Maybe you can’t please all of your members all of the time, but there are surefire ways to make your brokers happy.
Representing all the diverse and competing interests of REALTOR® association members requires diplomatic skills of a high order. Even the needs of small, independent brokers differ from those of large, national franchise brokers. How can you effectively serve one type of member who depends heavily on the local association for resources, such as education and marketing tools, while meeting the needs of another segment of membership with other priorities?
The executives we spoke with say that outreach to broker-owners reveals which services are most needed. To engage brokers of all types, association executives focus on commonalities among members rather than differences. They emphasize the services all their members want, which vary from one association to another. Uncovering this common driver at your association is the challenge.
Dispute Resolution and Advocacy
Pat Jacobs, CEO of the 3,300-member North Oakland County Board of REALTORS®, Mich., says NAR’s Code of Ethics and its dispute resolution processes are key benefits for all her brokerages. A large brokerage recently called on Jacobs to arbitrate a dispute between two of its own agents over a $15 million transaction.
Data and Market Analysis
Unique data and research is one key to the Orlando Regional REALTOR® Association’s strong relationship with its brokerages.
Because Florida has an influx of foreign investors, Michael Kidd, executive vice president of the Orlando Regional REALTOR® Association, works to develop relationships with global associations, such as the Association of International Property Professionals and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. These relationships provide networking opportunities for his members. Kidd distributes information about potential foreign buyers in the Orlando region—everything from the frequency of nonstop flights from various cities to queries from trade-show organizers and firsthand observations of shoppers at high-end malls.
“That’s information you have to track outside of the transaction database,” he explains. “That’s gold. … And when you can deliver it with analysis, it appeals to sole proprietors and large brokers alike.”
Education and Training
Even though many association executives avoid competing with large brokerages for educational services, there is a middle ground. For example, Rebecca Grossman, CEO of the Scottsdale Area Association of REALTORS®, Ariz., tries to complement, rather than duplicate, the brokers’ educational offerings. When a course that agent members demand is also offered by brokers, the association will charge for it so as not to compete directly with free or lower-cost brokerage classes.
Grossman’s latest strategy is to take classes into brokerage offices and let them customize or tailor the classes for their own agents. “It makes for more open and easy discussion about topics they wouldn’t talk about in front of competitors,” Grossman says.
Offering agent education and training at a level higher than what brokerages can offer is another way to encourage partnerships. Grossman says she encourages her brokers to nominate their agents as candidates for the association’s leadership academies, which offer ongoing training in a variety of areas, from professionalism to community service. “We’ve gotten some incredible talent onto our committees and boards that way,” she says.
Al Ingraham, CEO of the Greater Baltimore Board of REALTORS®, says his association tries not to “trip over” franchised brokers’ course schedules. He is careful to offer courses at different times and in different locations from the brokers’ courses. Offering the same course at a different time can actually benefit large brokerages, he says, because “a lot of people come in at the eleventh hour.”
Another way to encourage broker participation is to create events especially for broker-owners (see “Broker Summits,” p. 14). The Greater Boston Association of REALTORS®, for example, offers a broker-owner seminar series, which covers such subjects as effective relationships with agents, and a broker-owner forum, where brokers get to meet NAR experts, learn about timely issues, and provide direction to association leadership about what they want from the association.
Regardless of the service, program, or product, AEs say one element is key: trust.
Building or rebuilding trust among large broker members may be as simple as visiting them in their offices. “Don’t just sit in your castle and expect them to come to you,” Ingraham advises. Or it may require asking disaffected members for their support in improving the association, as Ingraham did when he first arrived at the Baltimore association.
In some cases, smoothing relations with large brokers involves learning what their pain points are and working to address them. For example, John Dulczewski, executive director at the Greater Boston association found that brokers were not getting enough help educating new agents about the value of REALTOR® membership, and his association created materials to assist brokerages. He also hired additional staff to clear a backlog in processing professional standards cases—another source of frustration for brokers.
Even if it takes time and effort, building these relationships pays off in the end, association executives say. At the most basic level, it keeps members in the organization and it can make collecting dues from agents easier (“Broker managers put the squeeze on agents who don’t pay,” Ingraham explains).
Most important, when large brokers are satisfied that the association is valuable to them overall and represents their interests, at least in part, they are more likely to go along with policies that don’t benefit them directly. Jacobs describes several recent initiatives that helped her association but were unpopular with large brokers, including allowing agents to post “virtual tours” on MLSs for free. But she and some of her key staff have been at the association for three decades and have built up a reservoir of trust, so even if brokers grumble, they don’t leave.
“We must be doing something right,” she says. “The membership keeps growing.”