Clareity’s traditional roundup of the NAR 2004 Conference follows, with observations both serious and irreverent:
NAR Trade Expo
The Orange County Convention Center is an amazing facility and NAR’s exhibit hall was over 100,000 square feet. Later this month, the Veterinarian trade show will use the full MILLION square feet. Are there really more Vets than Realtors? How exciting can the IAMS or Milk Bones booths be? I like Realtor shows more. Too bad they don’t have a few more hotels nearby the center, but a taxi driver told me that Hilton bought 27 acres next door to build a new resort with thousands of new rooms. The cost of dirt? One million bucks an acre. Hopefully that Hilton will be ready next time the Realtors return to Orlando. Following are a few of Clareity’s observations, some new awards, and one playful (not mean this year) rant about a booth that was at NAR and will also be at the Vet show! Just wait – the wacky Vet & Realtor lover we met was also on the Howard Stern show last month…
Where was Fabio this year?
Last year’s hottest booth stud was replaced by the most famous “girlie man” in America – Richard Simmons. Only from the twisted, yet creative, sales and marketing mind of Greg Robertson! Richard was reportedly a tad “high maintenance”, but he entertained and drew thousands of Realtors to visit the eNeighborhoods exhibit. Visitors saw a few new things from eN including some familiar WyldFyre faces (eN recently acquired WyldFyre from Homestore). The eN product suite drew rave reviews because they integrated a stunning new online CMA report generator with neighborhood information and online CRM (Client Relationship Management). We predict eN will rise to become a leading provider of online CRM in 2005 and challenge Top Producer for leadership in the category.
Best Booth and Best Marketing Award
Ever want to play doctor? I sure did when I saw the REPLY!com booth. REPLY! brought in 40 employees and a couple of rather attractive local models this year dressed as doctors or nurses to offer “Marketing Pain Relief!” for agents. Reply’s CEO told us that he wished they had brought more employees. His staff was swamped with Realtors from start to finish, and it was the booth and Doc/Nurse theme that drew them in. I suspect this was also the number one sales revenue producing booth on the floor since their average sales price is several hundred dollars per month, and I know they made hundreds of sales.
REPLY! was the clear winner this year for its clever marketing but also deserves accolades for its new product’s technical excellence. In my speech at the Broker’s Technology Forum, Clareity gave Reply! Inc. and HouseValues.com an award for technical excellence in Online Lead Management. Both companies have developed lead generation and lead management systems that really work – and consumers finally get prompt and professional service. Realtor.com and others cite statistics that at least 46% of online leads form web sites go unopened and unresponded to. This is an awful consumer experience for half of us. Reply.com and HouseValues.com have developed systems that approach 100% response due to auto-responders and drip marketing campaigns embedded in state-of-the-art online Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. Good Technology + Good Service = Great Consumer Experience. And, Realtors benefit by receiving valid, “scrubbed” leads and by having CRM automation. Seriously, Reply! And HouseValues have this figured out and are destined to be very large companies one day soon (buy their stock if/when you can!).
Urine-Off. I know this booth promoted a practical and useful type of product for real estate professionals – but there wasn’t a person I asked during or after the show that didn’t name this booth when polled. When attendees actually sniffed the bowl to see if the nasty synthetic cat-pee odor was gone people were covering their mouths in shock and turning away to laugh! This stuff really works!
Dave, top sales dude at Urine-Off proves his stuff works to Clareity Security’s newest senior consultant, Troy Rech.
Most Valuable Booth for the Convention Party Wounded
Richard Torp and Brad Tertell from MLSNI turned us on to Renee, the MagicTouch chair lady. OMG, do these chairs work well. I have a friend that has a Sharper Image massage chair, but Renee convinced me and 40 other people these chairs are 5X better than Sharper Image model and to buy one. My new chair will arrive soon to service guests at the new Clareity Conference Center and Dude Ranch in Scottsdale and make sure travel weary (or hung over) visitors are nursed back to health through therapeutic massage.
Bob Hale, CEO of the Houston Association of Realtors, gave a clear and compelling presentation regarding the reasons a local Association and/or MLS should have a strong, public web site that features fresh, local real estate listings for consumers. He described how HAR has been able to serve its members and real estate buyers well by providing the type of access to property information that consumers are looking for. Bob also described how HAR has been able to dominate the search engines and promote the site through traditional marketing mechanisms such as billboard advertising. Clareity believes that those regions that give up on their MLS web site – or don’t promote it properly – are opening the door wide for outsiders to enter the space and remove Realtors from the center of the home sales process. This isn’t a prediction of the future – it’s already happening – and one major MLS shut their public web site down due to the short-term thinking of a small number of brokers.
