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Gas Hike Hits Staff, Volunteers

January 1, 2008

Associations find creative ways to ease the financial burden some staff and elected leaders incur to drive to work and board meetings.

Lying in bed one night, Jeanette Newton, CEO of the Dulles Area Association of REALTORS®, had a brilliant idea for helping employees with the high cost of gas: a four-day workweek!

Traveling an average of 15 to 20 miles a day through D.C. metro traffic, Newton’s staff were getting hit hard with fuel costs. “I had thought of giving staff gas cards, anything to help out, but all of the ideas cost money,” she explains.

Then Newton realized that not all her staff needed to be in the office at the same time. With a staff of eight working nine-hour days, four days a week, alternating days off, she could provide some commuter relief while ensuring that all office duties were covered full time. “They love it and it cost me nothing to implement,” marvels Newton. An added bonus is that about every two months in the day-off rotation, there’s a four-day weekend.

Associations Absorb the Cost

After one of the most active volunteer directors at Maine’s Hancock-Washington Board of REALTORS® cited the expense of traveling to the board office as the reason for her resignation, CEO Beverlee C. Beers knew she had to help out. With some officers and directors traveling as much as three hours from their homes to attend meetings, the association’s board of directors voted to issue gasoline cards. According to Beers, the cost of the gas cards—about $250 per meeting—is worth it if it keeps good volunteers from quitting.
The value of the gas cards is determined by how many miles volunteers have to travel, and they are handed out at the end of the meeting.

Following suit, the Maine association provided gas cards to any state director who had to travel more than 50 miles to attend a meeting.

From Novelty to Necessity

The cost of driving has elevated Web conferencing from a nice-to-have to a must-have technology for many associations.

“Since the high cost of gas has reduced the number of members coming to meetings, we instituted a Web conferencing service that’s been a great benefit,” says Ben Scranton, director of member services for the REALTOR® Association of Pioneer Valley, Mass.

With some members’ businesses in a slump, finding ways of making the volunteer experience a little easier makes a big difference, says Scranton.

Anti-graffiti Program Is Agent for Change

There’s no doubt that graffiti sends a bad signal to potential homebuyers. In Las Vegas, where the graffiti problem has skyrocketed in recent years, costing the area $30 million a year to combat, the Greater Las Vegas Association of REALTORS®’ innovative approaches have proven successful.

As a member of the Southern Nevada Graffiti Coalition, the association has been involved in a host of tactics, including: establishing anti-graffiti billboard campaigns, developing a hotline to report graffiti, creating a “turn in a tagger” reward program, sponsoring a poster contest in community schools where the winning designs are displayed on a city bus for a year, and posting anti-graffiti ads on myspace.com. The association also created REALTOR® Community Pride Zones where REALTORS® clean up areas of the city with paint and supplies provided through a partnership with county government.

Since the launch of the anti-graffiti program in 2006, calls to the hot-line have increased by 30 percent to more than 300 a month, and graffiti-related arrests in 2008 are expected to top 600.

The REALTOR® association was also a key player in lobbying the state legislature last year to pass tougher penalties for graffiti crime and to criminalize the possession of graffiti implements, such as spray paint, near public facilities. The Las Vegas city council is considering even tougher laws the association supports.
The association and its members, meanwhile, have garnered positive television and print news coverage for their efforts to champion the anti-graffiti movement.

The city and association efforts have truly paid off with a noticeable reduction in graffiti in the Valley, says Kipp Cooper, the association’s government affairs director. “We are far from wiping it out completely, but it has shown that one group’s involvement in a community problem can make a difference. n

Contributing to Communities: Realtors® transform lives, one house at a time

The 14th annual FIX-A-HOME event, held Sept. 9 by the small Monadnock Region Board of Realtors®’, N.H., was another great success uniting members and the community to make a big difference to one local homeowner.

“Local homeowners apply to be the chosen FIX-A-HOME house, and each year our committee selects a home whose owner is unable either physically or financially to maintain it to its best standards,” says Betty Lalla, board administrator and EO.

