Why Are You an AE?

Association executives share the inspiring, challenging and laugh-out-loud stories of what it’s really like to lead a REALTOR® association.

Business woman in office why are you an AE

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"I don’t think anyone dreams about or plans to become a REALTOR® association executive,” says Sarah Rayne, RCE, CAE, CEO at the Howard County Association of REALTORS®, Columbia, Md. But for Rayne and others, it’s a position that has become a perfect fit.

“The AE role is perfect for me,” says Lauri Rottmayer, EPRO, AHWD, AE at the North Central Board of REALTORS®, Mountain Home, Ark. “I love going 20 directions at once and helping people. I also love the AE community. This is truly the toughest job I’ve ever loved.”

AExperience spoke to Rayne, Rottmayer and several other AEs about why they chose this role, their greatest challenges and— yes—the laugh-out-loud stories that are part of the day-to-day business of leading a REALTOR® association.

Why did you decide to become an AE?

Kim Cox: After my husband and I packed up our three teenage daughters and moved from California to Missouri to start a new adventure and be closer to family, my mother introduced me to an agent friend to help us find a house. After the closing, the agent asked us if we would be looking for work. We both said yes— my husband was in sales, and I was looking for an administrative position. He told me that his local “board office” was hiring. After about 20 minutes, I got a call from the AE [of the Ozark Gateway Association of REALTORS®]. Long story short, she interviewed me that Friday, and I started on Monday. After I had worked nine years in education and MLS, my [former] AE retired, and the board of directors asked me to step into the AE position. It’s been almost 20 years since that conversation with our agent. So thankful to have met him!

Rayne: I was a political newspaper reporter when I stumbled across a government affairs director position at an association. The print news industry is tough, so I literally had nothing to lose. I ended up loving the work and wanted to see where it would take me. I’m proud of myself for where I’ve ended up, and I’m grateful to the REALTOR® family for the opportunity.

Allison Woodham: I worked at my local newspaper for three years and had hit a lull in enjoying what I was covering every day. A friend of mine sent me the job description for the then-communications/events director at my association, and I went in just to see what it was about, honestly not expecting much. Two hours later, I left with a job offer. My then-AE said she’d never offered someone a job during their first interview.

That same day, the women at the newspaper took a group photo for a women’s appreciation special publication. Three months later, I was at strategic planning with my association, and on the console table was a publication with that photo on it staring back at me—full circle moment!

Marlene S. Merkle: In 1982, I applied for the AE position in Venice [Fla.] along with a couple of other opportunities. I was offered another job but decided to take the AE position instead. It was almost exactly what I did in my previous role as a director of volunteer services at a hospital: working with volunteers, budgeting, fundraising, public speaking, written and oral communication skills. I also have a bachelor’s degree in sociology, a minor in psychology and a master’s in counseling—I have used these skills a lot in working with members and the public.

The funny thing is that when I took the position, I had no idea that being a REALTOR® was different than being a licensed real estate agent. This is such a common misconception within the public. I am happy to say I quickly learned the difference.

Share a memory or situation you think back on where you tell yourself, “This is why I’m an AE.”

Michelle Pointer: That would have to be when my members in Marshall, Mo., packed the city council meeting during which council members were trying to pass an ordinance that was not good for our home sellers or buyers: requiring a city inspection and additional conditions for transfer of ownership following a third-party inspection. The presence in that room was impressive, and the council thought so, too. Then I filed for the Transforming Neighborhoods grant for $20,000 to help the city with the issue of maintenance of occupied dwellings. That was the first time I had seen the powers that be and REALTORS® working together for the greater good of American homeownership.

Cox: I once had a really frustrated member come into my office to talk through a scenario she was facing. The agent was consumed by self-doubt and frustration but clearly wanted to do right by her clients. It almost seemed like she just needed someone to hear her out and really listen. We talked about some of the rules and regulations that applied to her situation, forms that she’d need to ask her broker about, and the Code of Ethics. At the end of the conversation, it seemed like she just needed a reminder that “the right way to do things” is what truly separates REALTORS® from the rest and that she needed to wear [her credentials] like a badge of honor. The agent thanked me for always being a resource and avid supporter and for sharing my time.

Rayne: Mentoring my staff is my favorite part of this job. Whenever I support them in accomplishing something big and I see how proud they are of themselves, I remember why I’m an AE.

Rottmayer: I’m newly returned to my role as AE. I left to be a real estate agent, something I always wanted to do because my dad was in the business. It wasn’t for me, and I missed my AE job every day. I was so happy when it became available again and I was able to be back where I belong.

