Las Vegas, the city of neon lights and late nights, was temporarily transformed into the center of the real estate universe with the return of Inman Connect 2021, the first major in-person conference event of the year.

Our team at The Close has attended many Inman events over the years, and this one definitely didn’t disappoint. I donned a mask, mixed it up on the expo floor, and sat through hours of presentations. These are my top 10 takeaways from our week in Sin City.

1. Most Realtors Claimed 2021 Has Been Their Best Year in the Business

Photo of woman on the conference floor at Inman Connect
Photo courtesy of AJ Canaria, MoxiWorks, and Inman Connect

While 2020 and 2021 were full of anxiety and frustration thanks to COVID-19, many real estate agents are looking at their balance sheets for the last fiscal year and doing double-takes. According to a straw poll conducted by MCs Kymber Menkiti and Amie Quirarte on day one, 2021 was the strongest year of business ever for nearly three-quarters of the agents in attendance.

Both Menkiti and Quirarte acknowledged that it was difficult to celebrate milestones like these amidst the challenges our communities are facing during the ongoing global pandemic, but the fact remains–many of us have done more business in the last 12 months than in any other year of our careers.

[Related article: 9 Steps to Writing a Real Estate Business Plan + Templates]

The Close Takeaway: The audience at an event like Inman Connect tends to skew a little more toward top producers, so it’s hard to say for sure whether or not this poll is representative of the entire agent population. But, with inventory levels across the country still short of demand, and interest rates remaining very low, we’re likely to continue to see a very strong real estate market for another year to come.

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2. There Is No Real Estate Bubble. Here’s Why.

Photos of speakers' panel onstage at Inman Connect
Photo courtesy of AJ Canaria, MoxiWorks, and Inman Connect

A recent Redfin survey (something we’ll talk about in a minute) showed that nearly three-quarters of the homeowners who participated believed that we were in some sort of housing bubble, but Dave Jones of Windemere Abode believes otherwise. Here’s what he had to say:

“We’re not in a bubble-burst scenario. What has caused the last two real estate bubbles to burst? A sudden, dramatic flood of inventory to a nearly saturated market. In order for our current market to turn into a bubble (and then burst), we’d have to flood it with new listings. Anyone working as an agent right now knows that just isn’t going to happen.”

The Close Takeaway: While I believe the market is going to continue to adjust, and likely, by the end of 2022, show signs of a more balanced real estate ecosystem, I agree with Dave—a busted bubble is very unlikely.That being said, there are always ways to prepare for shifting markets, and agents should be thinking about the needs of tomorrow’s clients as well as today’s.

[Related article: The Pivot: 3 Ways Smart Realtors Can Thrive in ANY Market]

3. The No-regrets Offer: The Secret to Being a Successful Buyer’s Agent

Photo of panelists onstage at Inman Connect
Photo courtesy of AJ Canaria, MoxiWorks, and Inman Connect

Buyers’ agents have had a tough time in 2021. Ultra-competitive markets, all-cash offers, and overblown seller expectations have been the source of more than a few sleepless nights and grey hairs. All-Star Compass agent Dee Dee Guggenheim Howes and new Million Dollar Listing star Tyler Whitman have the answer: The No-regrets Offer.

The No-regrets Offer is a threaded needle—an offer that, if your buyers win the listing, they are comfortable with the price and terms, and if they lose the listing, they don’t feel like they left any room for negotiation.

The Close Takeaway: Writing No-regrets Offers means a ton of communication with your buyer before the offer process even begins. You need to know exactly where their comfort zones lie so you can negotiate on their behalf.

[Related article: 18 Top Real Estate Negotiation Strategies From the Pros]

4. We Learned a New Buzz Word: Natural Sphere Selection

Inman Connect_4

I’ll admit it, I was wrong. Close readers and YouTube watchers have heard me say on a number of occasions that no contact is a bad contact; that if you’ve done the work to get somebody into your sphere of influence, you should market to them, no matter what.

