Breakthrough product & service ideas for an industry in which the game will never be the same.
Today REALTOR® associations must dig deep and break out of the norm to come up with exciting, trailblazing ideas to help their members thrive in a challenging market. To inspire REALTOR® associations to reach higher, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® CEO Dale Stinton launched a visionary program in 2009: the Game Changers Challenge.
A call was issued to associations to ignore their budget and resource constraints, think beyond their own backyards, and dream bigger than they thought possible to develop innovative and exciting programs to advance REALTOR® association member service.
More than 200 ideas poured in from associations of all sizes. In the end, 14 were selected to receive nearly $2 million in funding from NAR for their programs and a coach to help them get started. An additional 22 associations received funding to begin implementing their ideas.
But the winners are not just these 36 associations. All REALTOR® associations can benefit from this pool of program initiatives, ranging from technology solutions, to education, to community awareness.
Here, REALTOR® AE magazine takes a look at a few of the winners with a focus on how your REALTOR® association can implement these innovative ideas. Throughout 2010 and 2011, we’ll feature more programs, with tips on how associations across the country can tailor these game-changing ideas to their needs.
In addition to the truly inspiring programs and products that are the end result of the challenge, the process brought dozens if not hundreds of volunteers, REALTOR® leaders, association executives, and staff together in a new spirit of innovative and creative interaction. “The participating associations will be forever changed,” says program coach Jeremy Conaway, “as they recall the challenge of collaborative thinking, the thrill of a competitive win, and the joy of bringing their project to life.”
Heroes Welcome Home
A certificate education program for members on serving veterans’ unique housing needs.
From the Chicago Association of REALTORS®
Among the different types of homebuyers and homesellers with whom your members work, perhaps no group is more complex than returning American veterans. Not only are there special federal and state loans, grants, and mortgages to consider, but also unique housing needs for this group’s wide-ranging disabilities, which may require wheelchair accessibility or proximity to VA treatment centers.
For this reason, the Chicago Association of REALTORS® created the Heroes Welcome Home education program to teach REALTORS® how to work with these soldiers to identify and secure appropriate housing. “Working with veterans takes a special kind of compassion and understanding,” says CAR’s Senior Director of Business and Professional Development, Bill Wald. With nearly 37,000 soldiers wounded in action in Iraq and Afghanistan to date, REALTORS® can benefit from learning how to successfully and sensitively satisfy the needs of this new segment of their population.
CAR held its first two-day Heroes Welcome Home program in May, featuring sessions by the Veterans Administration and the Department of Justice, among others. “Members came away from this seminar feeling positive, patriotic, and well informed, and were enthusiastic in their praise of their association,” says program coach Judith Lindenau.
How you can do it:
CAR is creating all the materials any association (regardless of size) needs to host a Heroes Welcome Home certification program and is making them available for free. Materials include PowerPoint presentation templates, a program manual, media and marketing material templates, logos, an informational Web site (www.heroeswelcomehome.com), plus CAR’s tips and advice on program customization.
The program is flexible and scalable, and can be offered at little or no cost to associations, because, as CAR found, financial and volunteer support was readily available from affiliates, community partners, and interested members all eager to show their support for returning veterans.
The Chicago Association of REALTORS® is committed to assisting other REALTOR® organizations that want to adapt the Heroes Welcome Home program to their needs. Contact Bill Wald at 312-214-5517.
DataFusion, REALTOR® Resume
A member relationship management software system with a member promotional video component.
From the Bay East Association of REALTORS®, Calif.
The technology pros at the Bay East association are completing work on a piece of software called DataFusion that will fuse together information about individual members from a variety of sources, offering association staff a single point of data access.
According to Bay East’s Director of IT, Mark Flavin, “DataFusion is a layer between all of your organization’s information areas, including NRDS, member management software, billing, Web site content management, MLS, etc.” Not only does this single point of data access save staff time when accessing member information, but members, too, can access—and update—their own membership information, including their e-mail addresses.
