Chicago is a baseball town. Even with the Cubs disappointingly not returning to the World Series this year, you can’t escape seeing someone wearing a Cubs or White Sox hat or shirt every day in Chicago, even in November.
McCormick Place, home to this year’s REALTORS® Conference & Expo, sits just two-and-a-half miles north of Comiskey Park, where the Sox play – their South Side team. So you get an idea of how far away this convention center is from the heart of downtown. And the proximity to a pro baseball park also gives me the perfect excuse to use baseball terminology to review some of the hits and misses I found this year’s conference in the City of Big Shoulders.
Host city: Grand slam for hotels choices, restaurants, entertainment, and bars. But it’s a strikeout as a convention city when half your meetings are located 30-45 minutes away at hotels on Michigan Avenue. Even with the fantastic busway, an express lane that takes only convention busses from downtown hotels directly to McCormick Place, it took door-to-door, between the average shuttle wait time, at least 30 minutes because traffic clogs the arteries to the hotels. For me, that’s just too much wasted time spent on a bus, even with all the technology we have in the palms of our hands today. Oh, and the weather sucks in November.
2018 Woman NAR President: Elizabeth Mendenhall, a Realtor from Columbia, Missouri was a refreshing sight as she stepped up to the plate at the annual new NAR President press conference to field reporter’s questions. First, it’s been way too long since NAR has had a woman president. Second, she’s at least a generation younger than most of her predecessors. She came across as energetic, smart and politically savvy. She gave props to CAR’s WomanUp, a powerful new Women’s Initiative, and she laid out NAR’s agenda for 2018. She adeptly fielded questions from reporters. She was hitting the questions reporters were throwing at her solidly. That was until Inman News Bernice Ross threw a curveball at her. Bernice is spearheading a woman’s initiative of her own. So she asked Mendenhall – since it’s been so long since we’ve had an NAR female President – if she had specific plans to support women Realtors during her tenure at NAR. Elizabeth just stood there, and let that beautiful slow pitch Bernice threw at her sail over the middle of the plate and didn’t swing. She just kind of froze and didn’t have much of an immediate answer. She did rebound later, with one of my favorite quotes of the conference. She said: “Better decisions are made when diversity is at the table.” That’s so true. It’s hard not to root for Elizabeth, as she has charisma, just like her dad, 2001 NAR President Richard Mendenhall.
Economic Forecast: Lawrence Yun, NAR Chief Economist, every year, hosts a press conference at NAR to give his forecast. This year he brought along Ken Rosen, chairman of Rosen Consulting Group and UC Berkeley’s Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics. They just issued a joint White Paper “Rebuilding the American Dream: Strategies to Sustainably Increase Homeownership.” No surprises in what he shared: inventory is bad, the tax bill is bad, Millennials are missing out on opportunities to own a home and build wealth and that’s bad, income isn’t increasing as fast as home prices and that’s bad, affordability is getting worse and that’s bad, the homeownership rate is being depressed as a result, and that’s bad, home builders need to build more middle-class homes, yet they make more money building higher end homes and because we’re not getting inventory where we really need it, that’s bad, home prices are going to increase by 5.5% next year and because home prices are outpacing income so that’s bad, and he predicts mortgage rates climbing to 4.5%, and for buyers that’s also bad. If you were counting all the “bad” things he said as strikes, the bottom of the inning is over.
Expo Explosion: When I first became a young PR Turk for a bank (I really was pretty radical in the kind of things I created for the Bank), I heard the saying, “When times are good, Realtors drive a Mercedes, and when times are bad, they drive a Toyota – it’s a feast or famine business.” When I looked inside the entrance to the McCormick Place West Hall it’s clear we are in a time of great feasting. My jaw dropped. Good times, indeed. Massive exhibits by all the biggest brands and the newcomers who want to be a big brand. Rewind not too long ago and it looked, well, about as popular as a White Sox game midweek during a day game in mid-April.
It’s been years since a NAR Convention not only looked this good but delivered business to companies exhibiting. Talking to exhibitors, such as the Denver-area based predictive lead analytics firm Revaluate (full disclosure: they invited our client, Lane Hornung, CEO of zavvie, to speak on HyperLocal marketing) as well as Tricia Stamper, who oversees Florida Realtors Tech Helpline, the traffic may have been a little light on Sunday morning, but before that, they told me that it was packed with some of the best booth traffic they have seen in years and that agents were eager to engage.
Best OBP (On Base Percentage) goes to Homes.com. Their exhibit was a pure marketing genius, as they found ways to attract, engage, reward, create stickiness, get return traffic…you name the Expo strategy and they nailed it. A shout out to my fellow NAREE member and marketing superstar Patty McNease at Homes.com for her role in this. My take is that over the last few years, Homes.com has really hit it out of the park. All you had to do was look around the corner at a completely empty Quicken Loans booth (except for their staff) and you could see the major league contrast.
Reporters are back: A funny thing happened on the way out of the Great Recession…travel budgets for reporters came back – and now they are able to make important away games like this. The NAR media reception, followed by the National Association of Real Estate Editors (NAREE) dinner on Friday night had a terrific turnout, with familiar and fresh faces attending the annual installation of new officers. It was quite the bullpen: professional writers from Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a gaggle of folks from the host-city paper Chicago Tribune and Tribune Syndicate, including alumni Mary Umberger and Illyce (Think) Glink! And no rain delay for this game.
Biggest Goose Egg of the Convention: Uber and Lyft in Chicago should be sent back to the minor leagues to fix their problems. Is it the tall buildings that screws up their GPS? Probably, but not completely. The Lyft app had my hotel’s address 3 blocks from where it actually is. I also watched as my Uber app move my dot, the thing that’s supposed to represent me, all over the map as I stood completely still on the street. It had my dot moving around 3 to 5 blocks in every direction nonstop. Also, apparently my drivers didn’t look at the address I input. Not a single Uber or Lyft driver was able to pick me up and drop me off at the correct place. Either the pick-up or the drop off was botched. It was if they were intentionally trying to strikeout. I took more than 10 trips to Chicago and I’ve used Lyft and Uber in more than a dozen cities. Chicago has the worst record in the league for rideshare. I asked many other people at NAR and they had the same experiences. I even started asking drivers and they admitted it’s messed up. A big double zero on the scoreboard for Uber and Lyft in Chi-town.
Cracker Jack event: I am sure ever NAR party was spectacular because Chicago excels at bars and restaurants, as long as you pick the right venues. MRED and CAR co-hosted a great opening bash, with the whos-who of hyper-connected in attendance. They had all the bases covered with the spread they provided in a terrific place inside the Tribune building. I also later heard that both the Zillow party and the realtor.com VIP invite-only parties were pretty top-notch.
But when I walked into the CoreLogic party a couple of nights later, it was off the hook. People were having way too much fun. This despite some people telling me they needed more bartenders. Then again for Realtors, there probably is no such thing as too much fun. Because when you work as hard as these folks do, they deserve to let their hair down and party hard in the dugout. After all, this is a winning year (financially) for the folks attending. We forget how many weekends, nights, birthday parties, sporting events and school plays are missed by agents working, trying to close a deal to make a better life for their families. I get that, so when I see the joy and celebration atmosphere that I saw at the Hard Rock, I understand why the CoreLogic folks were grinning ear to ear. It felt like a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th against your archrival.
Bottom line: My kind of town, Chicago is (it’s actually my hometown). But frankly, it’s just not major league caliber for what a national Realtor Convention needs unless everyone is forced to hold every meeting at McCormick. Oh, and in November, the weather sucks.