Meet the real estate geeks who have lessons for housing pros

In a changing real estate market, the advice and expertise that Inman provides is more valuable than ever. at Inman Connect, our how-to journalism comes to life to help you build your business, use the right tools – and make money. Join us today virtual for Connect Now and in person at Inman Connect Las Vegas in August for all the information you need to make the right decisions. When the water gets choppy, trust Inman to help you navigate.

Back in 2019, Google sister company Sidewalk Labs presented an ambitious plan. The company said it would aim for wooden skyscrapers, adaptable buildings with flexible walls, and a transportation system that would reduce the need for private cars.

All of this, Sidewalk Labs said, would come together in a new experimental community in Toronto on the shores of Lake Ontario. Renderings released at the time showed a futuristic landscape halfway between Black Panther‘s Wakanda and something out star trek.

A year later, Sidewalk Labs — an urban design startup and part of Google’s parent company Alphabet — changed course and dropped out of the ambitious Toronto project. Dreams of a utopian neighborhood apparently died as the coronavirus pandemic threw the global real estate market into chaos.

But while Sidewalk Labs finally gave up on its most ambitious plans, remnants of the project remain. The company’s website describes Sidewalk Labs’ goal as creating “products and places that radically improve the quality of life in cities for all.”

Sidewalk Labs is still investing in bulk lumber, a type of timber construction that allows builders to erect buildings that would normally require steel. And another goal of Sidewalk Labs is to “empower real estate teams to design better, faster, and with less risk.”

And therein lies an important lesson: Realtors sit at the forefront of the real estate industry, but homebuilding is also influenced by a vast and holistic ecosystem that includes professionals from a range of disciplines. The business of providing accommodation is more than just the real estate business.

To that end, the stage at the upcoming Inman Connect Las Vegas will host four professionals who have found success in endeavors outside of the real estate industry. The idea is that with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective, these speakers can hopefully help real estate professionals see their own work in a new light and make otherwise impossible connections.

Here’s what you need to know:

Tameka Vasquez, director of marketing at Sidewalk Labs

Tameka Vasquez

Tameka Vasquez has been with Sidewalk Labs since last year — meaning she joined the company after the Toronto project. Her responsibilities include growing the company’s brand and overseeing external communications.

At Inman Connect Las Vegas, Vasquez will discuss how technology is transforming buildings and the built environment – and how these things can potentially make the world a better place.

These ideas are a big deal. A tremendous amount of Wall Street and venture capital has poured into the real estate industry in recent years. That money has fueled success stories like Opendoor, backed by Japanese mega-fund Softbank, as well as duds like Katerra, a construction startup that also had Softbank funds but ultimately failed last year.

Anyway, the point is that there are a lot of very big bets being made right now on technology that will directly impact the real estate industry. And as part of Sidewalk Labs, Vasquez has a front row seat as this story unfolds.

Keira D’Amato, agent and marathon runner

Keira D’Amato

Keira D’Amato is an agent at Stone Properties in Virginia. But when she appears on the Connect stage, she will also speak about the time in which she made history: In January, she set a record as the fastest American woman to ever run a marathon.

D’Amato’s journey into the record books has been long and circuitous. She started running in high school, then competed in college and beyond until an ankle injury knocked her out. After retiring from racing, she spent the next eight years building a career in real estate and raising a family.

Eventually, D’Amato started running again to get back into shape after having two children. She decided to run a marathon and signed up for the Chevron Houston Marathon in Texas last year. She was 37 when she ran the race and eventually finished in two hours, 19 minutes and 12 seconds – more than a minute faster than the previous record set in 2006 and 10 minutes faster than her closest competitor in the marathon.

At the time of her record race CBS News described D’Amato as “an ordinary woman who does unusual things”.

At Connect, D’Amato will talk about her historical journey and life in the real estate industry.

Derek Thompson, staff writer at The Atlantic

Derek Thompson

Back in May, Derek Thompson made a bold claim: the US housing market for which he wrote The Atlantic“is on the verge of a significant slowdown.”

Thompson is not a broker or even a member of the real estate industry. He is a journalist. But his prediction turned out to be prescient; In the month since he published this article, mortgage rates have skyrocketed and the industry has actually started to slow down significantly.

That Thompson would be right about the housing market slowdown isn’t surprising, since his punch typically involves searching for surprise implications of major economic trends. For example, it’s old news at this point that the pundits are predicting a recession in the near future. But just this week, Thompson espoused that idea, arguing that a recession could ultimately drive more employees back into the office and away from the work-from-home arrangements that have proven popular during the pandemic.

Earlier this year, Thompson also joined real estate executives at Disconnect in Palm Springs, where he spoke about the scarcity plaguing the US right now — there’s a labor shortage, a lack of COVID testing, a housing shortage, and so on — and argued that the solution is something he called the “abundance agenda”.

Thompson’s comments at Disconnect were well received and he will now continue the discussion of issues and spillovers facing the housing industry from the main Connect stage.

dr Moriba Jah, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin

Moriba Jah

Moriba Jah’s CV reads like a directory of renowned scientific institutions in the USA. As a young man, Jah served in the US Air Force and then earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Along the way, he won a NASA grant, which he used to study the moon’s gravity.

Jah then earned an advanced degree from the University of Colorado Boulder, during which time he also worked for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The work he did at JPL eventually ended up being part of several Mars rover missions.

Today Jah is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. His list of achievements is too long to list fully here, but he is a fellow of TED and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, among others, and has served as a member of the United Nations delegation.

So why is Jah joining Connect?

Real estate is inherently grounded in the earth. Houses are planted in dug holes and built using materials such as brick and wood. Real estate is essentially a down-to-earth profession.

In contrast, Jah’s work looks to the sky. And in doing so, it offers a very different perspective, one that challenges the inhabitants of this world to look beyond themselves and the short timelines of their own lives. Throughout his time on the Connect stage, Jah will consistently speak about the future, technology and space – and why those things should matter to everyone.

Email to Jim Dalrymple II

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