My dad grew up, pre-Depression, on Beacon Hill in Boston. As a kid, we took a lot of road trips. Because my dad worked for Westin Hotels, we stayed at a lot of nice places in big towns for free. My favorite road trip when we lived in Chicago was visiting Boston and the New England area. I had been back a couple of times for business and always loved visiting this city. After this last week at NAR, I absolutely want to go back – but next time for a vacation.
For a Convention? I’ll pass. And I do not want to go back for a NAR Convention until South Boston can house 20,000 attendees in nearby hotels. People need to walk to the shiny new convention center, not sit on a bus from one of the NAR Headquarter hotels for nearly 30 minutes each way.
I’m not kidding. I timed every trip. I stayed at the Boston Marriott Copley. Google Maps says it is just 2.1 miles. But on a Bus, it takes forever. Even several Uber and Lyft rides I took were over 20 minutes. None were less than 15 minutes. It was a flashback to the Chicago mishap – but worse.
That was the big strikeout in Boston, but don’t get me wrong. NAR in the city, home to this year’s World Series Champions, had some big home runs and a few more strikeouts, lots of singles, a few doubles and a triple here and there.
Here’s my baseball breakdown, in tribute to their Red Sox, of how this NAR 2018 Annual Convention and Expo stacked up, based solely on what I was able to attend.
Boston Convention Center: Strikeout
This place is cavernous. It is just too big for NAR. As my partner Marilyn Wilson so astutely observed, “It is impossible to have back-to-back meetings here.” She was spot on. Everyone I talked to was late for their meetings.
If NAR had 100,000 attendees like the Home Builders’ (IAB) show, I would understand. But even IAB is able to group areas of specialties together so you’re not zigzagging all over creation to get to the next panel you want to see!
I missed about half the panels I had planned to attend, mostly because they were back-to-back or partially overlapped. They were a good 10-minute walk from one another – East Hall first floor, on one side of the hall, then dashing over to the 2nd floor West Hall, the other end of the hall.
On the plus side — I’d score this a double — I did average over 13,000 steps a day without having to go to the gym in the morning, as I was up at 5 am each morning catching up on work before breakfast meetings. On the downside – score these three strikeouts in a row – I was late for so many meetings and missed so many sessions I wanted to attend. I would love NAR to provide me with on-demand videos or audio recording, so I can see or hear what I missed.
Some Great Content
Of the sessions I was able to make, there was some terrific content – Grand-Slam quality stuff. One of my favorite sessions was the one that most people missed. It was banished to a horrible time slot: Sunday afternoon 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm, right in the middle of a ton of NFL games.
The “2018 Explore Global Growth Opportunities” session had a stellar lineup of experts and leaders from the biggest brand in real estate: Realogy. The session was hosted by a vibrant Sherry Chris, president and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate.
It started with an impressive presentation by John Peyton, president and CEO of the Realogy Franchise Group and was followed by a terrific one-on-one interview of Pam Liebman, president and CEO of Realogy’s newest franchise brand, Corcoran, by internet entrepreneur and Inman News founder, owner and publisher Brad Inman. The Corcoran news was hot off the presses folks, as Realogy announced this the week before NAR!
The session concluded with an all-s ar panel moderated by Simon Chen, president and CEO of ERA Real Estate, featuring Alvaro Cardenas, senior vice president of Global Development at Realogy; Francois Gagnon, president ERA Europe; Jessica Ye, CEO of Marquis International in Cambridge, MA, an International real estate expert; and Luis Mendoza, a bi-lingual and bi-cultural Realtor with Century 21 Award in San Diego, who works with Mexican buyers as well as Americans buying in Mexico.
The content was solid – lots of takeaways. Some terrific quotes, many that I tweeted out @Kevhawkins: Mendoza said, “I tell my clients ‘Don’t try to Mexicanize the American system and don’t try to Americanize the Mexican system,’” and Cardenas said one of my favorite quotes of the conference: “Price is only an issue when there is a lack of service.”
Afterwards, all of the Realogy panelists and top brass, including Alex Perillo, former CEO and now chairman emeritus, hung around afterwards for a cocktail reception they hosted next door.
The session gets a homer, NAR gets a bean-ball. The room was 20% full. With a better time slot, it would have been packed and it should have because of the quality of the content and the caliber of the people.
Is NAR ticked off at Realogy? I was told this is the perennial spot that NAR has picked for the Realogy-packed panel. Come on. The Realogy Franchise Group is the largest franchisor of residential and commercial real estate brokerage offices in the world. I imagine its 300,000 agents and brokers put a lot of change in NAR coffers. But more importantly, great content deserves a big audience.
Another home run session I MUST mention: The RISMedia Power Broker session on Friday was a standout, another home run by Featherston & Company. It was a terrific panel with some fresh faces and more great content. The room was also not packed – about a third-full – and last year, it was bursting at the seams. I don’t know if everyone gave up on the Bus after lunch on Friday and went sightseeing. Or maybe the room was three times the size as last year’s; that could have been the case.
I loved that the NAR gave its REach® Technology Accelerators stage time on the main stage. The only problem was the room was so huge, it swallowed up the attendees. To me, that put a dent in the energy of some of the presenters: they looked out on a sparse crowd.
