Beyond the Box – Season 1 – Episode 3 – Laura Monroe – Global Head of Community at Inman News

Beyond the Box – Season 1 – Episode 3 – Featuring the Global Head of Community at Inman News, Laura Monroe.

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This week, Mike McAra has the pleasure of sitting down with Laura Monroe, Global Head of Community with Inman News to discuss the effects of COVID-19 on the #realestate industry and what the future may hold for it’s members. 

“I think that first of all, one of the things about the real estate industry that I think we’ve always kind of known and definitely been able to witness is, you know, the adaptability of us as an industry.”

Full Transcript of the Show

Mike: Alright, so. Laura Monroe. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. 

Laura: Thanks for having me! Appreciate it. 

Mike: Yeah, absolutely! I’m so excited to chat with you. 

Laura: Me too! This is so exciting. 

Mike: You know, it’s definitely weird times out there right now, so you know the video conferences seem to be the way we can connect, so it’s another opportunity for us to do that. 

Laura: Well I have just, I don’t know if you saw my Facebook post. I have just dawned a new name. I am now called the high priestess of Zoom. 

Laura: So, here we are! 

Mike: I was wondering how long it would take before people start putting that on LinkedIn, you know, as like a skill, or…. 

Laura: Exactly.  I’m a virtual event expert… guru.

Mike: Was that who wrote that? The virtual event expert? 

Laura: I did! Yeah, I think that it’s going to be…yeah… it’s going to be huge. 

Mike: I saw that. So, okay, so just so our audience gets a sense, you are the global head of community at Inman right now. 

Laura: Yes!

Mike: So, what does that mean? 

Laura: Yeah, exactly! Well, um, so… you know, Inman… Inman is a media publishing company. We, but we also do events. We do live events, we do virtual events, but we also do, we’re also know for our editorial industry news. So, think of us as the Wall Street Journal of a real estate news and industry. Um, but our community has had sort of a following. Both because once we meet each other in person at our events… 

Mike: What’s that?! 

Laura: Which is a … Right, exactly. What is that? I’ve forgotten what that’s like! 

Mike: Yeah. 

Laura: It becomes a very big community. And a following. So, years ago, back when I was at Inman before, we did a lot with ambassadors. We did a lot on the Facebook groups and certainly social media played a big roll. But it shifted a bit with this particular role, because Inman has never really had anybody in this community driven role. So, it’s a leadership role. We’re pulling more people together under the communication platforms that we use. The digital channels, as well as our events. And it’s well into the thousands. 

Mike: Wow. 

Laura: So, it just creates an audience that is both online and offline. And it helps us to really keep our um… it just brings people together in a really innovative ways. 

Mike: So, the thousands. Are those realtors, brokers, like who are those thousands of people?

Laura: Everything. I mean, I think originally it was… we sort of used our segmentation as like agents, brokers, um, CEO’s and founders, Technology CEO’s and founders, entrepreneurs, vendors, providers, organized real estate leaders, associations, state and local. I mean, anyone! The one amazing thing about Inman is that we have a platform for conversation that is agnostic; meaning that it doesn’t matter what brokerage you’re with, it doesn’t matter what association you’re with, it doesn’t matter what leader you’re from, or which company you’re with. We want to share that information out to everybody for the benefit of all. So, we don’t get too caught up in brands and too much brand loyalty. 

Mike: Which is interesting, because your core background is a brand strategist, right? 

Laura: It is! It’s really where I learned a lot of the tricks of the trade for brands, yeah. 

Mike: It’s so, it’s so interesting. I love the whole Inman concept. You know I’ve met Brad a couple times. 

Laura: Yeah.

Mike: But his whole philosophy of essentially harmonizing, you know, innovation, real estate for the betterment of the industry or the community. I always mix up exactly what it is but it’s such an interesting philosophy, and clearly it’s resonating, so… 

Laura: Yes, yes. So, I think there’s been times where we’re a small strappy… We run like a start-up. We actually have less than 50 people on the Inman team, so we’re constantly working on big projects, editorials, events. But, you know, the community is really where… it’s who our audience is. So, it’s good to have recognize it. It’s good to put value behind it, it’s good as an organization to… especially, especially during these times, how important it is for us to play a role in keeping people connected. Um, it’s been an… it’s been an in… we’ve grown literally almost 200% on social media just in the past two weeks. 

