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Opinion Editorials

Real estate associations, Realtor members and their unique challenges

Photograph: ITV

It’s no wonder that Realtor professionals are placing more and more pressure upon the associations tasked with connecting them to the latest and greatest technologies. The hysteria caused by the rapid growth of Zillow and Trulia along with the surge of mobile technologies, social media, and the idea of do-it-yourself real estate empowered by the likes of Google and popular television shows geared to this phenomenon are certainly tasking industry professionals in more ways than can be counted. Realtors seeking to maintain relevancy are demanding bleeding edge solutions and in most cases coming up empty handed.

Although the associations themselves do not design and develop their own systems, they have tasked themselves with the feat of connecting membership with the latest technology, never anticipating the wide birth of technological advances the real estate industry has sustained over the past 10 to 15 years. From the sharing of local MLS data with third parties, to a more personal shift in communications in relation to smartphone and mobile computing, it seems that the problem of buying an up to date PC only to be obsolete the next day is now compounded by a generation of consumer accepting and adopting the concept of online transactions coupled with the user experiences provided by consumer facing search products designed to capitalize on this digital evolution.

It’s becoming more and more apparent that there is a growing frustration among Realtors that search no longer begins locally, and when it does, local real estate search looks nothing like branded search competitors. Local Realtors can obviously overcome some of this by providing the best IDX products on the market but ultimately, they remain in competition with local search provided not only by associations, but also by branded search, and increasing numbers of SEO savvy Realtors. The first impression is either highly negative or positive, yet insanely competitive depending on who holds first position in search engines in that particular market. Realtor associations are walking a very tight rope in bolstering the local Realtor brand, not competing with Realtors or Brokers themselves, yet delivering the sharpest and most innovative first and last stop solution for consumers.

This crucial element is often overlooked by associations in the frustration of Realtor membership as it’s just one of many symptomatic issues that plague Realtors in terms of relevancy and associations in terms of living up to their mission statements. Why is this so critical? It’s not specifically search that is so critical, it’s the first point of contact for consumers that is the true issue in whatever first contact that comes to pass, whether it’s a client gateway, an IDX, a website itself, or even an MLS. Realtors we’ve studied see no difference in any of these products in terms of first and last impression and consumer experience believing that services they (the Realtor) do not control cannot and should not diminish their ultimate value in the eyes of consumers.

Many Realtors do not understand that the consumer facing real estate search that associations may provide is not the MLS itself, nor that the MLS itself is not a consumer facing product, nor the difference between an IDX data layer from an MLS, nor do they care. Education on these subjects is needed but often ignored by most associations as associations have relied on vendors to just magically produce acceptable products for associations to pass along to member consumers. But the expectations have drastically changed over time as the perception of many Realtors is that some vendors are in competition with them directly, or that their products are antiquated in comparison to most consumer facing products.

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Advances once ignored by the industry are now in demand by Realtors but plagued (yet blessed) by membership-driven leadership with term limits, slow turn around time by vendors, and balancing the unique expectations of each and every member with their personal vision of what is bleeding edge yet not competitive with the membership itself, not to mention the political business interests inherently built into any Realtor association. The only thing that comes with many part-time cooks and supervisors in a kitchen is chaos and burnt food, all of which is being fueled by the latest 140 character sound bite on why Realtors are going to die like dinosaurs, or more realistically, like the legacy travel or stock trading industries.

Although Realtors and consumers are captivated by 140 character headlines, they’re less inclined to actually attempt to understand the complexities that make up the headlines they’re reading and repeating. When a Realtor flippantly spouts one of these sound bites that lend to the demise of the Realtor brand, they can seldom tell you where they heard it or argue to support it, thus lending to the ignorance shared among many real estate professionals who’ve fallen victim to the hysteria of change.

It’s true, in our opinion, that the real estate revolution was put down, but the evolution of the real estate industry has by no means ceased. The battle for relevancy has internalized and is spreading from within, and in some cases are placing the associations’ next move in the cross hairs of Realtor membership. The questions on the table for associations and Realtor membership are abundant and complicated, as is the relationship members have with brokers and branded search providers, but one thing is clear, it isn’t just Realtors themselves that are in question in terms of relevancy, but Realtor associations are as well in terms of what they are, who they serve, as is their ultimate purpose in the eyes of their membership.

Associations must redefine themselves today to get ahead of these systemic issues beginning with their CEOs. The root answer is leadership, and a clear and concise vision for the board and it’s membership with a hands on approach to solving these unique challenges. Visionary leadership from the top down is the only viable answer when it comes to uniting a membership behind a purpose and a mission. At the end of the day, the only thing that tames Hell’s Kitchen is a coherent strategy designed by a world class Chef.

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Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network. Before AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation has received the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular offline events. He does not venture into the spotlight often, rather he believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits and develops, so he gives all credit to those he's empowered.

44 Comments

44 Comments

  1. kevin troll tomlinson

    May 8, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Good post. I wish I got points for commenting, like AR

  2. Teresa Boardman

    May 8, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    I am not sure I get your point on this one. I know the homes searches are important but buyers can search for homes pretty much anywhere and I don't care where they search. It is a shame we gave our data away but this is the information age and our roles have expanded beyond that of gate keeper.