Because DataFusion can be plugged into all of an association’s data systems, it can track which services and products each member uses, making it a great tool for analysis and marketing as well. “To prove membership value,” says Flavin, “you can send out with your bill a list of the services the member has taken advantage of.” The system also enables associations to promote to individual members the specific services they may not be using but might like.
“DataFusion is not a replacement for your current membership system or a replacement for RAMCO (NAR’s planned Internet-based association management system),” notes Flavin. “It is the next generation of member-association relations.”
Like any piece of software, DataFusion is multifaceted and can be configured to do a lot or a little, depending on the size and needs of the association.
The REALTOR® Resume aspect of the program, which can be integrated into an association membership program as a stand-alone product or plug-in to DataFusion, is a service that goes beyond traditional agent marketing by combining promotional videos about REALTORS® and their properties, MLS data, and local community information that they can then send to mobile devices, post online, publish through social media, and more.
Bay East has partnering with Homes on the Tube to host the resumes and co-produce tutorials on creating effective video and audio files.
How you can do it:
DataFusion is designed to help associations of any size track, prove, and promote their tangible member service benefits. The system is designed using a plug-in architecture and open source code, which means that it should be as easy to install and configure as any other piece of software in your association office, says Flavin. Yet, depending on the complexity desired, some associations may need additional IT assistance.
Associations that participate in the REALTOR® Resume program with Home on the Tube can use it as a non-dues revenue generator, a new member recruitment tool, or a way to increase value to existing members. For more, visit www.REALTORresume.com or e-mail email@example.com.
DataFusion and REALTOR® Resume will be provided to REALTOR® associations at no cost and are expected to be available fall 2010.
A neighborhood-focused community blog.
From the Missoula Organization of REALTORS®, Mont.
FrontPorch uses social media to build relationships between REALTORS®, neighborhoods, and neighbors. Built on the popular—and free—blogging platform WordPress, FrontPorch features facts, videos, news, and stories about all the neighborhoods of Missoula. The site is designed to attract homebuyers, renters, residents, and visitors to not only discover and compare neighborhoods, but to contribute their stories about living in their neighborhood as well. “This is a community project, not a real estate sales site,” says Missoula Association CEO Mae Hassman, RCE. “The bulk of the information on the site is about neighborhoods.” For REALTORS®, however, there is the opportunity to identify themselves with a particular neighborhood by becoming a FrontPorch volunteer, which entails regular blogging about the area, encouraging residents to participate in the site, and disseminating information and news.
How you can do it:
All REALTOR® associations are welcome to use the FrontPorch concept along with the blog template, logos, and branding created by the Missoula association. The program is an innovative way for associations and their members to build and sustain positive relationships with community residents. For more, contact Mae Hassman, 406-728-0560, mhassman@MissoulaRealEstate.com.
A money-saving and informational gift for members to give to their customers.
From the Sacramento Association of REALTORS®, Calif.
A service that is inspired in its simplicity: gift baskets for members to give clients that contains coupons and discounts valued at hundreds of dollars from the association’s affiliate member vendors, such as movers, remodelers, and landscapers. But the Sacramento association took the gift concept an innovative step further. Give these clients another gift: exclusive access to a new consumer Web site (http://www.sacramentohomeadvantage.com) that features valuable information about the buying and selling process, community amenities, neighborhoods, and schools, in addition to up-to-date news of legislation affecting private property rights.
For only $15 per client (which the member pays to the association in exchange for putting together the basket and updating the Web site), affiliate vendors benefit from exposure, clients benefit from discounts, and members benefit from an ongoing marketing system to build and strengthen customer relationships.
Following a link from their REALTOR®’s Web page, “auxiliary members,” as SAR calls them, can click through to the site’s landing page, where they are greeted by their REALTOR®’s photo and contact information—allowing for “face” time whenever the client accesses the site.
