Nov. 4, 2011 - Creating Communities: the Future of the Real Estate Association
Associations have a primary purpose: to create a community. In a real estate association, the primary purpose is to create a business community centered on the business of property ownership and transfers. It’s really that simple.
Let’s examine that word ‘community’. In many Realtor associations, the community is really quite limited: it consists of brokers and salespeople involved in the transfer of pre-existing homes. Oh, I know: lip service is often given to other groups—commercial specialists, appraisers, property managers, and a small number of affiliated business interests—but by and large the emphasis is on license-holding real estate practitioners. (Of course it goes without saying that the community is further limited by geographical restrictions, in many cases.)
Realtor associations build most of their programs and services around that limitation: licensed salesperson or broker, located in an assigned geography.
Frankly, there’s a problem here: in reality the real estate community is much more extensive and the desire to be a part of that business community much more far-reaching than the current operating definition would have us believe. In addition, our existing membership is becoming specialized in other areas besides used-home sales: members are finding business in the rental and rehab market and personal investments for themselves and their clients. They are becoming more conversant in online marketing techniques, technology tools, foreign transactions, and finance.
The real estate community is also expanding well beyond the current limits of license holders, with a second tier of bankers, mortgage companies, and title companies. As members expand their interests and activities, they are partnering with an array of business interests never before included in real estate circles—marketing specialists, technology experts, website designers, foreclosure experts, and economic and development analysts.
It’s easy to say “Not MY members—they just want to make sales. And, the Realtors I know don’t read, anyway.” That’s a familiar litany, of course. And of course, in many cases it’s true: statistics show that well over half of current members don’t make a living at real estate. They are dilettantes, retirees, and folks who also have a ‘real job’ and just want to make a little extra income on the side.
The caution here is in thinking that these are the sum total of members, that this is the real estate community our association must serve. If we as trade associations fall into that trap, we are contributing to the erosion of our industry as surely as if we ourselves were the lions coming over the hill (“We have seen the enemy, and they are…).
Certainly this class of member is real and currently accounts for over half of our association dues income. “Ah,” you say, “doesn’t that make the non-productive majority our association’s target market? They are a majority of the association members. If it weren’t for them we wouldn’t exist. So let’s continue producing remedial level education programs, keep our dues and costs low, and direct our collective energies and resources at servicing these members.
I think there’s another answer: if the members in your community by and large don’t make a sustainable income from real estate activity, enlarge the community. Think about it: if your association is to become ‘The Voice for Real Estate’, for whom would they speak? Professionally, your organization would speak for all your industry partners—builders, remodelers, community planners, environmentalists, financial partners, attorneys, estate planners, and property owners. These are some of the areas of the real estate business community who share an interest in the business climate relating to real property.
There are many opportunities to enlarge a reasonably small and circumscribed audience and build a powerful community voice. These doors don’t necessarily depend on an MLS presence, either—they open onto a larger world of business interests, shared knowledge, and valuable networks and coalitions. It’s here that the real estate organization will find its future direction, I believe. There’s not a lot of reason to waste much more effort in locking the barn door after the MLS horse has gone elsewhere, but there is much to be gained by thinking about the kind of community that can be built through a real estate organization which is inclusive rather than exclusive, and which involves using technology tools and other resources to transcend the current limited organizational structure.
It also means assuming that the target market for a real estate association is based on skilled practitioners with skill and commitment to the many facets of the real estate business.
Friday, November 4, 2011