Last week was Inman Connect in San Francisco, one of the best events of the year (and no, not only for the parties).
I’m writing to you from a campground in the Cascade mountains, so I’ll try to wrap up a lot of content quickly.
Bots taking over
Connect is always looking for the leading edge of tech. Bots are right at our fingertips.
Amazon’s Alexa was on stage answering Brad Inman’s questions — the way lead management software will in the near future.
A number of companies are already providing a combination of human/bot lead conversion that works for agents while they sleep. Those conversations are digitally stored.
The human concierges likely won’t last long. Machine learning and that database of interaction analyzed against conversion rates will create a finely tuned sales bot in no time.
It won’t replace the agent in the transaction, but it could replace the inside sales lead conversion/appointment setter. I’d hire one. (And this week, Inman launched its own bot for readers, too.)
The software has eyes
Speaking of machine learning, RealScout has nailed it. Millions of human eyes interpreting real estate images have been transformed into a software intellect.
The machine can read images more accurately than its human counterparts. It sees the open layout and the box beams, even if the agent doesn’t identify them in the listing.
Consumers use natural language search and enjoy a curated discovery process, free of the artificial constraints of archaic code.
This is where the real estate experience improves. MLS and agent/broker inefficiencies are overcome by intelligent investment. Technology and capital come together to add value to the process.
We need more of this.
‘MLX > MLS’
That headline on W + R Studios’ website might be unnecessarily provocative, but that’s pitchman Greg Robertson’s style. Cloud MLX won the Inman Innovator Award, and it’s better than any MLS interface I’ve seen.
Like RealScout, it breaks free of traditional MLS search constraints.
With instant search suggestion feedback and past favorites/saved searches built into real-time interaction, the user’s efficiency grows with continued use. It’s a secondary or complementary MLS interface (there’s no “add/edit” listing feature). For now, it’s not a direct competitor to the big primary MLS providers.
This company is doing CMAs better than MLSs. It has better listing alerts. Now it has a superior user interface. What’s next?
The arms race
Congrats to the entrepreneurs who are being acquired in this bubbly market. Commissions Inc, a little startup out of Atlanta, sold for $250 million. That’s one-quarter of what News Corp paid for Move/realtor.com.
Leads and customer management software are still the story, no matter how many speakers try to shout it down.
Bridge Interactive Group was just acquired by Zillow. If you’re not familiar with them, have a look at their services, then look at Project Upstream’s. There’s no cold war here, just some friendly comrades building agent tools and ad platforms.
Flips, bidding wars, and discounts
There are a lot of new business models getting airtime at Connect.
Haus is a bidding war platform that promises transparency. The legend is that an Uber founder got angry when he was outbid on a home, so he started a new company where everyone can see everyone else’s offer.
It’s going to be as hot as the taxi business. The potential user base is sellers in hot markets who want to give away their strategic advantage. Why would listing agents encourage their sellers to dump their informational leverage? How did this question not come up immediately to the founders?
Knock is another startup. It flips homes by giving sellers a guaranteed price. The property is listed publicly, and either Knock buys it at the pre-arranged price, or the seller gets a premium if it sells for more to another buyer. Knock takes some kind of fee, which should be front and center on its website but isn’t.
Transfer taxes limit some flip models. They can be up to 2 percent of the purchase price. In a traditional flip with two sales, that 4 percent really squeezes the profit margins.
Opendoor is taking a strategic approach by traditionally buying/reselling flip homes in states with low/no transfer taxes. They’re pretty successful so far. Homeowners are willing to forgo the money available on the open market for a guaranteed price/easy closing. It will be interesting to see if they can scale in other states.
I have an uneasy feeling about how well these sellers are informed about the value of their homes. It’s one of those uncomfortable topics like pocket listings: consumers have free choice, but the quality of advice they receive from their advisers has a great effect on those choices.
SoloPro came to talk about its limited-service model. It embodies the philosophical disconnect between many outsiders and industry insiders.
The company “unbundles” real estate services. Its marketplace lets consumers meet licensees for flat fee, discount services. Open a door for X dollars, write an offer for Y dollars, Agent Z who happens to be available today will serve your needs.
The agency relationship can’t be dismembered without losing value. Piecemeal representation is lesser representation. Continuity creates value. Inexpensive is sometimes just cheap.
You’d think the cast Leigh Brown had to lug around as MC of Connect would have slowed her down, but she came out swinging. Her performance was edgy and smart, in classic Inman style.
In a departure for Connect, she pitched politics and the Realtor PAC from the stage. Some cheered, some grumbled.
This is a pretty simple one, folks. You might not like politics, but we all enjoy the extra money RPAC is putting in our pockets. Anyone who sells, owns or vends to those who do, is benefiting from those carrying the water.
I don’t mind when speakers use off-color language, but it’s painful when they don’t know how to wield it. It’s a lot like a weapon. If you’re going to take it on stage, you’d better have a really good (expletive) handle on it.
A few wannabe gunslingers put us all through some pain last week. Don’t be one of them. If you’re not sure, don’t try it.
Agents don’t want more tools. They want fewer, better tools, and First promises that.
Instead of adding a new CRM, First simply monitors a user’s social networks. Using predictive analytics, its algorithm identifies moments in your sphere’s lives that may signal a move. The agent is alerted to make contact.
Just keep doing what you’re doing on social media and your vendor will do the rest. We need more of this: horsepower on the back end, simplicity for the user.
I’m always struck by the number of entrepreneurs that appear to not have sought broad guidance before launching. There are some really smart folks who could simply sit down with some savvy brokers and agents to find out that their product is functionally obsolete in this industry.
They might save themselves the first failure or pivot.
This isn’t about discouraging innovation. Push the edge, but first ask a few people if it’s just a cliff.
It’s not just the old stodgy guard that’s saying your product/model won’t work. It’s often someone who wants you to improve the experience but can already see what you can’t.
We just might save you a lot of time and money.