I drove away from Inman News’ Real Estate Connect SF 2006 show before noon on Friday. During the event I spoke too much, drank too much, ate too little and hardly sat. It was a helluva party.
Thirty miles outside San Francisco my phone rang. The caller, a full-time broker and career cynic is someone with whom I’ve spent the past six years debating the future of real estate. I expected this call. It’s our traditional argument on the merits of Connect – an event he’s never attended.
Breaking custom, I let the call go to voicemail. An argument seemed moot. His point of view was irrelevant now. His words are bubble gum music and I’d just seen Hendrix. I turned my cell off, opened the window and let the wind cry Mary.
Don’t Eat the Brown Acid
Saturday morning. I required a Grande drip with no room for milk. My body ached. My mind a blur. Conjure up the day after Woodstock.
I sat outside Starbucks with the real estate section of the local paper. I thought I’d comb through it and live inside the afterglow of Connect for another half hour. The question that Inman had used as a theme for the conference this year, “Is real estate ready for honesty?” was fresh in my mind as I opened the publication in front of me.
The pullout contained 48 pages of a different kind of honesty. Page after page I searched for signs of the award-winning brands, innovators and progressive people I partied with for three days inside the Inmansphere. Something that would deliver me a new and exciting experience. With each turn of the page my post-conference high diminished. Midway through I imagined an announcement over the Starbucks speaker system: “Attention. Testing one, two, three. Hey man, don’t eat the brown acid. It’s bad! I repeat the brown acid is bad, man.”
I ignored the warning. My page turning pace increased as if I had lost something and was frantic to find it. Things like virtual tours, videos, mapping, digital signatures, online estimates, neighborhood data – ideas and services witnessed during the Worlds Fair of real estate. My bad trip included giant agent heads dwarfing tiny shots of homes that all looked exactly alike and carried the same message. One ad freaked me out completely: The Realtor in the picture claimed she “IS the changing face of real estate. She IS the eyes in my community. She IS the ears listening to my needs. She WILL sell my home.” With what? I thought. There IS no link to a Web site, there IS no e-mail address.
Was Connect real or did I hallucinate it? Didn’t I brush up against innovators? Had I not held meetings with the rock stars of our business? If so, how did I end up back here at home surrounded by personalities rather than a real estate reality that doesn’t include Redfin, Trulia, HomePoint, digital signatures, paperless processes, Neighborhood data, TMS, or an Oodle of LocaModa – services as opposed to individuals. It’s wrong, it’s antiquated and it’s whole-heartedly unfair to consumers.
Where in my city are the innovative people and products I engage everyday at work that promise me something better, cleaner, more honest, more transparent and more focused? It’s as if Connect never happened.
The Capstone of an Era
On Feb. 9, 1964, exactly 42 years to the day before Zillow launched, the Beatles were introduced to America from the sound stage of the Ed Sullivan Theatre. Prior to that day, they were just a rumor; few people took them or what they represented seriously. The day after the world transformed. Elvis’s call-in to the show was a ceremonious handing over of the torch. Traditional acts that shared the bill that night like Tessie O’Shea, Fred Kapps and others became irrelevant, much like my cynical broker friend following Connect.
A Really Big, Really Big Show
Brad Inman is the Ed Sullivan of our industry. Part director, part producer, part interviewer, part instigator. The dude is wired in. This year he brought us a really big show with 100 different Beatles. Some were unknown just a few days ago; others part of a burgeoning rumor looming on the horizon of our industry. For the 2,000 people who attended, I defy any one of them to tell me that their world hasn’t been transformed as a result.
A real estate friend confided in me at Connect. She said this event made her feel whole. Back east in her suburban town she’s considered odd because of her special attention to customer service, honesty and technology. Because of the things she learned attending Connect. While many of her real estate peers are dying on the vine, she’s flourishing. At Connect, amidst “her kind,” she felt complete.
Believers like her will come to regard this year’s Connect as the capstone of an era devoted to the advancement of our business.
It’s Time for Elvis to Pass the Torch
Perhaps that’s what my cynical broker friend felt when he called. Maybe he felt the ground shake when Sami Inkinen from Trulia darwinized the industry and named people like Matt Kaufman, Michael Bonfils and Scott Kucirek as the prototype executive companies must start hiring if they want to succeed in the future. Perhaps he got the message when Dany Levy of Daily Candy advised traditional real estate to consider getting copy writers and more qualified marketing people to generate a more honest and literate message for her generation. Maybe he saw “traditional” brokerages like Real Living nominated for an Inman Innovator Award, visited their site and realized the error of his ways. Maybe he just called to apologize for being so pigheaded all these years.
Two thousand Beatles appeared at Inman’s event last week. These people – the attendees, speakers, vendors and visionaries- are the most important people in this business.
It’s a new era now. The old real estate business, with its million-plus Elvises might be able to find some work in Vegas but as of now, the torch has been passed. There’s no going back.
Marc Davison is vice president of OnBoard, a real estate data provider based in New York. Davison previously served as vice president of VREO, a provider of electronic signature and Web site software for the real estate industry.
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