by Bridget McCrea
REALTOR associations nationwide continually roll out new services and upgrade existing offerings, all in the name of keeping their members informed, up-to-date, and equipped with the most modern tools and resources. Here are some associations' latest and greatest developments.
A Google-like toolbar (download and install with Internet Explorer)
Everything at their fingertips, that's what Rob Uhrina, vice president of marketing and communications for the Wisconsin REALTORS Association (18,000 members) had in mind for the WRA Web browser toolbar. "We wanted to offer our members one-click access to the tools we offer on the WRA Web site and the type of tools we know they use the most," Uhrina explains. The toolbar features quick links to the WRA Web site, NAR's REALTOR.org, Google, and CNN; provides a resource for searching for other Wisconsin members; and includes a mortgage calculator. Users can add options, such as MLS ID searches on REALTOR.com, a Web page sizing tool, links to maps, phone numbers, real estate news, and search-term highlighting. The feature is customizable and can be branded for use by other associations.
Uhrina is excited about what the toolbar can mean for the association. "Through this toolbar, members will begin using our Web site as a resource for their daily needs rather than a place to visit once in a while."
Currently in Beta testing, it's expected to officially launch this summer.
Cost: The service was developed internally and is free to members.
Wi-Fi hot spots at the association office
Continuing education requirements often mean that members need to be at the association office for eight hours a day. When you're trying to run a real estate business in a hot market, that can be tough to manage.
Jeanette Newton, CEO of the Dulles Area Association of REALTORS, Leesburg, Va., (1,400 members) was fielding lots of requests from members who needed to check their e-mails, so she approached the association leadership about setting up the hot spots. In addition, she suggested the installation of two hardwired computers that members can use any time they need information."Members are pretty excited about it," says Newton. "We already have 30 subscribers signed up. When you can offer a great value-added service like this at no charge, it's definitely a win-win for the association and the members."
Cost: The service is free for members. It cost the association between $4,000 and $6,000 to install.
Internet-based video-conferencing facility
In 2004, the Oklahoma Association of REALTORS (9,600 members) launched a total renovation of its office building with an eye toward accommodating more professional development classes and larger meetings. Their new videoconferencing center is a hit with members as it allows anyone to speak with (and see) anyone else anywhere.
"Today, for example, our executive committee had a meeting at the same time [that] an important piece of legislation was being voted on in the state House of Representatives," said Steve Reese, communications specialist. "We were able to broadcast the Legislature's streaming audio feed direct from the floor and hear our legislative victory in real time."
The service, which cuts down on the need for travel, is saving members and the association time spent away from work, which Reese hopes will increase volunteerism.
Cost: The approximate cost for the distance learning equipment in the two rooms was $60,000. Members pay no additional fees to use it.
Online property information from the county assessor
In the past, if the Chicago Association of REALTORS' 14,000 members needed to get specific property data in Cook County, they had to go to several different Web sites. But now by partnering with the Assessor's Office, CAR is able not only to combine three existing public data sources but also to increase search data parameters and criteria.
Since February the program, known as Datalynx, has been giving members exclusive access to more precise data, ranging from building types and materials to the number of bathrooms and assessments. Datalynx also allows them to view historical sales data for each property. "Most recently, we added a feature that allows members to access the information from a wireless PDA device," says Brian Bernardoni, CAR's director of governmental affairs.
"Datalynx not only means no more multiple sites for members seeking data," says Bernardoni, "but it also drives them to our association Web site and serves as a unique example of how the governmental affairs and technology departments can not only be proactive but also share resources and bring a program to bear fruit."
Cost: The service is free to members. Total development and data license costs were slightly less than $60,000, with the cost for data and upgrades estimated at $35,000 for 2006.
A list of sellers' and buyers' current wants
When interest in the weekly marketing sessions given by the Denver Board of REALTORS (3,000 members) began floundering, Erica Wiser, director of marketing and member services, looked for promotional ideas.
She quickly learned that the most effective way to draw attention to the session was to share the valuable information it generated with the membership as a whole.
"Now we send an e-mail after the marketing session asking members to go [to the Web site to] see what they missed," says Wiser. First-hand details of what local buyers and sellers are most interested in and how members are accommodating their needs was such hot information, says Wise, that session attendance has tripled since the association began posting the data in May. And although there's a perception in the industry that the MLS is so comprehensive that real estate practitioners don't really need to meet face-to-face anymore, Wiser says, "this proves that people still like to broaden their networks and really know whom they're doing business with."
Cost: The service is free to members, and thus far it has cost the association slightly less than $500.
