This year’s Inman Connect, taking place at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, played host to a week of presentations from some of the more influential and opinionated voices in our industry.

Fueled by caffeine and the palpable electricity of being in a room with 4,000 Realtors, brokers, startup founders, and marketers, we soaked in all the conference had to offer.  

Didn’t make it to Inman Connect this year? Want to relive the magic?

Here’s our list of the 12 most important takeaways from the week.

1. Divided We Stand on iBuyers

inman connect mainstage
Photo Courtesy of Twitter @KarltonUtter

Oh man, drama at Inman Connect. For those who aren’t acquainted with the iBuyer model, it basically works like this:

Rather than placing your home on the market with the help of a Realtor, sellers have the option of entertaining an offer based on the results of an algorithm owned by an iBuyer. The iBuyer then either backs the offer themselves, or facilitates a connection between a seller and an investor or private company.

Property owners are presented with an offer to purchase their property sight unseen (sometimes instantly, sometimes after a couple of days), and if they accept, they can close in a couple of days rather than the couple of weeks it takes to close a normal transaction. While this sounds easy and convenient for sellers, there’s a catch.

Investors typically like to, well, make money on their investments. So, their offers are generally lower than market value in order to clear a margin when they go to resell the property. Also, in the current iteration of this model, many of the companies offering iBuyer services (Zillow, Opendoor, Knock, Offerpad, and even Redfin) charge a commission as well, which is sometimes higher than the ordinary 6%. In some cases, we’ve seen commissions as high as 10%.

So, sellers are trading convenience and speed for price.  

Of course, this practice stirred some pretty strong opinions (something we think Brad Inman relishes), and even resulted in some relatively heated on-stage exchanges, but the overall message was unmistakable:

Whether we like it or not, iBuyers are here and they aren’t going away.

2. We Hear Whispers of Blockchain, But Not Much Else

inman connect blockchain
Image via Inman

There was one phrase that was noticeably absent from the main stage presentations this week: Blockchain Technology. It wasn’t until we got into the depth of the Tech Connect portion of the conference that we actually heard a presenter talk a little bit about the blockchain’s future in real estate.  

To hammer this point home, there was, out of more than 70 sponsor booths at the event, only ONE that even mentioned blockchain as a part of their pitch to us as to what they do.

Wondering who was talking about blockchain? We took some time to chat with Kyle and Stephen from Imbrex, a company that describes itself as a “global, community-owned real estate portal and real estate data marketplace.” Their pitch felt a lot like a push towards a nationwide MLS, an interesting idea in itself, one that will require the security and reliability blockchain provides when it comes to fruition.

We don’t think this is an indicator of how important this technology is or how influential it will be in the future. But, it definitely seems to speak to the current level of understanding and interest, which for the average Realtor, appears to be pretty low.

3. The 4th Industrial Revolution Has Arrived in the Real Estate Space

real estate revolution

We know this sounds a little pie-in-the-sky, but it really does seem like the technology experts we heard from this week believe that we are standing on the edge of some pretty big leaps in cyber-physical systems.  

Kevin Foreman, Vice President and General Manager at Inrix hammered this point home when he spoke about the effects self-driving car technology could have in real estate in the very near future.

“Imagine a world when, as you are ‘driving’ past a home, you can ask Alexa the sales history and ownership of a property, and the GPS data from the car will coordinate with the public records and with Zillow to give you a complete picture instantly on your in-dash screen.”

Technology was a focus for sure this week, and one place we saw this highlighted was in Startup Ally with a company called Kleard. Kleard is a app that helps verify the identity of new buyers, giving showing Realtors a level of safety and security.

It also is an open house check-in app, allowing you to know exactly who is coming through your properties and when.  This is great from a security standpoint, but it also is awesome for follow up later, especially since Kleard is easily linkable to popular CRMs.  

4.  Market Trends Are Forcing Realtors to Focus on Clients Rather Than Deals

inman real estate market trends

There is no doubt about it, 2019 is going to be a year of shifting. We know, people say this every year, but 2019 is special because that change appears to be coming (or has already arrived) in two big areas; service expectations, and most importantly, the market.  

An overwhelming percentage of presenters echoed the same sentiment: Client expectations are changing. We need to be client focused and not transaction focused. What does that mean for the day to day business of most Realtors?  A great question, one we’ll continue to try and answer here at The Close all year long.

