Thoughts on the Charleston HearItDirect Event

So I’ve had a few days to recover from a wonderful, crazy, hectic, monumental week. I’m referring, of course, to the HearItDirect event that Sue Adler and I hosted in Charleston, SC last week. Quite a bit has been tweeted about the event, quite a few people have written on it, called us, emailed us, and so on, so I’ll limit this to just some of my top thoughts on what I saw/heard/experienced.

The Holy City Is Foodie Heaven

Charleston is called The Holy City for a lot of reasons — and there are quite a few places of worship. I believe I heard from Kristin Walker, our able woman-on-the-ground and all around awesome of a REALTOR, that city zoning prohibits buildings from going higher than the highest church steeple. Here’s the Wikipedia entry on Charleston:

Charleston is known as The Holy City due to the prominence of churches on the low-rise cityscape, particularly the numerous steeples which dot the city’s skyline, and for the fact that it was one of the few cities in the original thirteen colonies to provide religious tolerance, albeit restricted to non-Catholics. Many Huguenots found their way to Charleston. Charleston was also one of the first colonial cities after Savannah, Georgia to allow Jews to practice their faith without restriction. Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, founded in 1749, is the fourth oldest Jewish congregation in the continental United States. Brith Sholom Beth Israel is the oldest Orthodox synagogue in the South, founded by Ashkenazi (German and Central European Jews) Jews in the mid-19th century.

But what’s truly divine about the place, I think, is the quality of restaurants. I know the people of the major metros, like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago have some amazing restaurants to sample. But Charleston has got to have the most great restaurants per capita. I can honestly say I haven’t had a bad meal in Charleston yet, and I’ve only eaten at the same place once. Well, twice. But Fig is really that great.

Anyhow, Fig, Husk, Hominy Grill, S.N.O.B., Poogan’s Porch, Basil… they were all fantastic. And there were quite a few places I didn’t get the opportunity to try. One day, I will. If you have the opportunity to visit Charleston, do it.

Appearances Are Deceiving

The biggest A-HA moment for me had nothing to do with real estate. It had to do with focus groups, event management, and appearances. Makes sense since I’ve been in the industry for going on a decade, but this is my first active attempt to organize something like HearItDirect. Not everything is as it appears.

For example, our Buyer Panel had three men on it who could not be more different as a real estate consumer. One person was an extremely intelligent, educated man (with a Ph.D.) in the high end market, while the second was a first-time homebuyer who confessed that he didn’t know a thing about real estate, and the third was a semi-pro with ten years of experience in mortgages and an active investor into distressed properties with his father. Hard to get more diverse than that, right? And Sue and I had never met the panelists before that day, because we wanted to make sure not to taint them with anything we might say/do/suggest.

Well, each panelist was supposed to introduce himself/herself with name, occupation, and where they’re from. These three guys introduced themselves as being from Charleston, and… all three were firefighters. Heh. The fact that they were completely, dramatically different individuals, different consumers, with different educational levels, different expectations, different skillsets — none of that came out. All we remember is, “Wow, three firemen!”

Chalk that up to a “Lesson Learned” for us. Next time, we’re going to be sure to identify what makes each person unique, and why we chose him/her to be on a panel.

Oh yeah, by the way, more in the “appearances are deceiving” category… the fireman with the shaved head, the attitude of a Navy SEAL, buff like a triathlete, inked up both corded arms? That’s the guy with the Ph.D.

What Could REALTORS Need More?

The final thing that surprised me was the reaction of the audience and on the RE.net. I mean, I figured this was a good idea when Sue and I were talking about it months ago. I didn’t quite understand the level of hunger for precisely this sort of information in the real estate industry. One Charleston REALTOR — I believe it was Howard Arnoff — told me that he learned more in the past four hours of listening to consumers talk than in the past four years of going to various conferences and meetings. /shrug  Who am I to gainsay him? :D

J. Michael Manley, a REALTOR from Greenville, SC, was at our event, and here’s what he wrote about his A-Ha moments (Part 1, and Part 2):

Listening to the panels it started to become clear that the younger people on the panel really had a mindset that is drastically different from what we have seen in past years.   These 20 and early 30 something’s really have a distrust of all PEOPLE’S knowledge when it was spoken. This really got me thinking why this could be?

I would like to throw out an hypothesis. When our parents and grandparents needed and answer to a question they asked people. This generation has never had to ask for the answer to a question. Why? Because when they need an answer and they can Google it!

His responses are interesting as well. He wants to talk about cross-referencing information on his website:

So how would this look in a real world environment? Lets take Real Estate, on your website, when people view a home we could link to Google maps street view so they can see the neighborhood, there would also be a link to Zillow so people could check the Zestimate, another link for Trulia so they can see the birds eye view. By giving people other sources you are validating your transparency for each property.

Interesting.

And of course, there were dozens of emails from people around the country coming into me or to my partner, Sue Adler, about HearItDirect. Calls from Associations of REALTORS asking whether there is a transcript, or when we can bring the circus to their area, etc.

All of the attention is gratifying, of course, and overwhelming as well. But when you know the behind-the-scenes stories, when you know how the sausage got made, and when you can think of a few dozen ways to make future events better… and yet, the response is this positive… it makes me think that there is a hunger out there in the real estate industry for real, direct-from-consumer, information and knowledge.

And really, in the age of Google, Facebook, and Twitter… what could REALTORS need more than insights from their target market? Sure, best practices and tips and tricks of the trade are all very useful — there’s a reason why so many people find so much success with coaches, with managers, with peer groups, with events like Inman, RETech South, Agent Reboot, and even REBarCamp. Those are all incredibly valuable. But it seems to me that more than anything else, more than the latest tips on how to use Foursquare, or the cutting edge theories about using Layar, or whatever, the REALTOR community needs to know what the consumer is thinking, feeling, and above all, perceiving.

Remember our second point above: Appearances can be deceiving. And let me tell ya… the consumers we heard from definitely believe in certain things about the industry and how it works. Their perception is becoming your reality.

Next Steps?

A number of people asked us what we’re doing next. Honestly, we’re quite exhausted and overwhelmed right at this moment. So much work remains to be done to wrap up Charleston, and uh… there’s a wee little holiday on its way in a couple of weeks. You might have heard of it.

So we’re going to relax a bit, take it all in, think some more, and then plot our next moves. If you want to stay informed, go visit the HearItDirect website (www.hearitdirect.com) and sign up for one of the various email things there. I don’t know that I’m going to be writing about HearItDirect that much on this blog, since I do want to keep Notorious as a personal blog. But I’m sure I’ll visit over there from time to time and opine about all the stuff we have coming out from this event — and future events.

But then, what could be more personal than an awesome event one puts on with awesome people? :) Thanks for your indulgence.

-rsh