Inman Connect Turns 25: Top 20 Moments Of Real Estate’s Best Bash


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Twenty-five years ago, 50 real estate leaders gathered together in a redwood grove in Sonoma County, California, for the first Inman Connect.

“It was quite chilly,” Inman News founder Brad Inman said at Inman Connect New York in 2016, remembering the September 1996 event.

“We had hand warmers. We had blankets. We had a fire pit. We roasted a pig. And we drank and we talked about how technology and the internet — because that’s right when the internet began, commercial internet — how it was going to begin to disrupt real estate.”

Brad Inman circa 1997 (From the archives of Kevin Hawkins)

The guest list included Joel Singer, then-CEO of the California Association of Realtors (CAR); Richard Janssen, founder of the firm that became Move Inc. and who was working on the technology that became Realtor.com at the time of the conference; Saul Klein, operator of the real estate community RealTown and involved in the first iteration of Realtor.com with Janssen; and Ward Hansen, a Stanford professor specializing in marketing on the internet.

At the time only 1 percent of real estate listings were on the internet.

“We advocated to put them all on the internet, and people went frigging crazy,” Inman said. “That was the end of real estate. Disruptive, yes. But the people that embraced it and used it created an entirely new marketplace. It didn’t kill anything. It created things. Since then we’ve talked about online leads, online search, mapping online. Brand new when we talked about it. Virtual walkthroughs, video, blogging, social, 3D, and we always welcome new business models.”

Since then, Inman Connect has grown to two major conferences on either side of the country annually that attract thousands as well as monthly virtual events and niche events such as Disconnect, Luxury Connect and CEO Connect. Over the years, shining notables inside and outside the industry have graced the Connect stage, and shared personal moments — including a marriage proposal — that have bonded attendees together.

For Connect’s 25th anniversary, we’ve gathered 20 memorable moments from the event’s history so far.

1996: The very first Connect

The two-day agenda featured talks on “the World Wide Web” as well as a “traditional Croatian lamb roast” in Cazadero, California. The following year, in July 1997, Inman News Features hosted Real Estate Connect 97 at the San Francisco Hilton for the first time.

The agenda for the inaugural Real Estate Connect.

The agenda for the inaugural Real Estate Connect

1998: Stuart Wolff’s first Connect keynote

Stuart Wolff, former CEO of Realtor.com operator RealSelect (now a Move Inc. subsidiary), keynoted Connect twice before a financial scandal saw him convicted of securities fraud and sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for his role in a scheme that artificially inflated the company’s revenue in 2001.

“The former CEO of Realtor.com, Stuart Wolff, spoke at Connect and demanded he bring in his big throne-like red chair for his seat on the stage,” Brad Inman said in 2016, remembering one of Wolff’s appearances. “He positioned himself as a documentary film producer along with his duties as online real estate executive — a picture of confidence that turned into hubris.”

Stuart Wolff in Real Estate Connect brochure, December 1998 (From the archives of Kevin Hawkins)

2000: Marc Andreessen and Charlie Rose headline Connect

Charlie Rose, television journalist and talk show host, interviewed Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape and future founder of Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, at Real Estate Connect 2000.

Real Estate Connect 2000 brochure featuring Marc Andreessen and Charlie Rose (From the archives of Kevin Hawkins)

2001: Larry Page’s keynote

Before Google was a verb, Larry Page told a Connect audience of real estate bigwigs and tech entrepreneurs from around the country that many homebuyers would eventually search for homes online — a claim that prompted some skepticism.

“What in the hell do you have this guy up there for?” one broad-shouldered broker asked Brad Inman at the time. “What does this have to do with real estate?”

July 2001 Real Estate Connect San Francisco brochure featuring Google’s Larry Page (From the archives of Kevin Hawkins)

2002: When Dave Liniger, Doug Lebda, Gary Keller and Laurie Janik speak at Connect

By July 2002, Connect was attracting industry luminaries that are still recognizable today, including Bill Emerson, CEO of Quicken Loans; Laurie Janik, former general counsel for the National Association of Realtors; Gary Keller, co-founder of Keller Williams; Doug Lebda, founder of LendingTree; and Dave Liniger, co-founder of RE/MAX.