The association’s FIX-A-HOME Committee solicits the financial and physical support of lenders, contractors, plumbers, electricians, and many others to help Realtors® paint, scrub, repair, replace, and rehab.
“The project brings our entire membership together for the day,” says Lalla, “some who had never worked with each other. It expands friendships and gives back to the community.”

Associations Build Safety Awareness Year-Round

For the sixth year, associations, brokerages, and individual REALTORS® held events to boost awareness of the potential dangers members face on the job, at home, and on the road, during NAR’s REALTOR® Safety Week, Sept. 14-20. Keep the momentum going with awareness-building resources including an updated safety video and online 3-D safety course, a tip card, resources, downloadable safety presentations, handouts, and more at REALTOR.org/Safety.

Authier Named 2008 Magel Recipient

When Robert (Rob) N. Authier, RCE, CAE, EPro, got his first association job 37 years ago, he had little idea it would become his life’s work. But as the 2008 recipient of the William R. Magel Award for excellence in association management will tell you, “If I didn’t truly believe in the association mission and like the people I’m working for, I wouldn’t have lasted more than 37 months, never mind 37 years.”
Authier began his REALTOR® association career in 1976 as the Massachusetts Association’s PR director and moved to become CEO of the New Hampshire Association of REALTORS® just five years later. Authier also led the Virginia Association of REALTORS® for 12 years before returning to his former post as CEO of the Massachusetts association in 2005.

“I am energized and inspired by the terrific staff I’ve worked with in each association, and in every moment; I try to provide the same energizing and inspirational influence for them,” says Authier.

When it comes to describing the association management expertise that led to his Magel Award, Authier is modest. “Some have described me as a good coach, and I like that,” he says. Whether it’s with kids on the ball court or at a scout meeting, fellow professionals at a staff meeting, or volunteers on a committee, Authier’s mix of energy and inspiration has led to his “coach” moniker. “The coaching analogy works very well in association management.”

Authier believes management success runs on skills but that leadership is fueled by well-explored ideas. “I absolutely love to explore new ideas that solve real problems,” he says. “One of my favorite office ‘trophies’ is an ‘Out of the Box Thinker’ wire figure I received twice from staff.”

Leading his team of volunteers and staff, Authier says he tries to find the shortest distance between a great idea and an effective program. “The nature of associations makes this difficult at times, but your most talented volunteers and staff appreciate what I call ‘bow-tie’ governance: a large bow of input on one side, efficient decision-making in the middle, and another large bow of communication on the other side.”

Authier also attributes his success to “a terrific family, two special schoolteachers, some outstanding REALTOR® association CEOs, and some truly great volunteer leaders.”

To less experienced AEs, Authier offers this advice: First and foremost, “hone your communication skills—writing, speaking, nonverbal communication. Regardless of your background, much of your success in association management will depend on how well you communicate.” Second, he says, develop a reliable set of mentors and confidants both within and outside the association. And third, make a point of staying balanced: work, finances, family, lifestyle, and spirituality. “It’s all important to your real success,” he says. “BlackBerries and Treos are blurring the usual nine-to-five work space, so maintaining balance throughout your life must be purposeful.

“A quotation on my bathroom mirror ends with, ‘Your measure of real success is one you cannot spend. It’s how your child describes you when talking to a friend.’”

Authier has three children, Chris, Laura, and James, and will celebrate 30 years of marriage next year with his wife, Deborah, whom he met while attending a REALTOR® convention. He will be formally recognized during the NAR board of directors meeting in Orlando in November.

Ask Your Fellow AEs

“What are the pros/cons to an AE having a real estate license and taking continuing education in real estate?”
“I do not have a real estate license. My profession is association management, not selling real estate. I have a number of professional certifications (RCE,CAE), so I believe in continuing education. I don’t believe I should be answering real estate questions and giving advice to agents that their DR should be giving. I do take professional standards training every year and sit in on a lot of classes—particularly those that have to do with fair housing and ethics, but I steer clear of the marketing classes. I do not want to interfere with each broker’s ‘value add.’ ”
—Carol S. Van Gorp, RCE, CAE, CIPS, e-Pro, CEO, Columbia Board of REALTORS®, Mo.

