Showing membership value boils down to one idea, says Annemarie Howard, CEO of the Charlotte Regional REALTOR® Association and the CarolinaMLS: “Members want to see how their dollars are at work.”
To this end, the Charlotte Association launched an online Membership Value Calculator, which is similar to the National Association’s, but highlights only local association offerings. “Members can easily see which offerings they use and put a dollar figure on that savings,” says Howard. “More important, they can see which offerings they don’t use but should be using to get the most value out of their membership.”
However a value calculator alone isn’t enough to express value, especially if the members don’t take advantage of those offerings, Howard says. “In addition, an association needs to deliver a value proposition, which describes how what we offer is unique from what others offer.”
For example, Charlotte’s value proposition highlights how its real estate school boasts an impressive array of instructors and a variety of timely classes, while others don’t. “Our mediation and arbitration services can save members time and thousands of dollars, and our local dues are less than most comparably sized associations,” says Howard. “Isn’t that what people want to know?”
Yet, the challenge remains for the Charlotte Association to demonstrate the value of being a member aside from the requirement to do so in order to access the MLS, says Howard. “The REALTOR® association provides so much value, but that value often gets lost because members are hyper-focused on the listing system.”
Growing appreciation for advocacy
Howard sees progress being made in members appreciating the value of association political advocacy. As a former Washington, D.C., lobbyist herself, Howard is keenly attuned to the importance of her association’s role to advocate for home ownership on behalf of REALTORS® and their buyer and seller clients.
Calls for action, tracking and influencing local issues, along with candidate questionnaires and interviews, have become increasingly important to members, she says. “Especially recently with the potential changes to the MID and property-tax deductions here in North Carolina, members realize that these are real issues that affect their livelihoods.”
Of course, what members value changes over time, prompting associations to develop and sunset programs. “Well before the recession started, we realized that the credibility of real estate professionals was at stake,” says Howard. “We needed to communicate to consumers the value of using a REALTOR® so they could understand how the market was changing almost daily. Once the recession hit, our message to media and consumers was deliberate; we always looked for ways to promote the value of using a REALTOR® and the unique expertise that REALTOR® bring to the transaction.”
Today, however, now that the national and local housing markets are recovering and many REALTORS® are busier than ever, they probably view “REALTOR® value” marketing as less important, Howard says.
A higher priority today, Charlotte members indicated in a recent value proposition survey, was providing consumers with a robust REALTOR®-branded local property search. The Charlotte association launched a value proposition workgroup specifically to define the value of redesigning its property search. “The result of the workshop was a new understanding of CarolinaHome.com’s target audience and the unique offerings that differentiated it from competing sites,” says Howard.
The new home search feature to launch in 2014 is just the latest way the Charlotte association is showing members their dues dollars at work.
Annemarie Howard is CEO of the Charlotte Regional REALTOR® Association, N.C., and the CarolinaMLS. Contact her at 704-372-0911 or firstname.lastname@example.org.