The REALTORS® Legislative Meetings in Washington D.C. have become a mainstay on our WAV Group travel calendar. I guess that is why we still refer to it as “Midyear.” The meetings provide a dual opportunity to gain insight into the important policy issues and the ability to spend some face-to-face time with clients.
It’s always in the same spot: at Woodley Park across from the National Zoo, housed in both the Omni and Marriott. There also are some meetings a shuttle bus ride away at the Washington Hilton, just north of Dupont Circle.
Since I’m a former DC’er – I worked at Fannie Mae – I already have done my share of playing the tourist in the DC-Maryland-Virginia area, so I focused on work and the conference itself.
The biggest surprise this year was the appearance of President Trump on the last day of the convention. But as a long-time real estate developer, is it really a surprise that he turned out for a largely red crowd?
And that’s how this year’s NAR Midyear felt compared to past meetings: more predictable and less edgy.
Last year, the MLS Executives meeting had a great edge to it with the appearance of Redfin’s leader Glenn Kelman. He hit it out of the park and his honest, off-the-cuff style, laced with his self-confessed Jewish angst, made his presentation funny, insightful and highly memorable.
This year the star of the same meeting was a legal review. Every MLS in the room will hurdles once the final guidelines are issued around California’s CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) goes into effect January 1, 2020. There was a clear sense of frustration and apprehension in the room as one might expect. (WAV Group consultants Victor Lund and David Gumpper support MLSs, Brokers, and technology vendors with compliance.)
Even at CMLS “Brings it to the Table,” sans a few observations in a presentation by the always sold Brian Boero of 1000watt, it was a fairly straight-forward predictable day. Brian did a great job of making the case that many of the companies that are getting the most media attention have a great story to tell and do an excellent job of telling it. His “what’s your story?” pitch was spot on. That is the first question we ask when developing a communications strategy and many companies do not have a well-articulated story.
Boero’s comments compelled me to personally congratulate Jennifer Thompson-Kersting of My Florida Regional MLS (MFRMLS), who was attending. MFRMLS announced the launch of a new company under the name of Stellar MLS just before Midyear. The name goes into effect on June 4th. Merri Jo Cowen and her team have done a stellar job in creating a compelling story (yes, I was being punny).
For the rest of the day at CMLS, the MLS focus was solidly on best practices. Not a lot of new ideas or trends were covered that had not already been exposed to those attending a RESO conference. But CMLS needs to be commended on the organization’s efforts to source and share programs of excellence that make MLSs great.
Another highlight was Chris Haran of MRED and his “Computer Vision” presentation on using Artificial Intelligence for photos via vendor Restb.ai. It appeared to have the most attendees engaged: taking notes, photos of his slides and asking a lot of follow up questions.
RESO members and conference attendees remember the first restb.ai presentation and its cutting-edge technology well. It was particularly exciting to see one of the largest MLSs in the world adopt and deploy this new tech so quickly. Kudos to Haran and MRED. With Restb.ai, MRED is extracting attributes of photos submitted to the MLS using deep learning artificial intelligence. This adds a breakthrough value for subscribers in the data stored in the MLS.
The biggest at the CMLS event was that it ended an hour earlier than originally scheduled to give folks a chance to make a key late afternoon session NAR was offering. Overall, the CMLS sessions were rich with practical takeaways. That’s why it remains a “can’t miss” event at NAR Midyear for everyone affiliated with the MLS industry.
Midyear Trade show takeaways
If you’re a baby-boomer generation (others can Google it), you may recall a famous advertising phase attributable to remarkable and well-earned success: “You’ve come a long way baby.” Ignoring the fact that this was a cigarette ad campaign, that was my reaction when I saw Homesnap’s new exhibit at NAR near the entrance of the Convention hall.
Homesnap is the technology that powers the Broker Public Portal (BPP). The BPP is one of real estate’s most successful industry initiates in recent years. Just before NAR Midyear, Homesnap announced it had hit the one million real estate agents mark. Its growth rate has been stunning and their booth stood as a testament to its pervasiveness. Never before have MLSs and brokerage firms collaborated on reimagining a fundamental building block of our industry. The collaboration and unification of our industry around a central idea is powerful, and the execution has been better than anyone imagined.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Last year Homesnap operated out of a regular booth: this year they had a much larger and well-designed presence that shouted success.
The NAR REach class had their stations set up at the end of the big NAR Pavilion area and these innovative startups stayed very busy with questions from curious prospects. Over a random 10-minute period I observed, Kleard, the newest real estate agent security technology, draw the most attendees and captured strong engagement.
I also stopped by the Florida Realtors’ exhibit, got a peek at their new, much more user-friendly and intuitive version of Form Simplicity. But I stopped by Florida Realtors’ exhibit because they offer an on-site tech support person from Tech Helpline to troubleshoot and answer any tech questions agents, brokers, MLS execs or others might have.
It reminded me to ask the industry this question: Why was NAR so quick to give every agent access to a CRM but not have Tech Helpline provide universal tech support? In our age where an agent cannot do their job without the technology working well, it seems to me NAR put the cart before the horse!
Every real estate agent and broker should have easy access to tech support and Tech Helpline already does that better than anyone. Best of all it is industry born, industry operated, and industry owned. And Tech Helpline serves about half of all REALTORS already – 600,000 in North America.
Note to NAR: your members deserve universal tech support and they need it. Tech Helpline for all is a no-brainer solution.