Just to be clear, Clareity has been a long-term supporter of Realtor.com and strongly believes that many consumers want a comprehensive, national listing site. However, there are many consumers that want to look at local real estate and would strongly prefer to start with a local Realtor.com-like site. If a consumer is looking to move across town in Houston, why should they have to start with a national map? Of course they would rather start with a map of Houston and browse fresh, accurate, local content. HAR is simply delivering consumers what they want from Realtors in the early stages of market research and online real estate shopping. The HAR.com does just that, and in an ad-free manner similar to the incredibly popular and very righteous www.MLS.ca site that the Canadian Real Estate Association provides for consumers and its members. These ad-free, Realtor owned “Safe Haven” sites give consumers exactly what they want, and they direct consumers to an agent or brokerage when they are ready to engage a real estate professional.
Realtor.com must survive, because if it were to collapse, it would be a sad day for consumers and Realtors. While some Realtors would cheer its demise, lights-out at Realtor.com would create a huge void in the industry – a void that outsiders will fill and that will only accelerate the growth of the pay-for-referral market. NAR would never let the Realtor.com site fail – nor should it – but a local MLS strategy certainly provides another layer of redundancy and a pro-consumer, pro-Realtor win-win scenario. In Clareity’s opinion, there should be about 500 local Realtor.com sites, 50 state-wide Realtor.coms, and one national site. And they should all be ad-free, with just the pure listings that consumers want. These Realtor owned “safe-haven” sites can have incredibly powerful and simple names and leverage the billion dollar brand equity that Stuart Wolf and Peter Tafeen created for NAR and its members. The names for the sites? Tulsa.Realtor.com, Houston.Realtor.com, TriangleMLS.Realtor.com, Maine.Realtor.com, Florida.Realtor.com and so on…
How much would these 551 domain names cost? Peanuts. NAR owns the domain Realtor.com and can issue these third-level “sub-domain” names all day long and be the arbitrator of any disputes among MLSs. Local MLSs can put up one or two billboards and drive tremendous traffic to their local realtor.com sites. Those consumers can view fresh listings and find a Realtor if they aren’t already working with one. The value of this to every broker in the United States that owns a mortgage company where half of his profits come from loans? Priceless. It is the single best online strategy Brokers can execute in 2005 to deter the erosion of their mortgage capture rate to LendingTree et al and hinder the servitude model that is developing when more than half of an agent’s or broker’s business comes with a 30% referral fee on the commission side too.
Do the math somebody! Realtors can’t afford not to do what Bob Hale has done, and the brokers in Chicago that shut down MLSNI.com to drive more traffic to their own web sites need to understand the Internet better because they are going to prove Clareity’s theorem because they are the most vulnerable major market right now in the country. Chicago is still a highly fragmented market where no broker has more than 10% market share and the four largest brokers have 18% share. My advice to LendingTree for 2005? Spend large on advertising in Chicagoland and watch your mortgage capture rates soar. Your ROI in Chicago will greatly exceed markets where there is a strong, local MLS site like Houston, Austin, or Charlotte. Sorry about the rant in the middle of my NAR report, this is just my opinion and I could be wrong….HA! Now back to the trade show:
Jim Sherry and Jeremy Conaway. Comedy Central. These guys were very funny and I would like to nominate them to host an Extreme Makeover episode for Realtors on cable TV.
Funniest Web Site Discovered at Show
Grabmynuts.com. Truly tasteless, but surprisingly a work-safe link and great place to buy gift bags of nuts. We highly recommend the product if you think you can handle this… The squirrel mascot is cute as a button!
Best Real Estate Office Printer
The new HP Color Laser 4600 printer has Job Cost Accounting built in. Now a company can easily bill agents per page for color printing they do from their PCs on the office network. The HP 4600 enables first class color print capabilities in-house and starts at less than $2000, so even smaller offices can afford one. See http://hp.realestate.com for more information.
Best New Broker Management Tool
We can’t say enough good things about Terradatum’s BrokerMetrics product, and certainly can’t describe the whole product in a single paragraph, but this product is groundbreaking in how well it enables brokers to use their data to make good business decisions and help their agents become more productive. Just to provide one example, the product allows a broker to track each of his agents within an office/enterprise – showing, by month over 12/24 months, the list/sell/total production visually. There’s an interactive summary grid below the chart, allowing the broker to sort the data and the ‘drill down’ takes you all the way down to an exportable list of the listing records that make up that agent’s production for the given month.
