Programs & Services for the Member Life Cycle

By Carolyn Schwaar

How can your association be the best source for information, education, advocacy, and development at every stage of your members’ careers?

REALTOR® AE magazine surveyed members across the country in June to find out what they want from their local associations. The nearly 2,000 respondents, which we broke into five career levels, offered their wish list for association programs and services. They provided a fascinating look at how local associations can support ­members as their careers grow.

“If we don’t know what members’ needs are, then we can’t know how to be relevant and helpful to them. So many associations just offer blanket messaging and courses for members. We want to really segment our membership and be their best source for information, education, advocacy, and development!”  — Maria Brogan, CEO, The Northeast Association of REALTORS®, Mass., 2017 REALTOR® AE magazine editorial board member

Rookies. Make an impact.

New members at the outset of a career (regardless of age) are generally uncertain about their competence and potential. They are dependent on others, especially their brokers and more experienced agents, for guidance, support, and feedback. Rookies are making initial choices about committing themselves to real estate as a career. They are exploring possibilities while learning about their own capabilities. Our survey findings bear this out, with the overwhelming number of rookies saying education and training is their number one need.

Your association’s new member orientation may be the only time some members set foot in your office or interact with your association, aside from paying dues. Although many won’t be in the business next year, strive to make a big impact.

“At new member orientation, I learned about the association’s sponsors, like banks and their programs,” says one rookie with a national franchise in Memphis. “They have a lot of committees that I probably should take advantage of if there were more hours in the day. They have a women’s group and a YPN. They offer scholarships. They do offer a lot.”

Although associations must pack a lot of information into each new member orientation, to a rookie, what the association offers, such as volunteer opportunities, classes, and leadership training, may sound like programs that don’t have an immediate impact on today’s bottom line and can be pushed off to someday in the future.

Rookies are concentrating on their own careers and learning the ropes. “When I first started in the team, I was just very focused on the team. I had my hands full. I didn’t have as much time to get out,” says one new member from North Carolina. 

Rookies need to know: How do I get the work accomplished? Am I performing as expected? Am I developing the necessary skills to make it?

Program ideas for rookies include workshops to encourage new members to assess their goals and abilities and to formulate career development plans. Also, periodic career counseling by more experienced agents and brokers can help new members identify life and career issues.

Rookie wish list: One question in our survey asked REALTORS® to write in ideas for business-boosting services, programs, or products they wish their local REALTOR® association offered. Most of the ideas from rookies related to “nuts and bolts” education and training on the fundamentals of making a living in real estate. Second, rookies requested leads (of course), a CRM, and free websites.

Rookies said:

—“I am a new agent so I feel like I have just been thrown into the pool and told to learn how to swim on my own. I like the classes I have taken but they have felt intimidating to me and way too fast.”

—“I feel that I will get more involved after I gain more experience as a REALTOR®.”

—“This is all new to me, and I have a part-time job, but I’d love to give real estate a shot.”

Year 1–5

Strivers. Help them grow.

REALTORS® in their first five years are budding professionals. They’re becoming more independent and many leave teams to strike out on their own. Strivers have typically learned to perform autonomously and need less guidance from brokers but want closer ties with colleagues to grow their professional network. They’re concerned with achieving and learning and are intent on making their career work.

“At this point in my career [three years] I’m looking for education and networking, and the association is a valuable piece in that,” says one member. “They have different kinds of events. I go to their classes, their lunch-and-learns.”

Although rookies said they had no time for their association, strivers are eager for resources. At this stage associations can gain active participants by promoting business-boosting programs, education, and mentoring.

Strivers need to know: Am I advancing as expected? How can I advance more effectively? How do I get more exposure and visibility? How do I develop more effective peer relationships?

Program ideas for strivers include career assessment workshops that provide various tests of job aptitudes and abilities. Also, consider classes that explain the cost of operating a real estate business and how to set career goals.

Striver wish list: Strivers mentioned more specific business-boosting tools, likely because their experience has given them a broader perspective. Many mentioned wanting transaction tracking systems, social media listing publishing tools, and hyper–local neighborhood reports for clients. Their education and training ideas are also more specific than rookies’ and lean toward establishing their business (understanding taxes, marketing costs, and SEO), and getting better and cheaper access to data.

