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The Water’s Fine in This Pool…

…Why the REALTOR association trifecta is the best in the land

photo by wili_hybrid under CC license

All throughout high school and quite a bit of college, I was a lifeguard. I started out guarding the lives the neighborhood kids at my community pool. My community pool was not connected to a homeowners association. You had a choice about joining, and it was a fun pool, but not beautiful.

In college, I started working for a large pool service company. Eventually I was promoted from lifeguard to supervisor. This basically allowed me to cruise around town in my 1988 Honda CRX with the sunroof open sipping Slurpees and stopping only to fraternize with the cute female lifeguards at my dozen or so pools.

Best. Job. Ever!

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When I wasn’t putting my best moves the help and getting subsequently shot down, I noticed something about the pools: The nicest, best maintained, most beautiful ones were those that required the residents to join the homeowners association. Those dues went to community projects like jogging paths, picnic areas, landscaping, and the pool.

Like those pools, requiring REALTORS to be members at all three levels is a significant benefit to all members. As a ten year veteran of association work, an avid reader of association literature, a frequent writer and speaker about associations, and a guy with a highly-developed curiosity about not-for-profits, I can say without reservation that the REALTOR association system is the best association model I have ever come across. Say what you want about the REALTOR association trifecta, but you’d be hard pressed to find a family of associations that does more for its members.

What makes it work so well is the MLS. Tying MLS access to membership dues was a stroke of genius. This business model allows your association staff to spend less time focused on making ends meet (we still have to do this, by the way), and more time representing REALTOR issues and providing member services. Remember that every dollar you association earns must be spent to service its members or put into reserves. There are no owners taking home fat net profit checks at the end of the year.

I understand — really, I do understand — the sentiment behind the oft-made statement, “I’d quit NAR in a second if I could keep my MLS access.” But I am left confused by the statement. If the other REALTOR associations are anything like VAR, they are providing great value for the dollar. This sentiment convinces me that the trifecta doesn’t demonstrate the value they provide very well. I’m personally trying to change that in Virginia.

There’s a lot of talk in the on unproductive agents who harm REALTORS’ image, make transactions less efficient, and otherwise screw things up for the truly professional agents. Don’t forget that they also keep your dues low and consume fewer association services, the net result being more value for you. There is power in numbers, and the critical mass that REALTOR associations are able to leverage is a huge benefit to all members, but mostly to those who most often need and avail themselves of their association’s services. In other words, the productive ones.

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Some would say this all-or-nothing approach to membership is antiquated and will eventually die. I neither agree nor disagree with that assertion. But for now, it works well. The best ways to get value out of your association are to make use of it in whatever way you can, and get involved so that the association begins to offer more relevant services.

Like the community pool, you only get value when you dive in.

Written By

Writer for national real estate opinion column, 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.



  1. Jeff Brown

    February 12, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    Ben — Love your comment — Tying MLS access to membership dues was a stroke of genius.

    Yes it certainly was. Why? Because without doing that they’re as valuable to the average agent as a great Cuban cigar is to a toddler. Hyperbole aside, at this point it’s probably a much better idea to let nature take its course. NAR will either survive as is or it won’t.

    Either way I’ll have to be told. 🙂

  2. Michael Wurzer

    February 13, 2008 at 6:08 am

    “Tying MLS access to membership dues was a stroke of genius.”

    Tying generally is not a good idea, which is why the federal antitrust laws prohibit it. There have been many cases addressing this question, with most siding with the Association that it isn’t illegal tying, but there have been cases in Florida and elsewhere where tying membership dues is no longer allowed.

  3. Jim Duncan

    February 13, 2008 at 6:13 am

    Here’s a question – what happens when the MLS is no longer a revenue source for associations?

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