2016 NAR Annual Moments and Musings

by Kevin Hawkins on November 15, 2016

NARLike many Americans, I was glued to the television on election night, and seeing the Javits Center instantly reminded me of my first NAR Annual Convention. It was in 1986 when the brand new Javits Center opened in Manhattan. I was a young PR Turk fresh into my first full year at Great Western Bank (then Great Western Savings). I went there to plot our long-term trade show strategy.

It was also my first NAREE – National Association of Real Estate Editors – meeting, a dinner at a classic NYC steakhouse. That’s especially hard to forget because it’s where the legendary real estate columnist, the late great Bob Bruss, instantly greeted me. It was also my first personal encounter with David Jeffers, then of Fannie Mae fame, who gave the most politically incorrect slideshow presentation. Both encounters convinced me that this was my kind of organization.

Fast-forward 30 years to last week’s NAR Annual Convention in Orlando, and most of the traditions remain the same. Here is my attempt at recapping my highlights and offering three takeaways:

Journalist are back at NAR: I walked into the Press Room at the Orlando Convention Center and was delighted to see so many reporters working away in the press room. While the numbers don’t compare to what was common a couple of decades ago, there were more reporters attending then in the last three NAR Annuals combined. In addition to perennials attendees, such as Steve Brown of the Dallas Morning News and the godfather of real estate columnists, Lew Sichelman, there were many fresh faces, including those from the new bread of media that can’t be categorized as journalists, but who create a plethora of real estate content.

floridarealtors-nar2One example is Chris Cain, once the head of PR for the Florida Association of Realtors, Chris is both a RE/MAX agent in the Orlando area who both writes extensively about and specializes in selling vacation homes. A long-time member of NAREE, Chris was sharing his book called “Your Made in the USA Vacation Home.” Another stellar writer in the room was Bernice Ross, an Inman Columnist who also writes one of my favorite weekly newsletters, The Real Estate Coach.

The big three trade media outlets were there: RE Technology, RISMedia and Inman News. Inman was very well represented, as Amber Taufen, Inman’s top editor and Deputy Editor, Andrea Brambila, were writing non-stop. Kudos to seeing travel budgets restored and for NAR media director Sara Wiskerchen for putting on some sold news-making press conferences. I’d love to see more press conferences and reporters in Chicago next year.

Trade Show assessment: I walked through the halls on three different occasions, and with the exception of the Grand Opening, the energy was down. Not just the exhibitors, many of whom still spent too much time talking amongst themselves and looking down at the phones, but the crowd overall. It seemed smaller in both scope and the number of exhibitors, about 450.

BoFAThe super-mega booths from Wells Fargo, Chase and BofA are gone – still a large presence, but well scaled down from recent shows. Of the exhibitors I spoke to – mostly tech firms – they were getting “a few leads,” but not enough to pay for their participation. They hope that will come with their trade show follow up. Cloud CMA and Cloud MLX once again had a standout display that really showed their brand well for such a small company, so more kudos to Greg Robertson.

Homes.com had one of the busiest exhibits and very high energy: When you give away $500 in cash, it gets butts in seats! I even watched Realtors who are customers of Florida Realtors Tech Helpline and Form Simplicity stop by their booth to have their picture taken with Jessica Smith, their sales rep, whom they clearly love. How often does that happen?

CoreLogic has a separate NAR event schedule they were so busy with Trestle, while FBS, the creators of Flexmls and the first Web API – Spark™ Platform- that everyone seems to be clamoring to copy, were in two places at once: on the trade show floors and meeting with clients in their suite showing off their mobile first advantages.

I must add that the main Drone exhibitor, which was a late entry to the Trade Show, killed it with the best demo with that cage. It was really cool and almost a little scary. Especially when recently I saw a Drone with an HD camera advertised for $45, including shipping.

Biggest impediment to innovation in real estate is local government and agencies: For anyone who has been in the business for at least 10 years, this one seems obvious, but is worth repeating. Sam DeBord, another Inman Columnist, Seattle Realtor and avid NAR committee participant and I talked about this recently. It was the theme I heard at the NAR Press Conferences and in several sessions, including RIS Media’s solid PowerBroker panel.

Cloud MLX and Cloud CMAA fully digital transaction is going to remain a myth for much of America for many more years to come because like the election, we are all too coastal-centric in our thinking. In Middle America, counties are not going to rush to digitize anything until they see a real benefit to expend the effort, and many are going to see technology as a threat to replacing their jobs, not make them easier. In so many other instances, local rules and regulations that vary for real estate make innovative apps instantly obsolete in many markets because what they are trying to do are prohibited by local regulations.

We can’t have a national weather report and we certainly don’t have a national real estate market, and local means more than location: it often means local rules and practices won’t let you do what you want to do with your slick new technology. Just ask Airbnb.

What were your top takeaways at NAR? Did you see something you never saw before that is worth sharing? Let me know.

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