“I came up from the REALTOR® ranks (I still hold REALTOR® membership) and have been licensed for 29 years. I have always found it valuable, enabling me to understand real estate business issues, including the application of laws and regulations promulgated by regulatory agencies. I have also encouraged staff to become licensed and pay for them to stay licensed. Currently I have three staff who are licensed.”
—Jerry Panz, CEO, Wilmington Regional Assoc. of REALTORS®, N.C.

Kathy’s comment:
I grew up in the real estate industry and have had a real estate license since 1978. Once, when REALTOR® Kate May was my president I asked her how she felt about my holding a broker license, she said: “I think it has made a big difference in the relationship between the AE and members if the AE has a real estate license. It gives the AE some stature and shows interest in the business, not only administratively.” Understanding the “language” of the REALTOR® and understanding affiliate relationships is very helpful. Keeping up the CE credits ensures the AE is up-to-date with changes and trends. It is also excellent when dealing with media relations; it gives more credibility.”

Next month:
How do (or did) you help volunteer leaders understand and strategize for potential mergers? Submit your comments to Kathy@raci.org.

Houston CEO Bob Hale Named Inman “Innovator of the Year”

Houston Association of REALTORS® President and CEO Bob Hale has been named 2008 Innovator of the Year by Inman News. The honor was announced to a gathering of real estate industry leaders during Inman’s annual Real Estate Connect conference, July 25 in San Francisco.

“Bob has consistently been open to new ideas, trying them and not apologizing for it,” said Inman News publisher Bradley Inman. “His biggest claim to this award is his undying support for technology innovators outside of the mainstream, giving them credibility to those in the industry who fear change.”

Hale recently marked his 20th anniversary as HAR’s president and CEO. In 2006 REALTOR® Magazine named him as one of the 25 Most Influential Thought Leaders in the U.S. real estate industry. He has been honored several times as one of the 100 Most Influential Real Estate People.

The Inman Innovator Awards honor forward-thinking technologies, Web services, business models, and innovators in online real estate, brokerage, and media companies. They are among the most prestigious and coveted honors in real estate.

Along with Hale, the 2008 award recipients included Washington, D.C.-based Sawbuck Realty for Most Innovative Brokerage and Seattle-based Estately for Most Innovative Web Service.

New IRS Regulations for Associations
The Internal Revenue Service has recently released an updated version of Form 990 for Tax-Exempt Organizations. Get the latest IRS information and find out how this update will affect your organization at NAR’s new “Field Guide to IRS Form 990 Reporting Rules for Nonprofits,” online at REALTOR.org/library/library/fg615

Where are all the REALTORS®?: Some education directors report empty classrooms, canceled programs

In areas where the real estate market may be experiencing a bigger correction than most, association education directors are telling the same story: Unable to attract REALTORS®, they are canceling class after class.
“Our agents are laying low,” says Cindy S. Goins, director of education for the Jefferson County Association of REALTORS®, Colo. “If they’re taking classes it’s because it’s required or it’s free. I stopped scheduling classes because I just had to cancel them.”

In the market areas that are experiencing a downturn, low class attendance is blamed on REALTORS®’ shrinking revenues and the corresponding job uncertainty. Plus, doesn’t help that more banks, mortgage companies, and other industry groups are offering CE-credit classes for free to increase REALTOR® relationships and business. This is making for stiff competition, according to directors.

Tonya Deskins, director of education at the Washington REALTORS® Association, says attendance is down for both live and online education. “Our members can’t afford quality education and are taking the cheap classes just to renew their license.”

As one Ohio education director told RAE, “I do wish members would show more loyalty to their boards, but the competition for our members’ attendance is great and, let’s face it, free CE draws a large audience, even if the quality and content of the education isn’t top-notch.”

“I had to cancel several designation classes due to the REALTORS®’ lack of funds,” says Lois Campbell, director of continuing education at the Wilmington Regional Association of REALTORS®, S.C. “They aren’t even taking CE classes now ... not from our association.”

For many associations, the education program revenue is essential to keep their overall budgets in the black.
“Our budget is taking a good-sized hit,” one Northeast association education director told RAE. “Those who are staying in the business will pay minimal amounts for mandatory training and will not pay for designation courses. What was planned for special programs is being scrapped.”

