Bizarre, Cool, Finally and Funny: Observations from the 2009 NAR Annual Conference.
Each year, as thousands of REALTORS descend upon some unsuspecting city in American, we bring you observations from the event, complete with raised eyebrows of all kinds. This year’s Annual Convention of the National Association of REALTORS in San Diego is no exception: the 14,000 vendors, agents and industry leaders left us with no lack of bizarre, cool, finally and funny observations to share with you. So, without further ado, here goes.
Bizarre: Do you think that – if the REALTOR convention happens in a city with a high homeless rates, we’d talk about it at a session or two? It seems the height of irony that so many “home ownership professionals” gather in places like San Francisco, San Diego, New Orleans and Washington DC – ostensibly to learn new ways to sell more homes – only to find themselves taking the bus from hotel to convention center because the streets are overcrowded with people without homes. Am I the only one who noticed this, all these years?
Now, this isn’t to suggest that real estate conventions should only be held in places with low homeless rates but it is to say that maybe we could dedicate a few educational sessions on homelessness (beyond the awards for those who have dedicated their time building free homes). Moreover, how about just one mention of the problem by the guests from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and HUD?
I, for one, would have certainly traded such a session for the painful minutes spent in the uber-dull bloggers lounge.
Equally bizarre were some of the “new” vendor ideas this year. Certainly, customer appreciation ideas have taken a hi t this year, as lower commission margins limit the options for thanking clients. That seems the only possible explanation for the appearance of the kitchen cutlery booth. Nothing says “thanks for your business” quite like a clever cleaver. Good luck trying to get through airport security.
And while the “personal massager-shaped” virtual tour camera company didn’t make it this year, the kaleidoscope camera-lens company took its place. Even Galileo couldn’t have come up with a more unwieldy lens. Straight out of the playbook of the Hubble Space Telescope, this uber-lens of SLR’s could not only take a virtual tour, but could highlight the cracks in shower tile from forty feet away. No word on whether insurance would cover the chiropractor appointments needed for carrying this beauty. Nor any idea of who still uses an SLR these days. Can I get a roll of 400-speed film, please?
Correspondent Jimmy Olsen will update us on the come-back of traditional film at the NAR convention, just as soon as he gets back from the $5.25 Starbucks stand in the hallway. Can I get FHA financing with that?
Ultimately, the most bizarre was the Kodak bizaar – which featured a new array of inkjet printers with postcard-photo-printing capabilities. Resisting the urge to turn over the tables, I managed through gritted teeth a question: Where was the display of their new Zi8 hi-def flip-camera, considering I had one in my pocket? Unfortunately, I wasn’t fast enough with it to capture the blank-stare that answered me. Somebody hadn’t done their homework about the future of real estate.
Alas, we’re in for another year of postcards and pathetic listing sheets.
Still, there were plenty of cool developments this year, and not just in the vendor booths. One of the coolest things I heard was the tremendous audience response to sessions by some of the smart new speakers on the circuit. For those attendees tired of hearing that the “basics were back,” many people told me that the 9 am Sunday morning effort to see Steve Harney was worth the entire trip. No doubt in my mind, as Steve should be at the top of the short-list to have at your company this year. No end of positive comments came of the WCR education sessions at the Westin.
It just goes to prove that great education can fill the room – and WCR continues to prove that it can do just that (mercifully without resorting to tedious panels that sucked the life out of most of the NAR sessions all week).
Also in the cool column was the appearance of William Shatner, who generated a line so long that everyone wondered why there wasn’t a transporter handy. The Thespian showed he’s still got what it takes to take the Command Chair of any event, even if he clearly cannot fit in his gold shirt any more. Still, the Gen X meta-icon shamed more than a few Boomers to visit the Verizon booth and finally get a smartphone.
A few items made it to the super-cool list, like dotDocs, an online forms program that finally does it right. No more “substitute typewriter” approach to filling in forms. These guys actually digitize the data into a database. How refreshing for a vendor to figure out that filling in forms doesn’t involve merely substituting for white-out. Not to mention that inviting consumers into their transaction was a very Facebook-like experience. Good luck to this company. Let’s hope they break the Association-Forms-Committees’ hold on Archaic Transaction Management Policies nationwide.
From cool to finally category came a few small but simple moments that elicited an “it’s about time” from almost everyone. The first one came from the Zillow booth, where their online mortgage tool finally makes it possible to get quotes from lenders without having to divulge your entire financial, personal and genetic history. What a – um – novel idea. And refreshingly consumer-centric (sorry, agents). Then there was the person who, upon exiting my session, turned to me on the escalator and said, “So it would be better if this massive banner said ‘It’s about the consumer,’ rather than ‘It’s all about you, Self-Appointed Superstar Agent!’”
I smiled, thinking that there may yet be hope for a housing recovery.
In the funny column, we can report that there’s no danger that good taste will come to the industry next year either. The bling-booths were as packed as ever, as hoardes of Shiny-Pinned Hallway Admirals rifled through boxes of jingly and glassy with the usual gusto. Maybe it was because the trade show was shockingly scant in size. Or these agents had already achieved every certification available. More likely, it’s just more proof that a simple and well executed business idea works every time. Of all the vendors at the tradeshow, it’s certain that the ones going home with a profit were the jewelers, not the gadgeters.
Just as funny – or at least as much fun – was the lady (who I had seen earlier in a session explaining the value proposition of real estate agents) who asked if our new video learning community, Real Estate Brainchain, was free. Not unexpected, since discount hunting is the norm for many of the Trade-or-Treaters who picked off all of our pens. Alas, she didn’t see the humor when I asked if she listed homes for free. Did I say something wrong?
Ironically funny was the guard at the door to my session who wouldn’t let two of my employees attend the class; only one was allowed to accompany me, even though we had paid for a booth and were offering the class for free. Rules are rules, said the rent-a-doorman, even after several students attempted to come to my rescue. What struck me as funny was the blind dedication to doing “what he was told to do,” rather than think for himself, while guarding the door to my session that focused on… you guessed it: Creative thinking for solving the problems of the next generation of real estate consumers.
I’ll let you guess if the guard was a Gen X’er or not.
In all, I still think the convention was a success. Even though attendance was probably the lowest I’ve seen in two decades, it was refreshing to see sessions fairly full and good questions from the audiences. A few firsts happened as well – such as our full-time broacast of live internet television from the trade show, which more than 200 online viewers watched from more than two dozen states. And the first time I’ve ever seen a brokerage concept booth openly and honestly describe itself as a “basic pyramid scheme” without batting an eye. No need to be tricky these days; Just cut to the chase faster then the monogrammed cutlery.
In the end, it was great to see old friends and make new ones. Little Italy offered the best meal in months; and the complimentary bottle of champagne from my WCR friends was greatly appreciated. Having the booth next to Martha Webb and the Certified Home Marketing Specialist was a boon, too, as the popularity of her program drew the crowds that also stopped to see us. And while it was hard to leave the nice weather of southern California, it only took an hour in the airport to know we were doing the right thing. If we think we have it hard in the real estate industry, we should really count our blessings.
Even the most skeptical FSBO is a far greater pleasure to talk to than the coutner staff at American Airlines (Miss “I don’t think so!”) or the maddening inability to order three coffees at Starbucks, even after pointing at the pictures of the drinks on the poster at the counter.
Can’t you just wait until the next one?
(Matthew Ferrara is CEO of Matthew Ferrara & Company, a technology organization that delivers training, consulting and technical support to real estate companies worldwide, including their new "Support on Demand" REALTOR help desk service available at 866-316-4209.)