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NAR REThink: meaningful dissection of the future of real estate

As a convention cynic, I typically roll my eyes when someone addresses “the future,” but at this event, there was a tangible sense that people are finally becoming aware of industry changes.

nar rethink

nar rethink

Finally, a real estate event that didn’t put me to sleep

The thought of conventions, seminars, and webinar’s of people in the real estate industry getting together to talk usually makes me yawn. Talks of the latest technology, IDX syndication versus sites like Zillow and Trulia, agents fighting for the return of their information, agents becoming extinct and how social media perfection is the way of the future… I tire of this not because I don’t agree things are/will change in the future. Quite the contrary.

I LOVE ideas, but loathe lack of action and continuous talks of some so-called revolution or people just trying to sell me things. While things never change overnight and there have been some big game changers in the past decade of real estate and technology coming together, agents are still around, doing the same things and thinking still, that nothing will really ever change. Leadership in state and local boards don’t want to talk about it because that would mean opening up and discussing the idea their jobs may one day become extinct. Many brokerages don’t want to talk because there is fear of agents becoming too educated and leaving.

But that didn’t happen at the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR’s) recent REThink session, NAR’s new “open source” strategic planning initiative. I was impressed. If any of you know me at all, a good impression of a national convention attended strictly by people out to protect their own jobs is NOT my idea of a great way to spend a whirlwind of 24 hours between Baltimore and Chicago and leaving my work and family to attend. However, this was different. There was even a young 25ish agent helping to lead the discussion on stage in skinny jeans and some hip brand of shoes I am sure I don’t know about.

Told to arrive at 8am on Monday at the Sheraton in Chicago, the YPN (Young Professionals Network) chairs from around the country were brought together to be given an intinerary of how the remainder of the day was to go. The NAR strategic planning committee announced that this year, they were switching things up. The idea was to have all 200 of us man 2-3 tables each of 6 incoming or outgoing NAR and state level leadership.

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Our job was to get them to fill up tables from the front to the back, inquire as to who followed the email sent out about bringing a fully charged lap top or iPad and make them “tech scribes.” We were even in charge of giving each of our tables the instructions for the day. Let me just tell you how someone reacts to someone 20 years their junior telling them where to sit and how a program was to go… Let’s just say the majority of us weren’t greeted too fondly. I am pretty sure at least 10 people rolled their eyes at me when I asked them to fill up tables before sitting down where I had asked, people walked away from me and sat where they wanted and I know I heard several comments of “What is going on?” and “We’ve never done it like this before…psh.”

Once everyone was wrangled, seated, directed and served food, things started loosening up a bit.

nar rethink

Legitimate outside research on the future

The usual talks were given in the beginning and then an outside company from Canada was introduced. The term used to describe the role of the company that caused me to start paying attention was “Cultural Anthropologists.” Coolest. Job. Ever.

This company had actually researched data from consumer attitudes, REALTORS(R), and other national trends and had put together over the course of a year of research, an amazing well thought out, data driven prospective on the future of real estate. Not some general ‘what-if’ scenarios, but actual scenarios based on facts. With NAR (the strategic planning committee) bringing in an outside company, the level of credibility (in my mind) sky rocketed.

The overall idea of the conference was focused on this central idea:

“In an ever-changing world, what is the future of the real estate industry in 5 to 10 years?”

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How will this impact:

  • Consumers, including buyers and sellers?
  • Agents, brokers and companies?
  • NAR, state and local associations?

The responses at first were slow. The idea that people don’t fear change but fear some sort of loss was very apparent. The blunt ideas presented made people squirm. I loved it. Once people got talking though and felt more comfortable things came to life for the next 4 hours.

Here were some basic scenarios presented:

  • There will be a large exodus of brokerages leaving NAR. REALTORS questioning their dues and opting out. Together another solution is found to allow agents access to lockboxes and MLS’s without being a “member” of a board.
  • More independent brokerages get together from around the country and put their heads together to form a “new” brokerage
  • Outside of the industry, companies start sharing their data with the real estate industry to predict home buying and selling signals and sell that back to brokerages as leads
  • People stop buying homes and want to be more transient and ideas of leasing homes gains popularity
  • Homesharing becomes the norm
  • Small communities of people get together to start sharing land, farming it and owning it
  • More immigrants coming to the country reinvigorate the idea of the “American Dream” of owning a home and long time residents opt for other investment options
  • Big data: how can it reduce expenses? How can competitors come together to combine new value and create new ideas? When will Zillow, Trulia and/or come together to create something so massive no one can compete?
  • Finding cooperation and competition amongst one another to balance and change the game.

The unavoidable future

Once the scenarios were rolled out, they used a technology called Sayzu. With this real time technology, the “tech scribe” of the group (aka, the one person per table that followed directions and actually brought a laptop or iPad) was able to collect actual comments and thoughts from each member of the table and stream directly to the cloud. Ok, and there were also low tech options of branded REThink plastic paddles for yes/no questions and good old fashioned text the answer to…

Hashtag for the event was #rethinkfuture and after looking back through Twitter, this was no real estate tech conference with my whole feed blowing up and everyone tweeting and retweeting the exact same thing to get in the “cool crowd.” There were a very small handful of tweets, hardly anything in Instagram, and then just some chatter on a closed Facebook page for the event through YPN.  

There was a pretty apparent lack of social media hype throughout the whole event. This to me ultimately highlights the difference in demographics between the industry of 2012 and the idea of how quickly an idea can spread like wild fire through a more social media savvy type of person/leader of the future. With current leaders already announcing their plans for running in years like 2019, they better keep up quickly with these trends and ideas which are spreading. I have a feeling some of these people have been planning a run for quite some time as a natural progression in leadership and salary based position. But based on what I saw, the times when working up that ladder through time served is coming a lot closer to an end as ideas and people are changing much quicker year after year.

A current NAR leader sitting at my table gathering ideas with us said  “Just seeing those two young women up on stage this year leading this discussion makes you realize things are changing… and they haven’t changed in over 30 years since I have been involved in this industry.”

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Kudos to the NAR Strategic Planning committee. You have impressed a convention cynic. And yes, I have read your 2012-2014 Strategic Plan. Thank you for recognizing the new “younger, more racially diverse generation” of agent that demands more from their leaders and for adding the importance of the rapidly changing consumer voice to what we need to be addressing as an industry.

“The thing about tsunamis is that you can not see them from the shore.”

Images of REThink

I took the following photos while at REThink:

REThink the future of real estate

REThink the future of real estate

REThink the future of real estate

REThink the future of real estate

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Written By

Amanda Lopez is a real estate broker and founder of Style House Realty in Baltimore, Md. She has worked in the real estate industry for over 6 years and prior to that studied advertising, branding and web design. Refusing to believe the real estate industry had to be bland and boring in design and appeal to everyone, she set out to bring some style and technology into the mix. Amanda can most likely be found with coffee that got cold, great shoes, her mind in the sky and her evernote app open.



  1. kenbrand

    August 27, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Nice report Amanda, thanks.  Nice to hear there are some sharp tools in the shed.  Cheers.

    • AmandaLopez

      August 27, 2012 at 10:07 pm

       @kenbrand Thanks Ken!

  2. VianeyOjeda

    August 27, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    I was there as a YPN Chair and I concur Amanda. Thanks for writing about it. Vianey

  3. QuincyClayton

    September 16, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    Wow! Well captured!

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