The Housing Chronicles Blog: Notes from Real Estate Connect SF

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Notes from Real Estate Connect SF

Each year in San Francisco since 1996 (and now also in New York City), a dedicated group of technologists, real estate pros and other industry leaders gather to discuss the most pressing issues impacting the business of real estate. Founded by Inman News Founder & Publisher Bradley Inman, the Real Estate Connect conference has steadily grown in both attendance and prominence, with Internet companies such as Yahoo!, Google, Zillow and Trulia now among its top exhibitors.

It’s also the place where a network such as HGTV can promote their new website, called, and provides a unique opportunity for a company like Realogy – which owns the Century 21, Coldwell Banker and ERA brands – for a splashy announcement of its latest brokerage namesake, Better Homes & Gardens. Even Craig Newmark, founder of the eponymous, was there to share his thoughts on his site (12 billion page views per month, most of which originate in the U.S.) and his site’s great success (listening to the constant input from users).

The big theme at this year’s conference was the future of the ‘nomadic consumer.’ Given the convergence of emerging trends such as smart phones taking on complex tasks once relegated to personal computers, faster and improved wireless networks, and information being stored on a vast computing ‘cloud’ rather than on individual hard drives, the day when consumers, suppliers and subcontractors will increasingly drive around to new home communities and require instantaneous information will soon be here, with the spoils being accorded to those who prepare the best.

Part of that preparation will be reconfiguring existing websites for an Internet that will be just as video-centric as television. Gradually, words and pictures will be replaced by instructive video to a generation that was not only weaned on it, but has adopted it as an art form for sites such as YouTube. Still, it will be the search for a new home itself that will require new and better tools for a buyer pool now just beginning to see the importance (and prudence) of becoming a fully informed consumer.

I’d expect to see more companies jumping out of the shadows -- such as Zillow, Trulia and Redfin -- that force established players such as, Homescape or NewHomeSource to change their game plans not just once in awhile, but continuously in order to remain relevant. At the same time, some of these new entrants continue to hit some bumps along the road as they learn that technological expertise alone is a poor substitute for years in the real estate trenches. Addressing these issues will become even more important as the real estate listings business becomes a global enterprise.

The housing industry is also a natural fit for social networks and blogging, since these often-unedited forums allow potential customers to make a human connection with a real person instead of a generic company website with the requisite disclosures in a 5-point font. Rather than listings remaining prisoners of the 900-plus separate MLS systems throughout the country, an individual with a page on ActiveRain (a popular social network for real estate) or their own blog can now include specific listings, foreclosures or even analytical tools so buyers don’t feel the need to surf to other sites to be informed. Although some currently popular blogs cheering on the housing bust may end up with short lives when the market revives, those dedicated to objectivity and intellectual honesty will continue to battle traditional newspapers and magazines for online attention.

One side benefit of the current housing downturn will be changes for the rebound that not only benefit the consumer, but strengthen an industry that has been damaged by the short-term interests of certain mortgage brokers, real estate agents and, yes, also some homebuilders. Imagine how much easier business will be with a simpler and more transparent mortgage system in which products are fully explained to buyers. Envision a time when those who dispense advice on one of life’s most important purchases – a new home – are more closely regulated and disciplined.

The resulting thinning of the real estate herd, many of whom only jumped in after seeing it as a get-rich-quick scheme, will eventually leave the real estate industry with a higher quality of sales executives and managers who can re-think the process of home sales in a world in which neither buyer nor seller has an information advantage. For the building industry veterans who recognize and embrace these new market realities, success will likely come sooner rather than later.

No comments: