Startup Alley has long been my favorite part of Inman Connect not only because it shines a spotlight on cutting-edge technology, but because I find it to be the most accurate measure of where the real estate industry is headed.

  • Startup Alley at Inman Connect New York (January 22-26, 2018) has a number of tech companies focused on automation and agent support.
  • Technology trends are suggesting that agents will need to focus more on service and less on managing information.

Have suggestions for products that you’d like to see reviewed by our real estate technology expert? Email Craig Rowe.

Startup Alley has long been my favorite part of Inman Connect (January 22-26, 2018, New York City) not only because it shines a spotlight on cutting-edge technology, but because I find it to be the most accurate measure of where the real estate industry is headed.

You see, the future of many industries can be read in the sweaty palms of those developing tools to support it. (Henry Ford, anyone?)

Looking at the list of companies expected at Connect’s hub of tech energy, I see an industry steamrolling toward high-touch consultancy, powered by automation. I picture a more one-on-one approach where fewer clients are taken on. (You know — the stuff that kept Jerry Maguire up at night.)

According to, the 2018 real estate market may experience slight inventory gains, but building problems will continue to hamper new home availability. As these inventory shortages continue to challenge sales volume and increase prices, agents will have no choice but to cling tighter to a smaller number of viable buyers and sellers while taking a hands-off approach to marketing and lead generation.

And by “hands-off,” I don’t mean ignoring it; I mean letting other people (or your software) handle it. The technology will be there to support those efforts:

  • Real Contact, for example, is a software product that uses a team of “concierges” to handle lead qualification on behalf of its users. It automates a process that, while vital to business, can typically be completed with a standard series of questions that pretty much anyone can ask. Real Contact believes agents can be more efficient and attentive to current business when not saddled with the burden of judging lead quality.
  • Dispatch is a Facebook Messenger app that automates content publication and lead engagement. Agents can schedule and “curate” content to respond to customer inquiries and drive website lead registrations. It’s the chatbot taken to 11.
  • HelloAlex is a contact-to-contract (artificial intelligence) AI customer chat solution branded as an automated income assistant that hinges its value on freeing up the agent to focus more on current business. (My full review of HelloAlex will publish this week.)
  • is a powerful AI tool that uses listing photos to power SEO and user searches. It automatically records and tags property photos with metadata (room titles, appliance types, architectural choices) that can surface to online search results. Metatags aren’t new, but they’re rarely used because of the inherent time and effort required to create, organize and manage them manually for each image.
  • And in PAM, or Pocket Agent Mentor, we’re on the cusp of fully automated agent training. This clever app was built by an agent who wanted to ensure new and growing licensees didn’t become another drop-out statistic. When white-labeled and deployed within a brokerage, office management can take a more hands-off approach to ensuring new agents learn the business before opting to go back to teaching.

Like fog lifting on a remote byway, 2017’s tech innovations revealed the direction our industry needs to go to find its future. And true North will be found in service.

With so much data and previously agent-only advantages now given free and in heaps to consumers, practitioners need to adjust to a consultancy approach.

Instead of giving consumers information, they’re offering advice on how buyers and sellers use the information they already have.

Automation technology can help agents stay ahead in that effort.

The sooner more agents yield to the reality that they are no longer information providers but information translators, the faster real estate will get through this powerful and inevitable change. And I think it all starts in New York.

Have a technology product you would like to discuss? Email Craig Rowe.

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