Those who keep their eyes on the numbers are telling us the shift away from a seller’s market has started, and in some places, is at our doorstep.

Chief Economist for Redfin, Daryl Fairweather, told attendees:

“We are in a place where the changing market is placing more importance on existing listings and pending sales. Don’t get fooled by the sales of six months ago, those numbers aren’t as accurate as you think.”

We spoke to a couple of different vendors that were offering services that were right in line with a client focused approach our mainstage speakers were telling us was so important.  

One that really impressed us was a startup called Earnnest. This app essentially closes off the ecosystem in which money moves from a buyer to a closing company. We’ve all heard the horror stories about wire fraud, this essentially eliminates that concern for your clients for things like a down payments or earnest money deposits.

5. The Seller’s Market Will Give Way to a Buyer’s Market This Year

inman connect sellers market

Not to harp on this point, but, yeah, ok, let’s harp a little bit.

Seriously, just about every Realtor and Broker that spoke on the main stage mentioned the fact that the seller’s market we have enjoyed for the last couple years will be transitioning.  

In fact, Joyce Rey even went as far as saying:

“In the coming buyer’s market, Realtors need to be pickier about the listings they take. Listings are expensive, and they are about to get a lot harder to sell.”

6. VR & AR Are Finally Spreading Their Wings

VR and AR in real estate

Virtual and Augmented Reality have always been a bit of a novelty outside of CRE and fintech conferences, but it appears that novelty is getting at least a little traction in the mainstream residential real estate space.

There are a number of companies that are pitching the “3D in 2D” approach of virtually touring a space, the most notable at ICNY this week being Matterport. Check out their ebook for the Top 10 Ways to Use VR for Listings.  

We also saw (and got to try out) some very cool immersive virtual reality tools for Realtors from the fine fellows at Outer Realm. This technology is no longer prohibitively expensive. You provide the CAD files, and they will build your virtual world for you for right around $5 a square foot, and the price of the hardware is coming down dramatically too.

7. The Word “Brand” is an Active Verb

real estate branding at inman connect

Of course, we heard a lot about branding and marketing this week, but the theme of that conversation was best summed up by David Baldwin in his talk titled “The Power of the Belief Driven Brand” when he said:

“A brand is not just colors and words, it is a set of behaviors.”

It isn’t enough to just say that you are something, if you want to rise to the top in your market, you have to DO something. This isn’t revolutionary, but as consumer expectations are changing, it is becoming more top of mind for Realtors.

A year after a client closes a transaction with you, they aren’t going to remember what you wrote in your bio; they aren’t going to care about the colors of your logo. They are going to remember what you DID for them, and what you DO for your community.

8. What Was Once Exclusive is Now a Commodity

joe rand inman connect
Image via Inman

This was one of the more interesting points we gleaned from our week at ICNY. There are certain things Realtors tell everyone about, IDX search specifically, that used to be exclusive premiums in the website game. But, search is now so ubiquitous, and oftentimes easier to use on other platforms like Zillow, that in most cases, it isn’t as valuable as it once was. 

Joe Rand, managing partner and general counsel for Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate said about this:

“Search is now a commodity. Search is so widely available and easy, you aren’t going to stand out on the basis of search alone.”

So, what do we do with this information?  

Think of it this way: We are pretty sure there was a point in the history of the automobile when manufacturers were advertising that cars could go forward AND backward. However, once ALL the cars could do that, automakers had to start identifying smaller and smaller differences that set them apart. And, they also had to set themselves apart in the WAY they told their story.

So, how can you tell your story a little differently?

Well, it depends on your budget.  

We got a chance to speak to the team from Real Estate Webmasters about the website building services they offer. If you have a healthy budget and are ready to invest in a website that is sure to turn heads, this appears to be the place to do it. They offer high end sites for the likes of Fredrik Ecklund and other Realtors to the stars, and after getting a chance to really see what they have to offer, it appears the hype is real.

If you are feeling a little more budget conscious, consider polishing up your image by outsourcing your photography to a company like Meero. We caught up with the gentlemen from Meero and heard all about their process and the consistency they can provide for listing photography (from hiring great local shooters to their proprietary post-editing algorithms.)

A service like this definitely puts you in the upper crust compared to iPhone Realtors in the market.

