In multiple talk tracks at Tech Connect, leaders in sales, fintech and proptech all agreed on one thing: The COVID-19 pandemic has totally changed how people market, sell and buy real estate.

If you’d like to catch a video replay of this Connect Now session, and access the other 25+ hours of video content from Connect Now, tickets are still available. Click here to access.

COVID-19 dominated conversation throughout Tech Connect at the first-of-its-kind online real estate conference, Inman Connect Now.

From software companies fast-forwarding new products, such as Matterport for iPhone, to record low agent confidence, as reported by Homesnap’s Agent Confidence Index, there appears to be no corner of the technology sector not dirtied by the dust of the pandemic.

Homesnap CEO John Mazur

At its end, attendees likely logged out with a sense of confidence, however, as multiple panelists shared stats and anecdotes that demonstrate a recovery is underway and that maybe things are settling.

It was in the track’s last discussion, “Looking Ahead: What’s Next for Tech,” that Homesnap CEO John Mazur revealed the findings of his company’s confidence metric.

“We poll about 40,000 agents every month about the market,” he said. “In March we saw the biggest drop off we’ve ever seen, where only 18 percent said they were optimistic about the market. But in April, it went up to 25 percent, in May, up to 45 percent.”

He feels things are looking up, citing agents’ ability to exercise a “sixth sense” about what’s happening on the street.

“I think this looks like a recovery,” Mazur said.

Agents and tech leaders alike believe that much of what’s been rushed into adoption now will carry over for the long-term once the nation’s health stabilizes.

Gut reactions pay off

During the “What tools can you use to accelerate your business today?” session, Veronica Figueroa, CEO of Figueroa Team at eXp Realty in Orlando, watched her quick reaction to the rapidly deteriorating early spring market turn into a boon for her team and its clients, but compared running a business at that time to building a plane as it’s flying.

Veronica Figueroa

“It was scary at first … we had to figure out who we’re going to be in this new world,” she said.

Like many agents across the country, Figueroa wasn’t quite sure how to define a virtual open house.

Focused under the team’s mantra of “RARE,” meaning “retention, authority, recruiting and exposure,” Figueroa turned to video and virtual showings, leveraging a streaming platform called StreamYard.

Relative to StreamYard, “If I can do it, you can do it,” she said. The result was Figteam TV, a one-stop live resource for company news and, of course, open houses.

The team then used CallAction to push their new content.

Figteam TV managed to become a hit, as the company celebrated 100 contracts in May, a record.

Drew Uher | Photo credit: HomeLight

In the same session, HomeLight CEO shared with Connect Now viewers his company’s focus was to offer safe showing environments, but also to figure out how to best showcase a home without physically visiting it.

After a poll of agent partners, HomeLight uncovered that 46 percent use virtual staging, 63 percent use 3D tours, and 94 percent are using video tours.

Consumers adopt digital closings

Uncertain marketing conditions roiled the lending and transaction side of the industry, too.

In “Welcome to Integrated Closings,” Spruce co-founder and CEO Patrick Burns shared that he misses the January 2020 market,

Patrick Burns

“It was a really exciting time for the U.S. real estate industry … but it was an exciting time for the consumer as well,” he said. “So many companies creating new products, new financing models, such as iBuying, it was creating an abundance of choice for consumer and the industry alike.”

A few months later, Burns admits that the pandemic further fueled innovation in e-closings, remote online notarization, and other digital recording and transaction tools. His company has seen growth of 20 percent month over month since February.

Qualia’s founder and CEO, Nate Baker, attributes the carry-over to buyer and seller confidence in digital closings.

“The other thing here is that the consumer expectation is changing a lot,” he said. “A big objection to the digital closing was ‘Well, it’s an important transaction, the consumer doesn’t need to sign digitally.’ That’s all out the window now. Everyone is very, very focused on how we enable remote real estate transactions, how do we actually close this online?”

New normal, new models

Tushar Garg

“Integrated Services in the Time of COVID-19” covered aspects of moving, market conditions and consumer sentiments on selling.

The panel of Homeward founder and CEO Tim Heyl, Flyhomes co-founder and CEO Tushar Garg, and Court Cunningham, Founder and CEO of Orchard, came together on the notion inventory shortages are causing problems, and new buying models are emerging as a result.

Tim Heyl | Photo credit: Homeward

Among other benefits, each of the panelists’ companies provide homeowners with an option to buy their next home out from under the hassle of contingent offers.

Using equity leveraging and a combination of cash offers and quasi-iBuying, these companies have attracted the attention of investors and consumers especially during the pandemic.

“It’s a moment in time where being able to move out of your home and into your next house before you go through the process of listing, is in very, very high demand,” Heyl said.

So who is interested in this alternative form of homeshopping? Just about everyone, it seems.

“We operate on the West Coast market and in Boston, so for us the dominant demographics tend to be first-time homebuyers between 25 and 40,” Garg said. “But then trade-up is a big scenario, the ability to upsize or downsize, and that’s been about 40 percent of our business.”

Time for agents to go all in

While iBuyers and other forms of cash investors rarely ask for a virtual tour, having one can result in a listing selling 20 percent faster and for 9 percent more, according Matterport CMA Robin Daniels.

His team had to fast-forward its long-awaited iPhone app, a form-factor of tour tech that competitors have been using against the vertical’s proverbial founder.

Gayln Ziegler | Photo credit: Zillow

As leaders in this sector of proptech, don’t expect Matterport to just stand there on its floor plan.

In response to an audience question about Matterport enabled multiple people to tour at once, Daniels let it fly that the 3D tech enabler is aiming to do more than that. Since the app’s release, having more users has resulted in more ideas.

“The best thing for us to do would be let our partners handle integrations,” he said. “Whatever you want to do with our platform, go for it.”

Mazur, too, admitted that real estate agents under lockdown have become more resourceful.

“We’ve had Homesnap Stories for a while now, and use of it has exploded, use of it is up 200 percent,” he said.

Gayln Ziegler, COO of Keller Offers, was able to relate to the vagaries of doing business the lockdown-market posed.

“We did a lot of Google Hangouts, we did a lot of Zoom, we did video,” Ziegler said. “What we were trying to solve for was [sellers] not wanting to lose [the opportunity] the sell, but they were concerned about their safety.”

Ziegler said they now see more agents embracing video.

“As things open up, they’ll use these video conference tools to do listing appointments, to do all kinds of things,” she said.

And in a tight bookend to where Tech Connect began, Mazur told viewers about his 76-year-old mother using Instacart, something that would never happened prior to COVID-19.

“All these trends are converging. Everyone always talks about having an online presence, but you need to have a virtual presence now, too,” he said.

“It’s time for agents to go all in.”

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

Craig C. Rowe started in commercial real estate at the dawn of the dot-com boom, helping an array of commercial real estate companies fortify their online presence and analyze internal software decisions. He now helps agents with technology decisions and marketing through reviewing software and tech for Inman.

If you’d like to catch a video replay of this Connect Now session, and access the other 25+ hours of video content from Connect Now, tickets are still available. Click here to access.

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