What began as a small gathering of technologists and tech minded real estate people over a decade and a half ago has evolved into the most significant global conference on real estate – not just real estate technology. I make this statement as the reality is that technology is, has been, and will in the future, continue to be the largest change agent of this industry globally.
This year’s San Francisco event (they are hosted twice a year – New York in January) has just wrapped up and for me as a regular attendee the value of the event never fails to deliver.
A key essence of the event is information overload. The feeling that after 3 days you have been exposed to the largest mass of insight and emerging comprehension of where this industry is heading in the future. There are always (I sense deliberately) more sessions and content than one person alone can consume. That means that after these 3 days I have to sit down and re-read the scribbled notes and digest the learning in order to come up with a picture that has emerged from the conference.
There isn’t a single message promoted as the theme of the conference, but there is always, in summing up the conference an emerging train of thought that can best describe the conference. For me this year that came from one of the final speakers on the last day – Matt Gilligan of SimpleGeo, who made the simple statement that “Location is Context”. A simple statement, but in my mind loaded with powerful inference. For over the past 2 years the emerging role of mobile technologies has grown and grown to the situation where at this conference more than any other preceding Connect conference mobile was all anyone talked about. Mobile is all about location and being location aware is in a broader context a radical paradigm shift for almost all businesses, however for real estate location is at its very core. The phrase “Location, Location, Location” is an international phrase as well known as the McDonalds “I’m Loving it” or Nike’s “Just do it”
A show of hands ably demonstrated the view of the attendees (some 2,000 of them) as to ownership of smart phones (>70%) and iPads (c.15% after just 3 months on sale!). This industry, or at least those at the forefront of technology adoption within it, are embracing mobile as a game changer for the industry. The exhibiting companies as well as almost all presenters talked and demonstrated smart phone apps and iPad apps – next year this portfolio will undoubtedly extend to include Andriod and potentially Microsoft Mobile Window 7.
Another interesting stream of content from the conference of specific relevance to Realestate.co.nz was the whole area of search. A couple of excellent panel discussions and workshop looked at search as the online tool of entry to the real estate marketplace. Providing an unbiased and external perspective was Gary Flake of Microsoft who rightly asked the question; could there be a better way of searching for property? after all the facet based search on price, bedrooms, bathrooms and property type is really a crude way of interpreting the characteristics of lifestyle / lifestage. This theme was picked up by a workshop group who having the benefit of a 24 period to debate and discuss the issue came back with some excellent proposals around leveraging the “Social Graph” to apply all that accessible online information tied up collectively in all your personal behaviours, actions and intent online to better present property that really should suit you.
The practical application being that if you were able to share your key social graph around these parameters – salary = price range; family scale = size of house; age = size of house / location; entertainment likes & activity = location / style of house. All of these clues are bound up in your profile & activity on sites such as Facebook / LinkedIn / Amazon / iTunes / Netflix / your bank account. Now clearly this list includes some very non-public data and as such raises some red flags, but just challenge the concept for a moment to say, if this social graph was inputted through an algorithm to the database of available property on the market as well as alerts to new property, it would certainly provide a richer set of results than just searching for 3 bedroom homes under $500,000 in inner city suburbs of Wellington.
The Connect conference is in many ways a reaffirmation of the fact that we live in a wired (& more so these days wireless) and mutli-connected world and the issues and challenges faced in the real estate market in NZ are so similar to the issues in Europe, US, Australia and Asia, further evidenced by attendees from all the major developed countries of the world represented at the conference. This was further evidenced when set against the hi tech apps and online tools profiled at the conference, a presenter talked of the abandonment rate of telephone inquiries which divert to voice mail and from research how low the return call rate was. It left a sobering reinforcement of the fact that technology cannot replace the human process, but hopefully can make the smarter agents more effective and efficient and enable them to track that performance more accurately as an individual or business owner.
Connect is a valuable event. It has grown from being a US domestic event to become an international event – even noted by many at this years conference that Australians seems to be “everywhere”. I personally was delighted to see a good number of NZ representatives eagerly absorbing the content. It is a conference I would highly recommend to anyone with a conviction to invest in their career in real estate and who recognises the game-changing role of technology in that future.
Great news could be on the horizon, there was a question asked in the closing session as to other locations for hosting Connect. The question was posed by an American, their question was directed at an alternative US location, but the answer from Brad included the inference that they might look at international locations – Beijing and Sydney were mentioned.
To have a Connect in our Asia Pacific region would be enormous and I will share my passion and support to try and get such a conference organized.