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Get with the Program: Orientation programs have evolved to serve new-member needs.

January 1, 2006

By Bridget McCrea

For Keith Holm, executive officer of the St. Paul Area Association of Realtors® in St. Paul, Minn., there’s nothing more interesting than sharing the history of organized real estate. But for the association’s 4,500 members and the 100–150 licensees who join every month, nothing could be less interesting.

“I just love all of that stuff,” says Holm. “But after surveying members, we found out that they either didn’t like or downright hated that part of new-member orientation. They felt it was totally irrelevant in the business world.”

The association replaced the historical component with more practical ones, such as how to use the MLS and lockboxes as well as guidelines for adhering to association rules. Holm says the response to the switch has been overwhelmingly positive. “On this one, I really thought I knew what they needed,” Holm says, “but it turns out, I didn’t.”

Getting the Right Mix Is a Challenge

Holm isn’t the only AE who has grappled with how to best meet the information needs of new members. For most AEs, the orientation is their one chance to give incoming members a sense of what it means to be a Realtor®. To get it right, Realtor® organizations of all sizes continually tweak their programs to provide the best mix of education and industry knowledge.

The Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors® in West Yarmouth, Mass., recently added two components to its orientation program: the National Association of Realtors® safety video and a primer on the Realtors® Political Action Committee. Henry J. DiGiacomo, CEO of the 2,300-member organization, says the RPAC component was developed in response to member requests; it’s a 15-minute segment that explains RPAC and encourages participation.

The Cape Cod orientation also includes the NAR new-member video, a presentation on the Code of Ethics, details on MLS forms and procedures, and coverage of legal topics such as agency, contracts, and fair housing. New members leave the session with a broker reciprocity handout, a copy of the NAR Code of Ethics brochure, and a Massachusetts agency disclosure form.

“We feel we’re helping new members start their careers with a solid foundation in ethics and with business tools that help them achieve success,” says DiGiacomo.

Welcome to the Family

In January 2005, the Greater Lansing Association of Realtors® in Lansing, Mich., added a “meet the board of directors” event at the start of its two-day orientation. “We want members to feel that they’re really part of the association,” says Elaine West, executive officer for the 1,800-member group. “So far, it’s been well received.”

The association’s orientation, which is taught by Realtors®, centers around its programs, bylaws, products, services, and leadership opportunities. It also includes education on the MLS, real estate forms, the Code of Ethics, international real estate, and computers.

As an extension of the orientation, the association offers a “successful beginnings” class once a month for members who’ve been in the business for five or fewer years. The classes cover title insurance, prospecting and farming, follow-up, dealing with different buyer and seller personalities, and where to find the best financing opportunities for buyers.

Cut to the Chase

In response to numerous requests for a shorter orientation, last year the Williamson County Association of Realtors® in Franklin, Tenn., lopped off an entire day from its orientation, packing all the information into just seven hours.

“Cramming so much into that timeframe was challenging,” says Helen Carter, abr®, rce, former CEO of the 1,330-member group, “but people raved about the amount of information we gave them in those seven hours.” The orientation includes one hour of association training, two hours of equal opportunity and cultural diversity education, and four hours of ethics training.

WCAR’s orientation uses a variety of NAR-developed materials, including the On Your Mark, equal opportunity, and designation brochures. It also includes a diversity video from the Missouri Association of Realtors®. To ensure that the program continues to meet the needs of new members, WCAR concludes every class with an evaluation form.

Let the Experts Show Their Stuff

The 850-member Traverse Area Association of Realtors® in Traverse City, Mich., welcomes about 30 new members a month. Executive Vice President Judith Lindenau, gri, cips, rce, recently revamped TAAR’s orientation, hiring an instructor to replace the volunteer members who previously taught the program.

“We had so many new members and could no longer coordinate all the volunteers,” says Lindenau, who selected a gri-certified broker who also teaches pre-licensing courses. Key topics covered include association information, MLS rules, agency law, and forms—all of which are also part of an association-developed orientation manual.

