5 Key Takeaways From the Inman Real Estate Connect SF 2013 Conference

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Last week I had the privilege of attending a semi-annual conference put on by Inman News called “Real Estate Connect.” This conference, designed to help real estate agents network with other industry professionals and discover new technology to grow their business, took place at the beautiful Hilton in the Union Square area of San Francisco, CA.

There was SO much to remember and take in at this conference, so I thought I’d do what I love to do and sort my thoughts out in a blog post. This post is going to share five key takeaways from the conference (that can hopefully apply to the average real estate investor) and hopefully give BiggerPockets readers an idea of what they missed.

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1.) Crowdfunding: Is This the Future Of Real Estate Funding?

Let’s start off with something that most real estate investors are following fairly carefully: the emergence of the “crowd” funded real estate deals.

For those unfamiliar with crowd funding, essentially the idea is to get a group of individuals together to purchase an investment property, in the same way you might invest in a mutual fund or in a Kickstarter campaign. (Yes, this is a VERY basic explanation of it. For a great article that explains it much more carefully, check out Crowdfunding Real Estate: How to Raise Money through the Crowd.)

Crowdfunding is definitely interesting to real estate investors, is it not?

I mean, imagine if I could get a hundred of my good friends here on BiggerPockets to join together and buy an apartment building. Each of us puts in as much as they want, and we split the deal accordingly.

While deals like this have been happening for years, via REITs and Syndications – the horizon is changing rapidly (or slowly, depending on who you ask) for this industry as a number of companies have formed to connect investors with deals. At Real Estate Connect, the heads of several different crowdfunding companies discussed the topic in a panel, including:

Although nothing was brand new for me concerning crowdfunding real estate, there were a few interesting points that stood out to me. As you can see in the video below (in the robot section), Jilliene Helman makes it clear that crowdfunding is not going to be the next “hard money loan.” Crowdfunding isn’t going to be your solution to a risky deal – at least not yet. In fact, from what I’ve seen, these crowdfunding companies screen the projects even more thoroughly than a bank – and for good reason. Imagine how quickly a crowdfunding company would collapse when the front page of the New York Times tells about how hundreds of investors lost their life savings in a bad deal because of this company.

Additionally, crowdfunding still has some large hurdles to overcome. Although just last week the SEC finally approved these companies to be able to solicit the general public (read BREAKING NEWS: General Solicitation of Accredited Investors is Now Legal… Who are the Winners and Losers? for more information on this landmark change,) the crowdfunding platform is still only open for accredited investors (a definition placed by the IRS for investors who have high net worth and/or income) and may be stuck there for a long time (maybe forever.)

I don’t see the government ever allowing sweet 90 year old ignorant Grandma Betty investing her life savings into a real estate deal. But who knows – our government has done crazier things.

Obviously I see huge potential for crowdfunding real estate, as do the people at Inman, which is why it was such a large focus of the conference. So I’ll keep it on my radar and watch how it develops. Who knows – maybe someday the world’s largest real estate community (BiggerPockets) will be able to start buying some deals together.

My key takeaway:

The future of real estate financing is being defined before our eyes. Better open them up! (Tweet This Quote!)

2.) Let’s Talk About Robots

The Real Estate Connect conference focuses heavily on changing technology and the role it plays (and will play) in the real estate industry. On the first day, during the main session, two “robotics” companies presented their most recent inventions and demonstrated how robots are not just funny characters in an Isaac Asimov science fiction story. The first robot, Romo from Romotive, was a small (tiny) cute robot on wheels that you connect your iPhone to and it rolls around. The second, from Double Robotics, was a similar but much taller (and less cute) version for an iPad.

While both these technologies are cool and fun to watch roll around on stage – it’s way too early in the robotics game to be legitimately talking about using these in a real life real estate settings. I know everyone is excited for the future, but when people are talking about using a little 4″ high robot with an iPhone attached to do real estate tours… I have to roll my eyes a bit (and wonder who wants to see a home tour from a mouse’s perspective… let alone the problem of stairs.)

I completely understand why the Inman team brought the robots out (entertainment / anticipation of where things are going) but trying to force practical real estate applications to these toys is a stretch.

That said… I would love a little Romo to spy on my Cats when I’m not home. Now that has some potential.

Check out this video below, which contains highlights from the main session. The Robot clips start at 0:23.

My key takeaway:

The retail robotics industry is emerging… but it’s not quite there yet for real estate. (Tweet This Quote!)

3.) Conferences are all About Networking

Are you good at talking with people?

Me?

Not at all.

This was my first conference and I learned a lot. I learned that the conference is not really about the sessions. Sure, they can be helpful and you can learn some great things (like how to drive a robot with an iPhone…) However, the conference, as Brad Inman (@BradInman) stated during his opening address, is largely about relationships.

