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What Has Your Local Association Done For/To You Lately?

Many of the Bloodhound writers and readers are rather disdainful of the entire Realtor® organization – all three levels (local, state and national). Greg Swann, in particular, has a penchant for wishing for the demise of the organization that keeps him on a leash. In fact, Greg, I’d suggest you stop reading this post now. Not because I will be defending the organization, but because you are already beyond any discussion of what a local association could/should be for members.

For those who are still reading, I will assume you have a least a passing interest in why you are a member of the Realtor® organization and some hope that it can serve you in some way. The fundamental question I’m exploring is the role of the local association in helping members to be successful. There are many different sizes and shapes of local associations out there, so I’m going to attempt to stay at the philosophical level. I will be using my local association, the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors® (CAAR), as an example, so for clarity we have 1100 members in a small but sophisticated real estate market. That makes us a mid-sized local, but to be honest, we act like we are big.

CAAR is currently debating this issue of the association’s role. At each Board of Directors meeting we start off with what we call a “Strategic Discussion” that involves an issue that is important, but not urgent (Covey’s Quadrant 2). Next week the Strategic Discussion on the agenda is as follows:

Strategic Discussion

What is CAAR’s Role on the Internet? When do we compete with members and when do we provide a common service that is in the best interest of most of our members? If we provide valuable public information, do we compete with members who could be providing that same information? Was the NGIC website a valuable service to members and the community, or an interference with our member’s business?

The NGIC website mentioned in this agenda item is a special site we created to help with a major relocation of much of the military intelligence personnel to our area – about 750 new jobs. The site we created displays the distance away from the NGIC headquarters of each house in the MLS. Now this isn’t rocket science and any of our members could have used an IDX feed and Google Maps to set this up. Should the association have even considered this project, or should we have left our members to their own limitations of creativity?

The fundamental question to me is what is the playing field that members are or should be playing on? Is the playing field founded on competition of who can create the best web site? Is the playing field based on data distribution as I discussed in To Z or not to Z? Is the playing field based on who can provide the best customer service, data interpretation, and marketing?

I tend to believe the later, but then again I’m just a pin-headed association weasel and not a Realtor®. I’d love to hear some feedback from others on the association models below. Which one of these associations would you join?

Limited Model ($50 to $120 dues) – There are a few minimum services that NAR requires association to offer. All of these required services such as dues collection and enforcement of the REALTOR® Code of Ethics can be outsourced. A savvy group of members could run an association with little effort and lots of outsourcing for minimal money. Of course you get what you pay for, but for some (e.g., Greg Swan) this is a good option.

Basic Model ($120 to $180 dues) – MLS, lockboxes, and a little education are the services you might expect in this model in addition to the minimum services. That means you’ll have volunteer and networking opportunities and need a few committees and an active governing Board. Minimal staff is required depending on the number of members because the volunteers lead the way. Most Realtor® associations fall in this category.

Hybrid Model ($150 to $225 dues) – Unlike a hybrid car, this model is not designed to get good gas mileage. A hybrid association, as you might guess, is a combination of the basic model and the corporate model. Many Realtor® associations fall in this category. Typically, hybrids do not have a significant enough number of members to justify a corporate model, but too many to satisfy the service expectation of members under the basic scheme. This model requires a balance between a strong governing board and a strong professional staff. That balance is hard to achieve and egos often clash causing turmoil and discontent in the membership.

Corporate Model ($200 to $300 dues) – As the name indicates, this model features a corporate-like structure – CEO, senior staff and a Board that sets the direction and gets out of the way. Committees and task forces work with staff to get the work accomplished. The association becomes an extension of the members’ business and provides services that could not be provided as efficiently by a member or even a large firm.

In my case, CAAR is somewhere between the Hybrid and the Corporate model. We have always been careful not to compete with our member firms, but that becomes harder and harder as volunteer leaders embrace new technologies and innovative opportunities. The lines between member service and member interference have become blurred especially with national franchises and large independent firms.

We have an association Blog, but is it competing with member Blogs? We have the most popular real estate website in the area, but isn’t that taking traffic away from member’s web sites? We issue extensive market reports and data, but couldn’t members do that? We have partnerships with media outlets, economic development organizations, and non-profits, but is that the type of thing that is best left to members?

