The Many Roles of Today’s REALTOR® AE

Association executives wear many hats. The job requires it. Yet, no one executive can excel at everything. Some have a knack for delivering services through technology, while others use their people skills to focus on member service. Here we look at five core parts of the job through five AEs who exemplify the skills and passion required to excel.

AE as Political Advocate: How to be a champion of REALTOR® legislative issues.

By Diane Moehlenbrink, CAE, RCE, Communications Director, REALTORS® Association of New Mexico.

“Public policy and politics are my passion,” says Steve Anaya, CEO of the REALTORS® Association of New Mexico. You could say it’s in his blood. The nephew of a former governor of New Mexico, Anaya has an impressive history of public service that includes directing the state’s Fannie Mae office, running the state’s office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, and currently serving on the city council of Moriarty, N.M., his hometown.

steve anaya

For the past 25 years, Anaya has been involved in the housing community and real estate industry and on countless boards, commissions, and foundations. “You can’t go anywhere in the state without someone recognizing Steve,” an association past president said. Anaya is an expert at leveraging his connections to further the REALTOR® legislative agenda and has cultivated relationships with elected officials and regulators throughout the state. He routinely brings together varied organizations to help meet common goals. In fact, relationships are the tool he uses to bring housing issues to the forefront of local and state politics.

For example, last summer the association joined 20 organizations in the Albuquerque Coalition for a Healthy Economy. All supported a healthy workforce and a healthy business environment but agreed that a proposed Albuquerque “sick leave” ordinance was not the answer. The law would have forced small businesses to give every employee 40 hours of earned sick time per year. Although an initial poll showed more than half of voters were in favor of the ordinance as written, after an extensive advertising campaign (funded in part by the association’s Issues Advocacy Fund) voters began to understand the ramifications of the proposed ordinance, which was projected to result in a decrease in jobs. The ordinance was narrowly defeated in the Oct. 3 election.

During the legislative session, Anaya is usually found at the Roundhouse (New Mexico’s Capitol building) making sure elected officials know the REALTORS® association views on proposed legislation. He testifies before committees when needed, but the personal touch is what has helped make his association the industry group legislators call on for information about real estate issues under consideration.

“Becoming an effective political advocate takes time,” says Anaya. “It starts small by making contacts, learning to love the process, and recruiting and educating your volunteers to be issue champions.”

Anaya works across party lines to position REALTORS® as a voice for all consumers, not just Republican or Democratic consumers.

To earn the ear of both parties, “you need to know the issues inside and out and be able to communicate both the pros and cons to decision-makers,” says Anaya. “You gain a lot of respect when you present both sides of an issue and are able to communicate clearly why the REALTOR® view makes the most sense for the real estate industry and the public.”

Anaya says the keys to boosting your advocacy presence it to “know your issues, educate the membership, and collaborate with other real estate housing partners.”

Another success story is the REALTORS® Association of New Mexico’s State Political Coordinators Program, modeled after a similar NAR program. The goal was to have a coordinator for each of the 112 New Mexico senators and representatives to help give the association even more voices in the legislature. “It wasn’t a success overnight,” says Anaya, “but it’s beginning to pay off in the association’s outreach efforts.”

Passion, relationships, and knowledge are the foundation that makes Anaya an effective advocate for REALTORS® in New Mexico.

AE as Educator: How to attract students and generate revenue with current, creative, and essential education.

By Carolyn Schwaar

Jim Haisler’s favorite course to teach at the Heartland REALTOR® Organization in Illinois is called “Business Builder,” and it’s offered eight times a year. “The course is aimed at giving new members just getting into real estate the advice I wish someone had given me when I first started out,” he says.

As a former real estate salesperson, Haisler—Heartland’s CEO since 2006—has a keen understanding for what his members need to know, and he has a passion for delivering it. “I love talking with the new members, and teaching helps me better understand the material and the issues my members face,” he says.

Jim Haisler

Heartland has a robust and popular education program despite having just 1,000 members. It also has a lot of competition from larger associations, real estate schools, and brokerages.

Although Heartland’s classes are not always the cheapest, Haisler prides himself on delivering value. “We give you great customer service, and you’re going to like what you get from us because we keep the program fresh and offer more than just the core CE and typical electives,” he says.

Heartland is kicking off its popular Success Series this year with a panel featuring four of the area’s most successful agents talking about what works for them.

In fact, the biggest step any association can take to grow its education program is to make the topics current, says Haisler. “If you have a great program, people are going to want to come and they’re going to want to pay for it. But if you throw garbage out there, they’re not going to come back. You only get one, maybe two chances to show a member that you offer quality education that will help them grow their business.”

If you have members who aren’t used to paying much—or anything—for education, put together a great program and look for a sponsor to offset some of the costs, Haisler recommends. “Offer outstanding quality at a reduced price, but don’t give it away for free. We found that having a fee on a class gives the perception that there’s more value.”

Heartland also partners with neighboring associations to host designation classes, such as CIPS or GREEN. “Shared services is one thing any association, especially small ones, can do to put on these programs. That’s one of the best things we can do for members to get designations.”

