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Associations Launch Public Service Web Sites

January 1, 2006

Although several state and local associations have launched consumer-oriented Web sites providing free information on important housing issues, few have branded themselves strongly as Realtor® association sites. Many don’t even use the word “Realtor®” in their Web site address.

Why? In most cases, the site’s goal is very specific: to make the public aware of real estate issues in the community and get more home owners involved in the legislative process. Although geared to consumers, the sites provide a service to members, who refer clients to the site for trustworthy information on housing matters.

With the 2005 launch of its consumer site, http://www.SFBayWindow.com, the San Francisco Association of Realtors® aims to become an invaluable resource for local homeowners. It also hopes to ultimately reshape housing policy by encouraging consumers to become politically active.

“In San Francisco, there is an imbalance between property owners and renters,” says CEO James Fabris. “For every three property owners, there are seven renters. This creates a problem for real estate interests because local politicians consistently favor the tenant community.”

In an effort to keep home owners apprised of key proposals, the association determined that a Web site would be more effective and affordable than direct mail. But members said they were reluctant to refer clients to a political Web site, which has the potential to alienate a client with viewpoints opposing those represented.

The solution: make the Web site an easy-to-use resource, with enough information to keep property owners coming back regularly as questions and problems arise. By providing a special section on legislative proposals rather than making politics the core of the site, the association allows visitors to easily avoid politics if they're not interested in getting involved.

“Members now feel perfectly comfortable referring their clients to the site,” Fabris says of the compromise.
In October, the Illinois Association of Realtors® launched http://www.TheHousingSite.org, a project spearheaded by the association’s Equal Housing Opportunity Task Force. Intended as a comprehensive resource for state and federal fair housing laws, the site provides detailed information on regulations that govern real estate advertising, rental properties, affordable housing, and insurance.

“There was a lot of misinformation out there on fair housing,” says Stephen Sundquist, special projects coordinator for the Illinois association. “The task force wanted to weed out the bad information and pull all of the good information together in one place.”

Although it originally targeted consumers, the site has also become a popular destination for real estate practitioners, lenders, and property owners. Opening the door to to even more users, the association recently added a tool that lets visitors convert the site to Spanish with the click of a button.

Consumers who visit http://www.Texas RealEstate.com might think it’s an online real estate magazine at first glance, complete with regular columnists. “That’s by design,” says John Gormley, vice president of communications for the Texas Association of Realtors®. “The site isn’t intended to be over-the-top Realtor®-centric.” Yet, it is still an effective promotion for Texas Realtors® that members appreciate, says Gormley.

Since 2001, the association has been expanding its consumer site with articles on hot real estate topics, tips on buying and selling, affordable housing resources, a home search-tool, and a legislative page. “In the past year, we’ve been introducing more regulatory issues to the site but framing the issues so consumers understand why they should care,” Gormley says.

The Web site is promoted on the radio and through links from members’ sites. “We’re subtly reinforcing the value of Realtors®,” Gormley says. “There’s clearly a public relations benefit.”

‘07 Realtor® Conference & Expo Moves to Las Vegas

The 2007 Realtors® Conference & Expo, which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of NAR, will move to Las Vegas due to unavailability of contracted hotel space in Chicago.

Since NAR typically uses 800,000 to 1 million square feet of convention and hotel space citywide in its conference host cities, venues are typically secured 10 years in advance. Although NAR contracted hotel space in Chicago, it recently learned that not all of the space would be available for the 2007 conference.
The last-minute venue change will result in a change in the day pattern for the annual meeting. Instead of the typical Thursday through Monday pattern, the convention will be Monday through Friday, Nov. 12–16, 2007, at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas. It was previously scheduled for Nov. 2–6.
“NAR very much wanted to celebrate its 100th anniversary in Chicago,” says Sue Gourley, NAR’s vice president of the convention group. “However, we are pleased that we were able to secure an appealing alternate location. We expect to have another wonderful conference and record-breaking year.”

John Fridlington on Keeping Pace with Tech Trends

The Florida Association of Realtors® (FAR) recently launched a for-profit subsidiary that develops technology products and services designed to help Realtors® in their daily business activities. From transaction management software to a technology help line, many of the products and services are free to Florida association members but sold to other Realtor® associations around the country. John Fridlington, rce, cae, executive vice president of the Florida association and CEO of the subsidiary, Real Estate Industry Solutions Inc. (REIS) (www.reisinnovations.com), spoke to RAE about why FAR created the company and what role associations should play in providing technology support to members.