In addition to the material clients can read on the site, the association sends information and discounts to the REALTOR® on a quarterly basis to pass along to clients. By maintaining regular contact, members are able to bolster their relationships with clients.
The relationship between the association and the REALTOR® also becomes strengthened in this process, as the association proves itself more valuable to the REALTOR® and builds a database of names from the auxiliary membership that can be used for legislative advocacy.
How you can do it:
It can be economical for even the smallest associations to sell to members premade client gift baskets with local coupons. Private access to a custom consumer Web site, on the other hand, is a larger undertaking. SAR’s development of http://www.Sacramentohomeadvantage.com consumed the bulk of the association’s $25,000 budget for internal development. Yet, fortunately, SAR plans to make available a template of the consumer Web site that can then be customized by any size association. Associations are responsible for maintaining the content on the consumer Web site as well as managing ongoing vendor relationships to ensure a steady flow of discounts and coupons. For more, contact Nelson B. Janes, EVP, firstname.lastname@example.org, 916-437-1201.
A statewide shared communications center.
From the Montana Association of REALTORS®
When the Montana Association of REALTORS® set out to connect with more members and engage them in the business of the state association, it faced more than a few financial and logistical hurdles. Its new Shared Landscapes program became not only the solution to clearing those hurdles, but also an opportunity to surpass the initial goals.
Because Montana’s 15 local associations use different methods of membership and association management—including different software, online tools, e-mail systems, and more—the state association realized that a centralized communications solution would benefit not only the state, but the locals as well.
Shared Landscapes is a single sign-on communications hub that gives local associations access to cost-effective shared services, such as a uniform video hosting service, online survey tools, e-mail broadcasters, and a Web site content management application. The single sign-on system also allows members to navigate between their most frequently used Web sites, including their MLS, electronic forms, local and state Web sites, and transaction management systems, once they are logged in. It also gives members the opportunity to manage their own preferences, such as updating their own e-mail address.
The program additionally provides local associations with the tools to engage members in the business of the association, including leadership opportunities, and its products and services. “The local associations, for the most part, do not have the resources to invest in the best technology, so they were thrilled to have this new solution,” says Kevin McQueen, program coach.
MAR also provides locals with HD video cameras, training, and ongoing support so they can record high-quality video podcasts for their Web sites. To engage more members in state association business and significantly reduce travel time and costs, Shared Landscapes offers video conferencing through Webex.
How you can do it:
The Shared Landscapes concept is clearly adaptable to any state association. Yet, any group of local associations, too, can benefit from the cost-effectiveness of a platform of shared services. When multiple associations get together and use the same tools, they learn together, share ideas, and support one another. The program, due out this fall, is modular and scalable to meet nearly any budget. The greater the number of associations participating in the program, the higher the return on investment. For updates, visit http://www.montanarealtor.org/shared_landscapes.
Quick Smart Learning
An online education program for new and less experienced agents.
From the Pinellas REALTOR® Organization, Fla.
In today’s struggling economy and competitive real estate market, the Pinellas REALTOR® Organization has found that its brokers are straining to remain profitable. More often, these brokers lack resources to develop and deliver the quality training they need to turn their new, and less experienced, agents into successful professionals. To help, the association is launching the Quick Smart program, which establishes a core set of competencies for REALTORS® based on today’s consumer needs and expectations. Areas covered include: building a business plan, creating a marketing plan, and establishing a value proposition.
The online learning program is offered to brokers as a fee-based, broker-branded education program but is hosted and managed by the association to reduce brokers’ administrative costs.
“The program addresses two important challenges I see in the industry,” says John Tuccillo, program coach, “the need for REALTORS® to be consumer-centric in a younger market, and the significant gap that exists between what you need to know to get your license and what you need to be a REALTOR®.”