In addition to current topics and designations, Heartland recently has added more night and weekend courses, including new-member orientation evening classes. CE classes and MLS training at night and Saturdays help those members who may have other day jobs, says Haisler. “For some members, Saturday is the only way they can fit CE into their schedule, even though it means some odd hours for us.”

Haisler has shaped and adjusted his education program over the years to meet member needs. For example, CE classes need to cost about $35, be three to four hours long, and be concise. Elective courses should be less than two hours because members want to get their information and get back to business, he says.

Education is a profit center for the Heartland REALTOR® Organization because of popular topics and savvy cost management. “Save money by teaching courses yourself if you can, and get your CE instructor’s license if possible. Share services with other associations, get sponsors, get grants from NAR or your state associations, and always charge a fee,” says Haisler. Low-cost marketing is achieved via the association’s Facebook page, website, and email.

Fortunately for the Heartland REALTOR® Organization, Haisler practices what he preaches about education. He holds six real estate designations (RCE, MRE, CIPS, AHWD, BPOR, e-PRO) and has a master’s in real estate from REALTOR® University and puts his knowledge to work leading, teaching, and innovating.

AE as Entrepreneur: How to be an innovative and agile small-business leader.

By Sabrina Blair, Director of Communications, Orange County Association of REALTORS®.

With the long-standing history of REALTOR® associations, it can be tempting to take the easy route and keep doing things as they always have been done. But easy is not always effective. Dave Stefanides, CEO and AE of Orange County Association of REALTORS®, knows this all too well.

In his four years as leader of the Southern California–based association, Dave has helped Orange County REALTORS® become the largest in the state and ninth largest in the country. “Our membership has grown not only along with the county’s population but also because of our extensive educational offerings and benefits,” says Stefanides. “We truly do have something for everyone.”

When asked about running the association like a small business, Stefanides says, “Nonprofit is our tax status; it is not our ­business plan.” Although the economy is strong at the moment, he realizes the cyclical nature of real estate and is hedging against the next downturn. “Diversifying our income is essential to keeping membership dues low while also offering attractive, high-quality services to our members.”

With disrupters at every turn, the future of REALTOR® associations is uncertain, Stefanides says. Staff members at the Orange County REALTORS® are constantly made aware of this and are encouraged to be innovative in their quests for alternative sources of revenue.

“We have partnered with expert trainers to provide complimentary training to our members while also engaging in revenue sharing for more advanced programs,” says Stefanides. The strategy is to attract members to the program to experience its quality and convenience for free, then introduce them to the paid classes.

In addition to an already robust education program, the association created a leadership academy in 2016 that covers everything from parliamentary rules to personal branding and is in high demand among other associations.

They have also partnered with local businesses such as restaurants, mechanics, and dry cleaners to offer discounts to their 15,000 members as a part of their Shop Local program. The program started as a grassroots campaign of door-knocking and calling neighboring businesses to see if they would like to participate. “There has been a lot of interest from the community and local organizations to participate in this program,” Stefanides says—so much interest that many businesses are now seeing the benefit of the real estate community and are joining as affiliate members. Stefanides’ team is working to expand the Shop Local program into a printed savings guide that will be distributed to thousands of REALTORS® this year.

Leading the association’s list of non-dues revenue generators are its two REALTOR® stores that offer a wide array of signs, supplies, and REALTOR®-branded merchandise. “We are in the process of adding new merchandise and moving our store online to better fit the needs of our busy members,” says Stefanides.

As the Orange County Association of REALTORS® continues to challenge the status quo, they hope that other associations will follow suit. “As a large association, we are lucky to have the means to invest in benefits for our members, but many require very little or no investment,” says Stefanides. “I encourage other associations to think outside of the box and create strategic partnerships with local trainers, leaders, and community organizations. You might be surprised with what can come out of a mutually beneficial relationship.”

AE as Community Organizer: How to create an environment of housing equality and opportunity.

By Kelsey R. Croston, Director of Brand Experience, Richmond Association of REALTORS®.

Ensuring that Richmond, Virginia’s REALTORS® have the education, tools, and support they need to serve the area’s homebuyers and homesellers isn’t enough to ensure a vibrant housing marketplace and thriving community, according to Laura Lafayette, CEO of the Richmond Association of REALTORS® and the Central Virginia Regional MLS. There’s another side: ensuring that all residents have access to affordable and safe housing.

“Although there are many factors that contribute to an area’s quality of life, the condition of the homes we live in and the neighborhoods that surround them convey a compelling message about a region’s values and priorities,” says Lafayette. And to help ensure the quality of life in her area, Lafayette serves as the executive director of the Partnership for Housing Affordability, a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that an adequate and diverse supply of affordable housing is a public policy priority in central Virginia. The organization also hosts several volunteer projects throughout the area in collaboration with 17 other local nonprofits.

laura lafayette

Under Lafayette’s direction, the Partnership for Housing Affordability’s most recognized efforts include the creation of a regional housing plan in coordination with another non-profit and, most recently, the incubation of the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, a locally focused program to provide affordable homes to low-income residents.