A training program for excellence in real estate
Realizing that untrained salespeople can hinder a transaction, the Educational Advisory Group at the Charlotte Regional REALTOR Association, N.C. (6,000 members) decided to offer a training program for new members.
"We recognized a few years ago that newly licensed salespeople going out into the fieldÑbut not associated with a company--in many cases had no access to any kind of formalized training," explains Karyn Lindsey, director of the CRRA's Mingle School of Real Estate.
"We looked at how other associations were handling it, and that soon evolved into an 11-course (one half-day each) program taught by our members," says Lindsey.
The 11-course New Or Veteran Agents (NOVA) program, which caters to all experience levels, covers a wide range of topicsÑfrom reviewing license law and commission rules, to building effective interpersonal communications and developing marketing and advertising plans."Not only are students gaining valuable training and experience from veteran brokers, but we're also seeing relationships build between persons who see one another every week in class," Lindsey notes.
Cost: Students pay $220 in tuition. Projected expenses for NOVA this year are about $8,000, including course materials, lapel pins, food and snacks, an instructor-training workshop, videotaping, and volunteer instructor gifts. Members volunteer to teach without pay.
A networking and relationship-building program
"5:01 Fun" is a chance for members to visit a local attraction or event and enjoy time together over drinks and appetizers. "This business is so relationship driven that anything we can do to help members form bonds is invaluable," says Don Klein, vice president of the Greater Nashville Association of REALTORS (3,500 members).
Whether they're working on deals, setting up mentoring relationships, or forming bonds, this type of networking event allows members to interact on a more social level. Events have included a visit to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and to the Country Music Hall of Fame, a hard hat tour of the new Symphony Hall, and a night at the Nashville Sounds baseball game.
"It's not a complicated program, but it has significant value," says Klein, who estimates that between 50 and 125 members attend each event.
Cost: Members pay for their own admission to the venue (generally at a discount) and drinks; sponsors provide the appetizers.
A risk management educational program
In response to requests regarding member risk reduction, the Greater Las Vegas Association of REALTORS (about 14,000 members) created an education program designed to teach members how to avoid being sued. The program not only informs members, but helps them to obtain better premiums on E&O insurance. The courses cover everything from how to keep your license to how to conduct a foreclosure to how to avoid legal pitfalls when advertising.
The first class, which graduated in May, received a lapel pin and an invitation to attend two Risk Reduction Society lunches annually. Some even received a reduction in insurance rates from their provider as a result of completing the program.
"The reduced E&O premiums are a side benefit," says Robert Sadler, member service director, adding, "The real rewards come in the form of a reduction in the number of cases brought before the Professional Standards Board."
Interest in the class has skyrocketed, according to Sadler. "We have one firm with 1,200 salespeople that says the entire member base will be taking it."
Cost: The association spent nearly $25,000 getting the program up and running. Fees are three tiered: Licensees pay $450 for the Conquering Contracts course, real estate professionals pay $300, and members of the association's Risk Reduction Society (which costs $99 a year to belong) pay $225. The rest of the classes cost $125, $70, and $50, respectively.
Promoting the profession: Consumer real estate guide
As part of their strategic plan to find new ways to promote the visibility of real estate professionals in communities across the state, the Mississippi Association of REALTORS (5,500 members) created a statewide guide designed to promote the value of using a real estate professional called Real Estate 4-1-1, which features general homebuying and homeselling information for consumers. It will also offer advertising opportunities for members, including a Yellow Page-style directory of real estate services. The publication will be distributed throughout the state at area chambers of commerce, welcome centers, all brokers' offices, and all advertising businesses.
"We wanted to help consumers recognize that Realtors¨ are essential to the real estate transaction, so we created a publication that provides a comprehensive resource of tools, tips, and information on homebuying and homeselling in Mississippi," says Angela Cain, MAR's vice president of marketing. "It's also a great new source of nondues revenue for our association."
The first issue comes out this fall, and MAR hopes that it will not only help members promote themselves but also help consumers prep their properties for sale, figure out how much home they can afford, improve their credit, and tackle other issues related to the homebuying and homeselling process.
Cost: The magazine will be distributed free and be supported by ad revenue.
A current supply and demand ratio of homes vs. buyers
"We changed our mission a few years back to focus more closely on providing tools for member productivity, profitability, and professionalism," says Mark Allen, CEO of the Minneapolis Area Association of REALTORS (9,500 members).
The most recent addition to the MAAR productivity tools is the supply-demand ratio product that makes projections based on market activity to obtain a ratio of the number of homes for sale versus the number of actual buyers. The product provides the number of homes for sale compared with the number of actual buyers. For example, as Allen explains, "for May our ratio was 3.2, so there were that many homes for sale for each buyer expected to enter a contract that month."
