Association Standards – It’s definitely TIME!

by Marilyn Wilson on February 11, 2014

Change-sameJeremy Conaway, Dale Stinton, and Bob Moline used the Swanepoel Trends report to push the real estate elephant into the spotlight in America. There are simply too many REALTOR® Associations not providing adequate service and support to their members.

Today, 1100 of the 1400 REALTOR® Associations in America have fewer than 300 members. Many of these smaller organizations have a difficult time delivering the depth of services and training REALTORS® need to effectively serve the needs of their clients and stay relevant with all of the technology options available to today’s demanding consumers.  At the end of the day real estate aren’t associations supposed to exist to help their members be successful, while nurturing a thriving community and real estate market?  It is time for us as an industry to try to figure out how to get every REALTOR® member a comprehensive and relevant suite of services and support no matter what local association they belong to.

These issues and struggles are not limited to the United States.. The Quebec Boards of REALTORS® separated from the Canadian Real Estate Association in absolute protest of some of CREA’s policies that they did not believe were in the best interest of their members.  The revolution took courage, but these Canadian boards were able to live up to the challenge and make it happen.  The good news…. the revolution created positive change, and now CREA and the Quebec Boards of REALTORS® have new terms in their relationship.

Conaway mentions in his contribution to the Trends Report that “what one won’t find at the annual (NAR) meeting are demonstrators, protesters, dissenters, revolutionaries, or counter culture types…”  It shouldn’t necessarily have to come to this, but I think we’re all growing weary of little progress being made about an obvious problem in our industry.  It’s too easy to ignore the need for change without a crisis or critical event to bring it to our attention.

I fear blanket condemnation of small boards.  There are some boards that deliver an amazing suite of services and demonstrate total member-centricity.  There are some larger boards that are much less responsive to their member’s needs than smaller boards. They bring an arrogance to the table that is not at all welcome with their members.  Some have staff leadership that has been in place WAY too long and has grown completely complacent.  My personal experience has taught me that just because an Association is small does not necessarily mean that it is ineffective, or poorly operated. Unfortunately, for every small one that serves its members well, there are many others that do not.

You will not find leaders of these non-responsive organizations at NAR events. They only infrequently attend State association meetings. They rarely, if ever attend a CMLS event, even though they “run” MLSs. By “run” I mean to say that they contract with a vendor who they pay to operate the MLS, provide training, provide support. Their only role is to arbitrate, assign fines, collect money, and manage contracts. Many of these small organizations cannot afford the depth of technology staff required to effectively deliver tech support,  policy enforcement and listing data protection critical to brokers today.

Many of these underperforming associations have not kept current with NAR rules and regulations. They do not know what they do not know. We encounter them when working with a broker is rolling out technology. The Associations that are not in touch fail to approve the data use or when a neighboring MLS would like to discuss a data share to address the “overlapping market disorder” in their area.  Either they do not understand the application, do not understand or even allow VOW in their market even though they have a legal mandate to do so, use a committee to approve that only meets once a month, or simply fail because they don’t have enough staff to operate the business.   They become a hindrance to the success of a broker who is trying to use MLS data in unique ways in their business.

I’m sure nothing I’ve stated here in this article is news to our readers.  The big question is “Why have we not done anything about it”?   Aren’t brokers tired of their agents getting inconsistent training and support?   Aren’t state associations tired up propping us those that are not doing the right thing for REALTORS®.  Isn’t NAR tired of the difficulty of rolling out ANY new program with such disparate levels of communication support at the local level?  It’s time that we got on this topic.

I just heard recently that NAR has started a PAG to address this issue – KUDOS for that, NAR!  The group is working to define a set of core standards and best practices about what it takes for an Association to be a meaningful support mechanism for REALTORS® today.  It is a great start to define a standard that every Association needs to adhere to.   Once that hard work is complete the real work will begin.   Will we as an industry have the guts to require that every Association adhere to the standards outlined?   Will we have the courage to clear out the underperformers by pulling the charter of an Association that is not doing the right thing for their members?

I would love to see state associations and NAR assess penalties and fines for Associations that fail to meet minimum standards of programs, services and support or even pull their charter as necessary.  If an Association is not providing full service to their members, they need to be held accountable.  It would be great if NAR could treat its Associations like Associations treat REALTORS®. If you do not follow the rules, you pay a fine or worse.  It’s time to put some meat behind the policies that have been outlined, but not enforced.

Revolutions like the one in Canada were natural. They came from constituents.  The NAR revolution would be top down. NAR must mandate attendance at conventions. They must mandate adherence to NAR Rules and Regulations.  Here’s a start… simply enforce the adoption of the RETS standard which has rarely been adhered to anywhere in the country. Force every Association to allow brokers a VOW feed if they so choose.  Withdraw charters for Associations that do not step up.

Consolidation in real estate is natural. Larger Associations can many times provide better member services for lower costs.  State Associations can also step in and support smaller organizations. This is being done successfully in Texas, New Mexico and other places currently.  To make every REALTOR® successful, their Association must provide a core set of services that effectively support the continued growth of every member.  If an Association is not capable or willing to supply the core services requires, they either need to consolidate with others who can, find a resource to support them or, dare I say it…..throw in the towel and let others continue the work they started.  The revolution must begin.

 

 

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

rob aubrey February 12, 2014 at 5:44 am

There are two issues with some of the smaller outlying areas that have small boards.

One they are small and lack the resources, some don’t want to belong to something bigger per se.