The strivers’ survey responses hold the first hints that they understand the association can do things for them that they are unable to do on their own or find elsewhere. Several strivers mentioned that they were concerned about finding healthcare and felt the association’s size and resources could help. A few respondents mentioned that they would like the association to become more involved in the community to better promote REALTORS®.

Strivers said:

—“As a newer REALTOR® I couldn’t have been as successful and knowledgeable without [my local association].”

—“Increase the local community activities that target younger REALTORS® in order to network, such as sporting or cultural events around the city.”

—“When a licensee is new, they are excited and mindful of the services offered. Being around awhile, it’s intimidating (and maybe embarrassing because I haven’t been active) to attend events.” 

Years 6–10

Producers. Give them purpose.

As members approach their 10-year mark in real estate, which often signals their acceptance as members of the professional community, they often aspire to higher compensation and professional recognition. Many work to earn their broker license or seek to move ahead by gaining expertise in another real estate specialty, such as commercial or second homes.

Producers feel confident that they have found the right career path yet still devote a tremendous amount of time and energy to building their business.  This stage can be satisfying for several years, as long as growth in expertise or responsibility continues. Some people never need to move beyond this level, thriving on independent work. 

Producers need to know: How can I set myself apart from others and developing a professional identity? How can I become more independent and set my own path? How can I learn to be innovative?

Program ideas for producers: This is the career stage where members may be most receptive to education and training in business specialties and earning designations. Associations can also promote volunteer positions where these members can learn a useful skill.

Producer wish list: Producers want from their local associations far less general business education than rookies or strivers want and more on specific tools to boost business, such as a CRM, innovative lead generation, and social media advertising. There’s more mention among these REALTORS® of wanting free tools, data, and services.

Many survey respondents at this stage mentioned their dissatisfaction with listing portals, saying they wanted to better “control their listings” and they wanted their MLSs to stop “giving away their listings.”

Producers said:

-“Other than helping me get connected to my MLS, I don’t know what my local association does. If somebody said, ‘Hey, you can make an impact on your organization or your industry,’ I would do it. No one has ever approached me on a personal level.”

-“I miss when the business was more personal. We rarely connect with anyone in a transaction beyond the lender and title services. Communication is easier, but not necessarily better.”

-“We have a lot of older REALTORS® who’ve held positions [at the association] for ages and they aren’t open to new ideas.  It’s really holding our board back.”

Years 11–15

Pillars.  Use their expertise.

Members at this stage of their career focus on gaining maturity. They are ready to take on responsibility, either formally or informally, for developing others in the industry. Although they may not see themselves as qualified mentors yet, they want to display their expertise.

At the same time, they must not neglect their own personal growth and development, and often seek to develop additional areas of expertise. Many may work toward solidifying their real estate expertise in one or two niche areas, such as luxury markets or second homes.

Pillars are ripe to chair committees or take on leadership roles in the association. Professional designations, titles, and leadership roles in the associations are coveted targets for many at this stage. Rather than being independent volunteers, they understand the need for a group approach to issues and challenges in the industry and are ready to coordinate the effort. They often rely on extensive networks both within and outside the organization.

Associations can focus on cultivating personal relationships based on recognizing these members’ individual expertise.

Pillars need to know: How do I better integrate career choices with my personal life? How to I broaden my areas of expertise? How do I deepen my networks within and outside of real estate? How can I gain fulfillment by sharing my expertise with others?

Program ideas for pillars: In our survey, this level of REALTOR® focused more on education needs than producers did, but requested more designation classes and education that covered innovative ideas for lead generation and marketing. “Bring outside educators with fresh ideas in to our education classes,” one member suggested.

Pillar wish list: These members also requested specific tech tools such as mobile apps and video listing platforms and wanted to know how to hire a virtual assistant. Unlike the other groups, this group wanted their local REALTOR® association to help them to reach out to consumers and build the REALTOR® brand.

This group often mentioned the need to boost professionalism among agents. “The association should be a stronger advocate for competency of its members,” one member said. “There are too many REALTORS® in the market that lack the fundamental skills required to successfully complete a transaction, and it reflects poorly on the brand.”

