The Fontainebleau in Miami Beach this week is home to LeadingRE. It’s happening during what I like to think of as the real estate brokerage convention season. Keller Williams had its Family Reunion last week and RE/MAX R4 follows in Las Vegas, Feb. 29-March 3.
If you really want to get a feel for the real estate market in America, these conferences are a great place to gauge what is really happening on the ground because the preponderance of attendees are broker-owners. Conferences that target industry leaders or tech companies or the intelligentsia of real estate are great for forward thinking, but there’s nothing like visiting the exhibit areas and listening to agents engage face-to-face with vendors that are trying to convince them that they have a solution to their pain points. It’s refreshing and it’s real.
A LeadingRE conference, if you have not been to one, is packed with practical information and vendors that speak about brokerage. LeadingRE has become a juggernaut for luxury real estate with growing global reach, comprising a group of brokerages that really are a cut above the competition: 500 firms, 120,000 associates, 3,500 offices in 50 countries. In fact, 14 of the 25 top brokerage firms in the U.S. are part of LeadingRE.
The Ideal Setting
If you have never been to the Fontainebleau at 44th and Collins Avenue, sandwiched between the Intercostal Waterway and the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean warmed by the Gulf Stream just off shore, you need to.
My late father was the head of the Service department (Bell staff, Doormen and valet) at the hotel in the 1970s and 80s; my brother has the same position in the 80s and 90s. I worked there in high school and college so I know the property – and its history — intimately.
Originally built in 1954, it is where the film “The Bellboy” with Jerry Lewis was shot and the golden girl in Goldfinger was found dead. It also could be seen on the Miami Vice TV show as Don Johnson’s Sonny Crocket raced towards the Mural on the side of its old Spa building and in many other major films, from Scarface to The Bodyguard.
It was also frequented by the biggest names in show business: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bob Hope, Elvis, Ann Margaret, Raquel Welch, and more. It was even home one summer to Muhammad Ali, and in fact, one of the hotel’s bellman (Levi Forte) was his sparring partner.
Something old, something new
The ‘Bleau, as it once was affectionately called, is a great metaphor for what is happening in real estate today: Something old becomes something new.
The ‘Bleau was the epitome of class and grandeur when it was built. After bouts of bankruptcy and time as a Hilton, today it is both something old and timeless – its location is priceless and the property grounds remain the most treasured on Miami Beach – but it is also something new, after a $1 billion renovation added two new towers to the property in 2008 that boosted its room count to a massive 1,504.
LeadingRE knows this feeling, being both something established and grand, but also facing the challenges that have come with technology and the digitalization of real estate. But like the ‘Bleau, LeadingRE has not stood still. It has moved forward, embracing and leveraging new technology – and new standards (a.k.a. RESO) – or its members’ benefit.
One only has to think back to just a couple of years ago when a visit to LeadingRE’s website didn’t do much to impress. Today’s website matches the impression its name bespeaks. That’s true not only for LeadingRE, but it is true for what is happening in real estate overall in 2016.
Case in point is what has transpired with a real estate technology company that is exhibiting at LeadingRE in Miami Beach: Imprev. If you have been around since the early Real Estate Connects that Brad Inman created – and I helped early on execute along with another Inman alumni by the name of Brian Boero (1000watt) – you may remember Imprev as an early pioneer in marketing technology.
Founder Renwick Congdon invented software as a mortgage broker (called Flyerware) to help his agents make better-looking property flyers, as the alternative for most agents was creating flyers with a physical cut-and-paste. He eventually would bring this service online with Imprev, ultimately powering the first online Marketing Centers for RE/MAX (Design Center) and Royal LePage in Canada (Marketing Centre).
A big challenge Imprev faced was being thought of as what they once were, not what they had become. They were the company that did “print stuff” – like flyers and postcards. Heck, some firms thought they were a printing company.
But Imprev went from being something old – and like the Fontainebleau was valued for its quality and design – into being something new: real estate’s dominate marketing automation company.
To me, the story of Imprev, like the story of the Fontainebleau, says a lot about the “bones” of each. They’ve both kept their DNA, but have progressed into something that is new and hot. That’s not easy to do when people sometimes think about you as you once were, but if the DNA is really good to begin with, it is likely to shine through.
LeadingRE as an organization is hot, Marketing Automation in real estate is hot, and the Fontainebleau and Miami Beach are also hot. It’s a great time for real estate for the hottest new trend: Something olds becoming something news.
Full disclosure: WAV Group has consulted for LeadingRE and Imprev