Leaving NAR

My Southwest 737 lifted above the electric circus of Las Vegas. My head ached. My voice was gone. I wheezed from two days’ worth of secondhand smoke.

It was 11:00 p.m. on Thursday night, and my capacity for analysis was shot.

72 hours later, I am no closer to a neat summation of last week’s NAR show. Too much happened too quickly. The meetings, hallway huddles, half-heard cocktail party conversations and booth breeze-by’s didn’t add up to anything neat and tidy. But here are a few observations from an intense couple days.

  • There was little evidence of the down market and recently cleaned up credit mess. Unlike the post dot-com boom EXPO of 2002, there were no empty booth spaces and few notable absences. In fact, the major lenders featured their usual casino games and carnival barkers. These things always entertained in the past, but seemed clumsy this time.
  • Web 2.0 in real estate is largely — and, arguably, most significantly — a small-gauge, mass phenomenon. I have made this point before, but the hall, the talk and the party circuit underscored the fact that no new company has made a big splash in online real estate in the past year. But the number of practitioners using social media and tools to reinvent their business continues to explode.
  • The antipathy in the industry toward its own trade association seems to be increasing. Whether the gripe is about the "Gateway", the bureaucracy, or the tin-eared responses to challenges from the media and justice department, few I talked to had much good to say about NAR (my only complaint is that they persist in keeping Orlando in the EXPO site location!).
  • Brokers — even those who are hurting — have some pretty compelling opportunities at hand. They were lavishly courted at the show by Google, Trulia and Zillow for access to their listings. The cost of technology innovation has never been lower. The down market has shaken up traditional tensions with agents. I talked with several brokers who not only understand this, but are taking advantage of these interesting times to do things they never would have considered trying in a boom market. This may be a little of "freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose", but I think those who make bold moves right now will be rewarded.
  • The technology story is not just about Web 2.0. I came across two new takes on old applications — IDX and online home tours — in the exhibit hall. Diverse Solutions was showing off its new IDX solution, which is a dramatic departure from the difficult to use, uninspired offerings to which we have become accustomed. HomeZone shared its suite of Flash-coated marketing apps, including a home tour module that is truly elegant.
  • Change is afoot in the MLS world. Execs and staffers I talked to at the show are thinking in ways that would have been unheard of even a couple years ago. They are coming to recognize they literally hold the goods in the online listings game. Look for some interesting moves in this space in the coming months.
  • Realtor.com had the most significant announcement of the week with its new Neighborhood app. I have always thought Move missed the mark on user experience far too often, but what they have done here might be a model for a second wave of real estate data mashups. The experience is rich, but, more importantly, it is functional. They avoided the trap of more data, more mapping, more tabs and more tools that still plagues many sites.
  • I am now officially not cool enough and not wealthy enough for Las Vegas. Something’s happened in this town since I was here last about a year and a half ago. I just can’t pull off $25-a-hand blackjack or an apple-pomegranate-saketini. Maybe I shouldn’t complain about Orlando.

Brian Boero