Real Estate Connect San Francisco brochure, July 2002 (From the archives of Kevin Hawkins)

2006: Trulia’s mascots wander the Connect halls

Trulia officially launched in 2005. The following year, lime-green Trulia “Markerman” mascots — styled after a map pointer icon displayed at the Trulia.com site — started making an appearance at Connect events.

Trulia’s mascots at Inman Connect San Francisco (Photo credit: Erik Hersman)

2007: 60 Minutes films a debate between Glenn Kelman and Allan Dalton

At Real Estate Connect New York in January 2007, Inman introduced “Connect Duet” sessions in which industry notables discussed the issues of the day. At that event, a film crew from 60 Minutes captured a raucous debate between outspoken Realtor.com executive Allan Dalton and Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman over commission rates.

“It was like the sound of your garbage disposal when a couple of cherry pits rattle around the bottom,” Brad Inman wrote in 2017.

“This was a low point for disrupters and legacy companies. A master at FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) Dalton body slammed Kelman, who had every right to start his own company with any business model he wanted.

“Equally, Kelman could have exhibited more respect for an industry that does so many things right.”

The 60 Minutes episode ultimately ran in May 2007, prompting fierce backlash from the National Association of Realtors.

Screenshot of Glenn Kelman on “60 Minutes” in 2007

2007: Zillow’s Rich Barton and NAR’s Dale Stinton debate the industry’s future

At Real Estate Connect in San Francisco that summer, “Connect Duets” continued. Dale Stinton, CEO of the National Association of Realtors, and Rich Barton, founder and CEO of Zillow, took the stage to discuss the housing market, technology and the future of the real estate business. Barton had appeared at Real Estate Connect New York in January 2006, just before launching Zillow.

Brad Inman facilitates a discussion between Dale Stinton and Rich Barton at Inman Connect San Francisco in 2007 (Photo credit: Erik Hersman)

2007: The craigslist online community wins “Innovator of the Year” award

At Real Estate Connect in San Francisco in August 2007, the craigslist online community won Inman’s first “Innovator of the Year” award. Craigslist founder Craig Newmark spoke at Connect many times over the years. In 2007, he participated in a Connect Duet with Alex Perriello, president and CEO of Realogy Franchise Group.

Craig Newmark, Alex Perriello and Brad Inman at Real Estate Connect San Francisco 2007 (Photo credit: Christopher Heister)

 2010: New Kids on the Block is born

In January 2010, NabeWise Media won Inman’s first “Start-up Shoot-Out” competition at Real Estate Connect New York. The contest would be re-named “New Kids on the Block” at Inman Connect San Francisco that same year.

Start-Up Shoot-Out competition at Real Estate Connect New York 2010

2014: Arianna Huffington tells us to get enough sleep

In January 2014, Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, told Connect attendees to get enough sleep, so that they can be clear-headed and exercise good judgment when on the job. Her message resonated with many and a year later, real estate tech entrepreneur Zach Schabot credited her keynote with saving his life.

“If I hadn’t listened to Arianna Huffington that day in New York … if I didn’t hear her story about collapsing into a glass coffee table … , I would never have made that doctor appointment. I would have tried to battle through my stress and failed,” Schabot wrote in a note to Brad Inman.

“One year later, I am down 25 pounds and I feel amazing! I have energy. I sleep great. I have clarity in my thinking. I am a better dad and a better husband. I am writing this letter to you, instead of you writing a story about a 35-year-old man who dies of a heart attack.”

Arianna Huffington speaks at Real Estate Connect New York City 2014.

 

2015: Rupert Murdoch asks “What the hell does Zillow mean?”

In January 2015, Rupert Murdoch, executive chairman of News Corp., spoke at Real Estate Connect New York. Fresh from acquiring Realtor.com operator Move Inc. two months earlier, Murdoch sought to allay real estate agents concerns about the purchase and pushed back against suggestions that Realtor.com is due for a name change.

