April 2, 2020

[Press] Day camp for real estate techies

By John Golden 

Westchesterites at a real estate BarCamp in Manhattan are, from left, Elizabeth Nunan, vice president at Houlihan Lawrence Real Estate; Rick Rabideau, president of Telivant Inc. in Yorktown Heights; Nancy Shenker, owner of theONswitch in Yonkers, and J. Philip Faranda, owner of J. Philip Real Estate in Briarcliff Manor. Their companies were event sponsors.

It was not a traditional industry gathering that brought real estate professionals and business marketers from Westchester to the Roger Smith Hotel in midtown Manhattan last Tuesday. Coffee was served, but without the mini-bagels and pastries that are early risers’ staples on the conference circuit. Workshop sessions were offered, but one had to watch a projection screen for their tardy, semi-legible posting at this largely unscripted, globally replicating affair called RE BarCamp.

 “This is considered an unconference,” said Elizabeth D. Nunan, vice president of the global business development center at Houlihan Lawrence Real Estate, an event sponsor. “Instead of being talked to or talked at, it’s very participatory.” At BarCamp, day-campers such as Nunan also are presenters.

 A growing international trend, the BarCamp phenomenon began in 2005 in Palo Alto, Calif., as an open event of the information technology industry that featured workshops on early web applications. The Internet-inspired conference model quickly spread internationally and was adopted by real estate and other industries. The first Westchester RE BarCamp was held last summer at the Hilton Rye Town in Rye Brook.

 Setting up camp

 The BarCamp name alludes to “foobar,” a hacker slang term, and is an acronym too for Bay Area Rejects, said Scott Forcino, a real estate attorney and broker and co-founder of Westchester Real Estate Advocates Inc. in New Rochelle.

 “It’s an atmosphere of learning and sharing,” Forcino said at the New York event, where more than 200 participants shuffled between five small conference rooms on the hotel’s 16th floor to join in the exchanges of ideas and experiences.

 Forcino said BarCamps usually are scheduled so as to draw attendees from traditional national and regional real estate conferences. This BarCamp came one day before the three-day Real Estate Connect New York City conference at another midtown Manhattan hotel.

 Unlike the larger, more established conferences, “There’s no set curriculum,” Forcino said. “It’s nothing set in advance. It’s the attendees that set the tone and present the seminars.”

 At BarCamp, “Pitching and selling is frowned upon,” he said. Instead the pitch is in the presentation, when professionals can demonstrate their proficiency in a particular subject in free-flowing exchanges with their audience. Attorney Forcino’s posted topic at this event: a hidden tax credit that will lower closing costs for homebuyers and “make your clients love you.”

 Hosted by the Lucky Strikers Social Media Club, a group of about 30 real estate and technology professionals in the tristate area, this BarCamp, like others in the U.S. and Canada, largely focused on social media and the use of new technologies in the real estate business. Brokers could choose from a curriculum that included, among other workshops, WordPress 101 for bloggers, Video Basics, B2B Networking, Facebook/Twitter Basics, LinkedIn and a session at which iPad users in the clicks-and-mortar crowd were invited to answer the question, “What apps are you using?”

 ‘The inmates run the asylum’

 Nancy A. Shenker, owner of theONswitch, a marketing company in Yonkers and one of several Westchester companies sponsoring the event, has attended several RE BarCamps. A co-presenter with another Lucky Striker member, she showed both marketing flair and tongue-in-cheek cliché in her posting, “5 Steps to Gurudom: How to get fame, media buzz and $$.” Their presentation drew a standing-room-only crowd.

 “I really have learned so much” at BarCamp events, Shenker said. “You can look at it as user-generated content, as the inmates run the asylum. Sometimes the inmates do speak the truth.

 “The good part of the camp model is it’s very egalitarian; it’s collaborative,” she said. “It’s very Woodstockian. In many ways, it’s organized mob rule. The fear is that if The Man gets involved, it won’t be collaborative. It won’t be free speech.

 “There’s also a certain psychographic that’s common to camp people,” said Shenker. “They have to be used to disorganization.”

 Its disorganized nature is “the knock” against the RE BarCamp model by critics of the growing industry trend, Forcino said. “People mistake the looseness for loosey-goosey.”

 “Collaboration is good,” said Shenker. “Disorganization in business is not good.” She thinks the right arrangement for industry gatherings “stands in the middle between camps and conferences.”

 Brand-building in the market

Nunan came to the BarCamp from Westchester with about 20 Houlihan Lawrence brokers. From its Armonk office, she oversees the residential realty company’s social media initiatives, which include Twitter and Facebook accounts, video productions and corporate and agents’ blogs.

 “We want to meet where our clients are,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons why we got involved in social media.” With 500 million users, Facebook is a most opportune place to meet, she said.

For Houlihan Lawrence, which has dominated the Westchester-Putnam market for million-dollar-plus houses, “It’s a little bit of a brand-building” in the new social-media market, Nunan said. Though it has not yet had a significant impact on house sales, “We have agents that have success stories from Facebook, from their blogs, where they’ve turned a so-called (Facebook) friend into a client, where they’ve won a listing or earned a sale,” she said.

Sonja Lovas is one such broker. A woman came to her neighborhood open house after finding Lovas on Facebook. She connected the broker with a friend who was moving from Westchester. Lovas sold the friend’s North Salem home.

 Connecting, motivating ‘friends’

On her blog “Realestateisms,” “I use video a lot because I love it,” said Lovas. She won a client with a video she made demonstrating, with a stopwatch and pedometer in hand, the short travel time and distance from the Metro-North Railroad station to a Katonah condo she was marketing.

She has recorded home and septic-system inspections in the county. “Septics are really important in Westchester now,” Lovas said, and buyers that Houlihan Lawrence draws from the city especially are uninformed on the subject.

Lovas sold a home in Goldens Bridge to a couple drawn there by the broker’s narrated house tour on video. “Not only did I connect with them through technology, but through technology I was able to motivate them” to look at the house, she said.

Lovas also relies on text messaging in her real estate work. “First-time homebuyers really like people that are active in texting,” she said. Those first-time buyers are younger clients.

Breaking with custom, one woman texted her purchase offer to Lovas for a house that was the object of a bidding war in which timing was critical. The broker spotted the message in time to bid it and complete the sale.

“If you’re going to engage in it, you’ve got to stay on top of it,” the broker said of the new media reshaping the industry.

Reprinted from Westfair Online, owned and operated by Westfair Business Publications (Westfair), a privately held publishing firm located in White Plains, NY, publishes three successful weekly local business newspapers: Westchester County Business Journal, Fairfield County Business Journal, and HV BIZ (Hudson Valley Business).