Notes from Inman Connect New York 2023

Well, attending Inman Connect was a great idea . . .

I talk to real estate agents daily, but almost always by phone or on Zoom calls. Nila June was founded during the Covid pause, after all, and I do my Nila June work from my home office. So among the many advantages of attending Inman Connect New York this week was the opportunity to meet face-to-face with so many top agents and brokers. As helpful as they are on the phone, they are even more friendly in person. Perhaps charm is a requirement of the profession. Whatever the case, it made for a productive few days at the Hilton in midtown, where one of the first attendees I ran into was someone I’d spoken with by phone. (Hello, Main super agent Yulia Glasgow!) I really enjoyed Inman Connect. If anyone out there is on the fence about whether to attend next time, my advice is to go. It’s not just that the sessions and exhibits are interesting. The whole atmosphere is one of positive entrepreneurial spirit, reminding all of us vendors that we’re serving thousands of bosses in charge of their own profits and losses. To the extent that we can help them save time and put out a better personal product—themselves—we’re doing our jobs.

How Nila June fits in

That’s what Nila June does. The humble property listing description is perhaps the most persistent piece of marketing collateral associated with any listing. Often it lives on after the sale. Not only does it represent the home to potential buyers, it also represents the agent to potential sellers. Yet too frequently I see descriptions that have been slapped together as if simply to check a box on a task list. That’s a big missed opportunity for agents to help themselves, and to help elevate the profession.

If you’re good at interacting with buyers, sellers, and agents on the phone and in person, do that. Leave the writing to the professionals, whether that means hiring your local freelancer or using Nila June. If you use any automated service like Nila June, keep your standards high. Just because it’s fast doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t do a great job of placing the house in its local context, describing the exterior and interior amenities, and presenting all of this in a logical, creative way. Remember, you’re not simply checking a box, but producing a piece of text that is going to be attached to your name online, and online is forever.

Advice worth exclaiming

No matter what, allow yourself no more than one exclamation point per listing. As Inman’s Craig Rowe reminded us during one panel discussion, “No one is that excited about a breakfast nook.” We’ll add that if you’ve ever written a listing description in ALL CAPS, just disqualify yourself from the task and use Nila June instead.

The Home as a Data Ecosystem—panel discussion moderated by Craig Rowe

Craig’s advice about exclamation points came as he was moderating a panel, “The Home as a Data Ecosystem,” a highlight of day 2.

As someone who writes stories based on structured data, I was interested in what Karen Abram of Inside Real Estate had to say about getting underneath the local “per square foot average” pricing figures that often pass for local comps analysis. That’s always bothered me. Sure, the average might be X per square foot, by my house includes A, B, and C, so it’s worth X+Y. That kind of intelligence would be a value to any home seller or buyer. Imagine also broadening the Nila June perspective to include comparative statements about surrounding houses: “The sapphire blue swimming pool in the backyard is the largest one on the block!” Karen’s co-panelist, Travis Bailey of Move Easy is also sitting on a wealth of structured data about the systems and workings of the home, and the long-term costs of maintaining them—paying the heating bill, for example. The panel discussed a start-up called Nester, which collects, via survey (like Nila June), information about prospective homes and then estimates likely repair costs over the coming years. This too feeds into comps valuations. Yes, my house costs more than the comp group average, but that’s because it’s got a new roof and brand new central air, so you can add $50K to the price of the “cheaper” house.

When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail

As a practitioner of NLG for commercial deployment, when I see such a wealth of structured data being presented, however beautifully, in charts and graphs in three different systems by three different companies, I think: Wouldn’t it be great to write it all up in two or three paragraphs?

While meeting with Inman’s Jeffrey Miller the next day, I got the chance to meet Karen, who was sitting at the next table. (More support for my advice to anyone wondering whether they should attend the conference: do it! You’ll meet great people in your areas of interest! Note the extra exclamation points!) It was great to speak with her about some of the above.

General themes: consolidation of information

There is a general sense that agents should be spending more time with their clients than in front of a computer, clicking through applications like Nila June and others. At Nila June, we ask ourselves, how much of the information that we need for a description could be piped in from other systems, shortening our survey? It’s also important to me to capture and retain the agent’s on-the-ground perspective on what places to mention and what features to emphasize. We like to tell ourselves that the five minutes it takes to complete our property briefing survey is pretty fast, but can we make it even faster? Can we save the agent from having to re-enter information that they may already have punched into some other system?

General themes: elevation of the profession

Jordan Cohen, #1 Re/Max agent in the world, said that he never “farmed” his territory by knocking on doors. “I’ll do that when I see doctors and lawyers knocking on doors.” Not everyone agreed with this perspective. Some advised agents, especially newer ones, to pound the pavement while building their businesses. But everyone seemed to agree with Jordan’s broader theme: that it is important for agents to conduct themselves with dignity and professionally, and to develop business practices and systems that project professionalism.

General themes: working hard and smart pays off

A consistent theme in all discussions was the necessity of working hard, choosing the right support technologies, implementing the right business structures, and maintaining the best personal business habits. Almost all sessions and speaker events could be slotted into one or more of those categories. As seen from outside of the profession, selling homes looks about as hard as driving down a straight road where the traffic lights are always green: you show a few houses and collect a few commissions. The content of the panel discussions, however, reveal that to be an illusion. The panels and speaking events were about how to get an edge, how to compete, how to take market share (“You don’t create market share,” said Verl Workman. “You can only take it from your competition.”)

Until next time...

I’ll be sorting through notes, cards, and contacts over the next few days, but I wanted to get my initial impressions down right away. It’s good to get out of the start-up garage office (literally), and into the customer mix. I hadn’t been to a conference of any kind in a few years, and—because of the Covid mess—I was far from the only one saying that at the show. See you there next time around!