  3. Matthew Rathbun

    May 8, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    I've had a large personal shift in ideology in the past 18 months or so… I've become indifferent about the Association. I get what support I can from them and don't expect them to get me on the bleeding edge.

    It's time for agents to take responsibility to learn what we need on our own and stop blaming our brokers and Associations for our own lack of knowledge.

    As far as data goes, it's out – now it's time to do what we should have been doing all along… concentrate on service and not being the keepers of the data.

  4. Missy Caulk

    May 9, 2011 at 6:53 am

    "What are you doing for me?" What is the value proposition?

    This is the question our Association is dealing with, as we just hired Kevin McQueen to come in and do an assessment. Well that was the 2nd most response. The first was, "we want data sharing to be easier."

    Of course never mind there are updates all the time from the staff and very few members click them open or read them.

    I agree with you Benn, in the fact that Associations are redefining themselves or are having too. Technology is above them most of the time.

    We currently use mlxchange and have been waiting for it to be Safari, FoxFire compliant for years. We finally were told they were beta testing in Austin with a product called Fusion.

    But, they are using flash to upgrade, now how is that gonna work out for you with Ipads and Iphones….NOT.

    Us, Mac users (which is becoming more and more in Ann Arbor) are frustrated beyond belief.

  5. Eric Holmes

    May 9, 2011 at 11:49 am

    I think if you look at the demographics of each association you'll get a better idea of why they're slow, cumbersome dinosaurs. For every forward thinking, go-getter Realtor that's in the business there are ten "old school" agents that wish we were using dot matrix printers, mls books and the only competition in town were FSBO's. If you think about it the Association is doing exactly what is expected of them by the majority of it's members. They don't want change and they don't want cutting edge. They want to hop in a DeLorean, kick that puppy up 88 mph and head back to 1985.

    The issue then becomes do you turn your back on the Association because you're not being represented or do you get involved and change the culture. Me, I'm getting involved. I don't know all the answers or for that matter half the questions, but I read AgentGenius and a few other blogs so I've got a head start on the "old school" agents that are out there. Most of them think that if they put their head in the sand then this will all go away. I'm going to go by and kick those agents in the rear and tell them to hop on board because this train is only going one direction.

  6. John Rowles

    May 9, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    >The battle for relevancy has internalized and is spreading from within..

    Sooner or later Brokers are going to realize that content=power.

    Today, the local MLS, IDX sites, Realtor.com, Trulia, Zillow and the rest use the *content that brokers give them* (GIVE them!!!) to beat the broker's own domain in Google. Now, we can add Realogy to the list of companies with brand-driven PageRank that will be competing with local brokers using content those local brokers originated.

    Maybe, just maybe, that will be a bridge too far and brokers will demand the separation of the "church" of the local board and all it does outside of organizing listings and the "state" of MLS+IDX, but I'm not holding my breath.

    Brokers who are ready to recognize the need to put the homebuyer's interest ahead of their own perceived self interest today are invited to MainRhode.com/contact.shtm where they can request our new whitepaper on "search reciprocity".

    In a search reciprocity network, brokers agree to trade traffic at the search result level for their own listings so that the homebuyer is put in touch with the only customer service rep the industry has to offer that actually knows anything about the property in question — the listing agent.

    The net result is that Google will be able to tell that the listing broker's domain is the most relevant domain for any particular listing, because every other broker domain on the network will point to it — end of story. Since the whole thing is open source and cloud hosted, it is affordable and scalable.

    To paraphrase Yakov Smirnoff, "What a concept".

  7. Jim Whatley

    May 9, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    We are lucky at the Emerald coast Association of Realtors. We Use Solid Earth. I have be able to talk to The CEO of our MLS provider. He gets it. He understand he will not be able to provide all of our request. What they do is provide the information so others can make apps, software and IDX to fill out tool box. I'm with John, I do not think Realogy, NAR and most information providers really care if I'm around next year. I better stay ahead of the the game. If I have to stand on my head and spit nickels for google I will. I'm in the real estate marketing business. The Most powerful tool out there is your local MLS. If don't have the IDX feed that stands out what's the point. Will google even now it's your listing.

  8. BawldGuy

    May 10, 2011 at 10:54 am

    I'm with Teresa. There is no problem, at least any new one. Realtor leadership is an oxymoronic phrase. Get over it. It's been that way since I learned what a real estate agent was back in the mid-60's.

    Zillow, Trulia, and the rest simply don't matter a hill of beans to agents. Sure, some have figured out how to game those systems, and more power to 'em, they're smart folk. But in the end? It's still about producing consistent results, and no, the associations, as dumb as they've been about the data, etc., aren't the reason an agent fails — or succeeds.

    Tech or no tech — produce results and move on.

    Oh, and for those who'll opt in knee jerk fashion to label me a dinosaur, I'm OldSchool, but no dinosaur. I don't complain about various association missteps, cuz frankly, they don't matter much. I use technology to the best of my limited understanding. It serves me well.

    There is no crisis. There is only lack of results. IMHO, most who are concerned as agents on this 'topic' should stop making excuses, and start making good. The public will always, as a rule, opt for results over TechGuy.

    There, I feel much better.

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