My Brief Nostalgia on Inman Conferences

by Victor Lund on December 14, 2011

As a consultant in the real estate technology industry, we go to a lot of conferences each year. The time leading up to a conference is always very busy for us. We leverage conferences to meet perspective clients, and deliver work to our existing clients. The effectiveness of having 8 to 10 “in-person” meetings per day is über-efficient.  Conferences are the great gathering places of the industry.

I was trying to think back to my first Inman Conference – it must have been sometime in the 2002 – 2004 era. Barry Diller was buying companies like crazy and selling leads through LendingTree. Everyone loved him (excuse me while I clear my throat). Regardless of how you feel about buying leads (it is still being done today – but it is called “online advertising”), Barry’s passion and vision for connecting consumers with real estate professionals was genuine – but his model was seemingly distasteful. He was joined by Reply!, NextTag, Homegain, ServiceMagic, and others. Yet what was really cool, was the ability to engage Diller on a personal level in an intimate setting.

Around the same time, I met Steve Ozonian. He was working for Bank of America then. He shared his observations of a disjointed industry, ripe for consolidation. I admire Steve a lot – his beliefs were as true then as they are true now.

The Inman conference in 2004-2005 focused on the concept of the digital transaction. Josh Sharfman was launching RELAY for CAR – and the title companies each had transaction management solutions – Stewart Title, First American, Fidelity.  Here we are, only a few years later and, although these solutions have been around awhile, they are still suffering from adoption woes. Surely there will be a day when we embrace transaction management as the norm, rather than the exception in real estate. I applaud these visionaries for what they started.

It was around this time that big brokers were frustrated with the lack of data standards in real estate. If you belonged to multiple MLSs, data management and rules management was a nightmare. I recall sitting down with Ed Krafchow who was begging us to help MLSs to fix it. Despite some improvements in this area, I would venture that many large brokers feel the same way today. We have not progressed very far over the years – but kudos to Inman for lighting a fire under the debate. The dialog continues and, in some way, we are still trying to help Ed and his fellow brokers.

My favorite experience during this era was listening to Bud Fogel and Jay Huffman from Chicago debate “broker-owned MLS” vs. “Association-owned MLS.” We all know how that ended.

I remember meeting Brad Blumberg of Smarter Agent. He had a new company that imagined that people would want to use maps on mobile phones to look up real estate listings. His counterpart serving the MLS industry was MostHome. I guess that they were on the right track. I also recall looking at the Red Tablet – that was all the rage. Imagine something so compact, so mobile, so well-suited to meet the demands of the modern REALTOR®.  Just awesome!

Housing starts were also hitting a 16-year high in states like California. It was a great party, and Palm Treos were buzzing.

In the 2005- 2006 era, Inman made a bold prediction that video will be on every real estate website within three years. Zip Realty took the stage too – they had a different idea about the future of real estate brokerage. Inspired thinking.

Remember the terms “Web 2.0,” “blogging” and “mash-up?” If you did not learn those terms for the first time at Inman, you probably learned to understand them – and met the technology companies that were leading the industry down the path. Zillow and Trulia were in the early stages, with the audacity to compete with Yahoo! and Google. Home sales began to sink. Inman launched a real estate Wiki.

In 2006-2007, newsprint died. The Internet finally won, and Listhub listing syndication was beginning to hit stride. MostHome was helping brokers process 100,000 leads per month! Zip Realty expanded, and Redfin was born. Virtual tours were amazing!

2007-2008 was the genesis of social networking. MySpace was all the rage; ActiveRain was for cool kids. Linkedin was for the mature citizens. The Future of Real Estate Marketing was born – kudos Joel Burslem. We all learned about RSS feeds. Joel even talked about something called Twitter. Shari Chase, a luxury broker in Lake Tahoe even started her own social network – Chase Nation – agents and consumers talking real estate around the clock – in full view of everyone!

The Department of Justice slapped the hands of real estate and virtual office websites took root. Blackberry blew the Palm out of the water as a mobile tool. It was short lived. A strange old computer company decided to get into the mobile space with something called an iPhone. There was fear of brokers leaving the MLS. Inman Conferences were found in London, Miami, New York and San Francisco.

It was around this time that Brad Inman’s byline became rare. The rest is recent history – the stories that you all know. I did miss the London and Miami – but I have never missed Connect SF or NY. For me, it is about seeing customers that have become friends; meeting new thinkers with grand dreams; appreciating the sage wisdom of experienced critics; but most of all – it is a chance to spend a week in a great city and have a very good time.

I look forward to Inman Connect, and to seeing you.

As they have done in the past, Inman News has extended our friends a discount on attending the conference. There is a special page set up to knock $450 off the conference pass. https://register.inman.com/nyc12/tItPf7/

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