Conferences are about the business cards that are exchanged, the conversation over beers in the evening, the embrace between friends who only see each other at the same conference each year but pick right back up where they left off.

And this is where I struggled.

Being my first conference, and my first time around this huge group of real estate agents, I was definitely not part of the club. Upon arriving, I knew absolutely no one (other than the wonderful Katie Lance (@KatieLance) from following her on Twitter, which you should also do!)

You might think I’m an outgoing guy because I’m co-host on the top real estate podcast in the world, but I’m actually fairly introverted and Real Estate Connect was definitely outside my comfort zone.

Walking up to random strangers and trying to start a discussion was about as awkward as me rooming with 3 british women at a local hostel in San Francisco (Josh wanted to put me up in a nice hotel… but I couldn’t resist the urge to re-live my glory days of youth and stay in a hostel. A good experience… but awkward as you can imagine.)

However, I was able to meet a number of great people and got into some great conversations with folks during the day – plus I learned a TON about talking with complete strangers. For example, the awesome team from Smart Click Realty in Sacramento were awesome to chat with (so if you need an agent in that area – you totally need to call them up!), and Joe Anter from BlueRoof360 gave me an amazing crash course in marketing, networking, and interacting at a conference (Agents: if you need a website, you need to check out Joe’s company. Amazing websites.) Also – I learned some awesome video ideas that I’ll soon implement here at BiggerPockets from my last minute lunch with technology consultant Mitchell Miller (@mitchellcmiller).  Finally, Bill Lyons from Revestor.com was a great guy and it was awesome to talk about the future of real estate investing with him.

I’d say one of the high points of my week came from speaking with Pete Flint (@peteflint) – the CEO of Trulia.com. Our 5 minute conversation about my crappy business cards (quickly printed at Staples just hours before leaving for the event) sure wasn’t any kind of major turning point, but I was excited to speak with a guy I look up to immensely for his leadership skills in turning Trulia into the powerhouse that it is. Later in the week, Pete actually won the “Innovator of the Year” award from Inman. Very cool, and well deserved.

So, enough about me – let me quickly pull this back in for all the real estate investors out there. Networking is important in any business – especially for real estate investors. Whether it’s at a conference, a Chamber of Commerce meeting, a local real estate investment club, or a Guru Pitch fest (just kidding) – networking is a major part of your success. So, here are some important lessons on networking I learned this week:

  • You may feel uncomfortable in large groups… but most everyone else is just as uncomfortable. Use that to your advantage.
  • Learn to read people who are involved in other conversations – they are often looking to get out of an awkward moment, and if you can pop into their conversation you’ll be a welcome relief (Thanks Joe for that tip!)
  • Don’t stare at your phone when you have no one to talk to (I was SO guilty of this!) Go find someone to talk with.
  • After getting a business card from someone, and walking away, take a moment to write on the back of the card who they were and a brief summary of what you talked about. This will be VERY helpful later when following up.
  • Get some decent looking business cards. Don’t print them at Staples on the day of the conference.
  • Eating nothing but Starbucks for a week will make you gain 7 pounds. (not a networking tip… just a sad fact.)
  • Don’t be shy to talk to people. The first day, I sat near a lady on her computer and thought, “I should say hi.” But I didn’t. Later on I learned this was Morgan Brennan (@MorganLBrennan), the Senior Real Estate Reporter for Forbes Media, which would have been great to get to know. So Morgan… next time we’ll have to connect!

My key takeaway:

Networking is about handshakes, beer, jokes, and business cards. Don’t overthink it! (Tweet This Quote!)

4.) Investors … Don’t Really Fit In (Yet)

Another huge lesson learned at the Real Estate Connect conference was simply… investors don’t really have a place! I mean, obviously this was a conference for real estate professionals – mostly agents and brokers. However, it still surprised me that BiggerPockets, and the real estate investing community as a whole, was largely unheard of. It seems strange, knowing that there are a couple million agents in the world but over 20 million real estate investors, yet the investing community is by and large ignored.

I don’t know – maybe the late night, big hair, big dreams, big money gurus have given investors a bad name. However, I truly believe that at BiggerPockets – we are changing that image, one person at a time.

Many people I spoke with had vaguely heard of us before, but didn’t fully grasp what we are or what we do. But that’s okay – that’s my new mission: to let every real estate professional in America know about the value (and income) that BiggerPockets can bring to them.

How so?

Because we teach people how to invest in real estate the smart way.

An agent is too busy, and generally untrained, to help a client know what a good deal is, how to determine cash flow, what a decent ROI might be on a property, etc. Most agents don’t even know what the 50% rule is – and that could hurt a lot of their clients who pay too much or buy in the wrong area. Many would-be investors simply become a drain on an Agents time, as the agent attempts to guide the client through the often confusing world of real estate investing.

