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More Realtors® Get Politically Active

January 1, 2007

Since its launch in January 2006, NAR’s grassroots contact software has helped more than 200 state and local associations improve their advocacy activities and get more members involved in political action.

“We used the call-to-action feature recently in Michigan to defeat a 2 percent sales tax on real estate services and had tremendous success,” says Brad Ward, Michigan Association of Realtors®’ government affairs director. “Within 20 minutes of the call to action going out we had 500 responses. Overall we had over 10,000 contacts to state senators and representatives, which is a much bigger response than from our former system.”

The basic Convio Action Center platform, formerly called GetActive, is in use at 39 state and 184 local Realtor® associations. The system generated 15 million messages to members and other constituents in 2006, while generating 700,000 faxes and e-mails to legislative targets.

In January, Austin, Texas-based Convio acquired GetActive Software. Both were leading providers of online constituent relationship management services, and the combined company offers one of the most robust Internet solutions to help nonprofit organizations build high-impact fund-raising, marketing, and advocacy campaigns.

During a recent legislative session, the Texas Association of Realtors® sent two calls for action using the software, customized as the Texas Association of Realtors® Action Center. “The call for action was issued on Friday and more than 6,200 Texas Realtors® responded, sending 12,000 e-mails to Texas legislators,” says Craig P. Chick, the association’s director of political affairs. “Our responses have more than doubled with Convio/ GetActive.”

When the Wyoming Association of Realtors® had a tough legislative fight on its hands, it used the software to issue three calls to action. “And the response has been incredible,” says Laurie Urbigkit, association GAD. The system has made sending out calls and getting responses more convenient, says Urbigkit, but the success is also due to her leadership team's work in driving home the message that members’ responses to calls to action are critical. “We’ve been so successful with our calls to action that I’ve had to shut down a few because the legislators were truly bombarded with e-mails from members.”

One of the Action Center’s features that contributes to campaign success, according to Urbigkit, is the letter carousel that allows members to use editable fields to customize their letters to legislators. “This helps advocacy targets feel that they are not being spammed by receiving hundreds of identical letters,” she says. Urbigkit also uses her wireless Internet connection to send out urgent calls to action from the lobby of the legislature.

Although the software is ideal for political advocacy, associations are finding that
it can do much more, including member e-newsletters and announcements, surveys, and marketing campaigns.

At the Massachusetts Association of Realtors®, Director of Technology Services Mike Cutlip uses the system for all member communications, including newsletters, course announcements, and member benefit promotions. “The custom list creation, and the ability to target e-mail recipients by geographic region, allowed us to better reach our members without inundating them with irrelevant messages.” The most obvious and tangible benefit has been the price, he says. “We’ve saved nearly $20,000 a year on bulk
e-mail services by switching to Convio, and a system that’s synchronized with NRDS (instead of having to manually import a new member list every few weeks) is a terrific time saver.”

As with any technology, issues and upgrades occasionally occur. NAR and Convio, in response to user feedback, have added a letter to the editor function to help associations target local media.

Associations that sign up for the free Convio platform will be responsible for one-time design and paste-up costs, and some special features such as sending e-mail messages to legislators through the system. For more, visit REALTOR.org, search: “GetActive.”

Realtor® Associations Go Green

Environmental causes and “green” building are getting a lot of ink in the popular press these days—see recent editions of Newsweek, Vanity Fair, and Sports Illustrated. So RAE took a look at how some associations are going green.

On the legislative front, the Nevada association is throwing its support behind a state bill that will provide substantial property tax breaks to people who purchase energy-efficient homes.

To raise awareness of energy efficiency, the California association, along with several local Realtors®, recently served on the advisory committee for a publication put out by the California Energy Commission called "Raise Your Energy Efficiency I.Q.," which is geared toward homebuyers.

The Sarasota association in Florida just formed the “Green Realtors® Alliance” to educate members on products and practices of environmentally responsible real estate and building.
The Vermont association made “green” issues the theme of its September convention with sessions to explore the impact on real estate of “green” construction, energy efficiency, and smart growth.

The Northern Virginia association is building a new headquarters and, after touring NAR's “green” building in Washington, D.C., has decided to make its new building “green” as well.

GAD Insights on Political Action

State and local Realtor® association government affairs directors are the driving force behind member political involvement. Their techniques, strategies, and outlooks are as varied as the parts of the country they represent, but one thing they have in common is a passion for ensuring that the voices of real estate professionals and homeowners are heard in government.

RAE spoke to two GADs—one state, one local— to get their perspectives on political issues, political clout, and being a GAD.

