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REALTORS and their associations share a common problem.

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What we have here is failure to communicate.

For the most part, I have come to enjoy reading real estate blogs since coming to work for the Virginia Association of REALTORS. However, it’s a de-motivating pain in the arse reading the RE.net sometimes. Every few days or weeks it seems someone’s hating on the REALTOR associations again. One complains that the dues are too high. Another complains that the dues are too low. One complains that the code of ethics is worthless. Another complains that too many REALTORS are ethically challenged. Et cetera.

Over the years, I’ve worked for four different trade associations and individual membership organizations serving four very different segments of the economy. In every case, the staff and leadership have always had the best interests of their membership in mind. The same is true in REALTOR associations. For the most part, REALTOR association staff are hardworking, committed employees, doing hidden (yet necessary) jobs in hidden offices on behalf of REALTORS at lower salaries than are offered the corporate sector, on average.

As I read them, some in the RE.net seem to believe that REALTOR associations are just here to siphon away agents’ hard-earned money and flush it down the drain on glitzy PR campaigns. And if that’s what they believe, we’ve obviously not done a very good job communicating the value we provide.

That is a communications problem. But ironically, it’s same one you REALTORS have. Consumers have little appreciation for the value of the behind-the-scenes work you do for them. They never see the dozens of phone calls you make to inspectors, appraisers, attorneys, lenders, and so on. They are oblivious to the complications you face navigating MLS rules, the hours you invested in learning about neighborhoods and the way you’ve trained your mind to help sellers arrive at the ideal listing price. They don’t appreciate the time you’ve spent nurturing a strong rapport with agents in your area to ensure that minor issues between buyers and sellers don’t turn into deal-breaking disasters. If you don’t explain that you’ve done all of this, can you blame them for wondering what that six percent is for? (Someone in the RE.net recently posted about this — keeping a tally of hours you spend on a deal and giving that report to the client at closing. Would love to link to you. Please comment.)

But there’s no time to explain all this. I agree. And even if there was, it’s not in your client’s best interest to tell them all of it, and they certainly don’t want to waste their time listening to you talk about it. They just want the deal to be done with a minimum of time and effort.

Next time you’re tempted to flame your REALTOR association, whether at the national, local or state level, think about the client who questioned your commission on the basis that he didn’t believe the amount or quality of work you did justified it. Just as in your line of business, there is a ton of valuable work going on behind the scenes.

Writer for national real estate opinion column AgentGenius.com, focusing on the improvement of the real estate industry by educating peers about technology, real estate legislation, ethics, practices and brokerage with the end result being that consumers have a better experience.

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13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Ines

    January 22, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    Ben – I’m not the type to complain about high fees and our local board does a hell of a job to provide great additional services for their Realtors.

    My question for you is, since there is a communication problem, how come these boards don’t show us what value they bring to the table?

    As in different real estate models, where the customer has the right to choose what services they want and need and pay accordingly, I think Realtors should be able to pick at the services they will use from their local boards and also pay accordingly.

  2. Jonathan Dalton

    January 22, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    It’s not behind the scenes that concern me. It’s the public face, not so much of the local associations but of the national.

    There is no way on earth you can tell me Lereah and now Yun are good for the image of the industry. They have done more to discredit all of us with their imaginary statements than a hundred bubble bloggers combined.

    I’ve got no doubt there are hard-working people behind the scenes. But the public PR face, up to and including the new “all is wonderful … buy right now” blog is brutal to behold. And I’m having to pay to support it.

  3. Lani Anglin

    January 22, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    Ben, I look forward to learning more about your specific role in the Association and consequently about local boards in general.

    I can honestly point to a time that Benn and I said “I wish our board was more progressive like VAR.” Is there a better example than The Ted that Associations can turn around their image?

    Ben, this leads to a greater point- if your audience is online and you are not, can they hear you? You are leading the way to making associations more audible, but if they’re not here in our group, then they’re as good as silent.

    So excited that you’re here!!!

  4. Benn Rosales

    January 23, 2008 at 1:42 am

    Ben, wow, you just dove in head first – remember, I like you…

    I can spin associations either way, there is good and there is bad on all levels. The bigger problem I see is that NAR ignores its constituency, it outright ignores it- there is no excuse for that.