One of their recent enhancements allows a manager to see the density of coverage in the market areas they serve by zip code – valuable when considering expansion opportunities or determining who/where to recruit.
Exciting Mapping Functionality
From our neighbors to the North, comes GeoJet Information Solutions, Inc rolling out very cool mapping functionality with multiple zoom layers including satellite imagery. The company, founded in 1996, has traditionally focused on the Canadian real estate market but has made a large geographical jump to the Jacksonville, FL area with integration into the FBS mls system at NEFMLS. Look for them to be a regional specialty player in mapping for the near future. Maybe Clareity will have to invite them to a mapping “shootout” with their competitors at Clareity’s upcoming developer conference (more on that later…).
Best Technology for Realtors Not at Trade Show
These weren’t on the trade show floor, but you actually might have seen these floating around because Clareity gave a bunch away, over 100 of them, during our parties. This Four Way PowerPod lets you charge a cell phone four ways – from a regular outlet, a car lighter, a 9 volt battery – even a laptop USB port! It has power plugs that fit all the major cell phone brands. This is a gadget that any mobile professional will love. Several MLSs contacted us regarding getting a private-label version of the PowerPod for themselves. We’ve been referring them to Rick at GadgetsGoneWild (firstname.lastname@example.org). But don’t run out and buy one of these if you have been a client of Clareity’s this year – we’ll be sending you your own PowerPod for a Christmas or Hanukah present very soon.
NAR and its Security Workgroup Report
NAR announced the release of its Information Security Toolkit, a set of guides designed to help its members understand and address some of the data security risks our industry faces. It was unfortunate that the NAR representative got up on stage and told everyone how boring the report was – this is not the best way to get people to read it, is it? Come on, the good people on the Workgroup gave a lot of volunteer time, and the consultants did a much better job this year. Actually, the NAR representative didn’t lie – we read the report and it is a little dry – but I would recommend you ignore the messenger and go read the message, because it’s a very important one. Visit the NAR site to download the security guidelines – they show some improvement in NAR’s thinking about IT security, and represent a huge improvement over last year’s NAR security belly-flop – the tragically flawed Realtor Secure logo program. NAR’s CRT continues to assure Clareity that the Realtor Secure program will also be improved at some point in the future. We hope so. Speaking of the CRT, their top guys were the ones riding around on a Segway and gave Clareity’s CTO, Matt Cohen, a riding lesson. Thanks Mark!
It would take a book to tell you about all of the great advancements in MLS, but here are a few highlights for some of the larger companies. Apologies in advance to those companies that we did not include – these are just some of the highlights of what we observed!
MarketLinx – Tempo 4 definitely wins for best new MLS user interface. This system isn’t the same-old-same-old rewritten in .NET, but takes advantage of the new .NET technology to improve the interface and bring efficiencies to the system. Using tabbed interfaces, expandable sections, and lookups, the system presents new data and expanding views to the user without using popup windows or even refreshing the browser screen. With their new Client Gateway web sites (included in the cost of the MLS) MarketLinx has created a useful tool for agent-client communication. While all of these changes were broad-reaching, the product managers had obviously chosen ‘evolution’ over ‘revolution’, and existing customers should be very comfortable with the new system. Tempo 4 has been some time coming, but MarketLinx customers can be assured that the new version will be worth the wait.
FNIS – FNIS is under new management and new name (again). FNIS’ MLS Division is now known as Fidelity National MLS Systems and Solutions – they must have exchanged the new name for Dwayne Walker’s resignation. To be fair, Beverly Faull holds the reigns to the MLS business and we believe FNF’s leadership has given Beverly the thumbs-up for her efforts. On the MLS front, Paragon is continuing to receive the lion’s share of attention and FNIS is meeting their development deadlines with little disruption to their customer base. FNIS’ big NAR announcement was the release of their distributed desktop application. This new application for the PC allows for listing upload and looks very similar to the online application.
Interealty – MLX Wireless was the big announcement at the NAR convention, but this last year has been an impressive one for Interealty as they have added dozens of features to MLXchange to ease their customers’ transitions from several legacy systems. The addition of manual comps in the CMA and the scheduling of prospecting emails were two major additions to the base product. MLXchange is also one of the MLSs that have integrated with Secure Computing’s multi-factor authentication product, paving the way for enhanced MLS access-control.