At BiggerPockets – we teach people through blog posts, community interaction on the forums, Youtube videos, podcasts, and more how to invest in real estate the smart way, so they can buy more property, more quickly, with less hassle.

It’s definitely a win-win-win for Agents, investors, and BiggerPockets.

Agents: take note 🙂

So I understand that this wasn’t a real estate investing conference, so it’s never going to focus on the investor. However, I sure hope in future years there will be more discussion on Agents dealing with investors … since we are 20+ million strong.  Maybe next year I’ll try to lead a panel on that very subject.

Any Inman folks interested?

My key takeaway:

Real estate agents and investors are too dichotomized… but change is coming. Will you help? (Tweet This Quote!)

5.) Technology is Changing Rapidly … Are You Keeping Up?

Finally, the last key takeaway from Real Estate Connect was that technology is changing – and it’s changing quickly.  It’s more than just the robots that I talked about earlier.

It’s about the way we do business.

For one – video is taking over.  Not just for real estate agents – but for nearly every industry.  Sitting through the sessions at Inman I heard it over and over.

Are you taking advantage of video yet?

If not, you better start learning how.

Also – paperless transactions are clearly the wave of the future. Companies like DocuSign are making it easier than ever to  sign contracts electronically (landlords… do you foresee iPad leases in the near future? I do!) while companies like DotLoop are making the entire purchase and sale process more hassle-free and streamlined.

Finally, there is no denying the power of social media. It’s everywhere. In fact, nearly every second of the Inman conference was documented online through continuous Twitter updates by those in attendance (#ICSF)

While I’m not exactly sure how social media is going to change the investing world – I know one way it already has:  my favorite screening tool for potential tenants is now Facebook.  I just wish more potential tenants didn’t have privacy settings enabled!

My key takeaway:

Technology in real estate is changing rapidly … are you keeping up? (Tweet This Quote!)

Final Thoughts

Real Estate Connect was an awesome experience to attend and I think it’s a great event for real estate professionals to attend. Sure, it sometimes felt like an “old boys club” because most people seemed to know each other from past events – but I’m sure when I attend next time I’ll be much more a part of that club, having experienced it before.

For me – the experience was definitely one of “stretching.”  I grew a ton, and though it was awkward and painful at times, I don’t regret any of it (other than maybe burying my head in my phone far too much!)

If you are a real estate agent, looking to connect with others in your industry and learn the best way to stay on top of your game, don’t miss the Inman Real Estate Connect conference.  If you are just an investor, it’s not quite the conference for you.  You’ll have to wait for the next BiggerPockets Conference!

Were you at the Inman Real Estate Connect Conference? Be sure to leave a comment below and let me know about your experience! 

Photo: Lexi Crump (@SMLexi), Smart Click Realty

About Author

Brandon Turner

Brandon Turner (G+ | Twitter) spends a lot of time on BiggerPockets.com. Like... seriously... a lot. Oh, and he is also an active real estate investor, entrepreneur, traveler, third-person speaker, husband, and author of "The Book on Investing in Real Estate with No (and Low) Money Down", and "The Book on Rental Property Investing" which you should probably read if you want to do more deals.

32 Comments

  1. Thank you for this great review. I am an agent – not an investor – and a HUGE fan of the Bigger Pockets blog. I hope to get to the conference someday soon and when I get there I will look for you so you can feel like a rock star.

  2. Hey Brandon — Too many real estate pros I deeply respect, as in a couple dozen, have made it exceptionally clear that Inman has never once given them anything ultimately useful in a bank deposit way. I won’t name any of ’em, as many are nationally known. The common denominator is their shared opinion that as a real estate related conference, it’s great, albeit pretty expensive, for networking.

    That said, they sell a ton of tickets twice a year.

    • Brandon Turner

      Hey Jeff,

      I can see where they are coming from. However, while the main sessions kinda felt that way – I could see how getting connected with certain vendors might make it worth it, or business relationships that can develop (not so much broker-broker, but business-broker.) Also the networking, and maybe even just the “motivation factor” is probably worth it for a lot of folks. Thanks Jeff for jumping in!

    • Hey Jeff,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I just recently took over as head of marketing at Inman and I’d love to buy you a beer (or at least jump on a call) and get your take on things and how we can make the conference better and valuable to the high performers. Since we go back to the Bloodhound days, I definitely know you’ll shoot me straight and would love that insight. Let me know if you’re up for it: morgan (at) inman (dot) com.

      Morgan

  3. I started in real estate in 1995, and have followed Brad’s Inman News since 1996 but never attended a conference as he seemed to target Realtors/Brokers with technology issues.

    Good to hear there is a little more to it than that!

  4. Great article Brandon & thanks for keeping us in the loop. You’re kind of like our little(or giant) I-Robot for the Inman conference lol!

    I have a feeling BP will have a big effect on the crowd-funding scene and vice versa.

