Looking back at Real Estate Connect New York

I looked down into the touch-screen display at JFK:

“Upgrade to first class for $250.”


There was no way I could justify this. I can’t afford it, frankly. But my body cried to be horizontal; my mind begged for stillness.

Done deal.

That’s how badly Inman Connect had kicked my butt. In a good way of course – like a workout that leaves you really, really sore.

After a weekend in bed, I am clear enough to sort through the week that was.

Here’s what sticks out:

Google-noia and common sense


Everyone was talking about Google. And on Thursday, Google talked back. Kinda. Sam Sebastian got on the stage to say ” almost nothing. But that’s not because Sam is evasive or even because Google’s not mindful of real estate.

It just means that many of us in the category suffer from a sort of solipsism: we expect Google to do what we do. A listings database; an MLS; a lead gen play. But it’s at once more complex and more subtle than that – and certainly less about real estate specifically than many think.

The only way to understand Google’s intention is to look at it in the larger local/mobile strategy they are pursuing. Place Pages, Near Me Now, the 7-Pack, location awareness in Google Suggest and a dozen more incremental moves to become more useful to people where they are is the goal. Will this touch real estate? Sure it will. But don’t wait for a massive and targeted real estate play along the lines of Microsoft HomeAdvisor anytime soon.

It’s all about leads (again)


That was the tagline for Real Estate Connect 2002. It would have worked this year too.

Pete Flint from Trulia and Spencer Rascoff from Zillow joined Mike Montsko from Weichert and John Reinhardt from Fillmore Real Estate on stage for a discussion about online advertising.

Where two years ago Trulia and Zillow had positioned themselves as media companies pitching things like “engagement” and “community,” they were now talking about leads, leads, leads.

And that’s perfectly fine. But it does suggest a couple things: a.), the online players are still looking for an effective means of monetizing their traffic, and b) lead gen, done right, will usually beat the soft stuff on ROI for anyone (e.g. brokers, agents) on the Web.

MLS “mouths to feed”


I interviewed Marty Frame and Dale Ross from the RPR during Friday’s general session. They both did a really good job explaining what they are and are not doing. There were no major announcements, but I hadn’t expected any.

However Dale did say something worth noting in response to the following question:

Everyone’s afraid that the RPR will become a national MLS and you have adamantly and credibly denied that this is your plan – but why not just go for it?

He explained in his answer that it would take hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of employees – an MLS Marshall Plan – to pull this off.

Fair enough.

Then he said that there were also “mouths to feed” within local MLSs.

He’s right of course. Lots of paychecks depend on preserving the current MLS system. He just said it openly, which was unusual.

Of course, we cannot expect people to do anything other than work to preserve their jobs. But the fact that the MLS world often looks to those not within its ranks like a Realtor-funded jobs program is ignored at great peril. Sooner or later, it’s going to ignite change.

Mike Wurzer gave voice to those who reject the view that the MLS space is overdue for a system reboot. He makes some really good points. But my beef with the MLS world is not that there are too many MLSs; in my mind the problem is that there are too few MLSs willing to give up a measure of control for the sake of a more efficient marketplace. I also think it’s premature, less than two years after the settlement of an antitrust suit brought by the federal government, to assume or assert that there’s competitive vitality in this industry.

There will be disagreements stemming from this event all year long.



Mobile is a baby we all stand over, cooing. It’s wondrous and we know it will mature into something important. We just can’t quite visualize it yet.

So I won’t bore you with “mobile is huge” commentary. Instead, I will highlight a couple debates that were circulating at the show that I found to be important.

The first was the assertion, made by many, that the days of the native app are numbered. The argument goes something like this: building native apps takes a lot of time, a lot of money and requires a different build for every platform. A browser-based app is a build once, distribute (nearly) everywhere proposition. And the UX differences between native and brower-based apps are shrinking.

Others argue that the delta between a native app experience and that which you can get in a browser is still big enough to make a difference, the distribution opportunities offered by the iPhone App Store and the Android Market are irresistible, and that apps are the future of search.

I’m not sure who’s right. But this stuff needs to be thrown against your objectives as you contemplate your mobile strategy for 2010 and beyond.

Secondly, people were starting to talk in detail about monetizing all those mobile users. If mobile is going to be as big as most people claim it is, then as much thought needs to be put into making real estate mobile experiences attractive to advertisers on this platform as was poured into their big-screen counterparts.



It was a great week filled with smart people, good friends and more than a few debates. And I did find just the sort of Italian restaurant I was looking for.

Kudos to the Inman Team – see you in San Francisco!