Rapattoni – This has been a great year for one of the most innovative companies in the MLS space. This past year Rapattoni enhanced their custom report writer capabilities and added sophisticated statistics and charts for search results. The system now also allows multiple searches to be saved for each prospect and auto-prospected periodically. Recently, Rapattoni launched streaming multimedia presentations to train users on select features. Most recently, in response to other MLS vendors supporting a strong authentication access control solution standard spearheaded by Clareity Security, Rapattoni announced their own USB-key access control mechanism.
I think the most interesting trend in MLS is that 23% of real estate professionals – and growing – now use a ‘home-grown’ system instead of a vendor’s system. Clareity has presented on the risks and benefits of this trend and has provided consulting services to those considering or engaged in such an effort. Most MLS vendors are just starting to take notice that their market is shrinking. I still think engaging an MLS vendor is still the right approach for most markets, though the model for engaging them is evolving in some quarters.
MLS Data Licensing
This area has been very, very quiet since Harley Rouda Jr. laid down the law from the brokers at May’s NAR MLS Forum. The Large Brokers Advisory Council basically put the kibosh on MLS data licensing. REBIG saw some attrition and hasn’t announced any new successes, and though Ann Bailey is hosting an event in February to discuss some of the ‘how to’, most MLSs have already decided not to pursue MLS data licensing based on the broker backlash and aren’t looking to answer the ‘how’ question any more.
Best Statewide Regionalization Alternative
Countering the overall trend of MLSs to grow based on all of the new Realtors coming into the business, Clareity has seen a few regional MLSs lose membership this year in large chunks, as parts of their membership leave to regain control over their rules and listings. eNeighborhoods’ MLSAlliance product was featured at NAR and seems to be emerging as the solution of choice for MLS organizations to expand access to listing inventory beyond traditional MLS boundaries. The system provides a means through which nearby MLS organizations can share data without having to merge their databases, listing rules or organizations and dealing with the pressures that result. The largest MLSAlliance system is currently in Southern California, serving seven MLS organizations and 95,000 real estate agents. Other MLSAlliance systems are operational in Northern California and Ohio.
Best Party – MLS History Party
Okay, we’re biased here, but Clareity hosted a special party for 20+ year veterans of the MLS industry. Several attendees told us they were very touched by the event and it’s rare that a convention party evokes a strong emotional response from attendees.
Attendees were encouraged to bring donations for Clareity’s permanent History of MLS and Real Estate Information display at its new Conference Center and Dude Ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona. The best MLS artifacts will also be provided for traveling display and will be featured at MLS Connection March 30-April 1st, 2005 in Hilton Head, SC.
The most precious donation was made by Jack Jominy, who contributed the first MLS computer, a Realtron “Black Box” introduced in 1968. Jack made this priceless donation to the MLS History Museum in honor of his father, Jack Senior, who was the true father of online computerized MLS and real estate information.
Clareity gave away prizes for the best donations, and besides the Black Box, prizes were presented for:
- Best Retro Shirt- Ira Luntz in his 1980’s vintage “BORIS Onliners” softball jersey
- 2nd Place Retro Shirt – Dave Winkles – PRC Realtron – “the Florida Team” (a six month special edition until name was changed to Interealty)
- 3rd Place – Mike Audet – PRC Emhart shirt featuring one of PRC’s many owners
- 4th Place – Ciney Rich – for a shirt that has Moore and BORIS logos on it (another six month very rare, special edition shirt!)
- 5th place (and it might have won a prize if it was present) Ann Bailey pledged a 1975 “Multi-List Mommas” softball jersey for the museum. This shirt will be framed and on display for sure.
Worth special mention is the donation of a TI Model 707 Data Terminal. The 707 represented an advancement in mobile computing for the Realtor. In 1985 consumers were just getting their first personal computers and most of these were not portable. Laptops were non-existent and the heavier ‘lug-tops’ were owned by a rare few. Even if it was nothing more than a hard-copy terminal – with a printer instead of a screen – Realtors looked very professional when they could actually bring a computer to clients’ homes and access the MLS remotely.
Many more donations were pledged and we look forward to receiving them and putting them on display.
