Taking Care of Tech

Providing REALTOR®-focused technology services and support can enhance the member experience and aid retention.

Technology is a powerful and essential tool for real estate professionals, helping to streamline branding and promotion, ease colleague and client meetings, improve MLS management and make continuing education even more accessible. But technology evolves faster than many of us can go. It’s challenging to know how to get the most from today’s devices.

In response to the real estate industry’s growing reliance on technology, associations are addressing their members’ unique tech needs with new tools, training and support, leading to enhanced member experiences—and the potential for improved member retention.

Serving Up Solutions

According to Tallahassee Board of REALTORS® CEO Steven Louchheim, RCE, CAE, the association’s tech support started with a basic computer tuneup service, offering system software updates and virus/malware checks. Today, the association runs a full-service tech shop.

“We do computer purchasing and repair, network installation, TV installation, Wi-Fi, phone systems, virus protection. We also offer backup services, and we’ve even done a little cybersecurity,” Louchheim says. While those are all paid services—discounted for members—the association also manages a members-only help line that offers tech support by phone at no additional charge.

Three employees manage the tech shop, handling seven to 10 service calls and 15 to 20 help-desk calls each week.

Although the association offers an unusually extensive menu of tech support services, Louchheim doesn’t believe there’s any big secret behind his association’s tech success: In the end, it comes down to people. “The only way to make it work is to make sure you hire someone who has not only the technical acumen but also the ability to run the business,” he says.

He believes it’s also important to build out services slowly over time, “to not put the association in the position of over-promising services.” Although the tech shop now has three employees, it didn’t start that way: “We started with one employee about 10 years ago,” Louchheim says. “Having the patience to build slowly will pay off in the end.”

The range of tech services has also grown over the years because of members’ growing reliance on technology in their work. “Yes, there are things like Best Buy’s Geek Squad, but they have no idea what REALTORS® need in the real estate business,” Louchheim says. “REALTORS® rely on a lot of unique technology. We need to make sure that our members’ equipment can open lockboxes, that they can access the multiple listing service—things that other businesses don’t necessarily need.”

Meanwhile, Mike Gazdzik, EPRO, AHWD, director of IT and support services at North Shore–Barrington Association of REALTORS®, has also been offering personalized tech support to members for over 20 years. “Primarily, we’re helping members use a new piece of hardware or do something specific with their phone or computer,” he says, which could include helping them create a custom report, archive text messages, get more out of Google Suite or set up a hot spot with their phone.

“I think members really appreciate the fact that we know the industry and we understand their needs in ways that a computer store or phone store never could,” Gazdzik says. “I believe that if we can continue to help members discover and use the tools that enable them to excel in their job, we will keep them as members.”

“For real estate brokers and salespeople, their computer, their phone, their tablet are how they do business. Our members rave about the service because we make sure we get it right. I know for a fact that the members absolutely love it.”

—Steven Louchheim, RCE, CAE, Tallahassee Board of REALTORS®

Building to Innovate

Helping members make informed decisions about technology was one of the goals behind Orlando Regional REALTOR® Association’s new Technology Innovation Lab, part of a new headquarters building currently under construction and expected to be completed this summer.

The focus is on technology that keeps members on the cutting edge of the industry and positions them for long-term business success, says Chief Operating Officer Amanda Ornelas, RCE. “We will feature demos of software and hardware products that help our members succeed, including existing products in the market and some that are currently in development,” she says. “We plan that anything we feature in the innovation lab is something members can walk out the door with and have an immediate positive impact on their bottom line.”

While the initial range of featured hardware and software products has not yet been finalized, Ornelas says the association has a team of people who are continually on the lookout for new technology to showcase, including the latest advances in cameras, customer relationship management and other tools with potential for real estate application.

In addition, she expects the space to provide opportunities for enhanced technology training. “We will have full-time staff focused exclusively on providing technology services, solutions and support,” Ornelas says.

The association also will continue to work with an outsourced technology team—which has been providing in-house tech support to the association—but will equip it with dedicated office space in the new building so it can now serve the entire local REALTOR® community. “Our desire is to equip our members with every competitive advantage we can through idea generation, technology and new programming, using every aspect of our building to assist us to that end,” Ornelas says.

Simple Solutions, Significant Impact

Not all members expect this level of support. For some, even simple solutions can yield significant results.

