What I Learned At Real Estate Connect

Last week I was at Bradley Inman's Real Estate Connect NYC, a show and tell on news and technical innovations in the real estate industry. It's been an industry mainstay since 1996, when Inman, a former real estate journalist turned Internet entrepreneur, launched his online real estate news service with a story detailing a scandal at the National Association of Realtors. The fact that Inman foresaw the promise of the Internet in 1996 is an indication of what you find at his conventions: from tech toys and tools to ARM agents. All in all, it's not a bad place to take the pulse of the nation's top realtors. Here's are five highlights from this year's show:

1. What housing crisis? Here we are, two years plus into one of our nation's worst housing nightmares, and Inman himself pops a panel of experts on stage for his "Barbara Walters-style" state-of-the market grilling. And it turns out that some industry folks are still in denial. Greg Rand, CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate-Rand Realty, actually said, "There is not now, nor has there ever been, a housing meltdown. It was all hysteria."

Earth to Greg! Or, make that: southern Florida and Las Vegas to Greg!

2. The MLS fights to stay relevant, but does anyone really care? Rob Hahn, managing partner at real estate consulting strategist 7DS Associates, says yes. Realtors today fear their replacement is just one click away and new players like Google, RPR and the mobile platform are about to rock the boat, but even so, Hahn doesn't foresee the MLS going away anytime soon. Nor does he see the 950 individual Multiple Listing Services that we have now.

"Over the next couple years I think we'll see more MLS mergers," says Hahn. "After all, the trend is they are losing members -- they were losing members even at the height of the bubble." He reminded us that in the 19th century there were regional stock exchanges in most major cities, until they consolidated into the New York Stock Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade.

3. Google, the 1,000-pound gorilla in the room: Sam Sebastian, Google's director of local and B2B markets, had the crowd hanging on his every word. Sebastian told Inman that although Google has created "place pages" for individual listings, the company does not intend to create a national multiple listing service.

I asked Brad, why does Google make every realtor tremble? The company doesn't, he replied. Tech-savvy realtors, particularly in smaller outfits, use Google every day as an advertising vehicle that works. The days of realtors worrying about the great tech takeover are done. The reality is that Google and Craig's List are the two biggest revenue winners in real estate and are alternatives to traditional publishing.

"It's less what Google is going to do, than what they are doing," says Inman. "I don't think they'll do much more than introduce more product or improve on search." Dare we believe it?

4. Hyper local: Blame it on GPS. Consumers want to participate in and contribute to the digital ecosystem right where they live. This means that smart realtors will spend more time and dollars on neighborhood-based, locally focused marketing to get to the client and will mine social media sites like Facebook, with 350 million members, for leads. And watch for more hyper-local sites that help nomads figure out where to buy, shop and live, like start-up NabeWise, where consumers take an active part in shaping the story. Education.com provides accurate, up-to-date neighborhood school information for buyers.

5. The future of real estate is mobile. Yep, get off your desktops and get out there. By 2013, the mobile web will be bigger than the desktop web and that's where all the information will be streaming in.
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