Technology was a central theme at Inman Connect Las Vegas, dominating conversations about indie brokerages, new mortgage providers, iBuying and more. Here’s what you need to know.

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Four days is hardly enough time to delve into everything technology is doing for today’s real estate agent. Good and bad.

But Inman Connect Las Vegas did its damnedest to try.

The Aria hotel surged with post-pandemic earnestness as companies new and old sold their strategies, products and models as balefires of change.

Overall, this Connect wasn’t necessarily a showcase of what’s new in proptech; rather, it was a display of how long-existing industry models are being used as templates to evolve how real estate is delivered.

Show me the mortgage

Executives at Knock, Homeward and Ribbon earned a three-way tie for Innovators of the Year. Sean Black, Tim Heyl and Shaival Shah, respectively, each lead companies aiming to change the way people buy and finance homes.

The trio has raised tons of money — in total, well over a billion — on the idea that American homebuyers have been under-served by traditional mortgage models. And of course, they’re each working hard to let agents know they remain crucial to the transaction.

There’s Flyhomes for Agents, Knock’s Home Swap certification and Better Real Estate, which is aiming to create a vertical transaction, from search to close.

Tim Heyl (right), founder and CEO of real estate startup Homeward, participates in a talk with Brad Inman at Inman Connect Las Vegas, Oct. 27, 2021. (Photo by AJ Canaria of MoxiWorks)

While they may not have earned awards this time around, Orchard, Connect Bronze Sponsor Flyhomes and event exhibitor Better add well over another billion in capital raised and countless use cases to proving the equation.

During the Mortgage Connect Track, Tim Cooke, director of sales at Flyhomes for Agents said that models like his are changing how buyers approach the home search. Consumers are coming into the agent relationship more informed than before.

“Don’t rest on your laurels,” Cooke advised. “Always be pushing yourself to be learning about new products and companies, because then you are back at the center of the buying and selling process.”

Better’s head of sales and operations, Sarah Pierce, agreed, adding, “Most of our customers came to us because they wanted to see how much they could afford before searching for a home. Historically, you found a real estate agent first.”

Financing, Knock’s Sean Black told Brad Inman at Connect, can now lead the way to ownership.

“The financing is the cornerstone — it’s where all the information is, it’s absolutely a necessary component,” Black said. “But really what powers it is information and transparency.”

Brokerage tech still matters — mostly

In the vein of transparency, Side CEO Guy Gal told the crowd at Inman Connect that the “big brokerage” world doesn’t want consumers to know that 70 percent of annual transactions are handled by part-time agents.

While his statistic remains disputed, his disdain for the way real estate sales are traditionally handled is unequivocal.

Side, which took home the Inman Innovator Award for Company of the Year, is pushing the industry toward teams on the idea that consumers are better served by smaller, more nimble and more experienced professionals.

“The big brands act as a device to make it possible for casual agents to actually do the lion’s share of the business across the industry,” Gal said. “These legacy players extract way more value than they actually create.”

Side’s CTO, Ed Wu was on stage at Inman Connect as well, sitting next to the target of his company’s ire, Keller Williams CTO Chris Cox. The two tech execs were there to chat about the value of broker-developed tech, proving that the issue is still central to recruiting and service.

Ed Wu; Photo by AJ Canaria of MoxiWorks

According to Wu, Side is transforming the industry by digitally addressing productivity, time saving and “things that help you run your team in ways that are significantly more efficient.”

Wu thinks the deep assortment of third-party providers create redundancy and confusion.

Cox said Keller Williams wants to blend what it builds with what its agents might find works best for them: the open-ecosystem model.

“Value is really driven by meeting agents where they are, and being driven by their needs,” Cox said. “We’re crystal clear on that as a mission.”

The event’s Indie Broker tract addressed tech, too.

Panel participants Therese Antonelli, broker-owner of Detroit-based brokerage Moving The Mitten Real Estate Group and Realtor Mike Hogan, said that the flexibility of choosing their own providers is a good thing.

“It’s fly by the seat of your pants,” Antonelli said, You see something new and you can try it.”

However, Stacie Staub, founder and CEO of West + Main Homes in Colorado, advised in another Indie Broker session that smaller brokerages need to be more deliberate in assessing technology partners.

“We really are careful about what we spend on technology,” she said. “We make very, very informed, slow decisions on that stuff. Brokers think that there’s this magic platform that’s gonna sell houses for your agents and there isn’t.”

Yet, undercutting the common tech thread was one of the most recognized names in the industry: Century 21.

C21’s CEO Mike Miedler told the crowd, in short, tech isn’t that critical to a brokerage’s success.

“From MLSs to contracts to all the different forms to mortgage and ancillary services and title, the value is from the agents pulling that all together,” he said. “I don’t believe that technology is absolutely a differentiator in our business.”

CRMs are no longer the cool kids on Startup Alley

Inside Real Estate isn’t going anywhere. Neither are CINC, Chime, Ixact Contact or BoomTown, as each exhibitor entertained a steady stream of booth visitors throughout the week.

Kala Laos, CEO, co-founder of Zoodealio; Photo by AJ Canaria of MoxiWorks

But outside the main stage, a competitor among the new kids was rare, Ascend Lead Sites being the only new CRM offering on display along Startup Alley.

Filling up the Property Pavilion was a host of innovative technologies targeting critical points within brokerage operations.

HighNote tackles listing and marketing presentations, while the sharply named Toura Home is another looking to fill Showingtime’s space. Domotics provides 3D and immersive AR listing search and virtual home viewing and is aiming to help agents use social profiles and referrals to earn more business.

If there’s one takeaway from the collection of new technology companies at Connect, it’s that the larger business concerns appear to be getting addressed, and that it’s time for new innovators to hone the finer points.

It’s time to bet on iBuyers

This may even become a surprise to the iBuyers themselves, but they truly are leading the evolution of agent service.

Now that it’s been proven their services can’t fully function without the localized talents of agents, it’s time for agents to further leverage what they provide.

In a virtual session at Inman Connect, head of Keller Offers RJ Jones said that the new multi-offer world gives agents more opportunity than ever to prove their value.

“We’re partnership and source agnostic. We want to help the agent offer great solutions,” he said. “Is the seller driven by price and profit? Or timing and convenience? Sometimes it’s a traditional sale or sometimes it’s ‘what iBuyers can we work with?’”

Jones said that while only 1 percent of sales today are from alternative models, that number is only going to grow and as a result, consumers are only going to get smarter about their options.

In much the same way buyers are going to seek advice on new forms of mortgage servicing, they’ll need agents to help navigate what model of sale is best.

Additionally, there’s no stopping the compression of the transaction, as consumer trends indicate people prefer everything in one place — a model Compass CEO Robert Refkin said was already happening during his on-stage interview with Brad Inman.

“The iBuyers have done it,” he said. “They have put the transaction, mortgage and title in the same place. So, from a 10-year perspective, the question for the agent is who’s going to empower you to be able to have the speed, simplicity and seamlessness of a transaction as an iBuyer can give?”

Email Craig Rowe

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