I’ve often asked why not one large state organization and the local boards become chapters, gives them their local voice and flavor and the resources of the whole, the money saved on eliminating redundancy alone would improve things.

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Victor Lund February 12, 2014 at 6:52 am

Rob, I think that local service centers are fundamental to great service. The structure of NAR was always intended to be driven from the top down.

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Russ Bergeron February 12, 2014 at 5:58 am

Your recommendations for associations are exactly opposite to what brokers are fighting against at the MLS level – required services. RPR was born from NAR’s desire to reinvent MLS. Maybe they should have focused on reinventing the association.

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Victor Lund February 12, 2014 at 6:58 am

The role of the Assocation and the Role of the MLS are distinctly different. The only fight I see from brokers relates to MLSs or Associations providing services to consumers. They believe that is their domain.

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Dawn Kennedy February 13, 2014 at 11:24 am

Are we blaming the locals for poor governance at the top? NAR has an organizational standards certification process that is completely online- NAR is approving (er- rubber stamping?) these applications as are the state associations. The local has no control over the approval process.

Whoever wrote this “By “run” I mean to say that they contract with a vendor who they pay to operate the MLS, provide training, provide support. Their only role is to arbitrate, assign fines, collect money, and manage contracts” has obviously never run an MLS or worked in one. Paying for vendor support and training is incredibly pricey- the support and training comes from the front line staff of the association/MLS who are often horribly verbally abused by the very REALTORS they are trying to help.They are also broadly blamed by unhappy members for the decisions of the MLS Board of Directors which is typically (not always) all broker participants.

I would also like to see empirical data that the locals are in fact under-performing. Many of the small boards have passionate, visionary leadership and a dedicated staff. How do you know they are under-performing? Or is this just hype to cast the spotlight away from failed national initiatives and/or prop up state associations that are struggling to present any form of relevance to their members?

One thing I do know and have call center evidence to support is that when a REALTOR needs help he/she calls his local association and/or MLS… and that is why they exist today.

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Marilyn Wilson February 13, 2014 at 5:51 pm

My intention was NOT to “blame” anybody. My intention was to point out the fact that many associations provide minimal services that are not adequate to keep today’s REALTORS® up to speed with what they need to do to be successful and to enhance the REALTOR® brand with consumers. I don’t believe it is fair that every REALTOR has to pay the same amount of national dues and yet some are receiving a lot less value for their money than others.

I totally agree with you that there ARE many small boards that are passionate and committed to helping their members in any way they can. Unfortunately there are also some don’t ever answer the phone because they don’t even have full-time staff to answer the phone if they would like to. There are also many that are not in tune with the needs of today’s REALTORS and consumers and offer only minimal services. It’s a matter of economics. If you are collecting dues from just a couple hundred people there simply is not enough money to pay for education, professional standards enforcement, adequate communications, tech support and meaningful suite of technology services required for an efficient marketplace.

We have worked with some associations that are not even aware that there was a VOW legal mandate put in place SEVERAl years ago after a ruling from the Department of Justice. This is not only irresponsible…it is bordering on being illegal. Denying a broker’s right to a VOW could get an association into legal trouble – something nobody wants to see.

We simply want to see every REALTOR receive every advantage they can from the local association to make them as amazing as they can be. Those associations that cannot deliver on that promise need to be re-examined.

Hope this helps to clarify my position.

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Dawn Kennedy February 14, 2014 at 5:43 am

You wrote, “some associations that are not even aware that there was a VOW legal mandate put in place SEVERAl years ago after a ruling from the Department of Justice. This is not only irresponsible…it is bordering on being illegal”. This would be a failing of NAR not the locals. NAR had a responsibility, and I believe a legal promise to the DOJ, to ensure that all its locals followed the new guidelines. In fact every local MLS was required to send its new MLS Rules and Regulations into NAR to VERIFY that the governing documents were modified to reflect the new VOW mandates. If NAR could not double check a few hundred (I believe there are 800 MLS’s nationwide approximately) MLSs then they have failed to provide the necessary protection to their members. If what you said was true, it just validates the sloppy and ineffective oversight and service of the national organization.

Also Board of Choice allows every broker to choose the association that best serves its needs. Belonging to a local board that provides little or no service may serve a broker very well. No competition in recruiting or broker benefits from the MLS or its association. An ineffective local exists because it serves a need. There most likely is a very effective local close by; in the states I have worked the large local with a suite of services was typically less than an hour away. The issue isn’t services, its member leadership who believes the small scaled down local best meets their needs in the marketplace.

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Tia Robbin April 10, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Marilyn and Victor ( and those others who have posted here),
Please share your thoughts on this perspective– instead of seeing NAR’s position to require minimal standards of local associations as trying to increase the benefits of membership, could it be that NAR is simply redefining its role because NAR foresees thAt it has to in order to have anything left? Maybe NAR is getting out of the MLS business altogether and realizing that the only thing that remains is an NAR that focuses on lobbying and certifications/designations.. Like the American Medical Association? Seems like with everything that has occurred in the last 3-4 months at realtor.com and Zillow points to a non-Realtor website where brokers can offer cooperation and compensation.. The new “realignment” seems reactive not proactive. Knowing many Realtors will no longer be Realtors because their board will lose their charter, and knowing many current Realtors would relinquish membership if they did not have to have it in order to access the only MLS in the area,… And knowing without a complete database the MLS Is not complete and loses its attraction… The remaining Realtors leave their local Realtor MLS, and there you go… NAR is left with maybe 200,000 or 300,000 members… Am I Chicken Little, or reading the sky accurately?

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