Looking for any way to attract members to the classroom, associations are scrambling to retool their programs, shifting topics from standards like marketing and prospecting to focus on selling foreclosures and short-sales.
Some associations are turning to online offerings to attract REALTORS® who have taken second jobs and can’t attend classes during the day as well as those who may simply prefer online education. Other associations are experimenting with evening classes and lower fees.

“Lucky that the second quadrennial ethics is due this year—it’s going to save my budget,” notes Goins.

NAR’s new brochure “Getting It Sold” is an informative resource to help consumers prepare their home for sale with tips on curb appeal, staging, showing, and updating a home for selling success. To order, call 800/874-6500, (opt. ‘1’ for orders) or order online at REALTOR.org/store

Taking the Lead in Smart Growth Issues

In York and Adams counties in southeastern Pennsylvania, REALTORS® have rolled up their sleeves and are working closely with elected officials and city planners to influence the shape of development with the help of two NAR Smart Growth Action Grants.

The region is known for its rural beauty but is threatened by sprawling housing developments as people who work in neighboring Maryland seek less expensive housing. The REALTORS® Association of York and Adams Counties saw a solution in the form of Traditional Neighborhood Developments (TNDs)—compact mixed-use developments that can accommodate growth while minimizing the impact on open space. The concept was a new one for the area, and education was the first order of business. “A lot of times when people hear about high density, they think you are bringing the city to a rural area, and they become very alarmed,” says Shanna Wiest, government affairs director for the association.

The association decided that if seeing is believing, local officials would need to see a real Traditional Neighborhood Development. They used the first Smart Growth Action Grant to sponsor a bus trip for elected officials and staff from several local jurisdictions to see Kentlands in Maryland outside of Washington, D.C., in May 2006. The participants arrived prepared: Before the bus trip the association held evening workshops in both counties to help participants understand TND design. The workshops featured a builder using TND design, and a planner from nearby Eastland Township in neighboring Lancaster County, where TND techniques are being used. The association wanted to be sure the municipal officials heard from their peers about the potential of this alternative form of development.

Once the trip was over, the REALTOR® association realized there was much more work to be done. “There were lots of discussions in our community—‘We need to save open space.’ And another: ‘We have a big issue around affordable housing.’ Then others, ‘What kind of development should we be doing?’” says Wiest. “All of these discussions were taking place separately, but we needed to have them all together.” The association realized that the REALTORS® alone could not answer these questions, so it took the lead in forming the York/Adams Regional Smart Growth Coalition.

The new coalition helped municipalities adopt TND ordinances by creating a model ordinance and found support through a second NAR Smart Growth Action Grant. The model ordinance evolved into a handbook to help localities write their own ordinances.

Wiest says the projects supported by the Action Grants prove that “REALTORS® don’t just sell homes, we build communities.”

AEC 2008 Workgroup Update by Diane Ruggiero, ‘08 AEC Chair

The Association Executives Committee and the volunteer AEs who led its workgroups and subcommittees made great progress this year on important programs and achieved several key goals.

• Travis Kessler and John Fridlington led the Gateway Input Group through a discussion that I believe influenced NAR’s thinking about the “Gateway.”

• Doris Nurenberg and her AE Competencies Work Group identified new and emerging issues to ensure that we remain relevant.

• Ann Guiberson and Kathy Roberts, along with their AE Transitions Work Group, are helping us identify new AE leaders and helping us “older” ones figure out how to move aside so younger AEs can take our place.

• Ryan Tucholski and Stephanie Lance, with the help of “old-timers” Terry Penza and Henry DiGiacomo and their Generation AE Group, are teaching AEs how to communicate with and provide services to younger AEs and REALTORS®.

• Kathy Hartman and the Leadership Programming Group provided excellent learning and sharing experiences for AEs throughout the year.

• Under Jim Link’s leadership, the NRDS Policies Group tackled some difficult and controversial decisions.

• Dan Sale and the Profile Survey Group designed and implemented a tool that will tell us more about the AEs around the country.

• Patrick Reilly and the entire AE Institute Advisory Board put on an absolutely stunning and educational event in Boston last March

• Doris Nurenberg led the RCE Board through a record-setting year and a dazzling class of new RCEs

• David Charron and the Recommendations & Recognition Committee identified our future AE leadership and

• Karen Gehle led the State AEs through an open exchange of ideas on various issues that impact state associations.