Mike: I saw that post and I was just blown away by it. 

Laura: Yeah, incredible. 

Mike: I think if anything, it’s interesting because, my understanding within the Inman company is that, you are all working from home anyway, already. 

Laura: Yes. 

Mike: Like that was just, how it is. So, you’ve been tasked with growing this community remotely, since the… since the onset. 

Laura: Yep!

Mike: And now you’ve got this, this essentially, um, captive audience of people that are looking for that social connection. You know, the real estate industry is a social industry, let’s be honest. 

Laura: It definitely is. And well now, we’ve got a lot of people that are having to stay enclosed in their homes, and you know, make things work from home. But more than anything, they need each other. They need… you know, the innovation that is going to come from being in this moment in time; like, we have this conversation at Inman. Like we are in a very special moment in time that once we get past this pain, or get through the pain, I should say, not past it. Because no one is getting past it. Um, it’s… we’re watching this in real time, like, this is unfolding and innovating in such a rapid way, that it’s going to be an incredible situation to look back on. Probably within a few short months. 

Mike: You know, it’s going to be written in the history books. 

Laura: It will be. 

Mike: And you know this is obviously a generational defining moment. 

Laura: Mhm. 

Mike: And you know, it’s really… yeah, there’s that moment of self-reflection where… 

Laura: Exactly, in everything!

Mike: Yeah, so how do I take what I’m doing, you know… First of all, how do I survive and stay healthy, right?

Laura: Yeah.

Mike: First and foremost. 

Laura: First and foremost, yes. 

Mike: And then after that, okay. What does this look like going forward? Will the world continue to spin? I’m going to take the view that it will, right?

Laura: Mhm. 

Mike: So how do you position yourself to… to maintain what you’ve got going on, and how, how do you grow… 

Laura: Grow into it! 

Mike: And that new normal, whatever it may be. 

Laura: I call it…I read a really interesting book the other day. Well, I’ve actually had it on my bookshelf, and I haven’t read it but all the way through yet…

Mike: But you’ve got time now, you’ve got the time! 

Laura: But now I’ve got time! But you know what, I picked it up. It sits here on my bookshelf in my office, directly right in front of me. It’s written by Sheryl Sandberg and it’s called “Option B.”

Mike: Okay. 

Laura: And she wrote this book when her husband died suddenly of a heart attack, and it was about how she navigated the sudden overwhelming grief of losing her spouse, and then moving through that, and coming out of that on the other side psychologically and emotionally. And I just thought, “I wonder if there’s any of this that would pertain to this moment that we’re going through.” And there’s a chapter in the book that’s actually called, “Bouncing forward.”

Mike: Hmm…

Laura: And her therapist at the time told her, “in any incredibly traumatic situation, there are people that fold under it, there are people that are, um, that take a long time to heal, and then there are the people that are resilient; that sort of seem to bounce back.” And they… there is a thing that is called Post Traumatic Growth, where, it’s a mindset. It’s a mental strength that is, “I’m going to get through this, and I’m going to bounce forward.” And I brought it up last week in one of my videos, you know, I just do a quick video, and I just said, “you know what if we can get to this mindset of “I am where I am right now, but the resilience that I need is going to bounce me forward into this next redone industry.” 

Mike: Very cool. 

Laura: I think that, that was the really big chapter. It’s cool. 

Mike: Well, and I think that kind of Segway’s into where I wanted to take this next, was that you’ve obviously been in the industry for quite some time now. Right, so– 

Laura: –Yeah, almost 20 years, I think. 

Mike: Wow, 20 years, a year or two, yep. 

Laura: Yeah! 