The program will also reinforce the association’s role as the premier provider of education for real estate professionals, fostering member participation in subsequent learning programs developed by the association. Under the watchful eye of a mentor, the 24-week course consists of 14 weeks of learning (approximately 10 hours per week), followed by a 10-week performance component that focuses on practical application in the field.
How you can do it:
The expense of developing this learning program from the ground up (around $250,000) means that smaller boards will not likely be able to re-create it on their own, but it will be possible for them to rely on larger boards to administer the program for them in a revenue-sharing model. The program package includes a training manual (associations would need to recruit and train their own instructors), access to the software, and all the course materials. The curriculum can be branded and customized to associations, companies, or teams in the real estate industry to focus REALTORS® on the consumer and on providing a consistent experience. For more, visit http://www.quicksmartlearning.com or contact Cindy Farris at email@example.com.
An online dashboard to consolidate members’ business activities with association services.
From the West Volusia Association of REALTORS®, Fla.
Today, most REALTORS® spend a lot of time surfing the Web—real estate news is on one site, housing statistics are on another site, listings are on yet another. Daily, REALTORS® may access dozens of sites including their social media pages, e-mail accounts, and maybe a transaction management platform as well. To keep all of this organized, they do what most of us do, bookmark these pages in their browser and maybe keep all the passwords written down on a little piece of paper in their wallet. But now, the solution to this inefficient clutter is the RE-Worx Dashboard, according to the West Volusia association.
RE-Worx, currently in development, is a highly customizable virtual instrument panel that REALTORS® access online to organize the many facets of their business into one place for easier access. Members log in to their dashboard from any Internet connection, and there they see current local market stats, headlines from the real estate news feeds they’ve selected, and a collection of links to all of their favorite Web sites, social media, e-mails, MLSs, and transaction software. Members can add or remove applications, links, news feeds, and other resources. Plus, there’s a password “vault” feature for members to securely store their various logins and passwords in one place.
Every member dashboard also features one daily message from the association (“Social media class registration closes Tuesday,” for example), a list of five association news items, a video, and a subtle advertisement from a sponsor (generating non-dues revenue for the association). RE-Worx will be a free service to members and even works on smartphones.
How you can do it:
Nearly $100,000 in program grant funds went toward the development of this system, so even though West Volusia is a small association (680 members), not just anyone could develop such a program from scratch. Fortunately, the dashboard software, along with user and administration manuals, will be offered free to all REALTOR® associations. Associations will incur some costs to implement and run the project, which may include dashboard hosting on the Internet, purchase of password vault software and marketing statistics components, along with staff time to administer the system, among other expenditures. The system is expected to be available this fall. For more, contact Pam MacConnell at 386-774-6433.
A program for multi-association collaboration.
From the Chicago Association of REALTORS®, Mainstreet Organization of REALTORS®, NorthShore Barrington Association of REALTORS®, and Northwest Chicagoland Association of REALTORS®.
The Community Alliance of Chicagoland REALTORS® is a collaborative venture of four area associations. This umbrella group’s purpose is to create an environment of sharing to better serve the needs of the entire regional real estate community. Through combined efforts, CACR will provide, on an ongoing basis, programs, products, and services of higher quality that reach more members and increase professionalism. Equally important is that the combined voice (with its own logos and branding) will strengthen the group’s legislative and regulatory influence and more effectively promote the image and value of the region’s REALTORS®.
REALTOR® associations do, in fact, collaborate often. However, the truly game-changing component of this project is the establishment of a new entity—the Community Alliance of Chicagoland REALTORS®—that has as its sole purpose facilitating collaboration. Rather than piecemeal agreements on occasional projects, the alliance enables these associations to establish a consistent framework within which all types of collaborations will operate. This saves time, money, and effort.
The four association AEs created a brand and mission statement for the cooperative and agreed to three simple rules: 1) Anyone can choose to opt out of any project at any time; 2) disagreements are settled by a simple majority vote of the CEOs; 3) any joint activity must either have a regional impact that no one association could achieve on its own, or serve members from all the associations in a way that would be impossible for one association to do alone.