J Martin K. Johnson, director of government relations for the Virginia Association of Realtors®, is a long time veteran of political affairs in the state.

With the boom of the housing market in recent years, has Realtor® organization clout with politicians in your area changed?

If you position the organization, as we’ve tried to in Virginia, as representing consumers who have a significant impact on the national, state, and local economy, and can show the role of a strong real estate market in that impact, you can take advantage of that strong market and position your membership to benefit from it.

Could that clout diminish with the housing slowdown?

I suppose this is a possibility. However, in Virginia we’ve positioned ourselves as an organization whose political leverage does not necessarily parallel the market. It’s critical for us to make sure law makers recognize that the market will have its ups and downs and that the laws they enact directly affect it. Despite the ebb and flow of the market, we recognize the fact that we represent all Virginia property-owners, not just our members. Because of that, we have been able to take on the responsibility of working with initiatives that benefit many outside the realm of our membership. This has been a culture change for us, but one that we have found to be incredibly successful in this most recent legislative session.

How much political impact does the strong national political pull of NAR in Washington, D.C., have on state and/or local politics/lawmaking?
Depending on the issue, NAR can have a significant impact. However, NAR cannot and should not be everything to everyone. At the end of the day, each Realtor® organization has the responsibility of grooming relationships with its elected officials and dealing with issues that pertain to that organization.

In your opinion, what should be the main responsibility of a Realtor® organization GAD?

As a GAD, I facilitate relationships and communication between Realtors® and our delegation of elected and appointed officials. I also help Realtors® plot strategy in dealing with issues that arise and in maximizing our resources to attain the highest level of political capital.

What’s the biggest challenge facing Realtor® organization GADs today?

The biggest challenge I hear from other GADs is getting their associations to understand the amount of money it takes to influence the political process. Politics can be an expensive endeavor. From an issues standpoint, I would say the biggest challenge is the constant drumbeat from elected officials to tap the real estate industry for the cost of government.

What’s the biggest advantage of being a Realtor® organization GAD as opposed to other industries?

The sheer number of members. They are an awesome tool in helping convey our message to elected officials and to the general public. I can think of numerous industries in Virginia that have large PACs, but I can think of very few that have the grassroots presence that we have. In fact, I think that the next step for Realtor® organizations (on a national, state, and local level) is not cutting more RPAC checks, but getting our members to influence elections through voter turnout.

J Brian Bernardoni, government affairs director for the Chicago Association of Realtors®, works in a city that’s renowned for its complex political game. He has navigated dozens of regulatory and legislative successes for local members in the past five years and brings an optimistic view to big-city politics.

How has the housing boom affected your clout with politicians in your area? And how do you foresee that relationship changing in a housing slowdown?

The housing boom had a positive effect on our organization’s visibility in most of the city but a negative effect in some areas where affordability and gentrification are hot-button issues. The Chicago association will continue to be well positioned in local politics in the years to come because of two factors—our visibility and RPAC. The politicians and the city administration constantly seek our feedback and ideas on housing and development issues as well as our insight into market conditions.
We’ve raised over a million dollars in the past five years for RPAC, and without question we’ve had an impact on the local aldermanic and mayoral races. A housing slowdown will mean we’ll have to work even harder on issues of affordability, building codes, and construction issues. But as long as we continue to focus on being visible and continue to emphasize the type of funds we’re capable of raising through RPAC, we won’t see our clout diminish. In fact, if we are solution-oriented by promoting more economical ways to develop housing or to improve legislation, we will prove to be more powerful to more groups than just those at City Hall.

How much of an impact does NAR’s political clout in Washington, D.C., have on local politics?

Any time NAR has a major victory in D.C., it is a victory for us all. NAR has tremendous influence, sets the trends, and frames the national viewpoint and debate.
The members in Chicago are really interested in seeing Congress sign a small-business health care plan. That act alone would reinforce NAR’s strength to our members. As affordability and lending issues make it to Congress, I sense that the impact will be felt immediately if we prevail.

What’s the biggest challenge facing Realtor® organization GADs today?

The demands on GADS to research, argue, and defend not only the Realtor® position but also sometimes those of lenders, homebuilders, homeowners, and others against misguided regulation and legislation can be exhausting. Although it is a challenge, GADs should seek out the assistance of others in the community and should work to build coalitions to vet ideas and formulate strategies. In the challenges we face, there is strength in the possible partnerships we can forge with each other.

For an organization looking to hire a GAD, what skills or characteristics would you tell them to look for?

