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Digital Networking Tech in Real Estate is Destined to Fail

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Propmodo’s weekly perspective on commercial real estate and things interesting to real estate executives. Curated by Franco Faraudo. View Archive

When the pandemic hit, or at least when we all realized that it was not just a temporary problem, few groups of people were more worried about the future of their business than event organizers. When social distancing requirements prevented in-person events, organizers scrambled to find ways to replace their now non-existent revenue (PPP money excluded). One of the ways that they tried to do that was with virtual events. 

I can’t tell you how many virtual events I was invited to but I can tell you how many I attended, zero. The thought of sitting through panel after panel, sometimes for multiple days, or “walking” my virtual avatar through trade show floors was about as appealing to me as, well, getting COVID. I know I wasn’t alone, the fact that there is almost no mention of virtual conferences now that the pandemic is easing is a testament to the lackluster response by the real estate world.

There were mistakes that were made by the virtual event organizers. For one, just moving the format of a conference online where your audience is everything but captive was a recipe for low engagement. But part of their struggles had nothing to do with their programming. Real estate is a relationship-based industry and much of the value of a conference is meeting colleagues, clients, and competitors in person. Replacing face-to-face interactions with virtual meetings is not enough, especially now that virtual meetings are as ubiquitous as emails. 

It isn’t just virtual meetings that have failed to replace in-person relationships. There have been a number of real estate focused social networks that have come and gone as well. One that I can remember was RealConnex. Billed as the LinkedIn for real estate professionals, RealConnex struggled to get engagement from the busy real estate professionals that are its user base. Now their website looks like a shell of what it previously was, another casualty of the attempt to bring real estate networking online. Being the LinkedIn for real estate is incredibly difficult. Even LinkedIn struggles to get engagement from the real estate world, at least engagement that isn’t just someone’s latest listing.

There is certainly room for innovation when it comes to networking in real estate (might I suggest an app that helps me remember people’s names). Conferences have done a good job of allowing attendees to connect and book meetings before the event even starts. But the technology will only be able to improve and facilitate in-person meetings, not replace them. We have become accustomed to long email chains and video meetings but they do not bridge the relationship gap completely, only interacting with a person in the flesh seems to be able to do that.

Real estate will always be a relationship based industry, the size and complexity of deals necessitates it. As much as we would like to think that tech is going to be a “game changer” in every part of our lives, professional networking is yet another example of how some parts of the game will always remain the same, no matter how advanced technology gets.

Overheard

Save the date

We are getting ready to kick off New York Real Estate Tech Week on November 8th. The entire week will be filled with events, networking, and afterparties in the beautiful city of New York. Check out the week’s schedule here and stay tuned for more about our programing and of course our yearly VIP boat party.

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