Why did the Florida association funnel its technology offerings into a for-profit subsidiary? We received counsel from our outside auditor that the amount of unrelated business income we were generating from our technology products and services was of such a magnitude that we were in danger of losing our not-for-profit status and might bear significant legal liability. By spinning off a subsidiary as an LLC, we shield FAR from that liability.

Also, it made sense to have a smaller board of directors for the subsidiary that includes technology experts and individuals who are not necessarily Realtors®.

Do you think that other state associations will follow suit? Some other associations have already created technology subsidiaries, including the California association. There may be more who decide to do it, but it won’t make sense for everyone. We made the decision to not only serve our own members’ needs but to also sell our services to other state and local associations. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time to set up the business. It wouldn’t be practical unless you have a very compelling reason to do it, as we did.

One of the goals of REIS is to develop leading-edge technology products and tools for Realtors®. How does it accomplish that goal? When we brainstorm as a board, we identify product needs that our members have. Then we find out whether there is a vendor—a startup company, in many cases—that can provide the products and services we’re looking for. The alternative is to create the product or service internally using our own staff.

What kinds of products or services do you offer? One example is MLS Advantage, a Web-based system that allows MLSs from different areas to share their information and display the data in a common format. We also work with a third-party vendor to offer a do-not-call solution that members use to check phone numbers in a particular area code. It keeps an online record so Realtors® can show that they acted in good faith if they’re ever challenged by the FCC. We also offer a transaction management tool called TransactionDesk, which Realtors® can use to view documents and track the transaction history. Members can give their clients a password so they can view the history and see documents, too.

What products are in the pipeline? We have two cutting-edge technology tools on the way, but we are in nondisclosure agreements, so all I can say is that we have some really exciting things coming for members. Stay tuned.

At the very least, what kind of technology tools or services should associations offer to their members? I may not be objective on this, but I think that every association should offer a tech help line. Our members have come to rely on technology and their clients have come to expect it. Members can’t afford to have downtime when they’re experiencing technology problems.

Study Tracks Hot Legal Trends: In Most Cases, Practitioners Not Liable

In nearly three quarters (or 72 percent) of recent real estate court cases in which liability was determined, the real estate brokers or practitioners involved in the dispute were not held liable, accroding to the National Association of Realtors®’ most recent study on legal trends in real estate. Nonetheless, more preventive training is needed for Realtors® on hot topics such as dual agency and anti-solicitation laws. Those are just some of the major findings of the Legal Scan report.

Conducted every two years, the Legal Scan tracks data on more than 90 liability issues that face real estate professionals. NAR uses the data, along with surveys of industry leaders, to predict the issues members likely will face in the future.

In the latest Legal Scan, released earlier this year, some 1,058 court cases were examined with full legal citation, by problem area and by jurisdiction. These lists can be helpful when looking to see how courts in the past have dealt with legal issue members are facing today. Among the important findings:

Agency disclosure issues are drawing significant legislative attention, with 19 new or amended statutes and regulations regarding the subject being introduced in the past two years.

Real estate topics targeted for increased preventive training include dual agency, breach of fiduciary duty, Internet advertising, and anti-solicitation laws.

Indoor mold continues to be a hot issue for real estate litigation, with more states enacting laws that require disclosure and more court cases being reported.

The most common type of real estate dispute involves property management issues, including debt collection, liability for tenant’s property condition, liability for the condition of a common area, liability for crimes occurring on leased property, and fair-housing claims.

The full report is available online at no charge to NAR members. To access, visit REALTOR.org and search “2005 Legal Scan.”

Homestore to Become Move

As part of a strategy to capture more online consumers and boost traffic to REALTOR.com, Homestore Inc. is changing its corporate name to Move Inc. and revamping its online presence.

Move.com—which will replace Homestore.com, HomeBuilder.com, and RentNet.com in the second quarter of this year—will be marketed to consumers as the site to visit for all services needed before, during, and after a move. The site will direct millions more consumers to REALTOR.com and Realtors®’ home listings, Homestore executives say. The brand Move is also intended to serve as an additional "keyword" designed to attract potential real estate consumers who may not be immediately predisposed to go to a site to find Realtors® or just view listings, but are interested in a wide range of moving related topics, which in turn can lead to a more immediate need to have the services of a Realtor® or view property. “These changes will enable us to extend REALTOR.com’s position as the most visited real estate site on the Internet,” says Mike Long, CEO of Homestore (soon Move).