9. The Race is On for a Lead-to-Close Solution for the Realtor Interface

realtor interface

Tech companies have gotten wise to the fact that Realtors need solutions. That’s great, more answers to questions is awesome. However, that also means you have to deal with multiple logins, multiple developers, and multiple platforms that may not play nice with each other. Technology is supposed to streamline work and create efficiencies, not more hassle.   

Big brands like Keller Williams are hearing this feedback and talking about developing platforms that encapsulate all the services of the typical realtor suite of digital tools.  

This makes sense on the surface. One login for CRM, lead gen, transaction management, listing management, training, marketing and social media, personal financial tracking, brokerage communication, and all the other stuff we haven’t even thought of yet?  

Yeah, that sounds great. Is that a realistic option without losing the specialized excellence that individual players in each of those spaces provide?

We’re skeptical, but the jury’s still out.

10. There is a Significant Presence of Non-Real Estate Specific Companies in Our Space

non-real estate companies

OK, this one is a little subjective, but walking through the sponsor area of ICNY19, it is impossible not to notice the sheer volume of companies involved that, at their core, aren’t actually focused on real estate.  

We conclude two things from this:

  • Non-real estate technology companies are wise to the fact that Realtors have questions and need solutions to sophisticated problems in our industry.
  • Realtors need to vet these non-industry specific service providers well to make sure they understand our specific needs.  

We aren’t saying that you shouldn’t consider a non-real estate focused solution to a real estate problem, just make sure you aren’t fitting a round peg in a square hole.

We talked to more than one sponsor this week that, while they provided interesting services, they were missing the mark for what Realtors actually need on a day to day basis.

However, there definitely were some teams we chatted with that really knew their stuff. Our favorites were:

  • Echovate: This crew has put together a new twist on the personality test to help you make better decisions when it comes to hiring or finding the right roles for your team members. The test is easy and quick, and from what we could see from our own results, remarkably accurate.
  • RexCEO and founder Thomas van Nellen personally gave us a demo of this innovative review solicitation platform. Essentially, when you solicit a review from a client using Rex, people who want to leave you a good review are forwarded to a review site like Google or Zillow, those who don’t have good things to say are forwarded to an Email survey. This platform is so easy to use, we used it to leave them a five star review on Google.
  • Moved: Zak and Justin with Moved made a pretty convincing case to us why moving is THE WORST. Soon after, they made an equally convincing case why it is easier with Moved. These guys link up with local moving companies, negotiate the rate, coordinate your dates, make sure everything goes smoothly, and hold payment to the movers until you are satisfied and sign off on the work. Available in major metropolitan areas, this seems like a nice little feather for a client’s cap.

11. In 10 Years, There Will Be Fewer Realtors

fewer realtors inman connect

The real estate industry is continuing to experience significant growth. The end of 2018 saw us pass the 1,000,000 mark as far as active real estate licenses in the United States. However, many leaders thought that this trend was not going to continue.

As technology continues to advance and consumers can do more for themselves online before ever reaching out to a Realtor, the best in the business will remain and the weak will forced out.  

Adam Contos, CEO of Re/Max was asked directly whether or not tech was going to replace real estate agents. He paused for a second, and then with a smile said, “Only the agents who aren’t good at what they do.”

12. In Order to Keep Up With Consumer Expectations, Real Estate Has to Get Faster, Easier, and More Certain

Inman founder Brad Inman hammered this point home with his solo presentation on Wednesday.

Like it or not, consumer expectations for our industry are changing quickly. The Amazons of the world, (actually…Amazon itself for the most part) have made it really easy to buy things, to ask questions and get quick answers, and to be confident that purchases are going to be handled with care.

Real estate isn’t about buyer’s agents, seller’s agents, contracts, and purchase prices, it is about people.

Over cold beer and slices of the best pizza in the world (it’s the NYC water in the dough that does it), we asked ourselves, what does that mean? What do we do with that statement?

It means it’s time to take a moment (and save one every couple of weeks or so) and assess what you’re doing with your time. Is it in pursuit of your clients’ best interest? What can you identify in your weekly routine that doesn’t have a client positive outcome? Trim that fat, because if you don’t, your competitors will.  

Your Turn

Did you attend Inman Connect New York this year?  Tell us about your favorite presentations.

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