Launched six months ago, the product is garnering positive responses from brokers, managers, and salespeople. Allen adds, "In addition, our secondary audience of governmental entities, regulatory organizations, strategic industry partners, and the press use our product on a regular basis and quote MAAR market activity reports and research in their publications."
Cost: The service is free to recipients and cost the association $250 to $300 to develop and distribute.
-- Additional Product Ideas --
Market Activity Indexes
The Minneapolis Area Association of REALTORS developed market activity index resources and has gradually expanded their research services focused on their regional market. "This effort has been well received and widely applauded by our brokers, agents and other strategic entities such as regulatory agencies, chambers of commerce and the press," says Mark Allen, association CEO.
The regional residential market activity indexes include a weekly and monthly regional market activity reports (e.g. market indexes); research on emerging markets, including expanding immigrant and international markets; research on regional economics and its impact on the regional real estate market, research on generational demographics and its impact on consumer expectations, and agent recruiting and development, consumer and member survey activities.
The research has helped position MAAR as the regional expert in residential real estate concerns, says Allen. The press uses this data in their publications, regional and national organizations use it for research and planning, brokers use it for business planning and agent training and agents use it in consultation with their clients. "I have had numerous agents tell me MAAR Weekly Market Activity Reports were an instrumental tool in convincing their sellers to undertake price reductions or home improvements," says Allen.
Sample one of the MAAR Weekly Market Activity Report online at
Listserv for Open Houses
The Dulles Area Association of REALTORS®, Leesburg, Va., recently set up a listserv exclusively for announcing Broker Open Houses. "Firms were burning up the fax machine sending out notices of Open Houses weekly, and agents were complaining that they worked from home and never found out about the Opens," says Jeanette G. Newton, association CEO. "Now subscribers to the listserv can easily send out notices of Broker Opens which can be received at home or office or wherever the agent gets their email." There's no charge to members for the service.
Member Rewards Program to Boost Community Networking
The RealSoure Association of REALTORS, Bergen County, N.J.) just launched a comprehensive effort to reach out to the local business community, facilitate networking between Realtors and local businesses; and provide members with discounts on frequently used businesses and services.
From auto repair facilities to fine gift shops and technology outlets, so far nearly 80 local businesses have signed on. As part of this program, members receive a credit-card sized ID card and a pocket sized directory of participating businesses.
For more on this innovative member service, contact Steve Sost, (201) 612-6010, email@example.com. I can
"Just Listed" properties list online.
The Flint Area Association of REALTORS®'s website for consumers has always been a local favorite but with the addition of "Just Listed" section the site, it has attracted more attention. The new listings at www.flinthomes.net/justlisted.html are all seven days old or less.
"Our members love the extra exposure and it makes the REALTOR® association the first place that buyers go to find a new home," says Doris Nurenberg, association EVP.
New Analysis of Local Real Estate Data
The Orlando Regional Realtor® Association and Attorneys’ Title Insurance Fund created a partnership to share Orlando-focused real estate data and analysis in an effort to continue to improve information and service to home buyers and sellers, as well as real estate professionals in metro-Orlando.
Through this partnership, the Fund will provide monthly data and analysis to ORRA from its recently-launched Real Estate Index, which synthesizes local sales value and volume data for new and existing single-family homes, condominiums and timeshare units based on The Fund’s extensive online deed data. Analysis of the data is provided by Orlando-based economist Dr. Hank Fishkind.
“The Real Estate Index is an extremely valuable tool for both consumers and real estate professionals,” said Charles Kovaleski, president and CEO of the Fund. “It will allow them to see emerging market trends that will enable them to make more informed decisions about their real estate transactions.”
ORRA will provide existing home data, making the combination the most comprehensive real estate statistics ever available in this market. These will be packaged and made available for members of ORRA and The Fund. ORRA’s package will be private labeled as “Metro Trak.” A report will also be disseminated to the media on a quarterly basis.
“ORRA and The Fund found each other quite by accident through our marketing endeavors,” explains Kevin Fritz, ORRA’s Vice President of Communications/Marketing. “We soon realized we were both working toward delivering the same message to consumers. We further realized we could combine not only our marketing efforts to the consumer, but the services we offer our members as well.”
E-mail Summary of Local Real Estate News
The REALTORS Legislative Alliance in Melvern, Pa., on behalf of its three local associations, sends out a weekly e-newsletter to member summarizing articles of interest from local newspapers in their four county areas. "We have received very positive feedback from our members," says Michael McGee, alliance CEO. "We have been very strong proponents of providing tangible products and services."