Lindenau says long-time members often have good suggestions about how to help rookies. But striking the balance between new-member needs and existing member “wants” is a constant challenge. For example, many veteran members would like to see Lindenau use the orientation to “fix” common problems, such as rookies’ lack of knowledge about how to prepare for a closing. “We could have a six-month orientation if we followed all of the suggestions,” she says. Instead, the association created checklists, such as one on “how to prepare for a closing,” that rookies can take with them. The checklists are also available in the members-only section of the association’s Web site, www.taar.com.

Think Outside the Box: Add High Tech

With so much ground to cover during orientation, Jerry Panz, executive vice president of the Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors®, in Wilmington, N.C., turned to technology.

“I put all the governing document portions of the orientation on CDs and created an open-book test that new members take to confirm their understanding,” he says. “It’s unlikely that they can pass the test without watching the CD.”

New members get the CD to watch at home before they attend the orientation. That has enabled Panz to expand his Code of Ethics component to a four-hour course, focusing mainly on the differences between the Code requirements and the laws and regulations of North Carolina.
Panz’s association is also putting the finishing touches on an orientation program for new Designated Realtors®.

“New companies are opening in record numbers, and these new DRs don’t understand the dues formula, they don’t understand that if their associates don’t pay, we put the charges on their account,” he says. “They don’t know that they have to notify us when they add or drop a licensee. They call us with endless license law and standard forms questions.” Panz says he expects the orientation to save his staff countless hours on the phone.

No Time Wasted With Revamped Course

When Della Csehoski became AE of the 239-member Cambria Somerset Association of Realtors® in Johnstown, Pa., her board of directors asked her to revamp the new-member orientation. “I also wanted to make the program my own and include some issues that I felt were important,” she says.

The program now includes training on such topics as the proper use of membership marks; NAR’s safety and new-member videos; an explanation of the three-tier membership and the benefits members receive at each level; a discussion of antitrust issues; and a short session with experienced practitioners, who answer questions and share ideas.

The reaction from new members has been mostly positive, Csehoski says. “The only negative comment came from a salesperson who wished she could have taken it earlier,” says Csehoski.

Keep It Fresh

Holm is always striving for ways to keep his orientation “fresh and fun,” he says, even if it means eliminating a component he likes or dressing up a “dry” segment of the program. When he teaches ethics, for example, he uses humor to convey real-life examples of how easy it is to make ethical mistakes.

“Most people don’t really want to be at the orientation, but it’s required,” Holm says, “so we might as well make the experience as pleasant as possible.”

Watch for 2006 Member Orientation Kit

NAR’s Member Orientation Kit is updated and mailed to AEs annually in the spring. The kit is designed to help you welcome new members and communicate the benefits and advantages of NAR membership. In the kit, you’ll find NAR’s new-member orientation video on DVD; examples of the Reference Guides sent annually to residential and commercial practitioners; and a supply of Realtor® pins. For information on the 2006 Member Orientation Kit, contact Kim DiGangi, kdigangi@realtors.org, 312/329-8387.

Add New Legal Videos to Orientation

Freshen your new-member orientation with videos covering two of today’s most critical legal topics: antitrust and fair housing.

NAR recently released its “Antitrust and Real Estate Video,” a 20-minute program that helps members protect their business from the hazards of improper practices or statements. The $19.95 video illustrates how antitrust issues arise in everyday business situations. Viewers learn what constitutes an illegal agreement to fix prices or boycott competitors. Also available: the companion Antitrust Pocket Guide for Realtors® and Realtor-Associate®s.

The new “Fair Housing Video,” also $19.95, runs 24 minutes and covers the complex issues arising from fair housing regulations. Equal access to housing is a cornerstone right for home buyers and sellers, and proper education is vital for all real estate professionals. Also available: the companion Fair Housing Pocket Guide.

The videos are available in DVD or VHS format. Order the videos and pocket guides online at REALTOR.org, or call 800/874-6500 and press 1.