REALTOR.com will continue to be branded as NAR’s official consumer site and continue to aggregate listings from participating MLSs and reject FSBOs. Access a detailed fact sheet at REALTOR.org/Move.

Kinks Worked Out of MLS Compliance Software

After a year of testing, working out bugs, and creating new features, CRT has launched PolicyPage Version 1.0, an application that automatically scans member Web sites for compliance with MLS display policies.
Free to NAR members, the software became available to Realtor® associations in its earliest test version in March 2005. Since then, more than a dozen association executives have provided CRT with feedback on what to change or improve. The result: A tool that checks for elements such as disclosure statements, copyright statements, and logos. New features include the capability to review Web sites in batch mode when the user is not online and the ability to review graphics.

Further reducing administrative costs and burdens, PolicyPage can be set up to automatically e-mail members if their Web sites don’t comply, providing details of the problems and references to specific policies. Although the software is programmed to check for NAR’s model Internet display policies, it can be tailored to scan for compliance with local rules.

CRT will continue to update PolicyPage with new features, according to Mark Lesswing, NAR vice president and director of CRT. A future version will include a “spidering” tool that scans the Internet for Web sites that display listing information from local MLSs. To learn more about PolicyPage or to download the free software, visit REALTOR.org/CRT.

New Season of Public Awareness

The ninth season of NAR’s Public Awareness Campaign hit the airwaves in March with new ads that highlight the value Realtors® bring to the transaction and warn home sellers that going it alone can be a risky endeavor.

One of the new spots, called “Don’t Try This At Home,” explains how choosing a Realtor® to sell a home is a smart financial decision because sellers make more money when they use a real estate professional, according to NAR research.

The $25 million campaign includes two new television commercials; two new radio spots; as well as new customizable print ads, posters, and Web banners for state and local associations to use. The television and radio commercials will run on network and cable television stations through the end of September.
For the first time, ads aired during the NCAA basketball playoffs. Spots also are airing during prime-time programs such as Extreme Makeover Home Edition, CSI Miami, and The George Lopez Show.

Winning Ways to Show Realtor® Pride

The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® found a unique way to encourage members to display the trademark Realtor® “R.” As part of its statewide public awareness campaign, the association held a contest for the most creative uses for showing off the trademark.

Nearly 200 members sent in digital photos with dogs dressed up in Realtors® garb, fake-tattoos, and other unique displays of the “R”—keeping in mind the proper uses of the registered mark. The 18 most creative contestants each win $100.

“Our goal was to build on the excitement about being a Realtor® and encourage image-building,” says Mike Szwast, director of marketing. “We definitely achieved that goal.”

Mock MLS Site Enters Best of the Web Contest: Largest Ever MLS Launches Online

Ever heard of the Intergalactic MLS? Neither had judges of this year’s Outstanding Realtor® Association Web Site Contest when they stumbled upon quite an unusual entry.

Apparently, the Intergalactic MLS created a top-of-the-line Web site for its 300 million members, including Realtors® from various planets, universes, and galaxies.

“With the use of our Intergalactic transaction and communication devices, we are able to facilitate the needs of all members and consumers, regardless of species or galaxy of origin,” the entry form said. Judges were even more surprised to visit the site (www.intergalacticmls.com) and find pictures of the alien president and space-station home listings.

The mystery unraveled when judges read the fine print on the Web site and entry form. It turns out that the Intergalactic MLS Web site was really developed last last year by Bay Area Real Estate Information Services Inc. (BAREIS), an independent MLS serving Northern California.

“There’s so much going on in our industry that people aren’t stopping to laugh,” says Jim Branscombe, president and CEO of BAREIS, who created the complex site at home in just one day. He got the idea after hearing a complaint about how MLSs are getting too big these days.

What’s next? Branscombe recently ordered shirts embroidered with the Intergalactic MLS logo—which are in hot demand around the office—and he’s considering expanding the site to include a searchable database of intergalactic mock properties.

