The Unconditional Blog

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Connect – the global conference where technology and real estate “connect”

Posted on: July 17th, 2010 | Filed in Featured, International, Real Estate Industry, Technology, Website searching

San Francisco skylineWhat 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.

Connect is hosted by Inman News – the specialist news service for the real estate industry and its charismatic founder and host of the conference Brad Inman.

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 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.

Sydney skyline

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.

Article Discussion

  1. Steve Koerber says:

    Alistair, welcome back, if you’re back, and thanks for sharing your experience. I’m totally jealous and ready to book for next year.

    Your insights have come at an opportune time for me. I’ve been procrastinating a major upgrade of blog/website for about a year now. Every time I nearly press the button and move forward there seems to be some new technology that re-shapes my thinking. Your mention of ‘location is context’ has again stopped me in my tracks wondering if there is a better way. I’ll keep researching and get there eventually, hopefully sooner than later…

  2. Alistair Helm says:


    A common issue in this world where the technology year passes at a rate of 7 to every calendar year!

    There is a common wisdom of “fail fast” – being the principle of get something out there, judge the reaction and then iterate to reflect the sentiment of response. Key question would be in a world where in your case the value you bring is not responded to directly or immediately – would you be able to judge response. In our world of running a web portal for real estate we hear feedback like a shot!

    Be brave and trail blaze, what’s the worst that can happen!

  3. Steve Taylor says:

    I believe that New Zealand is different to the states and the ordinary buyer is not carrying around a smart phone that shows them all the open homes in a 500m radius. Until the costs of using that technology gets cheaper here and it is taken up by a slighter older buyer/public I feel it is maybe a year or more to soon to start employing it as individuals. On the other hand if a major website has it available like that may be enough to satisfy the connected buyer.

    Remember, just because a lot of agents need the technology the buyer who works 40 hours in an office, supermarket, etc. does not need the mobile technology as they are not out and about and need to respond quickly. For them text is good enough for them.

    What would be great for them would be to text an address to a system and get a list of open homes and times around that location. Remember if you do not do it first someone else will.

  4. Alistair Helm says:


    I agree with you that the picture painted here is a future perspective. However I would reinforce the view that there is a considerable number of smart phones already in operation in NZ. The key issue to realise is that the demographics of your target audience will dictate your strategy as an agent. Selling properties in some socio-economic areas of the country requires no great degree of technology whilst other areas it may well be a necessity before this year is out to provide the capability.

    Naturally we are progressing actively to provide such services for

    The key message I would reinforce is “Location is Context” in that regard providing street adressess in a SMS text is a very poor substitute to pins on a wireless screen with accurate geo-location capability.

  5. Charlie says:

    Fantastic overview Alistair – felt like I was there in person hearing your thoughts. Mobile + hyper local were the main themes of Connect NYC in Jan – looks like this has only got bigger? andset to continue.

  6. Alistair Helm says:


    You were missed, but had to say there were many of your countrymen flying the Aussie flag!

    It is interesting how this conference identifies and champions the leading themes and trends in this industry. Three years ago the emerging message was social media, that is now deeply embedded in the behaviour and business process of a high percentage of US Realtors. Today it is firmly all about as you say hyper-local and mobile. Certainly demonstrates the value of this conference.

  7. Alistair, whoah! Thanks for sharing what a great insight, and I too am also sad I have missed it. My ticket is booked for next year though! Not much has changed only the key themes have got bigger and far more influential. Look forward to hearing more.

  8. Simon Baker says:

    Hi Alistair

    It was great to see you at the Real Estate Connect confernece again. I have been to at least 14 of them over the years and would thoroughly recommend attending to all New Zealand agents. The range and depth of information covered is a must for those real estate agents who are taking online marketing seriously.

    Simon Baker

  9. Charlie says:

    Simon is it true you are organising something like Inman nearer to home – go on, you can tell us – we’re the true fans!

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