Pillars said: 

—“I never really hear from anyone [at my local association] in person. Communication comes from email and Facebook.”

—“Help us shut down Zillow and their other websites and services designed to ‘Walmart’ us and lessen and undermine the value of our services.”

—“[I wish my association would offer] a stricter standard to become a REALTOR®. So that it is more meaningful to the consumer.”

 —“I’m looking for a way to give back to the community and meet other REALTORS® in my area. If you meet other REALTORS® you’re able to work better with them, and I think that helps the public.”

Years 16+

Veterans. Keep them engaged.

This stage in the member’s career focuses on holding on to career successes. Although their careers may last decades more, many REALTORS® at this stage have achieved their greatest advancements and are now concerned with helping less-experienced subordinates. 

 At this stage, members begin thinking about leaving a legacy, imparting knowledge and experience to others.

These members have a thorough understanding of the industry and can be a catalyst for positive change, including legislatively. Veterans play a key role in shaping the future of the organization by championing promising people, programs, and ideas. They often have developed a distinct competence in several areas of expertise and have a regional or national reputation.

Veterans make ideal volunteers because they are ready to put the goals of the organization ahead of personal objectives. On the other hand, they tend to invest so heavily in the association that they are recycled through leadership positions and committees without ever leaving or acquiring the new business skills and vision to drive the association forward.

Yet associations are wise to focus on engagement and retention of these members in appropriate roles. Re-engage lapsed or silent members with a view to having them return to the fold.

“I used to be very active in my earlier years in the business,” one veteran said, “but what has caused me to back off is when I signed up at their annual conference, where they were asking for volunteers, they never bothered to contact me.”

Veterans need to know:  How can I achieve the respect of others in the organization? How can I achieve a position of influence? How can I build a legacy of programs and people?

Program ideas for veterans: These members need to know that they are valued and needed at the association to serve in leadership positions and beyond. Promote programs, such as mentoring and teaching classes, that enable them to share their expertise. Ensure that you have programs for past presidents and other leaders after their terms are over because they typically have the desire to continue contributing.

Veteran wish list: Veterans were more likely than other groups in our survey to answer the question on what they want from their association. Among the tools they want, many mentioned advertising and consumer outreach. Several mentioned that their association could do more in direct public relations to “tell our story of why we are relevant (education, experience, dedication, loyalty, complicated process, etc.) and the contributions in time and money for our community.”

Veterans requested more resources for commercial practitioners and appraisers. They also stressed the need for better training for new agents, and many said leadership at their association was only open to a select few, either large brokers or franchise brokers.

Veterans were the only group to mention (both positively and negatively) RPAC or advocacy as a function of the association. Several mentioned that they wished their association would “get out of the business of endorsing political candidates or parties.”

Veterans said:

—“I still enjoy courses after 45 years in business.”

—“I’m in the twilight of my career, but I’ve served in leadership locally and committees at state level. Our local board promotes interaction of members through both professional venues and social meetings. We are lucky to have our very accomplished EO.”

 —“[I wish my local association would] combine with other associations so that we may use each other’s home search options.”

—“I would prefer they stop trying to be so diversified and focus on government affairs first and education second.”

Common themes mentioned across career levels:

• A need for affordable healthcare.

• An appreciation of all that their association offers.

• A need for evening and weekend education at a convenient location.

• A fix to the “Zillow problem,” referring to “buying back leads” and the company’s general use of listing data to generate revenue.

All 5 groups on local association services: 

How much do you know about the services, programs, and products that your local REALTOR® association offers?

A. I’m somewhat aware of what it offers, 58%

B. I’m aware of all that it offers, 22%

C. I’m not very aware of what it offers, 17%

D. I’m not aware of what it offers, 3%

When survey respondents’ answers were divided by experience level, the results were similar except that 30% of rookies said they were not very aware of what their local association offers, while only 8% of veterans chose this option.

Other than MLS access, what is the biggest benefit you receive from your local REALTOR® association today?

A. Education, 53% 

B. Market and industry information, 14%

C. No other benefit, 12%

D. Political and legislative advocacy, 8%

E. Ethics, arbitration, and mediation, 5%

F. Networking, 4%

G. Discounts on products and services, 2.5%

H. Consumer outreach, 2%

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