    This past summer had I been the president of NAR, I’d have hired me a David G (sorry David). I’d have put together a massive online strategy to combat the negative spin taking place that has now become truth against NAR’s constituency. I’d not mock the re.net, I’d have engaged them with a team of folks from NAR that are in the know on the statements YUN was making on the economy, and even the redfin twist on their side of the story, not talking points to people who are not loyal to the NAR (Redfin are Realtors) and those who don’t know the first thing about politics! Geeze!

    Instead – we’re a bunch of kids with keyboards? I bite my tounge every day at the fact that the image campaign is on television rather than where the fire is… “ONLINE” with us kids, oh yeah, they did make a webpage.

    The RE.NET are out here on the front lines alone, with no support or friendship from the NAR or associations. I’ve never spoken out against my local board, my beef is more with the national association. I see what they do well, but I also see them ignoring the grass roots efforts to destroy the association. Sure, we fall into the trap of agreeing with some of it, but the truth is, the NAR sits silent on the sidelines while the perspective is being set by technology groups looking for their next VC cap injection.

    If I believed associations were bad, you’d not be on agentgenius.com – you are the light in the darkness of silence that has become NAR. The problem is, you don’t speak for the NAR- too bad for all of us.

    Now, having said all of that- any ideas on where we get us one of those David Gs? OR any better ideas?

    I welcomed the NAR President to the discussion, he’s yet to acknowlege the polite hello with so much as a trackback. NAR is misguided if they believe the re.net is going away or this subject is going to die down- it isn’t.

    I’m happy to speak with NAR off the record, all they have to do is ask, otherwise, we’re left to raise ourselves above the level of the defined Realtor by redefining our business around something other than an R.

    Ben, lets get productive, you’re not under fire here, so let’s talk solutions…

  5. Benn Rosales

    January 23, 2008 at 1:54 am

    Btw, why do they need a David G? Because, it’s harder to beat up on a company if that company has a face and a personality people like.

  6. Matthew Rathbun

    January 23, 2008 at 7:32 am

    I speak as one who has gone from being a REALTOR-Broker to an Association staff member. As a REALTOR, I was very involved in the Association because I saw a sort of country-club atmosphere. I wanted more. Now five years later and many other like me, we’ve began to see the shift in what’s going on. But – we got involved to invoke some changes, and there is a long way to go.
    I think the State and Local Associations are ran by the members in most cases (as they should be), but the members have given up, in a lot of ways, their control by asking staff to do those things they don’t desire to do themselves. I have to agree that NAR is difficult to change – it’s just too big, but alas all change is inevitable. It will come around. It just seems RE.net is too progressive and maybe a little too impatient.
    As an instructor, I’ve been pouring more and more effort into teaching technology classes with an emphasis on social media and blogging. Honestly, I have to remind myself that just because I surround myself with like minded RE.net folks, that we’re still the minority. MANY of the REALTORS don’t get it – and I don’t think it’s an age thing. I think that many agents don’t wish to do more than chase a few contracts and thus they aren’t spending the time to really concentrate on those things that matter such as ostensible influences in our market (speaking of emerging trends and how the consumer wishes to communicate). Whereas we think the blogsphere is ubiquitous, not all of the members have gotten there yet. We’re still really a minority that’s growing. I agree that we shouldn’t be ignored.
    I can honestly say that NAR has made some public image debacles, but looking at the long history they have helped us more than hurt us. They’ve just made some recent errors in judgment – but I haven’t given up on them yet. I am confident that they will listen to the members and start moving back to a REALTOR-centric venue.
    Lastly, let me say this… Having travelled from blog to blog that talks about NAR, there are many incorrect and accusatory posts out there. I can’t help but to understand why NAR is feeling attacked. Did they respond to it well? Probably not, but who among us hasn’t made a mistake? Who hasn’t maybe snapped at a family member or friend when it wasn’t appropriate.
    Keep working at it from a professional strategy point and try to be the source of the solution, as opposed to the antagonist rebel-rouser ?
    Being a REALTOR is a tool (no, I am not calling you a tool) that you can pickup and use, although it needs some adjustments and fine tuning – or – you can simply leave it in the craftsman box where you’ll never use it.
    (I think my comment turned into more of it’s own post… sorry)

