Eric Forsman, Vice President of Technology Services of the Florida Realtors, echoed what I was thinking when I bumped into him at the inaugural National Association of REALTORS® iOi conference in San Francisco. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. And like Eric, I had the same reaction: we were both remarkably impressed.

For me, it was a last-minute decision to attend as my founding partners Marilyn Wilson and Victor Lund were going to be there. But when I realized I had at least four clients attending the San Francisco meeting with two presenting on stage, I scrambled to get down to catch at least the final day. I took a 5:30 am flight from Seattle to the Bay Area which allowed me to miss just 15 minutes of the last day’s morning program. It was well worth the investment in every way.

Off To A Good Start

A few things stood out for me in what NAR pulled together in terms of the conference structure. The overall quality of the content was consistently high.  The length of each presentation fit: it wasn’t all spoons of sugar like a Ted Talk, but lots of deep rich bites of protein, still not a full meal that would put you to sleep. A saw a lot of fresh faces, both speakers and panelists that I’ve not seen before, and the majority of who did exceptionally well. I also heard some new perspectives that were new to me. And I appreciated that they did not allow audience questions until the end of the conference. I wasn’t sure I would like that, but I did because it made the pace better and gave me more time to digest what the speaker said without distraction.

Words Worth Remembering

The reason for the conference, NAR leader Bob Goldberg told NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall, is that “NAR has been a great political advocate, and we need to be a great technology advocate.” Isn’t it nice to hear those words from the largest organization in real estate in the world?

DC Attorney General Karl Racine – a terrific fresh face at an SF conference – confessed that his Realtor has the keys to his house, his mother’s house, his sister’s house and a copy of all of his most important documents. He has had the same Realtor since he bought his first home in the late 1990s. So, what makes a Realtor so valuable to him and why does he stay so loyal? He said it comes down to one word: trust. Bam!

Sometimes we forget how well-respected NAR is in Washington DC for their political acumen and how their decades of political advocacy work have put them in such high regard. Racine reminded us when he shared, “Your Association (NAR) is one of the most respected in the country because they look out for the interests of the consumer and they look out for the interests of business.” Somehow many people think those two things are mutually exclusive when in fact, in real estate, they should be one in the same. Racine gets it.

Ryan O’Hara, CEO of Move, Inc. ( made one of the best observations about Artificial Intelligence I’ve heard in the last two years from a business leader. He said that AI needs to move from being this “centralized” operation to be integrated throughout all business units. If it remains centralized, it will fail. I think he’s absolutely right.

O’Hara also addressed the future of real estate with one word: Data. The interesting take he had on it was the most important thing about data is that we need to focus on using it to make things better, easier for consumers. What an incredibly uncomplex view that’s often just assumed and more often missed by most of the startups I watch – by a country mile. I could almost hear RESO members cheering from their offices around the country when O’Hara said that.

I found some of the research from particularly interesting as well. One key data point: that today because of technology all consumers, not just Millennials, expect three things: ease of use, personalization, and customization. Call it the influence of Amazon or the Googlization of America, or whatever, but our experiences online are becoming more and more “unique.”

Joel MacIntosh, introduced as a serial Entrepreneur and head of WolfNet Technologies, was another welcomed fresh face. Joel gave quite a bit of practical advice with the startups in the room, based on having been there and done that. One of his best gems: Spend more time developing relationships with people rather than gathering the data and selling to them. For someone who has built one of real estate’s most successful, and enduring, IDX Website and Data Services firms, it was nice to see him in the spotlight and handle it so well.

Google delivered the goods, once again. From the people who brought you research surrounding consumers and micro-moments, comes the next iteration: we are living in the Age of Assistance. Google’s Dan Siegler, who oversees real estate as one of his core duties explained why “people need to know before they go” anywhere and do almost anything today, so imagine what this means for the biggest purchase in their lives.

Siegler also delivered what may have been the funniest moment of the meet. He opened his talk with an illustration of how dramatically things have changed in just the last 10 years. He said in 2008 that there were two rules: you don’t get in cars with strangers and you don’t meet people on the Internet. Today you summon a stranger on the internet to give you a ride in their car and if it takes more than 5 minutes your upset!

These were just some of my favorite takeaways from iOi, and I only attended the last day. Go to Twitter and search #iOi2018 and you’ll discover many more from the entire conference. Two people did an exceptional job on Twitter: Shout outs to Brian Copeland @NashvilleBrian for creating polished images for each tweet that included the speaker’s photo, name, title and quote, and to Jayson Bates @JaysonBates.

I missed the Hackathon and the Startup Battle pitches, but I did see the announcement of the winners. Congratulations to KW Labs, which won the $15k top prize and runner-up VoiceterPro (with the letsbutterfly team). That letsbutterfly group is super talented as they are past RESO Conference award winners. Folks I, like Trent Gardner from ListTrac, Stefan Peterson from zavvie, and Krishna Malyala from TLCEngine, and’s Roberto Moreno all commented to me that overall, both events went remarkably well.

The biggest surprise: Zillow almost went unmentioned. Is that a takeaway?

Kudos Are In Order

You have to congratulate everyone at NAR involved in this, from Goldberg and Mendenhall and their admin support to Todd Carpenter, the NAR Marketing team and staff and everyone at CRT Labs. My only criticism: you need to include who we should be giving credit to in your program as I am sure I have left out a bunch of people. To everyone I missed: it was a stellar start.