Katy Day, team leader of the MOVEMETOTX team, changed my thinking by saying:

“The fact is, not everyone is someone you want to do business with again. You’re in charge of your own referral and repeat business generation. If a transaction isn’t worth it to you, don’t reach out and connect with people you don’t want to work with again. This is natural sphere selection. Curate the sort of business you want.”

The Close Takeaway: Real estate gets trumpeted as an industry that gives its operators choice. Choice of when to work (LOL), where to work, and who to work with. We are all for taking control of your business and doing things your way. Take Day’s advice: Work with clients of your choosing. Just remember that referral business can blossom out of every prospect, lead, or client—even the bad ones. We advise you not to burn any bridges behind you!

[Related article: 15 Things Realtors Would Love to Tell Our Clients (But We Don’t)]

5. The Future of the Real Estate Business: Three Diverging Paths

One of the most interesting conversations of the entire conference took place between Mark Johnson, CEO of JPAR, Will Holmes, General Growth Manager at OpenDoor, and Natalia Karayaneva, CEO of Propy. The question posed was simple: “What does the future of real estate work look like?” Amidst the conversation and debate, three possibilities emerged:

  1. A typical real estate agent’s responsibilities will balloon; the 150+ tasks we complete right now will turn into 300+ tasks.
  2. A typical real estate agent will be a niche specialist, completing 10-15 highly specialized tasks and outsourcing the rest to other specialists.
  3. A typical real estate agent’s superpower will no longer be multitasking—it will be customization, creating an ultra-personalized real estate experience for every client.
The Close Takeaway: We heard a lot this week about how technology and automation continue to change the real estate industry, but at the end of the day, our clients are the focus. The real pivots in real estate will happen around client experiences and expectations.

6. If You Have a Chance to Make Someone’s Day, You Absolutely Should

In a session titled “Marketing Trends Impacting the Modern Brokerage,” Client Giant co-founder Jay O’Brien dropped perhaps the best quote of the entire week:

“Real estate marketing generates a feeling. When you consider marketing strategy, keep in mind your goal. If you have the power to make someone’s day, you absolutely should.”

Client Giant focuses on creating curated closing gifts and thoughtful experiences for your clientele after a transaction is closed, but the quote has us thinking about all our marketing and what sort of feelings it creates for our prospects, leads, and clients alike.

The Close Takeaway: It’s easy to think about marketing in terms of mechanics: Prospects go into the top of the funnel, and some of them make it out the bottom as clients. It’s also easy to forget that those are people, not just numbers. Stopping to remind yourself that marketing is about creating experiences for people is an important part of success.

[Related article: Jay O’Brien: How to Deliver 7-Star Service in a 3-Star Industry]

7. The Percentage of Online Leads That Actually Convert Is Plummeting

Photo courtesy of AJ Canaria, MoxiWorks, and Inman Connect

Glenn Kelman, President and CEO of Redfin, took to the stage on day two of the event with a review of one of Redfin’s signature studies of the real estate industry. The presentation was packed with a ton of information, but one major fact stuck out to us:

In 2016, 4.4% of online leads created transactions within 180 days of first contact. In 2021, that number was down to 2.1%.

The Close Takeaway: There are a LOT of leads being generated, but fewer than ever are actually converting into transactions. This means that, in order to be successful in the real estate industry, you need to have an air-tight strategy for lead follow-up, nurture, and conversion.

These leads may take months (or even years) to turn into clients, so persistent, thoughtful work to keep them in your funnel is required if you want to be successful.

[Related article: The Best Real Estate CRM: In-depth Reviews & Pricing]

8. Could a No-commission Real Estate Model Be in Our Future?

Photo courtesy of AJ Canaria, MoxiWorks, and Inman Connect

There are a lot of stars in the real estate universe, but not many shine as brightly as Inman Editor-at-Large and all-around real estate rock star Clelia Warburg-Peters. With an educational pedigree that includes an undergrad from Yale and an MBA from Columbia, plus a ton of hands-on experience running one of New York City’s most recognizable indie brokerages, she’s an industry powerhouse. She’s also a founding member of the venture capital firm MetaProp. When Warburg-Peters speaks, we listen.