Mike: You’ve seen some things. Um, and so, I guess one of the sort of interesting things that we’ve been talking about now that I think of it, I would love to sort of chat a bit with you about is, seeing that sort of that trend, and what’s emerged over those 20 years. And how that we’re at this point in time… kind of forward looking, what does that look like, and more from a community perspective, more from what you’re hearing from your conversations. So, if you could speak to that, you know, how it’s sort of gone from say, the global financial crisis, where things were really good and then they got really bad. And then it’s changed and now we’re in this other part… I don’t know. Like, in your experience, what like, how have you viewed that, and those sort of [flows]?

Laura: Yeah, I think that first of all, one of the things about the real estate industry that I think we’ve always kind of known and definitely been able to witness is, you know, the adaptability of us as an industry. No matter how many rules and regulations and different things that we have to sort of maneuver and navigate, whether you’re an agent or broker or technologist, there’s always the consumer. Those don’t change. There’s always data, and there’s always, you know, the technology that supports all of it. But the thing that amazes me is that, is the industry’s ability to adapt to the moment in time. And you know, certainly during this cycle on the crash of you know, the mid 2000’s and above. You know, we saw agents having to dive into actually working belly to belly with short sales and having to help buyers and sellers out of amazingly overwhelming complicated financial situations. So, I see our industry still as being the one that will help to host people, not only into new homes, but through financial situations because of mortgages, and rent, and property and home and shelter. We just had this conversation yesterday. You know, with everyone in lock down, that big questions is, “is real estate essential?” and it actually, for most of us, barring the immediate, um, civic duty to keep as everyone as healthy as possible. There still is this case of millions of people in the middle of transactions, in the middle of one home to another, in the middle of moving of moving out of one home getting into another. And, the agents and brokers today have to manage how to “land” those transactions safely. So, what I’ve seen is the amazing ingenuity no matter where they are at in technology, that… that’s what it’s really about, is just the ingenuity. 

Mike: It’s so interesting too, because you are almost going to see, or perhaps you are already seeing it, that agents have an enhanced value proposition. Beyond the tools you are using, beyond the conversations you are having. 

Laura: Definitely. 

Mike: With you know, with a lot of programs, a lot of different… 

Laura: Yeah. 

Mike: You know, there’s just so many moving parts, that you know, algorithms are great. It’s going to streamline more workflows, and I’m sure that there is more of this being done via Zoom. 

Laura: Mhm. 

Mike: Or, you know, pick your favourite web chat app, whatever that is. 

Laura: Yeah. 

Mike: But the reality is that, there is still that really core role for, um, that advisory service. Right?

Laura: Absolutely. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see many more, um, concierge type roles, advisor… you know, just services that sort of pop up out of this. In fact, I was watching a Facebook Live from a team in California, southern California, earlier today. And they are this psychologist, they’re the therapist, they’re the hand holders, they’re the service providers still. They’re still trying to figure out how to service people that are at home. You know, virtual tours — 

Mike: Mhm. 

Laura: –You know, to show property. Sending them meals via Door Dash, or delivery service or something to sort of help them, you know, feel a little bit better or to provide some help. So, you’re seeing agents that are really stepping up to work their relationship side, but then you’re also seeing them incredibly dive into the technology side, which is the videos and the you know, all of the different ways that they can connect both with clients and colleagues. You know to get it done and —

Mike: Yeah. 

Laura: — to connect in different ways. 

Mike: Yeah. It’s interesting because the question we’ve had come in internally is that, you know, there’s already adoption or you know, this growth of technology being part of the process. I think we all see that, and then you take it that step further, and you know, with the ibuyers coming in and doing a lot of things without agents to an extent. And then you get an event like this. And you know, we’ve seen ibuying just stop completely. 

Laura: Totally. I completely agree. 

Mike: So that’s wild, number one. And then number two is that, you know, the question is, does an event like this empower agents to adopt technology more? Or, does it accelerate trends that are existent, or does it create new ones? And then, and then with each of those, what does that look like from the agent’s perspective, from the opportunity and a challenge? And same for a tech company, from an opportunity and challenge? You know, from a strategist and a brand and marketing background as well as building community, I’d love to get your take on that. 

