A 12.6% increase in REALTORS® nationally since the pre-pandemic days of 2019—despite a lack of home inventory—has been a boon and also a challenge to local and state REALTOR® associations. Although many association executives are anticipating a drop in members this year, they’re implementing strategies and programs focused on retention.
“With Central Texas being one of the hottest real estate markets in the country, along with our cities’ growth, our membership has grown over the last few years,” confirms Kelea Youngblood, RCE, C2EX, chief marketing officer at Austin Board of REALTORS®. “Additionally, we strive to maintain a professional staff and newly revitalized AMS system that has been able to support our growth.”
In other parts of the country, membership remains steady—with a cautious look to future numbers. “Our industry has seen a lot of attention during the COVID-19 pandemic and the boom that followed,” says Ruth A. Hackney, RCE, CAE, CEO of REALTORS® Association of South Central Wisconsin, based in Madison. “While we have not yet seen a drop in membership, we do anticipate it will be a factor in 2023.”
In this climate, how can associations best retain members and prepare for future variability?
Built for Success
Since all real estate is local, location and other such factors play a role in membership loss or gain. “Our market is primarily a resort and tourism market, so we always expect a higher amount of attrition than a traditional residential market. We typically budget for 5% to 10% member reduction,” says Laura Crowther, RCE, CEO of Coastal Carolinas Association of REALTORS®.
At the same time, CCAR continues to innovate and provide the most relevant tools to help members succeed. Member retention relies not only on the real estate market, but also on the business needs of the member. “Retention is mostly a product of the member’s ability to thrive in the industry,” says Hackney. “So, we focus on tools, professional development and networking as our primary member benefit. Our vision is for members to Connect, Learn and Thrive!"
At the Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS®, 40% of its members have been in the real estate business for less than four years. “These members are generally unfamiliar with negotiating contingencies or marketing a property that has been on the market for an extended period of time,” says CEO Ryan McLaughlin, RCE, CAE. “Our goal is to make a lasting impact by guiding them past the first four years—through education, involvement and encouragement.”
Meighan Harris, RCE, AHWD, CEO of Bonita Springs-Estero REALTORS® in Florida, recently went through a real estate pre-licensing class so she could have the same experience as her members and identify gaps in knowledge that the association could help fill. That might include skills-based training on how to track expenses, lessons on having the right mindset to survive until the first sale, or business-planning strategies that help new members understand how much time to devote to building their business.
“Most pre-licensing courses teach to the test but provide no direction or information on how to actually conduct business or how to get started,” Harris says. “For that reason, we find it imperative to build skills-based training programs that are beneficial to new members.”
Taking the pre-licensing class enabled Harris to provide more relevant information for new members looking to enter the profession: “Before they join, everything is crystal clear, and they have realistic expectations.”
Once new members join, they need to feel seen and supported, even if they’re not the ones earning recognition for their production or years of service. “Creating recognition opportunities for new members breaks through that barrier,” says McLaughlin. “By rewarding those taking steps toward success early on, you give them the confidence and support often needed to continue in real estate.”