By Shannon Kinney
SAN FRANCISCO – Always an active and vibrant conference, the Inman Real Estate Connect conference did not disappoint this year despite the downturn and difficult conditions in the U.S. real estate market.
Highlights of the conference included a witty Craig Newmark, a conference staple (interviewed by Brad Inman), presentations from many technology innovators, and the always popular “meet the leaders” session that allows attendees to rub elbows with some of the biggest names in real estate.
The difficulty of dealing in a depressed housing market loomed over many sessions – the U.S. economy is in a state of near-perfect storm with jobs down, housing down, foreclosures rising and severe pressure on the credit pipeline. Many Realtors discussed strategies for competing, building brand, and surviving under these market conditions. But in closer discussions with them, it became clear that credit is a primary issue. One leading Realtor, Dottie Herman, president & CEO of Prudential Douglas Elliman said, “I don’t think it’s about real estate, I think it’s about credit.”
Notes & quotes:
· When asked about the real estate downturn and market conditions, Carter Murdoch, SVP of marketing & compliance for Bank of America said, ““As we all know it’s basically panning out as a hangover of epic proportions, and we’ve all played a part of it as has the lending institutions.”
· “Social media is REAL, even in our industry – and it is very exciting,” said Sami Inkinen, co-founder & COO of Trulia.com
· “You should be thinking of how you’re going to manage your practice differently,” Lorna Borenstein, president of Move Inc., said to Realtors. “You need to think about serving consumers in real-time while you’re driving around with them.”
· Deanna Brown, president of Scripps Interactive said, “What we’re seeing now is a reinvention in the portal space, thus the Yahoo situation. We’re going to see a fragmentation / shifting from portals to more interest-based or category-based publishers and sites.”
And from Newmark’s interview with Inman:
· Who he considers his competition: “We’re a community-service organization. I don’t know of any competitors that are community services.”
· When asked about revenue: “We just don’t talk about that. Somehow it seems personal.”
Trends & themes:
— Mobile. In the session that opened the conference, Inman stated his belief that Internet-enabled mobile phones will reorganize space for users – phones that do everything (Web, music, directions, business, voice, e-mail, texting, GPS, etc.) He said he’s very focused on mobile and its possibilities: “It’s truly transformative.”
“We think it’s important to understand what consumer wants on small screen and not shrink our experience, but rather tailor it,” Trulia’s Inkinen said in one session, adding that the peak use for Trulia’s mobile service is Sunday afternoon, presumably while home-seekers are driving neighborhoods.
Move’com’s Borenstein agreed: “if you have a smart phone, people do their research online then start driving. If you’re in front of a home with a GPS enabled phone, one click and you get all the information, then you click to communicate with the Realtor.” At least, that’s the way it works with Move’s Realtor.com mobile service. “Having your data available online on your phone while you’re out with your client is critical,” she said. “You (Realtors) should be thinking of how you’re going to manage your practice differently.”
“People are looking for context,” said Marty Frame, SVP and GM of CyberHomes. “We think now is the time to jump into mobile, but it’s a challenging device to deal with. Text (SMS) is still most ubiquitous area, and area to concentrate with. … IPhone is great, but it’s just a start. We see text being with us for time to come.”
— Market forces. Later, Inman asked BofA’s Murdoch about the U.S. housing market. “We have some very unique challenges not seen since the Great Depression,” Murdoch said. He noted that the Fed is trying to stabilize the market, but that’s a challenge with high oil prices. The softening job market is another key factor. So Realtors are sitting on inventory. “We all want to see demand come back,” he said. He said he expected to see signs of improvement in Q1 or Q2 of 2009.
— When asked if the government should fix the market or let it self-correct, Murdoch said: “I’m generally a strong free-market economist, but there are a couple key issues – regulations around lending practices need to be put in place to create stability.”
As for spiraling foreclosures, Murdoch said: “It will continue to grow. You’re seeing delinquent payments starting to spread on all debt obligations – slow economy, normal part of the cycle. … It’s housing, cars, credit cards, everything.”
— The consumer experience. Search is integrally important to the real estate industry. “(One of the) most important things we’ve learned is the way consumers and professional embrace open access to information,” said Trulia’s Inkinen.
Commenting on Realtor.com’s recent redesign, Borenstein said, “We were surprised the most by how important large, beautiful (and) numerous photos are. It’s the No. 1 thing they (consumers) want. Consumers told us if they don’t see multiple photos they doubt credibility of Realtor.com.”
Realtor.com’s revamp includes larger and more photos – up to four per listing for free. She said that when the Las Vegas MLS turned on the enhancements for all its members, traffic grew 41 percent.
Another lesson learned: “Consumers tell us they expect updates,” Borenstein said. “We update everything every two and a half minutes.” By summer’s end, she said, all listings will be time-stamped.