For example, Zack Wahlquist, CAE, COO of Chicago Association of REALTORS®, says that the Photofy app service, available from the National Association of REALTORS®, has been particularly valuable in helping members to develop professional-quality branding across the internet and social media and to stand out in the marketplace. The service includes “That’s Who We R” campaign assets that are easily personalized, video tutorials and the opportunity for a discovery meeting to find out more about custom-branded galleries.

But even the humble video call has been a hit with members.

“Unlike some other associations, we haven’t given up on Zoom yet,” Wahlquist says, laughing. “In fact, we’re continuing to run committee meetings virtually. That’s engaging our members a lot more than having them come to the office, navigate downtown, pay for parking, then sit for a couple of hours in a conference room.”

With the association’s continued focus on virtual meetings, Wahlquist suggests making the most of online presentations. For example, use chat in an engaging way by sharing “links to more information as topics come up during the presentation. Ask the audience brief, fun questions they can respond to easily in chat.”

Also, he says, “Make sure whoever is the host is able to pay attention to the chat and to tech issues during your program. The host should not be one of the presenters.”

For training and education, the association has begun developing a series of on-demand, member-only videos on how to accurately complete a range of forms and contracts. For associations with a similar interest, Wahlquist suggests focusing on-demand content on just one or two key areas to start. “For us, that has been video work on completing real estate forms and contracts that we provide and some tips and tricks for new brokers,” he says. “This way, you can see what engagement could look like for you while being very intentional and organized about a specific program.”

High-quality videos don’t have to be expensive to produce, he adds. “Use free or low-cost tools and in-house talent to start your video content before splurging on outsourced content and professional-grade equipment and software,” he says. “You’d be surprised at the kind of content you can create with a smartphone and free apps that can give you a starting point to test video content for your members.”

In all, the association’s commitment to technology outreach and education seems to be a key element in member satisfaction. “We budgeted for a 90% or so renewal rate among our first-year brokers [in 2022],” Wahlquist says. “As of Nov. 1, 2022, we were already at 93%. I think that’s largely because of the tech tools and the outreach we’ve been doing to our new brokers specifically.”

Expanding Your REACH

Inspired by the positive response to its REACH Labs—an NAR program that connects associations with early-stage tech companies with a real estate focus—Denver Metro Association of REALTORS® decided to go one step further, creating interactive educational seminars around these tech offerings, with a theme of “using tech during a market shift.”

Those sessions, known as Masterminds, have caught the attention of members, says CEO Nobu Hata.

REACH Labs has enabled the association to attract early-stage companies and technology that can help solve challenges such as lead generation, lead curation and the post-transaction client experience. Through Masterminds, the association can then have meaningful conversations with members, influencers, broker-owners, managers and top producers on relevance, feedback and more, he adds.

Masterminds are targeted to members with fewer than three years in the business or with less than 50% referral-based business. “We present tech topics along with other experiences, like panels of top producers that hit on specific topics with each session,” Hata says. “The Masterminds jibe with members’ business flow: value marketing as the year kicks off, client attraction in the spring, client appreciation topics in the fall and lead-generation/curation topics toward the end of the year.”

For other associations that want to launch something similar, Hata suggests, “Research what your member segments are, use the MLS to verify your findings, engage with brokerage leaders within these segments, and invite them and their agents to a presentation. Focus on giving members what they need for their business to thrive before they need it. If you don’t know what that might look like, engage with your most productive members and broker-owners.”

Hata adds that by streaming Masterminds events online, the association has opened a gateway for REALTORS® to discover the rest of its offerings as well, leading to better perceived value of membership both locally and throughout the state. “We now have members who are based hours away from our headquarters,” he says.

The Masterminds seminars also have become a known differentiator for the association. “We have brokerage leaders advocating for our membership who are better able to distinguish us from our association competition,” says Hata. “And we’re converting non-REALTOR® licensees to the association.”

A Critical Service

No association we spoke to can say how many members renewed their membership specifically because of the tech services and support the association offered. But all agreed that member feedback indicates strong appreciation for the increased value such services bring to the member experience, making the association that much more critical for their daily work.

“For real estate brokers and salespeople, their computer, their phone, their tablet are how they do business,” Louchheim says. “Our members rave about the service because we make sure we get it right. I know for a fact that the members absolutely love it.

“While I don’t have any direct data about it aiding retention, my personal opinion is that, as you become more valuable to members, they understand that they are getting good value for their membership, and they’re a lot less hesitant to write that check when it’s time to renew their dues.”

Robert Bittner is a Michigan-based author and freelance journalist.


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