Seven Things I Learned at RETech South, With Music Videos

I just got back from three amazing days in Atlanta at RETech South. I think I feel pretty comfortable saying that RETech South (#RETSO) is today the best wide-audience real estate conference in the country. Brad Nix and Mike Pennington, the two righteous gents in charge of RETSO deserve so much credit for the amazing job they did.

It will take weeks for me to absorb everything, but for now, here are seven things I learned at RETech South… with music videos!

1.  People Who Know Know There’s A Problem

I did not know what to expect from my Call to Greatness speech. (Yes, yes, I’ll get the slides uploaded shortly… though they won’t make a lot of sense without the… ah… audio portion.) There was a part of me that thought I might get hounded off the stage. After all, I was going after a lot of sacred cows, and mentioning some unmentionable things….

I wasn’t. In fact, I was gratified by the response, not only because it meant that I didn’t have to quit working in real estate immediately… but more importantly, because it meant that there were many people who are in a position to know — CEO’s of State Associations, heads of MLS’s, elected leadership, and concerned thought leaders — who agreed that there is a looming crisis in our industry.

As the first step to solving a problem is admitting there is a problem… I thought this was hugely important.


2.  The Choice Is Reform or Burn

Shockingly, I had assumed that everyone would want to talk about changing the situation, to reform the industry. Nope; quite a few people, even some who are deeply involved in organized real estate, are not afraid to ask, “Why not just let it all burn down?” Wow.

The choice is not between the status quo, and major reform. The real choice is between major reform, and total collapse. There are more than a tiny few who wouldn’t mind seeing the whole thing burn down. The challenge for reformers is to change the situation enough so as to channel the energy of these revolutionaries so as to keep the good. Else, the result won’t be silent compliance but a firestorm.


3.  The Social Media Backlash Cometh

I felt it was building all along, but I think RETech South was the first actual major event at which I saw the backlash against social media take root. More than one speaker, more than one thought leaders, more than one expert was saying things like, “social media is not a silver bullet; you gotta get back to the fundamentals of service, of knowledge, of expertise.”  More than a few people were talking about how they were tired of the hype, and wanted to see results. QR codes became sort of a running joke amongst the cognoscenti.


4.  Conferences Are Better When In Middle of Nowhere

Gahlord Dewald taught me this. We were talking about why RETSO seemed like it was such a better conference than just about any other we had been to — and many of us are almost like real estate conference circuit riders. His answer was that it was because the event was in the middle of nowhere (at least, compared to New York, San Francisco, or Las Vegas). Suburbs of Atlanta are actually quite nice, but it isn’t as if you could hop in a cab and head to Soho or Fisherman’s Wharf.

So instead of dispersing and going our separate ways, all of us stuck around, with each other, talking and drinking and eating and talking some more. And that made it so great. Maybe Inman should consider moving the conferences to Western Pennsylvania and somewhere in the middle of Oregon respectively? 🙂


5.  REFooCamp Is A Great Format for Advanced Discussions

I’ve now done two of these “alternative REBarCamp” formats, once in Austin and now in Atlanta. Both times, I felt the level and quality of discussion was superior to just about any that I’ve had about real estate and about technology than any other event I’ve been to. It isn’t for everyone, and the format isn’t necessarily perfect just yet, but I think those who did stick around an extra day to attend heard some amazing things, and experienced what it’s like when you get a group of brilliant people in a room, and start asking, “So, What Are You Working On Right Now?”


6. One Hug Is Worth A Thousand Tweets

There is a strange magic in the physical. It can’t be explained, but it is very real. I’ve met people I had built a relationship with on Facebook, Twitter, and my blogs for the first time in Atlanta this year. These are people I’ve had extended online conversations with. And yet, something happens when you shake a hand or give a hug that creates a deeper bond than thousands of words on a screen. Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you, Michael McClure, and Laura Monroe, and Mark Brian!

There’s probably a lesson in there for real estate pros too.


7. Dirty South Knows How To Party

As a general rule, real estate people know how to party. When I was in NY, I thought my peoples at Lucky Strikes Social Media Club knew how to throw down. Go out West, and the California crew can raise the roof. But seriously, I don’t know if anyone can compete with the South as far as partyin’ goes. Brian Copeland and Maura Neill, come on down and claim the crown. I’m scarred for life.


BONUS: Peyton Manning Is Married

Honestly, I had no idea. And then someone showed me the Wikipedia entry. Jeez, he keeps her off the cameras somehow.

Anyhow, a great event, great times, great learning, great BBQ, and a great karaoke throwdown. My hat is off to the ATL. Until next year, play on playa.

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Rob Hahn

Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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18 thoughts on “Seven Things I Learned at RETech South, With Music Videos”

  1. Rob,
    Thank you for a great presentation and for focusing the conversation. As a leader in the State Association, I know we have a problem, your talk helped me focus on some solutions. Taking the safe route of hiding and doing nothing is not an option.

  2. I’m delighted to hear that I’m living in the middle of nowhere. Seriously though, Pittsburgh would love to have you, the RETech crew and any other of your friends visit.

  3. I have to laugh at the idea of a looming crisis. Who are these people that have not noticed that it stopped looming and arrived 4 years ago. I suspect they are people who are in the industry but who are a couple of steps away from people who work with consumers.

  4. I have learned from this post, that I am not the only one with “Soundtrack Syndrome.” 🙂
    As always, enjoyed hangin’ with you & the Notorious Posse…. Have a great week!