    I can relate to how you felt there at first, not knowing anyone. I went to my first REI club meeting and I went through the same thing. Before the meeting people, the people that knew each other all stood around in groups chatting etc while I sat in my chair “staring at my phone” haha! They had a breakout networking session which broke the ice for me. Between that, meeting up with a few BP members, and hanging out after the meeting at the bar, I left feeling good about meeting/networking with a lot of new people. It was pretty cool! I definitely need to get some business cards though, was asked for one numerous times and had nothing to give.

    Looking forward to the next BP conference for sure!

  5. Brandon,

    Great insight and review of the meeting. I know some friends who attended, they work for companies that sell services to MLS systems around the country. My wife is a realtor, and a pretty darn good one, she was in the top 5 of 275 agents last year in her company, this year with help from Curaytor and my own social/tech savvy, I am aiming to move her up the ladder, in her company at least.

    The issue most realtors face is that they are educated by their respective company to do things the way of the company. Even though they operate, my wife in particular, as independent sales people, they are taught how to do X, Y and Z, the way the company wants it done, for legal and for process reasons. It is hard for most realtors to “know” that the grass is greener by looking at ROI or other data for an investor. Most of the Realtors, that I see, are involved in simple transactions.

    The advent of Docusign, and others (wife uses Form Simplicity) will allow Realtors to get deals done quicker and allow for them to do multiple things at once. After all, we all have the same amount of time in a day. The crowdfunding is a great idea, will ask Ross Hamilton of Connected Investors about this as we all look to assist our students on how they can get more deals done.

    Lastly, IF you are an agent, you really need to attend your company’s national sales meeting. This is where you get the rah rah going, but also get to learn from others who are under the same brand name. You get to hob nob with like minded people and at the same time work with those who work under the same umbrella. If ICSF is too big for you, start smaller, with your firm, or a chamber event or local REIA, get to know your marketplace, start building trust at a more basic level.

    Jack

  6. Brandon –

    There are so many takeaways from this post, I don’t even know where to start. But one thing hit me smack dab in the face; and that has to do with real estate agents having no idea how to work with investors, and really not knowing anything about our business for the most part.

    Just over 20 years ago I opened a home inspection company; it was 1991 to be exact. I found myself (a female) in an industry that was completely male dominated, with a group of people (Realtors) that just couldn’t believe that they were going to have to start “disclosing” the condition of the property. Buyer beware was the name of the game back then, and they liked it that way.

    I had also the challenge of getting accepted by my competition which was other home inspectors; of getting let into their circle. The were cordial to me, but I was not part of the group for a number of years. That changed over time, but it took a huge commitment on my part to make that happen. That is what investors will have to do with Realtors.

    The challenges we face not with real estate professional are the same. I had the challenge of not only marketing a brand new business, but marketing it to people that didn’t want us as a business. This too took a long time to educate people. We did well right out of the gate from a business standpoint because we were huge marketers. But agents didn’t want us in the middle of their deal “messing things up” by pointing out that the furnace was 30 years old, the roof was at the end of its life, etc,, etc.

    It’s really hard to imagine all of this now but those were the times. A few years later when Seller Disclosure Laws began come into existence around the country, there were still many years to come where uneducated agents that just told their clients to forget about the law.

    To say that we were outsiders is the understatement of the year. I remember when I joined the local Board of Realtors as an affiliate member during that first 12 months. We all had to get up an introduce ourselves and tell which company we would be working with. I was the only “non Realtor” in the room.

    When I had my turn early that morning, everyone turned and looked at me and immediately began whispering. (What in the world is SHE doing here?) No one; not one person welcomed me into that group. I was excluded completely; invisible. At that time, I was very much like you when it came to networking. I had no idea how to go about networking especially in a hostile environment. Of course that has all changed today. Now I would walk up to them and “make them talk to me”. LOL

    Great post Brandon! As investors we have all got work to do to gain the understanding, the trust and the respect of those real estate agents that should be a valuable part of our team. Education is the key.

    Sharon

  7. Hey Brandon,

    Thanks for coming to Inman in SF and for sharing your comments here. I wish I had known you were going to be there, I would’ve loved to say hello.

    I run marketing at Inman (just started) and would love to invite you out to do your podcast from our New York show and also work with us to put together a panel on working with investors for the event in January. If you’re up for it I’d love to work with you to bring the two communities closer together and provide some real learning and insight on how agents and brokers can best work with investors and vice versa. Drop me a note at morgan (at) inman (dot) com when you get a moment.

    Looking forward to talking further!
    Morgan

  8. Bigger Pockets Blogs have the best articles ever. really, i actually read articles from your site whenever i have free time. i love reading those articles cause it helps a lot i mean i learn a lot from the writers. thanks for sharing this kind of articles and hope to see more and more of your posts.

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