Moderating a session called “The Transaction of the Future,” the conversation turned toward what the commission models of the future could look like. Warburg-Peters suggested that as services continue to bundle together and companies consolidate, real estate commissions could become a loss leader to get clients in the door to sell them other services.

Does this mean that salaried real estate agents might become the norm? Only time will tell.

The Close Takeaway: Agent compensation models haven’t significantly changed in more than a century. Sure, there are small efforts here and there to create new options, but this space is ripe for major disruption. Agents interested in no longer chasing commissions will have options soon.

[Related article: What’s the Best Real Estate Company to Work for?]

9. The Third Revolution of Real Estate Is Here: Transaction Digitization

Inman Connect_9
Photo courtesy of AJ Canaria, MoxiWorks, and Inman Connect

The term “revolution” gets thrown around a lot in the real estate industry, but at Inman Connect Las Vegas 2021, Sean Black, CEO and founder of Knock, finally clarified exactly what it means. According to Black, we’ve been through two major shifts already, and we’re at the doorstep of the third right now.

The first revolution occurred in the late 1990s, as platforms like Zillow emerged and listing data went online. All of a sudden, real estate buyers had access to all the information they needed to at least start the real estate transaction process.

The second revolution occurred right around 2015 as iBuyers began to enter the market. With this revolution, property sellers now had more than just the open market as an option for the sale of their homes, kicking off the “buy-before-you-sell” movement.

The third, happening right now, is all about the digitization and streamlining of the transaction itself. Black rightly pointed out that there is a lot of friction in the real estate process. Buying and selling a home is HARD, and it doesn’t need to be. With new technology, new bundled processes, and a new approach, Black envisions a world where buying and selling a home is as easy as booking an Airbnb.

The Close Takeaway: There’s a major disconnect between intent and execution among prospects in the real estate industry. Shawn Black told us that there are more than 30 million unique page visitors a month across the major real estate websites, but less than 6 million transactions a year.

We found ourselves wondering, “Is some of this friction actually a good thing?” An Airbnb is for the weekend, but a house (can be) forever. Shouldn’t we want to take a little more time and add a few more checkpoints along the way with such a large transaction?

10. You Can Draw Bees With Honey (or Money!), But to Retain Agents, You Need to Recruit With Value

Photo courtesy of AJ Canaria, MoxiWorks, and Inman Connect

Another member of the “Holy s%*t impressive” club at Inman Connect this year was Natalie Hamrick, Vice President of Growth at the Chicago-based brokerage @Properties. In a session titled “A Broker’s Guide to Growth and Expansion,” Natalie expertly walked us through some of the finer points of recruiting and retaining the sort of agent pool that won’t just make your numbers this year, they’ll create a culture of excellence for decades to come.

“When you’re recruiting agents, you have to wow them with value, not with money. Recruiting with money is shallow and temporary; everyone has dollars to spend. Recruiting with value shows how you’re different and how an agent can be successful as a part of your team.”

The Close Takeaway: Differentiating yourself from your competition is just as important for recruiting brokerages as it is for agents when generating leads. If you’re thinking about starting a brokerage in 2022, having a launch strategy that includes a crystal-clear value proposition is extremely important.

[Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Recruiting Agents for Your Team or Brokerage]

Your Turn

Did you attend Inman Connect Las Vegas 2021? If so, what were your favorite sessions? If not, are you planning on attending any real estate conferences this year?

If you’re headed to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Annual Conference or Triple Play 2021, make sure to check out my featured presentations: 5 Bold Predictions From the Desk of a Real Estate Technologist for 2022 and How to Create a Bullet-proof CMA!

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