  7. Matthew Rathbun

    January 23, 2008 at 7:37 am

    Honestly…. there were spaces between the paragraphs when I hit submit… sorry

  8. Ben

    January 23, 2008 at 8:41 am

    @Lani – Whenever I write or speak about association involvement in the social web, I say that ignoring the online conversation is NOT a viable strategy. It simply proves that association staff are incapable of Googling the association’s name, or that they lack the guts to engage in the conversation. With the exception of CRT’s blog, NAR’s attempts at blogging so far have been of the “rooftop shouter” variety: no out-linking, no engaging in the conversation, posting only “select” comments, etc. So yes, if an association doesn’t participate in this space, they are out of touch with the people who do.

    @Benn & Jonathan – Jonathan says that the new PR campaign is bunk. Benn says that the NAR doesn’t listen to its members. NAR says that its members approve of PR campaigns like (and including) the current one. I’m having trouble processing all of these concepts to make sense of them.

    @Ines – You hit on an important idea, and I’ll blog about that in the near future.

    @Matthew – Nice point about the successes REALTOR associations have brought to bear. REALTORS stand on the shoulders of giants and owe a great deal to those who have gone before them. They shouldn’t get a pass because of those victories, but the history is helpful to create some context for our “what have you done for me lately?” questions.

  9. Bob in San Diego

    January 23, 2008 at 10:01 am

    I believe that NAR has tried to be the jack of all trades and become master of none except as a lobby for the homeowner, which I applaud.

    It’s not just Realtors though who have lost faith in NAR – its the public. Lereah and Yun have destroyed the public trust in NAR and furthered the notion that Realtors are self-serving.

    The Code of Ethics IS a joke, because there is no enforcement at any level. A few years back the president of a local association was the one who blatantly used the url “SanDiegoRealtor.com”, and it was a director who had the plural version. Six months of calls and compliants were ignored until Mary at NAR stepped in with a C&D. This against to people who routinely hit offices to explain why the membership needed to step up and pay the PAC money.

    The associations are still far more influenced by the brokers than the agents, so going back to being agent-centric is probably more just a game of semantics.

    The consumer protectionists and much of the public see NAR as the MLS Cartel and paid shill, not their friend. I don’t blame them, as I feel the same, and I have been in this business for 18 years.

    I would opt out of NAR in a second if not for the mls. IF I thought I could win a class action against NAR over their MLS monopoly, I would do that as well. The clock is ticking for NAR. If they don’t get it soon, it will be too late.

  10. Benn Rosales

    January 23, 2008 at 10:50 am

    I approve of pr.

    Jonathan said there was a lack of face – meaning you have a pr problem.

    I’m saying they hauled off and did one all while ignoring where the fire is burning.

    I laid out for you what is missing, it isn’t hard to grasp. They’re shouting into the wind at folks (X) that are indifferent to the nar – gen y is here online, and so is z- THAT is where NAR needs to focus.

    X is on TV. (confused)
    Y is on TV and ONLINE. (buyers that we’re facing daily in droves)
    Z watches TV ONLINE. (tomorrows buyers)

  11. Daniel Rothamel

    January 23, 2008 at 10:56 am

    For me, ANY association is only going to be as good as those who make it up. In our case, Virginia is very lucky to have people like Ben and our CEO, R. Scott Brunner, who are very dedicated and very progressive when it comes to engagement and communication. The reality is that this is not the case everywhere.

    On the national level, I don’t know that there is ever going to be much hope of change, not any time soon, anyway. NAR is far too big, and there are far too many people with input to get much accomplished in a short period of time. The only way that is going to happen is to have a President who is willing to lead the association in that direction. It will take a VERY strong leader.

    On our individual local levels, change is a bit easier because of the increased ease and opportunity for engagement. It is a heck of lot easier to get the ear of someone from your local or state association than someone at NAR.

    Association/member relations can be a complex issue for any association, even more so for an association with 1 million members. Effective communication provides the foundation for un-complicating issues.

  12. Benn Rosales

    January 23, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Mathew, on many levels you make great points, very well thought out.

    Daniel, I think you’re correct about leadership, we have a new president, he may just turn out to be that leader.

    Ben, communication is key, and we certainly appreciate you doing that with us.

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