What the hell does Zillow mean?” Murdoch said when asked whether “Realtor.com” remains relevant. “We know what Realtor means.”

Rupert Murdoch at Real Estate Connect NYC / Elza Hyan.

2016: Inman orchestrates a family reunion

In August 2016, Billy Ekofo, then-director of leads management at Century 21 Redwood Realty, told attendees his personal story about leaving the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) at age 17 without his family. Unbeknownst to him, Inman and C21 Redwood Realty had been working behind the scenes to bring his family to the United States. At the end of Ekofo’s talk, his family surprised him and joined him on stage, where they were reunited after 18 years.

Billy Ekofo reunites with his family at Inman Connect San Francisco, August 2016

2017: Connect leads to a marriage

In 2012, Peter Brewer and Tara Christianson were Inman ambassadors together at Inman Connect San Francisco and developed something stronger than a friendship over the following year. For the next two years, they met up every six months at ICSF and Inman Connect New York.

Finally, in January 2017, Brewer, a real estate veteran of more than 30 years, proposed to Christianson, then-technology and training director for C21 Redwood Realty, on the ICNY opening stage.

“In one of the biggest gambles of my life — with Brad and the Inman team’s help, and in front of 4,000 fellow attendees (plus those online) — I decided to drop to one knee and utter those fateful words that, with a simple one-word answer, can either crush or exhilarate a man,” Brewer wrote later.

“Fortunately for me, Tara said yes!”

Peter Brewer proposes to Tara Christianson.

2017: Inman hosts the first Disconnect

In 2017, Inman Connect went back to its roots, hosting Inman Disconnect, an invite-only conference on the banks of the Russian River in Sonoma County, California.

Brad Inman at the first Inman Disconnect event in 2017

2018: The Parker Principles come to life

In April 2018, Inman Disconnect moved to Palm Springs, California, where nearly 200 leaders from every corner of the real estate industry collectively created the Parker Principles. The 12 principles focused on improving the real estate transaction; setting standards for competency and ethics; working to build more entry-level homes; breaking down barriers to property data; and equipping brokerages and organizations with diverse leaders who better represent the communities they serve and approach problems from fresh angles.

Inman Disconnect in the Desert, April 2018

2018: Gary Keller refuses to sit down

In July 2018, Keller Williams co-founder Gary Keller returned to the Connect stage to discuss with Inman founder and publisher Brad Inman how the real estate franchisor was pivoting to turn itself into a technology company. But the tone of the conversation — intense, conflict-ridden, sometimes awkward, sometimes funny — overshadowed the conversation, as did Keller’s refusal to sit down after repeated requests from Brad Inman. Keller eventually did sit down and the session ended on a cordial note.

Gary Keller (R) and Brad Inman (L) at ICSF 2018

Credit: Scott Chernis/Inman

2019: Inman Connect moves to Sin City

In the summer of 2019, Inman Connect left San Francisco for the bright lights of Las Vegas. There, Molly Bloom, a former member of the U.S. Ski Team who wrote a memoir about her time running exclusive, high-stakes underground poker games, spoke to Connect attendees about the lessons she learned that apply to real estate.

Molly Bloom at Inman Connect Las Vegas, July 2019 (Photo credit: PlanOmatic)

2020: First COVID Connect

In 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Inman canceled Inman Connect Las Vegas that year, and, in June, debuted its Connect Now virtual events.

Brad Inman, Josh Team and Gary Keller at Inman Connect Now

2021: Inman Connect returns in person — and so does the drama

In October 2021, with safety precautions in place, Inman Connect Las Vegas returned as an in-person event. Amid the joy of seeing old friends and meeting new ones, industry movers and shakers put their stakes in the ground once again. This includes Andy Florance, CEO of CoStar, who accuses Zillow of “hijacking” agents’ listings, setting up a rivalry between the two real estate behemoths.

Andy Florance at Inman Connect Las Vegas, October 2021 (Credit: AJ Canaria of MoxiWorks)

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