To be a successful GAD you need to possess many of the same attributes of any great CEO. You need to be ethical, honest, and accountable. You need to be a good negotiator, be able to access information quickly, have a questioning mind, and be able to articulate and understand all sides of an issue with a solution in mind. Realtor® issues usually are not Democratic or Republican, so the ability to put personal partisanship aside is critical. Although a Realtor® association that hires a GAD with connections might experience a short-term boost, these relationships are transitory at best. A lobbyist who understands people and policy is much more successful in the long term.

Maui Assoc. Halts No-Growth Bill

The Realtors® Association of Maui, Hawaii, spearheaded a massive faxing campaign to key legislators demanding the defeat of a bill that would have stifled growth on the island. In tandem with their efforts, the Hawaii Association of Realtors®’ Legislative Committee worked behind the scenes to win over key legislators.

Although the stated purpose of the bill was to forestall an onslaught of large-lot residential development from overwhelming the state’s agricultural district, it also would have created a new five-acre minimum lot size.

When a cross-section of the Maui community became aware of this move to drastically rewrite the rules for the agricultural district, a coalition formed, including Realtors®, developers, small-scale farmers, and owners of the soon-to-be nonconforming lots.

“Thousands of Maui residents live on two-acre lots that would now be nonconforming, making it impossible to expand on existing homes, to build cottages, to rebuild after fires, or to get loans,” explains Dave DeLeon, government affairs director, Realtors® Association of Maui.

Ultimately, the bill, which would have gone into effect abruptly on July 1 with no grandfathering clause, died in conference committee when the state senate refused its support.

Service Tax Standoff

Like many states, Rhode Island proposed a sales tax on services this year that includes real estate commissions and property management fees. This type of tax has become an easy option for budget-strapped states looking for new revenue sources.

To fight the tax, the Rhode Island Association of Realtors® worked with the state’s Chamber of Commerce Coalition to mobilize the business community. “In addition to lobbying and forming coalitions, we appeared on two radio talk shows to mobilize the general public, and sent a blast e-mail to our members,” says Monica Staaf the association’s legal counsel. “We also sent a media release to ensure statewide coverage of the proposal.”

As a result, the threat to expand the sales tax to include all services, except for medical and legal, will be “studied” rather than acted upon.

Court Invalidates MLS Shareholder Vote

An Illinois court has found that Realtor® association shareholders in the Multiple Listing Service of Northern Illinois were entitled to injunctive relief based on allegations that a merger vote did not conform to the corporation’s bylaws.

In 2005, a task force of the MLS proposed a merger plan to create a broker-owned MLS by merging association-owned MLSNI and local broker-owned competitor MAP. The new entity, dubbed NEWCO, would have become operational by the end of September 2006. Yet shortly before it was due to launch, approximately half of the Realtor® association shareholders in the for-profit MLSNI filed suit to stop the merger, citing that company leaders didn’t provide a legitimate business purpose for the merger and breached their fiduciary duties to the shareholders.

Although the Circuit Court of Cook County (Illinois), Chancery Division, ruled that the merger vote was invalid, it ordered all shareholder associations to attend a shareholder meeting within 30 days to vote on the merger. The outcome will affect 50,000 Realtors®.

Academy Aims to Groom Future Industry Leaders

NAR has launched a new leadership academy to help identify, groom, and train leaders for national positions. More than two dozen candidates have been selected from associations across the country for the inaugural nine-month, five-session program scheduled around national meetings.

“We have a responsibility to our members to continuously identify talent and groom and train new leaders,” says Pat V. Combs, NAR president. “This is one way we intend to do that at the national level.”

Course participants have all had some formal leadership training, either at their local association, through military service, or in a community organization.

Although participants will pay for their own travel expenses to attend the sessions (in conjunction with the Realtors® Conference and Expo and the Midyear Meetings), NAR covers costs for all course materials, and hotel and airfare expenses for other off-cycle meetings.

Participants will complete a class project and various assigned readings. The first course offering will be in conjunction with the August 2007 Leadership Summit in Chicago.
The application process for the next class is expected to open in spring 2008.

Realtor® Associations Win ASAE Award

Two Realtor® associations in the last year have won the Award of Excellence from the Associations Advance America Awards program, a national competition sponsored by the American Society of Association Executives.

The South Carolina Association of Realtors® received the award for its Homeownership License Tag program.

The Illinois Association of Realtors® received the award for its Web site, www.thehousingsite.org, which is a one-stop resource to keep consumers and Illinois real estate professionals—plus lenders, renters, landlords, insurers, and appraisers—informed about state and federal fair housing laws.

