoint, you know within a margin of 10% to 15% what your budget dollars will be for the year, because that is how associations and MLSs operate. From there, you know what you can afford to do from year to year.

It’s a little bit more of a gamble in brokerage. Budgeting doesn’t typically happen en masse. Or at least it was rare for me. Compass was a brokerage that budgeted strictly for tech.

Q2: You actually graduated from the California Institute of Arts, which feels like a faraway land from working with MLS governance and data. Are you able to use your arts background in any capacity in the MLS world or have you let that vine wither?

Hud: I would say 100% I use my art degree, because it’s all about improvisation. I went to school to play jazz drums. You never know what’s going to happen on stage in jazz. You do as a pro, but you have to be willing to pivot. It’s no different in MLS.

For example, we had to be willing to improvise during the notable MLS outage we had in the Bay Area in 2023. Things were definitely not the same from day to day, and you had to play the right cymbal at the right time.

You drop a beat in drums, and you drop a beat in technology.

Q3: This is a lofty question that you alone must answer for the entire industry. You work in one of the most expensive markets in the world. Is the dream of homeownership becoming out of reach in cities such as San Francisco? And does the San Francisco Association of REALTORS® take any sort of position in this area, or do you stay neutral, stick to managing the data and let the market take care of itself?

Hud: It’s true that the affordability ratio index is very much skewed toward those who already “have” in San Francisco. At SFAR, we definitely believe in fair housing and fair housing practices, as our history has shown with clear cooperation.

But we can’t control prices for what someone is going to pay, like when offers are coming in at $100K and $200K over asking price. While inflation plays a role, a lot of it comes down to simple competition.

We support the city, housing below market rates, enforcing legislation, etc., but it would be wrong for us to try to steer pricing.

We have a strong government affairs department led by Mary Jung. She’s been very involved in local politics. City supervisors and mayors regularly come to our office.

In fact, she was politically active well before SFAR. She was in 9to5: The Story of a Movement, a workplace documentary about the initiative that served as inspiration for the famous movie starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.

It’s all relative, you know? You can love and hate it at the same time. Can a city want to be affordable and yet not be affordable? In our case, that would appear to be the case.

San Francisco is an aspirational city. Many of the good and bad ideas in our city’s development come from that approach. It is Bohemian to the core, even as the tech money flows into it and home prices rise into the millions.

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