For more on AEC activities and how to volunteer, visit the AEC page of REALTOR.org, realtor.org/association_executives/aec.

A ‘Second Life’ for Associations: Committee meetings and board offices go online

Young, trim, and wearing a fitted gray striped T-shirt, 71-year-old REALTOR® Herb Lubansky took his place at the conference table with the six other members of the Daytona Beach Association of REALTORS®’ technology committee. Well, virtually. Lubanksy’s avatar convened with the others for the association’s first virtual committee meeting using Second Life, an interactive online, 3-D world where users create personas or avatars.

After logging in to the meeting from their computers, committee members’ avatars “teleported” to a round conference table in a swanky, lifelike meeting room. “The 45-minute meeting then went on pretty much the same as when they’re all here in the association office,” said Association Executive Mark Dougherty.
DBAOR had three objectives for holding the virtual meeting, says Dougherty: “First, to introduce and familiarize our members with the technology; second, to demonstrate that virtual meetings could be as productive as real meetings; and third, to show that members could save time and money by attending a virtual meeting.”

Second Life, which gained popularity as an elaborate social space in which mostly young people chat and mingle, is aggressively courting today’s business world with its robust meeting and collaboration features. The company estimates business use of the “world” is about 15 percent to 20 percent of overall usage—and growing.

Second Life is more than a novelty, explains Dougherty, who has tried other types of online and video conferencing. “[Second Life] is more like the real thing. You can walk around, share documents, watch videos or a PowerPoint, even have little ‘private’ side conversations during a meeting. And if you save the chat log, you can create minutes from a meeting in no time,” he marvels.
The meeting platform and membership are free, but that’s not the only reason Dougherty prefers Second Life over low-cost video conference services. “Even with a broadband connection, more than a few video windows get a little shaky on your PC,” he says, “and the low frames per second still leave the user with a jerking feel and sometimes the video doesn’t keep up with the audio, so it gets a little confusing.”

To set up the meeting, Dougherty created free accounts for each of his committee members and chose their avatar characters and code names, which members had the option of modifying after they logged in. “Since I knew all their Second Life names, I searched for them, found them, and invited them to teleport to the meeting room,” says Dougherty. “They arrived after a single click!”

Even though Daytona’s committee members could make their avatars dance on tables, fly around the room, and sit on their heads, they took the meeting as seriously as any other. But as Dougherty explains, they couldn’t help but find the experience a little more fun.

The Daytona association hopes to expand the use of Second Life for virtual meetings and education sessions.
Although the meeting features are free, establishing a permanent virtual “residence”—where, for example, members can visit, chat with each other, and receive information—can range from $10 to a few hundred dollars a month.

This is precisely what the New Jersey Association of REALTORS® did with its new Second Life association office, complete with furniture and multimedia information for members, homebuyers, and homesellers. With walls covered in signs that hyperlink to Web pages, a radio that lets you select from several Internet stations to listen to while you browse, a large display that focuses on the NJAR campaign “Get the Real Story,” and a press room in which lists of story ideas hang behind each virtual desk, NJAR’s Second Life office works just as tirelessly as its real office. Visit virtual NJAR at http://slurl.com/secondlife/Lamprey/182/37/21 (a free Second Life account is required to enter).

“NJAR developed a presence on Second Life to create another avenue of communication with our members and the public,” said NJAR Executive Vice President Jarrod Grasso, RCE. In fact, the associations virtual office has attracted a lot of media attention in local daily newspapers and online news sites. “As word about it spreads, we are starting to see more people visit,” says Grasso. “Hundreds of people go to the site every month and those are people whom we might not have connected with if we had used traditional communication methods.”
NJAR is in good company. Other residents of Second Life include the California Association of REALTORS®, Coldwell Banker, Toyota, Microsoft, and Wal-Mart.

Understanding Second Life’s Opportunities
A primer for tapping the vast business opportunities in Second Life, “How to Make Real Money in Second Life” by Robert Freedman, senior editor of REALTOR® Magazine, is available at NAR’s Web site and at most major book retailers.