Each year, ASAE recognizes associations that propel America forward with innovative projects in education, skills training, business and social innovation, knowledge creation, citizenship, and community service. Visit ASAE online for program ideas you can adopt at www.asaecenter.org.

The 2008 Election and How You Can Win

Encourage members to attend a special political involvement-themed session at the 2007 Realtors® Conference & Expo in Las Vegas, on Nov. 14. Speaker and political strategist Michael Dunn will show Realtors® how to participate in the election process, become a campaign adviser, and use politics to benefit their business and community. Dunn also will cover how politics really works and how members can become more involved.

Brochure Helps Consumers Avoid Foreclosure

NAR has released a consumer brochure, “Learn How to Avoid Foreclosure and Keep Your Home.” The brochure explains the types of mortgages and mortgage features that often lead to mortgage default and foreclosure. It also explains how Realtors® can help consumers work with lenders to avoid foreclosure or refinance into a fair and affordable new mortgage. The fifth in a series of consumer education brochures, the foreclosure brochure encourages consumers to call 888.995.HOPE to speak with a counselor on how to avoid foreclosure. Download for free at www.REALTOR.org/subprime or purchase from the Realtor® store on REALTOR.org
in packs of 50 for $20.

NAR Grants Support Association Diversity Initiatives Nationwide

Ten local and state Realtor® associations received Diversity Initiative Grants at the National Association of Realtors® Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in May. The grants, totaling $40,450, are awarded to help fund outreach efforts to minority consumers and bring cultural diversity into association membership and leadership.

“Realtors® build communities, and through the Diversity Initiative Grants program, state and local Realtor® associations are better able to prepare their members to connect with and understand America’s diverse population, and ultimately earn the confidence of the homebuyers and sellers they serve,” says NAR President Pat V. Combs of Grand Rapids, Mich., vice president of Coldwell Banker-AJS-Schmidt.

The 2007 Diversity Initiative Grant award winners are:
Council of Residential Specialists, Chicago: $5,000 to encourage diversity programming among the council’s chapters and to broaden the educational and networking opportunities so that members and students can better serve consumers.

Greater Tampa Association of Realtors®, Tampa, Fla.: $5,000 to educate members on the fundamentals of the lending process, identify the tactics of mortgage predators, and avoid predatory lending.

Kitsap County Association of Realtors®, Silverdale, Wash.: $3,900 to update the association’s Web site to feature fair housing issues, host a symposium aimed at educating minorities on employment opportunities in real estate, and hold a homebuyer workshop.

Mainstreet Organization of Realtors®, Downers Grove, Ill.: $1,550 to work with local fair housing advocacy agencies to develop a pocket guide addressing common fair housing questions.

Rockford Area Association of Realtors®, Rockford, Ill.: $5,000 to launch a consumer awareness campaign aimed at the community’s Hispanic homebuyers and sellers.

Orange County Association of Realtors®, Laguna Hills, Calif.: $2,500 to support a homebuyer fair, targeted at the city’s growing Latino and Asian populations.

Rhode Island Association of Realtors®, Warwick, R.I.: $5,000 to develop an awareness campaign to educate the area’s minority populations about the dangers of predatory lending.

Santa Clara Association of Realtors®, San Jose, Calif.: $2,500 to sponsor an event and invite associates of minority real estate organizations to educate members on how to serve a diverse population of homebuyers and sellers in the area.

South Broward Board of Realtors®, Pembroke Pines, Fla.: $5,000 to cosponsor a two-day, multilingual symposium with educational seminars and consumer homebuying information.

Washington Association of Realtors®, Olympia, Wash.: $5,000 to identify and engage real estate agents serving minority populations and to help develop local chapters of the Asian Real Estate Association of America and National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals.

To download a Diversity Initiative Grant application, visit REALTOR.org/diversity. Grant applications are due by Oct. 5, 2007.

Just for AEs and Staff at the 2007 Realtors® Conference & Expo

The 2007 Realtors® Conference & Expo in Las Vegas, Nov. 13-16, includes dozens of events and programs for association executives and their staff.

Plan to attend the Association Executives Committee meeting and forum with your host AEC Chair Walt Baczkowski, Metropolitan Consolidated Association of Realtors®, Mich. This session, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., covers the committee’s work on new programs and services for AEs as well as research reports and professional development.

The certificate program in nonprofit management for AEs from the University of Chicago features “Essential Financial Tools for Nonprofit Managers.” The program requires advance enrollment. For more information, visit REALTOR.org/ AESubs.nsf/pages/UofcCertificate

Another ticketed event to sign up for now is the Legal Education Seminar for state and local executive officers and attorneys, Monday, Nov. 12, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. This session covers the latest litigation, association policy, legal issues of legislation, and regulation, and gives legal counsel an opportunity to discuss matters of regional, state, and local concern.