“The goal of the land trust is to preserve a mixture of incomes in a housing market that’s rapidly seeing a loss of affordability,” Lafayette said in a RichmondMag blog article that featured her as one of the area’s top “change makers.” “One of the ways to build wealth is through homeownership, but you have to be able to afford that step.”

Lafayette’s community involvement doesn’t stop with just one housing organization. She also serves as a gubernatorial appointee to the Virginia Housing Commission and is the vice chair of the statewide nonprofit Housing Virginia. Lafayette also is the chair of the Board of Homeward and serves as the immediate past chair of the board of the Better Housing Coalition.

Lafayette’s dedication to community advancement is unquestioned and her list of contacts in government, business, and nonprofits is long. Her core driver is to create a community of opportunity, and she never turns down a platform to talk about her passion. In a Richmond Times-Dispatch article highlighting her contributions to the community, Lafayette said of her housing work, “We’re not looking at what the city will look like in 2017, but what it will look like in 2030.”

Lafayette brings her passion for community work to the REALTOR® organization and makes it one of the association’s goals by involving every member. REALTORS® are introduced to the issue of housing opportunity through new-member orientation, and they are reminded at every event thereafter. REALTORS® realize that her effort to expand opportunities in the community is also a benefit to their business. “People don’t buy a home until they’ve first bought into a community’s quality of life,” she says.

In 2016, the Richmond Association of REALTORS® launched its Quality of Life investment strategy, a model for bringing together impact investing and philanthropy to tackle affordable housing and education issues in the region. This strategy has been recognized as groundbreaking, and Lafayette hopes it will clear the way for other organizations to do the same.

For other associations looking to become community leaders in affordable housing, Lafayette says to align your organization’s goals with your core values and start conversations about how you can have an effect in your own backyard. She suggests starting by teaching your membership to appreciate the extent to which they can impact their community.

AE as Communicator: How to establish trust among members and the media.

By Carolyn Schwaar

Perhaps Ryan Conrad is an effective communicator because of his years working in government and as a REALTOR® association government affairs director. Perhaps it’s because of his early embrace of social media and online video. But how ever he attained and honed his skills, he makes the most of them to keep members of the Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS® informed.

“After years of lobbying, where I learned how to clearly and quickly communicate often complex messages to elected officials, I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to communication,” says Conrad.

ryan conrad

First, he says, always know what you’re talking about. Take the time to learn from different perspectives what you’re trying to communicate, he says. Yet stay within your area of expertise, he cautions, and rely on your leadership, staff, and outside sources for expertise you may not have.

Conrad’s second tip is to know your audience. “How you communicate a message to your staff is going to be very different from how you communicate that message to members or the media or your leadership,” he says.

Lastly, always have a goal in mind with your communications, he says. “Understand what you’re trying to accomplish before you develop your communications strategy. What is the outcome that you’re expecting? Are you trying to educate, inform, advocate, ask for something, clarify something? Have a goal and think about how you can get to that goal through your communications and messaging.”

When Conrad was with the Greater Lehigh Valley REALTORS® in Pennsylvania as it was attempting to merge with two other associations, the end game of his communications was clear: Persuade members to accept and vote for the merger. However, “communicating through that process was challenging,” Conrad says. “We had to have a communications strategy in place that was simple and could clarify the benefits of the merger. We had to anticipate members’ concerns and what detractors might say, and be ready with responses.”

Conrad’s merger communication plan also enlisted and empowered volunteer leaders with appropriate talking points and communication platforms to get the message out. The three associations launched a private Facebook group where members could air grievances and get answers from staff and volunteer leaders who were prepared to respond. Social media communication turned out to be one of the key elements in the merger’s success.

In fact, today, Northern Virginia’s entire communication strategy is based on a digital-first model. “Our approach is from the mindset of being online, whether it’s our website, our social media, or through video,” says Conrad. In the last year, the association created and filled two new positions—a digital marketing specialist and a digital and editorial content specialist. These two individuals work with the multimedia specialists under the digital engagement manager.

“We’re very fortunate to have a strong and capable communications team, but not every association has that,” says ­Conrad. “Many associations rely on volunteer leaders or outsource their communications to professionals, or [the AEs] have to do it themselves.”

To smaller and single-staff associations, Conrad offers this advice: “Focus mainly on social media and video. These are the two most significant and easiest ways to get your message to members.” These are also low-cost solutions, he says, because social media is free and AEs need only a mobile phone to make effective videos.

For associations large or small, there are the same three essential elements of effective communication, says Conrad. “First, strive for clarity and simplicity. Second, have a purpose, and third, listen to how your audience is reacting to what you’re saying.”

Take a tour of Northern Virginia’s communications through its streamlined website, Facebook pages, Twitter and Instagram accounts, and YouTube channel.

Notice: The information on this page may not be current. The archive is a collection of content previously published on one or more NAR web properties. Archive pages are not updated and may no longer be accurate. Users must independently verify the accuracy and currency of the information found here. The National Association of REALTORS® disclaims all liability for any loss or injury resulting from the use of the information or data found on this page.


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