Laura: Yeah, well… those are really big questions. And I think from… I mean we’re already seeing agents talk about the technology that they need because the first thing that happened out here in the States when some of the county’s started to close down their services, their county services, it meant that a lot of these transactions weren’t going to get the closing table, because they didn’t have the right services. The legal services to get there. Um, mortgage and title wasn’t necessarily considered an essential service. But very quickly, when the States and the county’s realized that you know, real estate is still happening. There are people that are misplaced without these closings, then they right away came back in and said, “Okay, it’s an essential service. We know we’ve got to get you, get you to be able to accomplish what you need to accomplish, to move things in the direction they need to move then.” So that was like, the first “Ah-ha” that all the States and counties went “Oh! I guess you do need to have a county recorder’s office to close this deal.” And it didn’t happen widespread, but from a technology standpoint, those companies that provide the services: the notaries, the different things to be able to close these things are the first technologies that are not working completely virtually the way they need to. 

Mike: Hmm… 

Laura: So, right now, if you’re paying attention and you’re someone that works in technology. The first thing that you need to do is we need to figure out how to get more e-notarized type of things. Like, we can’t just have notaries coming around to people’s homes and walking them through the paperwork. Like we literally have to get them on some kind of platform. So, it wouldn’t surprise me if technology wise, we definitely see the all in one solution in terms of getting from end to end in a transaction, without having to go into a million different places. And they will have to connect to the right state and local authorities to be able to get those things done. And I think we’ll see a push for those, which it’s not going to be “real estate agent mandate” to have them, it’s actually going to be a requirement. 

Mike: Well, it’s interesting how, you know, what I hear a lot is that red tape, or there’s that Government element that really stifles a bit of it. 

Laura: Yeah. 

Mike: And then you get an event like this where it’s like, “Oh by the way, we need to do solute transactions and so it is in fact, the service needs to be open.” And almost overnight, that red tape is gone. And then now you’ve got “Okay, that’s there.” Now we have this opportunity to build this company that we’ve always wanted to that, and provide that service that agents wanted, consumers wanted. But for whatever preconceived law, or what have you, it just wasn’t the case right?

Laura: Right. Well, and I think the NAR statistic that I heard, um, I think it was on one of my virtual calls, was that there’s up to 60 small businesses or 60 businesses that are attached to any transaction at any given time. 

Mike: Wow. 

Laura: So, when you think about what an agent or a broker has to do carry in a transaction. All of the puzzle pieces that they’re trying to put together. One agent… I did something on Facebook where she said, “You know, we’re literally, not to compare industries, but the analogy would be that, “Right now we’re the air traffic controllers, and we have millions of flights in the air, and we’re just trying to get them safely on the ground” in terms of what the transactions are.” So, if you look at it like that, then it’s… the role of the agent is incredibly important. Both for the technology driving side, as well as, you know, getting the consumers what they need. They are the ones that are getting the consumer what they need. 

Mike: Well the reality is, and the last number I saw was something like 5 million transactions in the U.S. right up here I think we’re at a tenth of that, I think it’s 500 thousand up here in Canada. You know, so there’s that demand to move and I guess the question would be if you remove that underlying economic cycle with the people being able to work, right? And that what’s come with this event here, does that change things and how does that all go forward? But I think ultimately what it comes back to is, you know, two key things that you’ve already highlighted. Number one on the agent’s side is that you need to be more of that advisor, full service, sort of, you know, spoke curator of all things like the air traffic controller. But then on the technology side, there’s these opportunities to come in here and to plug in these holes that you know, you’ve identified. 

Laura: Absolutely. If the technology companies are listening, they’re going to get a wealth of feedback. 

Mike: I hope they’re listening! 

Laura: Yes, yes! I, I think if I were … I would just be watching every Facebook live, I’d be following what every agent is taking about because here’s what’s going to happen. I think. Um, if we can get back to, you know, once we get past the peak, it’s going to happen in different geographical areas. I mean, we’re hoping that New York comes out of this first and reaches the peak and can get back to some sense of opening things up a little bit. But we’re in California and we’re already looking to see what’s going on in China and Italy and New York. 

Mike: Yeah. 