A special “Thank You” to the generous sponsors of this historical event:
- MarketLinx – Mr. Doyal Hodge (Platinum Sponsor)
- Fidelity MLS Systems and Solutions – Ms. Beverly Faull (Gold Sponsor)
- Interealty – Mr. Bryan Foreman and Mr. Chris Bennett (Gold Sponsor)
- RISCO Lock Box – Mr. Warren Koeller (Silver Sponsor)
Best Party Runner Up
A spooky nighttime walk through Sea World led to a party at a very unusual venue – Interealty’s party at the Penguin Encounter area. There were parties happening on both sides of the glass. There were probably a hundred penguins of several different types preening, diving, and laying around. Some of them congregated in circles that mimicked the circles of MLS executives attending the party. Those penguins were darn cute, and it was a happening party!
Missing Executives and Who’s New
Dwayne Walker – OUT as President of FNIS
Eric Swenson – IN as President of Fidelity Information Services
Mike Lancaster – IN as new Senior VP of Sales. Mike was most recently at Reez.com and Coldwell Banker before that.
Clareity Consulting and Clareity Security
Amy Geddes, Intermountain MLS (coming in December)
Marty Reed, CARMLS (coming in December)
Stewart Realty Solutions
Travis Wright – CEO, was a consultant and long-term Coldwell Banker executive
Walt Clark – Vice President, came from First American
Rex Marr – was at Supra four years after 32 years with Realtron/Interealty
Warren Andrich – was briefly at FNIS, and a long-term Supra veteran before that
Gary Doran, formerly CEO at the Tucson Association, accepted the position as CEO of AMBR and SWMLS. Gregg Larson and Richard Mendenhall partnered to conduct the nationwide executive search.
Clareity is Searching –
Job Opening! MLS Director in Vermont – improve your snowboarding skills and live like Ben and Jerry – very cool place for skiers! Contact Clareity for more information.
Clareity’s New Workshops for 2005
We have expanded our Education series in 2005 and have several new and exciting Workshops planned that include:
Real Estate IT Developer Workshop (March 15-16, 2005)
This is an annual workshop for MLS and Association IT staff, MLS Vendor IT staff and other real estate software vendors – anyone who is working on technology to service the real estate industry. Topics will be driven by registrant consensus, but will likely include such requested topics as IT security, IT disaster recovery planning, RETS, transaction management and digital document management, technical support and mapping. Though there will be presentations on various topics, this workshop will be discussion oriented.
Clareity’s 4th Annual MLS Executive Workshop (March 17-18, 2005)
This MLS Workshop will provide timely updates on relevant topics and will address many of the issues facing MLS executives and leaders today. Topics will be firmed up as the date grows closer, but topics may include a review of the best new MLS features, a transaction management update, delivering customized big broker services, network security and business continuity planning, Clareity’s Clareity’s picks for the best and worst technologies of 2004 and a 2005-2006 technology forecast
More information about these two workshops is available on the Clareity Consulting web site – http://www.callclareity.com
Clareity is also introducing a new workshop series:
“Real Estate IT Security Essentials Workshop”
Clareity’s IT Security Essentials Workshop is a two day workshop for IT Directors, Network and System Administrators who work at MLSs, associations, brokers, and other companies serving the real estate industry. The workshop is designed to provide a broad understanding of critical IT security issues as well as providing in-depth coverage in a number of key areas. This training will help enable IT staff to properly safeguard the sensitive real estate, financial and consumer data that forms the basis of real estate. To provide this training Matt Cohen, Clareity Consulting’s CTO, will be joined by Ben Keepper, a security specialist from San Diego, who provides security services to Sandicor – and other special guest presenters. This workshop will be available in a number of cities in 2005. More information is available on the Clareity Security web site – www.SAFEMLS.com
Our attendees say that Clareity’s Workshops are the best educational experience and value in the industry – please consider attending one in 2005.
Thank you for reading Clareity’s 2004 NAR Tradeshow Report!
One minute survey:
Who had the best trade show marketing?
In my humble opinion, the dog was pretty lame, the chicken was goofy (look at the lady that was working the C21 booth – she was embarrassed to even be seen with him). I pick C!
President & CEO
Clareity Consulting and Clareity Security
Scottsdale, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Kansas City, Washington DC, Austin
“We bring clarity to real estate information”
Founded in 1996, Clareity continually strives to provide our clients a truly independent and unique perspective. Clareity has successfully executed a vast array of consulting projects for our clients, related to:
Expert witness in software and technology disputes
IT Security Audit and business continuity assessment
Development and analysis of RFPs for MLS systems, public records, broker systems, and TMPs
Mergers and acquisitions and strategic alliances
New product marketing and business plans
Product integration specifications
Project management and implementation assistance
Quality assurance testing
Market research including agent, broker, and staff electronic and telephone surveys as well as onsite focus groups
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