The showroom floor at Inman Connect.
For a conference that partially serves as a launching pad for new innovations in the real estate industry, there’s a sense at Inman Connect this year that someone needs to push the pause button on the rapid technological shifts taking over the industry.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of new tools being presented here that sincerely promise to simplify the real estate process for both the agent and consumer, with the emphasis heavily on the evolving app world rather than gadgetry. But much of the discussion around forward-looking tech is focusing on the evolution of things like virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and how on-demand services could impact real estate in the future — things we won’t see come to full fruition for another 10 to 20 years or even longer. In the past, a lot of tech presented at Inman Connect had more imminent implications for the industry. There’s this feeling right now that, hey, the industry has been through a lot of change and much more is coming, but let’s just take a breather for a minute.
In sessions with team leaders and brokers, they talk about how they’ve created culture, and instilling a sense of technical know-how by offering cutting-edge tools and education is definitely a part of that. But many of them have been vague about the specific tools they use and more detailed about how they encourage agents to find their place in a brand and uphold the values of customer service. It’s not that the tech piece of the puzzle is somehow losing importance — I think everyone can agree it’s as important as ever. But the industry has been talking about it so much lately that there’s a danger we’re glossing over what is still the most valuable part of working with a real estate agent: the relationship aspect. And I think people here at Inman are trying to do their part to remind their peers of that.
There have even been somewhat contentious moments around tech talk that haven’t been well-received by the audience. Thursday morning, Kara Swisher, executive editor of technology news site Re/code, was talking about AI when she mentioned its potential ability to replace real estate agents in the future. That inspired more than a few murmurs in the crowd. (To be fair, though, Swisher was one of the more engaging speakers overall and earned points when Brad Inman said Rupert Murdoch had been sitting in her chair last year. “Did you clean it?” she said, followed by an uproar of laughter from the audience.)
The showroom floor, where there are booths for a few stalwart tech ventures along with many newcomers, has also seemed to have lighter traffic this year, too. It’s definitely had its traffic peaks, but I’m seeing more conference attendees stopping in the hallway to talk to each other than vendors.
Some bright minds in the industry have been warning professionals for a while now not to run wild with every new innovation they come across. It’s bad for their wallet and potentially bad for business if they’re constantly adding new technology layers to their routine. I think we’re seeing the tech hangover set in now. We all know practitioners like to party it up when they go away to conferences. But I don’t think the slight sluggishness I’m sensing from the crowds here at Inman Connect is because they went out drinking too late the night before.