Put on your watch list:
— Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate (bhgrealestate.com) debuted at Connect. A new division of Realogy, it boasts such brands as Coldwell Banker, Century 21 and others. It’s led by industry vet Sherry Chris. Century 21 and Coldwell Banker have more than 100,000 agents combined. But BHG’ Chris sees that growth slowing. Where the company intends to differentiate itself is appealing to the U.S.’s unaffiliated agents and brokers that comprise about 40 percent of the 2 million-plus professional pool. Currently, there are about 350,000 listings on the site, which also includes a recruitment channel so brokerages can find new agents.
— Walk Score (www.walkscore.com) uses a series of metrics and a Google Maps mash-up to measure the “walkability” of a neighborhood. The premise: Go to site, type in address and find out how walkable that neighborhood is – how close you are to the kind of things you’d like to walk to like, i.e., bars, restaurants, bookstores, etc. (It’s cool. Give it a try. It doesn’t tell you whether there are sidewalks or whether it’s safe to walk, but it might induce you to leave the SUV in the driveway once in a while.) It offers a free, open API so that its content can be integrated on other sites.
— Turn Here (www.turnhere.com) is a video-production company launched by Inman more than two years ago. (See CIR 7.02, Jan. 26, 2006.) It now offers a reseller program that allows companies to benefit from wholesale rates that they may mark up. Media companies might consider if they are in luxury or high-end real estate markets.
— HomeScape, Classified Ventures’ real estate platform for publishers and destination portal for consumers, had a strong presence at the convention. It now boasts more than 3 million listings, on par with Realtor.com. Realtors can post an unlimited number of photos and virtual tours, and its metrics integrate with Realtors’ lead-tracking systems.
— FrontDoor.com continued to make a splash with its variety of options designed to target home owners at multiple stages in the home-ownership life cycle. Listings offer solutions for people shopping for a home or assessing the value of their home, and a wide variety of content from HGTV and other Scripps properties and partners to provide inspiration for home owners to manage, maintain and decorate their homes.
— MyFrontSteps.com, brainchild of former Point2 COO Brendan King, is aimed at connecting homeowners with service providers in a social, reputation-building setting. The premise: Consumers share their experiences, service providers can monitor how well their services are received. In private beta now.
— Hoodeo.com is a unique concept. Communities have personalities. You fill out a questionnaire to help determine whether that community’s personality is a match to yours. “We call this a neighborhood matchmaker,” said founder Damian Scott. Most of the questions involve climate, commute and urban amenities. The hard questions, involving political climate, socio-economic factors and racial diversity (or homogeneity) are not asked, and thankfully so. Hoodeo is part of technology company Epraisal.com.
And Brian Boero of 1000 Watt Consulting listed 20 sites Realtors (and therefore, ad publishers) should know about:
1. Booli.se — easy to navigate
2. Nuroa.es — allows you to review brokerages
3. Propgo.com — Asian portal with good merchandising of listings
4. Globrix.com – a U.K. site with a good interface, good rentals and resales
5. Hacienda.co.uk – a great example of data integration of properties and amenities
6. Igglo.fi – A Finish site that shows street-level photos of every building and home in Helsinki, and you can make offer on a home whether or not it’s for sale. (Sort of like Zillow, but up-close and personal.)
7. BlockHunter.com – a U.K site where you can draw a rectangle on a Google map with the type of house you want and it’ll send messages to all the listed homeowners in neighborhood. An interesting take on connecting buyers and sellers.
8. Ourbania.com – a community-connection site
9. RottenNeighbor.com – hyperlocal, nitty-gritty site allows you to rat out your neighbors for being nosy, noisy, trashy, lawbreakers or being registered molesters. There’s a tab for “Interesting Neighbors” as well, but it, too, is full of complaint posts. You can pinpoint your rotten neighbors on a map. (You can also flag for removal of a post.)
10. UpMyStreet.com – a U.K. hyperlocal community site that injects content into social tools to foster neighborhood dialogue.
11. Outside.in – (Registered on India’s “*.in” for the cleverness of the name.) It says aggregates community news in about 11,800 U.S. locales. It launched new feature called Radar. Type in a locale, such as a Zip code, to see who around you is posting or blogging on the sites it tracks.
12. EveryBlock.com – another site that bubbles up hyperlocal news as it happens. Currently only in five U.S. cities.
13. YellowPages.com – The big directory service isn’t particularly sexy, but Turn Here is producing about 100 videos a day for it for small-business advertisers.
14. Google.com/local – Advertisers might money on SEM and SEO. Before they do, they should make sure they’re properly represented here.
15. Hubbuzz.com — This rentals site allows you to search by lifestyle, which has interesting implications. Currently only in about a dozen U.S. locales.
16. Introin.com – Just one month old, this rental site allows renters to rate apartments, apartment buildings, and landlords.
17. SearchMe.com – one of several new visual-search engines. Rather than serving up text-based results, it serves up flippable images of Web pages, sort of like browsing movies on iTunes.
18. Evernote.com – A new free application that allows you to take clippings from the Web and synch them together, sort of like digital scrapbooking.
19. Where.com – One of many location-aware applications built for mobile handsets that displays local amenities based on where you are. No homes on it now, but that’s probably coming before too long.
20. Puluwai iphone app – The first real estate app for the iPhone. It’s rudimentary, but a good start.