The third annual Communication Directors Institute, Monday, Nov. 12, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., is a must for association executives and staff involved in association communications, marketing, and public affairs. Speakers will cover best practices, innovations in communication technology, and more at this ticketed event.

Programming for association Education Directors includes networking sessions and the Education Directors' Workshop on Nov. 11.

The Expo portion of the event, which opens Tuesday, Nov. 13, at 5 p.m., will feature more than 700 exhibitors offering the latest real estate products and services, including those that associations can offer members.

The 2007 Realtors® Conference & Expo also will mark the kickoff of NAR’s Centennial Celebration.
The featured celebrity concert stars James Taylor, Thursday, Nov. 15, 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., and comedian Bill Cosby will speak at the general session, Wed. Nov. 14, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. For more, visit: REALTOR .org/convention.nsf/pages/expo

Other not-to-be-missed sessions:
• State & Local Issues Committee, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 9 a.m.–11 a.m.
• MLS Association Executives Session, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 1 p.m.–3 p.m.
• Issues Mobilization Committee, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 1:30 p.m.–4 p.m.
• Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee & Forum, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 9 a.m.–12 p.m.
• Government Affairs Directors Meeting, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 10 a.m.–12 p.m.
• Communications Directors Networking Workshop, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 10 a.m.–2 p.m.
• Business Technology & Information Systems Forum, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 1:30 p.m.–3:30 p.m.
• Legislative and Political Forum, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 1:30 p.m.–3:30 p.m.
• Association Management Roundtables, Thursday, Nov. 15, 9 a.m.–11 a.m.
• Leadership Luncheon: Generational Leadership: Engaging Today's Newest Realtors® (ticketed event), Thursday, Nov. 15, 11:15 a.m.–12:45 p.m.
• Board of Directors Meeting, Friday, Nov. 16, 8 a.m.–11:30 a.m.

AE Professional Development: Successful Students

The following students successfully completed Realtor® Association Management Self-Study courses between April 11 and June 28, 2007. Students are eligible to receive points toward their Realtor® association Certified Executive (rce) designation.

Realtor® Association Management Self-Study Course
Michael Acevedo, Arizona Association
Kathy Allen, Williamson County Assoc., Tenn.
Jean Beck, Hilton Head Assoc., S.C.
June Bradford, Arizona Association
Lore Brown, Arizona Association
Yesi Camacho, Orlando Regional Assoc., Fla.
Linda Carey, Greater Newburyport Assoc., Mass.
Melissa Edson, Southern Twin Cities Assoc., Minn.
Julie Edwards, Greeley Area Assoc., Colo.
Julie Emery, Re/Max Regency, Va.
Amy Hafer, Virginia Association
Cynthia Hansen, Brunswick County Assoc., N.C.
Diane Herrick, Helena Assoc., Mont.
Robert Hill, Vermont Association
Autumn Jones, Greater Las Vegas Assoc., Nev.
Kathy Kaspar, Metro. Indianapolis Board, Ind.
Dawn Kennedy, Northwoods Assoc., Wis.
Heidi McWhorter, Missouri Association
George O’Neill, National Assoc. of Realtors®
Lili Paulk, Virginia Association
Brandy Purcell, Northern Black Hills Assoc., S.D.
Glenda Puryear, Virginia Association
Cherie Quirici, Assoc. of Pioneer Valley, Mass.
Luis Rodriguez, National Assoc. of Realtors®
Laura Rubinfeld, New Canaan Board, Conn.
Daniel Sutherland, Outer Banks Assoc., N.C.
Toni Turner, Western Wayne Oakland Co. Assoc., Mich.
Jaime Viteri, Assoc. of Greater Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Adrienne Yates, Arizona Association

Professional Standards Module
Kathy Allen, Williamson County Assoc., Tenn.
Bonnie Blackwell, High Point Regional Assoc., N.C.
Jennifer Hooks, Reelfoot Regional Assoc., Tenn.
Laurie Moritz, Pensacola Assoc., Fla.
Melanie Poole, Texas Association
Carole Ridley, Arizona Association
Ryan Tucholski, Dearborn Board, Mich.
Kimberly Yarber, Chicago Association, Ill.

Advanced Realtor® Association Management
Self- Study Course
June Clark, Monroe County Assoc., Mich.
Sarah Hodges, Huntington Board, W.V.