Laura: Everyone will be keeping their eye on how this unrolls, um. And, there’s going to be some places that certainly reach business opportunities quicker than other ones. And so, it’s going to be interesting to see but I think once we can sort of all breath some sigh of relief on the other end of this, real estate is going to make a fast, rubber band come back. Meaning, we’re going to know how to do this virtually. Companies are going to be rearing to go to provide more technology and services to make these things happen faster. People based on their economic situations, based on their job situation, based on where they need to be to be closer to loved ones or elderly; they’re going to be making moves. They’re going to be making big moves. And our agent core, regardless of what brand you’re with, are going to be the ones that are making those… they’re going to be the ones that have those peoples lives literally in their hands. So, they right now, are information sponges. From the governors, in our states that are telling us when we can go out, when we can’t go out, when we can have open houses, when we can’t. I mean, it’s been… 

Mike: There’s a lot going on. 

Laura: There’s a lot going on. Yeah. Yeah. 

Mike: Yeah. 

Laura: But I think it’s exciting when we can get past the pain. Yeah. 

Mike: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And again, I think that’s, that’s sort of that underlying core philosophy that you have to have, is that things will continue to move after this is done. And…

Laura: We can survive. 90 days. 

Mike: Exactly. So, let’s survive, first and foremost. Stay healthy, you know, do the socially responsible thing. Take care of our families. And then kind of let’s see where things can go moving forward from there. 

Laura: Yeah. 

Mike: And so, you know, just to wrap things up here. So, let’s say it’s 2021. It’s Inman Connect in Las Vegas, okay? You’re speaking and what are you telling… What is the talk about? And… 

Laura: Wow…

Mike: Yeah. Let’s just leave it there. What’s the talk about? And maybe just speak to that a bit. 

Laura: Okay, so I’m going to take it a bit different, because here’s what I was having…  

Mike: You’re cheating! 

Laura: Well, okay here’s what I was having. Okay, here’s my topic and I’m going to take it from a leadership standpoint, not necessarily from an agent standpoint. 

Mike: Okay!

Laura: My audience is the leaders of real estate. 

Mike: Okay. 

Laura: And, my… my thing to them is… is that it doesn’t matter who you have working for you in your company, or in your brand. They’ve been through a huge psychological shift, both business and emotionally. And if you’re not right now considering ways to redefine how people are working in your company, both from an emotional, mental, technological standpoint you will not have the right culture. If you continue on with the culture you had before this happened, and you do it with this, you know, after this event, you’re not going to have the same company. So, it doesn’t matter if you’re a CEO, or if you’re an entrepreneur. If you cannot look at the emotional intelligence that you’re going to need to pull people together, I think community is going to be a huge thing. If you have leaders that are tone deaf, who don’t understand what their agent/agents or brokers have been through, if they can’t communicate with an understanding about it, they just expect to go back to normal, and have the same kind of communication. Then I think we’re going to see… we’re not going to see the healing that we need. We’re going to be even more tone deaf because we’re not going to understand all of the changes that is required to be and show up the way we need to in this industry. So, that would be my talk, which is “How are you going to redefine how you’re doing business as a leader in this industry.” 

Mike: I can’t wait to see it in person! 

Laura: Yeah! 

Mike: So, I will see you… 

Laura: Well, I’ll be putting my slide deck together! 

Mike: I hopefully see you summer of 2021 at least. 

Laura: I hope, I would hope so! You better be there! It’d be great to have you. 

Mike: On that note, thank you so much for your time Laura. 

Laura: Thank you so much, I appreciate you for having me. 

Mike: Stay safe, stay healthy. 

Laura: You too! Please do. 

Mike: I look forward to meeting you in person when we’re finally allowed to do that. 

Laura: Yes! And I will email you what we were talking about earlier. 

Mike: Perfect, perfect. 

— End of Podcast —

Beyond the Box: Conversations with real estate executives, venture capital partners and technologists on what lays ahead for the real estate industry in a world after COVID-19.

Beyond the Box Podcast Hosts

Lynette Keyowski
Beyond the Box Host: Lynette Keyowski – Managing Director at REACH Canada
Mike McAra Headshot
Beyond the Box Host: Mike McAra – Director at REACH Canada