Mark your Calendar: Midyear Events for AEs

The 2006 Realtors® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo, May 15-20 in Washington, D.C., will feature dozens of programs and events for association executives, staff, and elected leaders. The May 19 Leadership Luncheon will feature association management icon Susan Sarfati. Also bring your leadership to the Leadership Express sessions with NAR Past President Cathy Whatley on “Things I Wish I Had Known Before My Term as President,” Terry Watson on “Why Be Normal” and Janice Parviainen on “Tips to Fulfilling Your Leadership Role.” Access a complete listing of AE events at REALTOR.org/educsess.nsf/ EPSamplesSpecialMYAEWeb

Commercial Convention Online

The Realtors® Commercial Alliance’s conference and trade show, June 6-12, doesn’t require any flying, driving, or walking, for that matter. And it doesn’t require even a penny in registration fees. How? RCA is holding its convention online at www.CommercialSource.com.

The virtual convention will feature a week of speakers and seminars, allowing visitors to preview speakers and topics for future engagements. You’ll hear from commercial real estate trainer Mike Lipsey on negotiating and real estate coach Jim Gillespie on how to implement technology. The convention also will include the class “What Every Residential Agent Needs to Know About Commercial Real Estate” and will provide access to exhibitors and networking opportunities.

State and local associations that purchase a sponsor package are automatically entered into a special prize drawing. To learn more about the conference, and to download flyers to promote the event, visit REALTOR.org/commercial or contact Peggy Luckey at pluckey@realtors.org or 312/329-8464 to find out how your organization can host its own online convention.

Homeownership Month Kit Aids Event Planning

Getting the community involved is at the center of National Homeownership Month in June. But planning a successful project can be daunting. What kind of project should you do? What strategies can you use to let the public know about your efforts? What have other associations done to boost local homeownership rates?

All of these questions are answered in the step-by-step kit that NAR mailed to all state and local associations in early April. The kit, which includes a packet of information and a CD-ROM, includes the materials and ideas that you’ll need to plan stellar events.

NAR Virtual Library Offers eBooks

Attendees of the 2006 Association Executives Institute in Reno, Nev., were the first to learn of NAR’s new collection of more than 200 digital and audiobooks available free to AEs and members through REALTOR.org.

NAR members and association staff can access the Virtual Library eBooks Collection by way of the library home page (REALTOR.org/library) or by visiting http://eBooks.REALTOR.org. Once on the site, they can download, read, or listen to popular books on their computers, PDAs, Smartphones, or CD players.
Books are available on a variety of topics, including real estate, business, sales and marketing, management, and personal growth. Up to three titles can be “borrowed” for a period of 21 days.

Guide to Human Resources Essentials for Associations

A solid foundation in traditional human resources techniques—coupled with knowledge of new human resources technology applications—can help you recruit and retain great employees. Access an expanded online resource guide designed by NAR’s human resources department to provide information and guidance on employee relations, recruiting and legal issues for associations and brokerages. For more, visit REALTOR.org, search “Human Resources Tool Kit.”

AE Professional Development: Successful Students

The following students successfully completed Realtor® Association Management Self-Study courses between Dec. 16, 2005, and March 31, 2006. Students are eligible to receive points toward their Realtor® association Certified Executive (rce) designation.
Kathy Henderson, Carbon County Assoc., Pa.
Jenny Patterson, Yancey Mitchell Board, N.C.
Glenda McCormick, Winston-Salem Regional
Assoc., N.C.

• Advanced Realtor® Association Management Self-Study Course
Susan Aldretti, Jefferson County Assoc., Colo.
Perry Crume, rce, Kansas City Regional Assoc., Kan.
Chris DeRosa, rce, National Association of Realtors®
Tricia Grace, Kansas City Regional Assoc., Kan.
Robert Guilloz, Ann Arbor Area Board, Mich.
Jim Haisler, Realtor® Assoc. of Northwest Chicagoland, Ill.
Kimberly King, rce, Sedona Verde Valley Assoc., Ariz.
Marlena Cain, rce, Kanawha Valley Board, W.V.
Amy Reed, Realtors® Assoc. of the Palm Beaches, Fla.
Debbie Strange, rce, Kansas City Regional Assoc., Kan.
• Advanced Self-Study Course on Professional Standards
Debbie Bessette, East Metro Board, Ga.
Janet Fichtner, Wyoming Assoc.
Colleen Porter, rce, Oakland Assoc., Calif.
Pamela Rosser, South Bay Assoc., Calif.
Laura Stroman, South Carolina Assoc., S.C.