An exception was Lane Hornung, founder of zavvie. Lane has already but several successful firms, including 8z Real Estate in Boulder. His latest passion is all about hyperlocal. zavvie has quickly established itself as the hyperlocal real estate leader. I work with Lane and know that he can be enthusiastic. But I thought he was going to leap off the stage since he was such an evangelist
I also enjoy much of the Above & Beyond: MLS Leadership & Best Practices session that was held early on Friday. Again, there were some great takeaways for MLSs in that session, particularly around consolidation, and not being afraid to form new data and tech alliances with other MLSs even if they jump state borders. Merle Whitehead, who runs New York Howard Hanna Real Estate Services, reminded folks that Buffalo did some of this stuff 20 years ago. He was the panel’s J.D. Martinez.
Exhibit Floor was Booming
I attended my first NAR convention in 1986 and had been going almost every year. This was the biggest one, exhibit wise, in terms of the size of the exhibits. If you had blindfolded me, I would have sworn I was at the annual Home Builders Show. The exhibits were that huge. But bigger isn’t always better unless you can pack them in. For what I witnessed over several days, there were only a handful of exhibitors that drew huge crowds. But they did it nonstop.
The biggest bats: Bank of America and Homes.com both blew me away with how they hit it just right for their firms. Wells Fargo also gets an honorable mention. BofA did this Tailgate Party, where you had to pick up a ticket at one booth to be able to attend a fixed time window for free food and refreshments on Sunday. The Tailgate Party was massive. At one point, the line to get in was almost as long as the entire side of the party area. Talk about successful marketing! Hands down home run.
Homes.com once again hit it out of the park. They had a ton of stuff going on, including live seminars and they had butts in every seat. Curaytor, probably the best high-quality turnkey marketing firm in real estate for agents, shocked the heck out of me, as they were exhibiting with a massive booth, including an area built for live seminars. The problem is, every time I went by their booth, it was empty, and the Homes.com booth was full.
Huge Press Rebound
In the recent past, I have taken to task NAR for not attracting as many reporters to the press room as years past. In fairness, mostly it was the economy and cutbacks. Newspapers got rid of real estate sections and reporters covering real estate as a single beat. All media cut travel budgets.
The press room was packed. Lots of new faces and the standard guard were there as well, and the National Association of Real Estate Editors has never (ever) been stronger. It showed. The panel that NAR and NAREE put together, for me, was the most valuable I attended. Again, I tweeted a lot of the content. It had to be with reporters from the Boston Globe, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, The Real Reporter, and the Palm Beach Post.
The press conferences were solid, but I’d still like to see more content than just doing what’s been done in the past. The highlight for me was Jessica Lautz and the unique Home Buyer Bios research she shared, much of the data which had not been released before. NAR economist Lawrence Yun is always great as well.
NAR hit a home run with the press attendance and conference. Kudos go to Jane Dollinger at NAR, because as the NAREE dinner proved, it’s now “all about Jane!”
Other Hits and Misses
Fall Out Boy was a total Grand Slam home run, for me anyway, despite a much smaller audience than I thought they would attract, and I am certain they did too. FOB had me at the opening song. But I had to chuckle when many older people darted for the exits when they played “I Don’t Care” to a video of endless clips of people, babies, celebrities, etc. flipping the middle finger. They did not look happy. As a fan who was leaving the next day to go back home, this was the best celebrity concert I’ve seen at a convention in decades.
The restaurant scene in Boston was both a hit and miss. It did not impress me as much as many other cities, as its bench was not as deep. You are fine if you want oysters, seafood, steak, Italian or Irish pub food. If you wanted any other type of ethnic food or fusion options that many progressive cities offer, well, that may be the reason outsiders call it Beantown. (I am getting ready for the hate mail now.)
Two all-star caliber meals I had, both a short walk from the hotel. The first was at a massive mash up of a high-end Italian grocery store and meat market and several restaurants plotted inside: Eataly Boston (Mario Batali’s place). I took a student who graduated from the high school robotics team I mentor, now attending MIT, to La Pizza & La Pasta.
The other place was the complete opposite. Santouka seats only 20. It does not take reservations. It does not do takeout. I got there at 5:30 pm on Sunday night and stood in line outside for 45 minutes before I was seated. It was the best Ramen I’ve had so far, and I am admittedly relatively new to the ‘good’ Ramen scene. I’m thrilled to learn, ironically, that they started in Seattle where I live and have two locations. They both take reservations.
Finally, my favorite quote of the conference comes from Jeremy Crawford, CEO of the Real Estate Standards Organization, or RESO. Jeremy was on stage at NAR preaching the RESO Gospel. He has a heady task talking about the vital importance of standards. He also was touting and distributing the hot new White Paper “How RESO is Sparking Broker Success,” a project that my WAV Group partner Marilyn Wilson lead.
We were meeting in a high “Southie” dive bar just down from the Convention Center called Lucky’s Lounge. We were discussing the challenges of getting back and forth between the old Hynes Convention Center, right next to the NAR Headquarter hotels, and the new Boston Convention Center. I wondered out loud how NAR could not have known it would take the buses so long, as they all drove surface streets filled with stop lights to get back and forth.
Jeremy said, “If they told you how painful it would be, you wouldn’t have come.”
How true. The good news: Next year, it’s in what I consider a very walkable city with a ton of nearby hotels: San Francisco. Now that’s a GIANT home run!