SAN FRANCISCO — Flashy yo-yo tricks, free massages, booming Motown music spun by live DJs, bumper car video games and even a bit of consumer advocacy assaulted the senses of some 25,000 Realtors as the trade show at the National Association of Realtors’ San Francisco convention kicked off Friday evening.

More than 550 exhibitors from a wide (and wild) assortment of real estate sub-industries strove to outdo each other with sprawling exhibits ranging from shoeshines to surf shops. The trade show is only one element of the Realtor trade group’s four-day-long annual convention., Chase Home Financial, GMAC, Kodak, HP, Stewart Title, RE/MAX International and others, spanning nearly every niche known to the industry, competed for attention on the exhibition floors of both the north and south buildings of San Francisco’s Moscone Center.

“I’ve been in real estate 20 years and this is my first NAR convention,” said Cathy Collins of Stanberry & Associates in Austin, Texas.

Collins was waiting in line at the Wells Fargo booth, which had more attractions than many small-town carnivals: a live comedian, a photo booth, skeeball with stuffed animal prizes, free Champagne and hors d’oeuvres. As many as 20 people were in line for the various attractions.

“They are hoping to acquaint us with all their various services while we’re standing in line,” said Sharon Rosshirt, who owns the Stanberry brokerage with her husband John. “It’s a marketing gambit.”

Collins was clearly having the time of her life. “It’s been a great experience. This morning I went to a seminar on economic trends, the baby boomers and GenXers and which states’ populations will be affected. Then we went to Chinatown.”

Collins and Rosshirt hadn’t yet had a chance to check out any of the other companies’ exhibits. “We came immediately to where they offered Champagne,” said Collins, obviously wise in the ways of conventions despite her relative inexperience with the NAR gathering.

From Champagne to iPods to a 2005 Porsche Boxter (the latter offered in a drawing by real estate technology company a la mode), the exhibition floors offered a knockout array of freebies to the Realtors and other real estate professionals in attendance.

Considering that beer cost $7 and Haagen-Dazs bars $3.50 at food concessions on the floor, attendees were wise to cruise the booths for goodies.

As Rosshirt noted, behind the lavish giveaways were savvy marketing efforts, some of which were more apparent than others.

Obeo, a company that offers real estate marketing services for residential and commercial real estate agents, took full advantage of the exhibit format to showcase its wares. A full-sized video screen displayed some of Obeo’s aerial photos and virtual tours, flanked by a Realtor with a microphone and 10 PC-sized screens reflecting the display.

“You can take advantage of Google Earth with the aerial photography,” said the agent, invoking one of the hottest new online developments – mapping, and especially Google Earth, which launched in June. Google Earth combines 3D buildings and terrain with mapping capability and Google search. It enables users to fly from space to street level views to find geographic information.

Not all the exhibits were there for conventional marketing purposes. ACORN, the nation’s largest community organization of low- and moderate-income families, was passing out copies of its newsletter. The group, whose title stands for “Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now,” has assisted over 45,000 families to become first time homeowners, among other accomplishments.

On the other end of the scale, two different companies were on hand to promote their relaxation/massage chairs, offering free trials to conference attendees. The five chairs on display by Acigi Relaxation certainly seemed to be effective; all were occupied by totally inert bodies that appeared dead to the clamor around them. (Of course, since their faces were covered, this might have been just an illusion.)

In a touch of whimsy, the Realty Executives booth sported an entertainer who claimed to be the third best yo-yo artist in the world. “I’m also a hair model. For these guys, I threw that in for free,” said “Doctor Popular,” who kept a continual patter going while doing tricks that included detaching the yo-yo from the string and coaxing it back.

One of the most impressively calm and collected attendees was 17-year-old Lauren Anderson, who with her brother Coleman accompanied their father, Gregory Anderson of RE/MAX West in Chaska, Minn., to the convention.

As for her dad, “I like the technology stuff,” Anderson said of the trade show. “I’ve been talking with the Sprint people about how to configure our Web site so that inquiries we get there about properties are copied to the agents’ Blackberries.”

NAR staffers who toiled to produce the show would doubtless be gratified to learn that the production earned the ultimate accolade from Anderson’s daughter. Seemingly unruffled by the pandemonium of the showroom floor, teenager Lauren pronounced the show “cool.”


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