Two meeting highlights worth mentioning because they were rich in broker takeaways, both happened Tuesday morning. The first session of the day, the Economic Forecast featured Lawrence Yub and his next predictions and included a presentation from Dr. Johannes Stroebel, associate professor of finance at New York University, who dove into social connections on Facebook. The heat maps Strroebel showed how different places in the US are connected using Facebook data. Who knew that Kern County (Bakersfield area) and North Dakota were strongly connected? That indicator promoted him to dig further, and both are huge oil-producing areas. He surmised that people from California transferred to North Dakota and thus the heavy saturation of social connectedness. I guess that brokers in North Dakota should start advertising in Bakersfield, and agents should start talking to their counterparts in Bakersfield for relocation collaboration.
Most importantly, social connection research shows how we feel about real estate – whether it is a good time to buy or not. There is a direct relationship between Facebook connections and attitudes about the real estate market. I expect we will hear much more about this research from Facebook and a wide number of applications this data could provide in building more effective and targeted real estate marketing campaigns. WAV Group consultant Victor Lund says “when you think about Big Data, imagine the role that Facebook can play in predicting future real estate market conditions using deep machine learning and artificial intelligence. Facebook could drop advertising revenue and simply harvest consumer data to predict the stock market.”
Later Wednesday morning, the RISMedia Power Broker Newsmakers Forum had a terrific lineup of top talent. Lennox Scott, leader of John L. Scott noted that lead generation companies (like Zillow) are shifting to lead capture companies. They are shifting from advertising firms to referral companies.
Fellow panelist Michael Saunders, who runs the well-renowned Florida-based brokerage which bears her name, offered a truism. She said, “I don’t think it’s (real estate) rocket science, even though the tech companies make it feel that way. We are in a relationship business.”
“Our biggest competitors today is ourselves,” said Mike Huff from Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Anderson Properties. Broker-owner Todd Hetherington of Century 21 New Millennium had added that as an industry, we need to learn from our competition, and to do that we need to get granular and know our numbers.
Diane Ramirez, Chair and Chief Executive of Halstead Properties jointly-moderated the panel with John Featherston, RISMedia leader of 39 years. Ramirez was a strong addition and had a couple of comments that were candidates for the Quote of the Day. After discussing the rebranding efforts her firm has undertaken over the years, and the one they most recently completed, she offered, “Rebranding is the most nerve-racking thing you can do as a leader.”
Ramirez addressed the 800-pound gorilla on everyone’s minds in the room, Compass, chiding that the difference between the “C” brokerage and established brokerages is the size of the dollars being used to recruit. “I have to hit profitability,” she notes.
The best takeaway goes to Featherston, who recommended that brokerages need to “chart the stats of those who have left your group to show others that the grass isn’t always greener.” Products like BrokerMetrics from Terradatum allow you to visualize the impact of a broker change. Nearly 100% of the time, an agents production goes down when they change brokerages. Use this data in your agent retention meetings.
Finally, a shout out to Peter Schravemade of BoxBrownie, who gave a funny and informative lesson during an MLS session on the ethics in virtual staging photography. The company has been on fire since it was part of the NAR REach class last year. Based on the buzz I am hearing, its technology is likely to be one of the fastest growing in recent memory. But you need to be careful. Virtual Staging of a property could become a misrepresentation. CoreLogic’s Matt Cohen wrote a great article about this issue.
Parties + Dinners
On the Midyear party scene, kudos has to go to our sister company, RE Technology. It held its annual Midyear event and it was packed to the brim, again. The music was fantastic, again, under the perennial leadership of the extraordinary talent of John Heithaus and his band members who rocked the Columbia Heights location.
The best description of the event’s success came from W+R Studios (Cloud CMA, etc.) leader and Vendor Alley blogger Greg Robertson. If you know Greg, you know he was dancing the night away The next day I bumped into Greg at MRED’s super reception on a rooftop looking out to the Washington Monument. He said with a huge smile, “I had so much fun my cheeks hurt.”
Homesnap’s reception was another standing room only event. For the last few years, the Homesnap party reins has offered the most convenient offsite location: across the street from both hotels. The best part was to see all the Homesnapers in attendance: Homesnap is local and many of their employees turned out to celebrate hitting their one million-agent mark. The staff’s positive energy was as intoxicating as the bar’s margaritas.
The best story about the dinner scene in DC came from Michael Saunders. During the RISMedia Power Broker Newsmakers Forum she told a story about getting into a hot new restaurant in DC whose distinction is providing an all “locally sourced” dining experience. Saunders nearly brought the crowd to tears of laughter as she described her conversation with her server. For every item she asked about – and I mean item after item – she was told it wasn’t on the menu because “everything is locally sourced.” That limited the choices to the point that someone in the crowd added, “They’ll go out of business.” With a look of disbelief, Saunders responded, “But it was packed!”
Finally, the real star of NAR
The star of NAR this year was the weather. Hands-down, Mid-May may be one of the most fickle windows for weather. It typically is either sweltering with humidity north of 90 percent or pouring rain for three days like last year.
This year? 70s and sunny. “California weather,” one attendee told me. Even when I had the opportunity to visit my home state’s Senator – Patty Murray – for a meeting as part of the Washington Delegation, the last thing she said to us was, “Go outside and enjoy the weather. It’s beautiful out there today!” Spoken like a true Seattleite.
Feel free to share your favorite NAR Midyear moments as these were solely mine and we’ll try and post your comments below.
Full disclosure: WAV Group consults with a broad range of firms including MLSs, real estate brokerages and technology firms and several of the companies listed are current or past WAV Group clients.