CACR is actually an umbrella cooperative in name only, and is not incorporated with policies, rules, or structures. Rather, the four CEOs agree annually on key goals, objectives, and strategies for achieving those goals, which are approved by their boards of directors. They then each commit the necessary funds, staff, and other resources to achieve their stated goals. Their staff work together on joint projects within their respective areas of expertise (e.g. the four communications directors work on joint media releases, etc.). Additionally, the three CEOs periodically meet to review the status of approved projects.
How you can do it:
Even though these four associations are contiguous, this coordinated approach can be accomplished with noncontiguous associations of any size, says program coach Jerry Mathews. “It is a matter of attitude and trust, not geography and structures, that determines success,” he says.
What is most important, according to Chicago association CEO Ginger Downs, RCE, is that the associations come to some agreement about how formal they want the efforts to be. The CACR AEs considered three options: 1) select a few projects and put some resources into them, but with no commitment beyond any given year; 2) create an ‘umbrella organization’ with outlined goals and objectives, coupled with a multiyear commitment of resources; or 3) merge our associations. “We selected the second option after having held a highly successful leadership retreat together,” says Downs.
Regardless of the structure, says Downs, it’s important to clearly identify advantages, outcomes, and goals that will mutually benefit the associations engaged in the collaboration.
A modern, feature-rich, and scalable association Web site template.
From the Inland Gateway Association of REALTORS®, Calif.
Inland Gateway faced a common association problem: how to build a really great Web site, one that’s easy to use for older members who are not tech savvy, yet has all the interactive features younger members want. The association also wanted to portray a modern image with a Web site what was easy to use and maintain.
After extensive study and user group feedback, the association found that members wanted, first and foremost, a site that’s easy to use and didn’t require any training. They wanted a quick and easy way to pay bills, access to data and facts (such as zoning laws and housing stats), plus a powerful search engine and a calendar of events.
These five features were only the start. The association built into their new site an online store, blogging and member chat capabilities, a member search, video, and more. The site’s home page is a “virtual association” complete with an office scene and a welcoming receptionist.
How you can do it:
Nearly every REALTOR® association has a Web site and knows the agony and expense of redesigning, adding the latest technology features, and keeping information easy to find and current. The Inland Gateway’s virtual association Web site template will be available to all associations at no cost this year. Although some backend programing experience is necessary, the site is easy to install and maintain, says John Schulte, the association’s 2010 president, and associations can chose to use only the modules they want and plug in new ones as they are developed so the site never becomes dated. For more contact, Shirley Skerbelis, shirley @tigar.com, 951-753-5121
Rate Your Experience
A real estate transaction online rating and feedback tool.
From the Peoria Area Association of REALTORS®, Ill.
Rating is the new advertising, says the Peoria Area Association of REALTORS®. Its project, Rate Your Experience, enables REALTOR® associations to take control of the rating process for their agents and provide valuable information for their brokers.
Rate Your Experience is a Web site where REALTOR® clients can score every aspect of their transaction, from lenders and inspectors to builders and REALTORS®. The ratings and comments will provide a picture of the total transaction experience, enabling members to improve their performance, gain insights into client needs, uncover the competency of other service providers, and eventually promote their quality services. Consumers also can look up the ratings of REALTORS® in their area on the public rating Web site.
The rating system generates an e-mail survey to buyers and sellers only after a sold or off-market transaction is reported to the MLS, according to Dallas Hancock, RCE, the association’s CEO. “This eliminates the possibility of random surveys completed by the public.” Agents provide the contact information for the buyer or seller in an information request that precedes the survey.
How you can do it:
Rate Your Experience will be available free to all associations in the form of an open source code by the end of 2010. Some IT proficiency is needed to install the system but customizations the code to include your questions along with the names of your members and other transaction service providers. For more, contact Brian Carroll, 309-688-8591, firstname.lastname@example.org
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