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.
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.