Special report: Jacksonville’s brokerage competition visualized

By Real Estate News

Pre-pandemic, Jacksonville’s housing market was propelled by strong tailwinds: affordability relative to the rest of the Sunshine State, Florida’s lack of income tax and the quality of life benefits of having a river and oceanfront, to name a few. Those advantages, coupled with cheap land, made the city a favorite for homebuilders like DR Horton and Lennar that brought plenty of new inventory to market.

The pandemic supercharged movers’ interest in Florida, especially the First Coast. Listings jumped at both the state and city levels in 2021 and 2022. Brokerages took notice, resulting in a surge in companies and office locations competing for their share of listings, according to CoreLogic multiple-listing service data shared exclusively with HousingWire.

But high mortgage rates and high home prices proved too much for the listings boom in Jacksonville. Its listings in 2023 fell below its 2019 level, although the drop was less steep than that experienced outside of Florida and far less steep than other metros like San Diego.

In this environment of high rates and tight inventory, brokerages have had to become sharp elbowed. The competitive landscape has shifted, with some companies shutting down and others buying their way into the market.

Competition heats up

In 2019, Watson Realty Corp. enjoyed an almost 1,000-listing lead over Keller Williams Jacksonville, its closest rival. Keller Williams Jacksonville, too, held a roughly 1,000-listing lead over the next company in line.

In 2023, not only is Watson Realty’s lead gone, but the company has fallen to 3rd place in listings. Keller Williams Jacksonville has taken its crown, and Florida Homes Realty has narrowly overtaken it for 2nd place.

Some newcomers have been able to carve out their space in Jacksonville’s housing market. Herron Real Estate exploded from two listings in 2019 to 417 in 2023; Momentum Realty grew from 12 listings to 612 over the same period.

Dallas-based United Real Estate burst onto the scene in October 2022 when it acquired EXIT Real Estate Gallery, which had ranked in Jacksonville’s top 10 in three of the four years from 2019-2022.

Software-powered startup beycome, too, has consistently grown its share of Jacksonville’s listings, nabbing 192 listings last year. The company collects a 3% buyer agent commission, keeps a third of it, and refunds the rest to the buyer; it does not charge a seller agent commission fee.

Other would-be disruptors have not fared so well. Listings by instant buyers (also known as “iBuyers”) plummeted last year, although the industry segment’s struggles are hardly limited to Jacksonville.

Construction slows down

One thing that stands out in Jacksonville’s listings rankings is the recurring presence of homebuilders.

DR Horton and Dream Finders both ranked in the top 10 in 2019, and Lennar made a top 10 appearance in 2020. DR Horton, the country’s largest homebuilder, stayed in the top 10 every year – ranking 4th in 2021 and 2022. In fact, DR Horton alone was responsible for almost 5% of all of Jacksonville’s MLS listings in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

But it has significantly slowed its pace of deliveries in Jacksonville, while Dream Finders is no longer active in the area.

Homebuilders’ shrinking listing counts suggest Jacksonville is not immune to national trends affecting homebuilders. Homebuilders increasingly became more pessimistic, more prone to offering buyers incentives, and less eager to start construction last year as mortgage rates crushed prospective customers’ buying power.

With rates still high and no federal rate cut yet on the docket, some builders have decided to build for renters instead of buyers.

However, new-home sales were up 5.9% year-over-year in February and homebuilder confidence is on the rise. This could prompt builders to get more active on the First Coast again, offering some relief to tight inventories.

If not, expect brokerage competition to get even hotter.