Woodham: I have a folder in my email titled “Feel Goods,” and it’s full of “good jobs,” words of wisdom or something funny I’ve received from a member or staff. Anytime I’m having a bad day, a quick scroll through those not only brightens my mood but reminds me why I do what I do.

"My members packed the city council meeting during which council members were trying to pass an ordinance that was not good for our home sellers or buyers. ... The presence in that room was impressive, and the council thought so, too."

What’s one of the toughest challenges you’ve had to face as an AE—and how did you turn that negative into a positive?

Cox: About 12 years ago, our area was hit with a natural disaster. We had to absolutely scramble to get a plan together to assist our members and community. It took months to learn what we should have done, could have done better and would have done if only we had known. Since then, we have created a disaster plan and feel way more prepared should something happen again in the future. (Read more on Cox’s experience.)

Pointer: One of the toughest for me is getting members to read my emails. How do you turn that negative into a positive? I found out I was sending too many emails, and the members weren’t reading any of the messages. I now send a newsletter once a month—with enough information to choke a horse—and I send one final notice about meetings. I tell every new member, “If you get an email from me, open it. I don’t send you any email that isn’t important.” I now have an average 67% open rate on all my emails.

Rayne: Navigating the different personalities, backgrounds, experiences and beliefs of my board members is the biggest challenge in my job, but I try to learn and grow every day, and I lean on my fellow AEs and the amazing staff at the National Association of REALTORS® to help me work through any difficult situations.


The AEs

What’s one of the funniest situations you’ve dealt with as an AE?

Rayne: When I was a government affairs director at my last association, I accidentally left a REALTOR® on an island! We’d gotten a placemaking grant to build a pocket park on Smith Island, which is in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay and is accessible only by boat. On build day, we were loading up the boat to head back to the mainland, and I noticed one of our members was missing. But someone told me he was in the boat restroom, so I gave the captain the green light to head out. About halfway back, we got a call on the radio letting us know that we’d left someone behind. The captain said he could not turn around, but the REALTOR® was going to catch a ride back on a fishing boat. I was horrified. Luckily, the member was cool about it, but he made fun of me for years.

Merkle: Probably one of the funniest situations was when my president was sitting across from me at my desk, and I stood up when he was leaving. I inadvertently bumped my large desk calendar, and it knocked his coffee all over his pants. Maybe not so funny, but I was in such shock I had to laugh!

Cox: As an AE, we wear a lot of hats, and we always want to do whatever we can to help. One day, many moons ago, my membership director was out for the day, and I needed to help process a new agent, as well as help him upload his photo to the MLS. The new agent came into my office and handed me a flash drive for me to open and pull up his photo. As I was clicking away on the drives, a photo of a cat popped up on my screen, and I practically squealed, “Oh my goodness! Your cat looks just like my cat!” As I swiveled around in my chair to point at a picture of my cat on the wall, he politely said, “Ummm … that is your cat; you clicked on the wrong drive.”

What’s a piece of advice or life lesson you’d like to share with other AEs, and how did you come upon that advice or life lesson?

Cox: My life lesson, at home and in my association, is to make sure to always hear from everyone in the room when it comes to important discussions. Oftentimes you will sit in a meeting and only a few of the more vocal people will be heard from on any given topic—when in reality, we are only going to grow and learn if we hear from all parties. Just because someone might be more shy or introverted doesn’t mean they don’t have something to say. As a matter of fact, they usually have plenty to say, and many times I can remember someone making a real difference in our plans after we made an effort to hear from the entire room. You’ll be surprised at the conversation that kicks up when hearing from a variety of personalities in a room.

Rayne: If you don’t feel appreciated, look for validation within yourself. We all love working with REALTORS®, but we also do this job for our own personal and professional growth, which we can be proud of no matter how others may make us feel.

Pointer: I haven’t been an AE as long as most, but I have learned not to schedule anything in July. We are a small board, so I can pretty much work wherever my laptop is for a short time, but it took me about 10 years to realize that most members take vacation in July. We don’t have a general membership meeting that month (due to lack of attendance), no RPAC events, no committee meetings, nothing if it can be helped. I now use that month to get caught up on anything and everything!

Merkle: As far as pieces of advice are concerned, I have a lot of those, some geared toward new AEs. In fact, I did a brief program last year at the Florida Realtors® AE Workshop, offering these tips:

  • Sit back and listen before you act, and get to know the key players, especially in a new job role.
  • Seek out an intermediary to help with conflict resolution.
  • Let your volunteers and staff members take the public credit; don’t put yourself in the photo op.
  • Always mind your manners, especially at social events.
  • Keep personal information personal.
  • Don’t try to cover up a mistake; own it and fix it.
  • Be humble.

Written by: Danielle Wong Moores, the senior editor of AExperience.


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