The National Association of REALTORS® and the AgeTech Collaborative™: Nurturing Innovation

By Mark Ogilbee posted 06-02-2022 09:50 AM

Max Weisman of the National Association of REALTORS®

The realm of AgeTech is a vibrant, exciting and far-reaching space that finds common ground with an array of diverse industries. The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), a participant in the AgeTech Collaborative™, is an influential organization in the real estate industry with a mission to preserve, protect and advance the right to real property for all. 

We recently sat down with Dan Weisman, director of emerging tech with the NAR, to discuss the organizations’ common interest in emerging tech. 


Can you tell us a little bit about what the National Association of REALTORS® is, and what you do? 

The National Association of REALTORS® is the country’s largest real estate trade association, with 1.5 million members. We’re heavily focused on both the residential and commercial real estate spaces. I’m with the national association, but we have state and local associations all across the country, and we have global relationships as well. Obviously, across the globe, we operate a bit differently. But at the end of the day, we're all transacting similar assets — real estate — and there's a lot to learn from each other.  

NAR has a wholly owned subsidiary called Second Century Ventures, which is our venture arm, and they have a scale-up program called REACH. That program originally focused on residential PropTech, for the most part. Then about three years ago, they created a program to focus on the commercial real estate space, and also expanded the program globally, specifically to Canada, Australia and the U.K. with ambitions to open additional locations in the years ahead. REACH evaluates technology for real estate and adjacent industries that are part of the overarching real estate ecosystem, like mortgage, insurance and home services. I work intimately with Second Century Ventures and REACH when it comes to looking at and understanding technology that we think is going to impact the real estate space. 


You mentioned “PropTech” — can you explain what that is? 

That’s shorthand for “property technology.” The way I define PropTech is any kind of technology that supports any process associated with real estate. It could be a transaction management platform; it could be the use of electronic signatures, such as with DocuSign, or electronic notarization, such as with Notarize. It could be an augmented reality program that allows somebody to experience a virtual staging, or it could be a product associated with artificial intelligence. [For example, AARP Innovation Labs’ HomeFit AR app uses advanced image recognition to identify places where home improvements could make living spaces more comfortable and safe.] So PropTech encompasses a pretty broad range — it’s really any tech that touches the real estate sector. 

Of course, the AgeTech Collaborative™ is primarily focused on technology designed to impact and improve the lives of older adults — that’s the “AgeTech” part of the AgeTech Collaborative™. Are there ways that PropTech intersects with AgeTech? 

There was a company in our program last year called K4Connect. Their focus is around the aging population and how more and more people are wanting to age in place, because they like their homes. But as we get older, things change, and we can't necessarily do what we used to do, so aging in place may not be an option for some people. 

So when you're looking holistically at real estate and trying to understand where and how people live — and when and why they move — we believe that technology is a huge component that not only the young generation needs to be aware of, but also the aging population.  

For example, K4Connect is all about helping aging and retirement communities be more connected through technology — whether it be Amazon Alexa or working out through some sort of app or technology. K4Connect is focused on how people live, where they live, and how — based on technology — they might be able to make different decisions regarding when it's the right time to move. So that creates a huge dynamic in the buying and selling and transacting of real estate. It has an impact on supply and demand, and on how people make their decisions. 


Can you give an example? 

I think about the 5G mobile network, which you see in all the commercials. And from a real estate perspective, you might think, “Well, who cares? It doesn't help me complete transactions any faster. I can wait an extra few seconds per transaction for a signature to go through.” 

But where I think 5G could have serious implications for the future is, for instance, with autonomous vehicles. Or telehealth and the ability to remotely monitor somebody’s health. Because these could have huge implications on people's decisions in terms of where they live, how and where they work, and even how they travel or commute.  

If you are an aging person and you have health conditions, for example, you probably need to live within 30 minutes of a hospital. But imagine: With the high speed and high reliability of 5G connectivity, maybe you can be connected to devices that proactively monitor your health. Or if a health event occurs, your doctor can immediately connect and handle any sort of issue. So with 5G, that means maybe you don’t need to live so close to the hospital, if you want to live and retire in a rural area, for instance. And so all this starts to change the dynamic of the real estate landscape and how and when people decide to move or not. 


I can see how your interest in PropTech and our interest in AgeTech are aligned, even if they’re somewhat adjacent to each other, so to speak. Given that loose alignment, I’m curious about how it has been to work with the AgeTech Collaborative™ — what benefits have you seen? 

Our leadership has wanted to make sure we have connection points with other associations because we have a lot to learn from each other: How do you work with your membership? How do you deal with the industry? How do these industries overlap? Because though our industries each have a unique focus, at the end of the day we're looking at: How is technology innovation going to support our member base? How is it going to support communities? How can we better invest in or support it so that we can be drivers of innovation? 

Plus, on a practical level, there have been some really good events and sessions that I've participated in, that really helped. The Collaborative has hosted demo days and roundtables. There was a series called “Biases That Hinder Innovation” that was really good — these kinds of events start to give you this perspective of generally looking at things differently, and how technology ties into it. 


Final question. AgeTech Collaborative™ participants often have a unique view of the obstacles that prevent emerging tech from being more widely adopted by older adults. I’m wondering what challenges you’ve seen, if any, in that regard. 

I want to be careful about speaking out of turn, because I don't know the AgeTech population as well as AARP. But I think that technology has mainly been designed for the younger crowd because innovators underestimate the capabilities of the 50-plus. There's always going to be an aging population, and they're always going to have similar needs. So I think that gives us this huge opportunity, and I think the Collaborative is leading that charge, just like NAR is leading that charge in the real estate space.