  5. Rob, thanks for this and your focused participation. Pardon the personal aside, but reading this I felt validated for choosing to set the tone of the conference with my “prove it” intro. I thought it was right at the time. I’m convinced it was now.

  6. Rob- fantastic recap. Just like you I had no idea Peyton was married. In fact I was the one who had to Google it to find out.

    REfoo was great, but I think the best part of the FOO actually came after most left and it was just the 6 of us sitting on the patio talking. You had some of the top vendors in the industry sitting all around one table talking openly, and not afraid what others may think or say. Personally, I can only imagine what might come from that part alone.

  7. Great recap, Rob! Without a doubt, the burn vs. reform debate was the most enlightening and interesting part of the whole weekend for me. REFooCamp was awesome and your idea to pull it together was brilliant! Thanks for letting me be a part of it.

  8. “Burn vs. Reform.” There’s an awful lot of real estate agents wringing their hands over the deplorable state of our profession. It’s wearisome listening to the same complaints over and over. I think the angst and frustration is a simply bi-product of a profession that’s getting tougher and shrinking.

    Looking forward, it seems obvious that neither NAR nor our local professional organizations will lead the way. Any real steps to improve our professionalism will result in fewer members. Since they are clinging to the dwindling members they already have, no action will be taken to run more out the door. And, it’s hard to imagine new and wondrous organizations forming over the horizon.

    If there is a transformation in our industry, it will come in the form of new business/brokerage models that are able to provide very high value and lower cost (I think) to the consumer. Agent compensation and consumer fees will have to be re-engineered. Redfin has implemented a new model that resonates with many consumers, although I wonder if it limits them to a narrow niche of the market. I could be wrong, but they are still one to watch. I don’t see any other new models that are getting traction.

    My prediction on the future of our industry – not much will change. Agents that survive and thrive will put their heads-down, work harder and be better at what they do because they will have to.

    And everyone else will continue to bemoan how things need to change.

  9. Rob, on your sixth point, it can also work the opposite ways- there have been several people I have had an amazingly close rapport with online but meeting in person, they fell flat. They were funny, gregarious and friendly online but in person were less than charming, dull and rude to everyone around them.

    On your other points, we had this discussion in person over breakfast in Austin (wherein you ordered double meals just because it was cheap compared to NYC) that social media is being sold as an end all be all, and we’ve written for years on the topic and are glad the world is catching up because I’m tired of the cheerleading too.

    Glad you enjoyed the conference, we’ll try to make it next year, southby totally wiped us this year as we knew it would!

  10. Rob:

    Thanks for the great takeaways here.
    I believe I may have been the one you’re talking about asking the question ‘why not let it burn’? Just wanted to chime in with more details on that thought…

    There is a lot of talk about change and reform and how to craft a new plan going forward or how we must fight harder now than ever before. I just think it will help if someone clearly identifies the enemy before we go into battle.

    What is it we are so scared of? banks entering real estate, losing mortgage interest deduction, or becoming communist because Realtors are no longer independent contractors, or something else entirely?

    I ask this because I think there are two great ways to inspire others:
    1. Sharing a common cause that’s bigger than the group. This is why Martin Luther King had a dream and not a plan.
    2. Sharing a common enemy that rallies a group together. The Cold War comes to mind here.

    I’m not sure NAR has found one common cause that every member can believe in. And I don’t think anyone has ever pointed out an enemy that we are all scared of. Until one of these happen, I think failure is an option. And I’m not sure we should be so scared of it happening. Please convince me otherwise.

  11. I have sat back and listened to any and all big brains in the industry and all of them are stale and jaded. WE ARE IN CRSIS! This business model is 102 years old. Yes some portion of it will go on living in infamy. Amen for Realogy and Home Services, but the real difference will be driven by the way information is shared and social media is a big part of that. If Twitter can crack the Middle East and bring down world leaders, why can’t it break the protectionism of the real estate model? It CAN!! It has just not been leveraged to overcome the fear and confidence consumers need to venture out on there own. Our commerce rules are restrictive, built to protect consumers from themselves, they restrict free trade. Why is it that I have to identify my brokerage if I post on Twitter (Minnesota Law) but Craigslist is open to any and all to trade, advertise and transact real estate and with out a brokerage license? MLS Data…. BS! Let’s admit it; it’s not that rich or deep. Property data has got to be better that that! I want to know more then the room sizes and lake frontage. Co-op commissions, is there a better way? It’s a lovely system and it has worked well, but it’s loaded and skewed. Ok now the Realtor, ask one in your office what there value proposition is? I bet only one in ten can tell you. If we can’t defend our own value proposition then what do we get paid for? Media, when did we give Scripps (HGTV) the keys to the kingdom? We also let them collect ALOT OF REVENUE (ad $$) from our listings and educate the consumer on how to buy and sell real estate.

    The work NAR has and is doing is priceless to all of us and yes I am a RPAC supporter (the rest of you should be ashamed). That is me sucking up, but I am serious, the biggest kid in the room always got the most attention. The political system is about MONEY! I do think NAR should think about separating out the PAC from member support and operations, but otherwise let’s just give them the extra $40 and let them spend it to influence the system in support of homeownership.

    Local associations need to be reinvented as homeownership centers or as a National Association of Homeowners. Locals have to move out of the box and be a partner with the consumer in each market. Yes the brokers will hate this at first and it will feel like a shift in market share and exposure ( who get the most hits?) but this is a long term play to be consumer centric and deliver the Realtor value proposition to the consumer, after all someone has to tell them what we do and why.

    So sorry if I have overstepped my boundaries, but its time we tell the truth.

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