Although I hate the cliché “leveling the playing field,” it seems to be uttered more and more around CAAR these days. The problem is that there is no agreement on what field members are playing on. Some are playing on the Internet field, some on the franchise field, some on the marketing field, etc., etc., etc. In a real sense, no mater what the association does it potentially competes with members. So what do we do? Disband like Greg wants, or plow ahead with the battle cry, “a rising tide lifts all boats?”

What do you think?

Related posts:
  • NAR dead pool . . . ?
  • Data Discrimination, A Class Action Lawsuit in the Making
  • Never forget: The collapse of the global economy was caused by the National Association of Realtors.

  • 27 comments

    27 Comments so far

    1. Dave Phillips July 28th, 2008 4:48 am

      For some reason, all my links to BHB posts are not working. I have checked the links and they seem correct. I’m at my wits end on this, so I posted it with hopes that it is just something temporarily wrong with BHB.

    2. Cheryl Johnson July 28th, 2008 5:38 am

      It’s probably just my screwy way of thinking… but it does seem odd to me that the “collection of dues” is categorized as a service. :-)

    3. Todd July 28th, 2008 6:40 am

      “…Greg, I’d suggest you stop reading this post now…because you are already beyond any discussion of what a local association could/should be for members.”

      Yeah, all the agents on Bloodhound have well crafted WordPress blogs that they use to promote themselves and their listings – So I wouldn’t expect much in the way of agent cheer leading for what a local association is doing for them.

      Have you considered pushing all CAAR listings to Zillow with the new agent friendly “Zillow All Star” badge? Ask Mr. Swann, but I believe you can route Consumer page views from the Zillow listing back to the agent’s blog, or the space CAAR gives the agent, ultimately arriving at the association’s page.

      Local associations should be providing the technological “connectors” for Consumers to find board member agents. Also wondering if agent dues should be applied to AdWord campaigns, which are too expensive for an individual agent to afford, but the board can buy into keywords that help all the agents.

    4. Greg Swann July 28th, 2008 6:58 am

      > For some reason, all my links to BHB posts are not working.

      They were malformed. You were using

      <a href="../?p=3383">

      where you should have had

      <a href="http://www.bloodhoundrealty.com/BloodhoundBlog/?p=3383">

      I almost always go in and fix your posts, because you draft them in Microsoft Word. But because ONLY A RUNNING DOG COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY PIG WOULD INSIST THAT THE NAR AND MICROSOFT SUCK, I only had to remove these few other instances of completely irrelevant, dysfunctional code:

      <span style="14pt;">
      <span> </span>
      </span>
      <p class="MsoNormal">
      <p class="MsoNormal" style="42pt;">
      <em></em>

      It would be nice if this kind of crap were uncommon, but it isn’t. Your posts used to be much richer in trash code than they are lately, but I wrote software coming on twenty years ago that parsed MS-Word binaries, and all that useless trash was in the files back then, too.

    5. Kelley July 28th, 2008 9:19 am

      How often are these dues charged and payable? I am with the Marin County Association of Realtors and we are charged $450 per quarter. This also includes in the California Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors. However, we pay additional for lock boxes, signs, classes, etc. Then, our MLS is provided by BAREIS (Bay Area Real Estate Information Services) which we pay for separately. Seems like we aren’t getting the best deal…

    6. Sean Purcell July 28th, 2008 9:49 am

      Dave,

      I have said it before and I will say it again: you come into a blog that does not think too highly of the various REALTOR associations and you represent. I admire your effort, however much I disagree with some of your points. To wit:

      The fundamental question to me is what is the playing field that members are or should be playing on?

      No… the fundamental question is why in the world is that question even being asked? The size, shape, competitiveness and degree of level fairness are not under the purview of an association. This is a free market. We do not need nor do we desire the rules, judgments or actions of a small group of people who enjoy volunteering into positions of titular power. This is my livelihood and I would thank the Board (any Board) to confine itself to finding ways to take less of my money. In the alternative, they should be out looking for marketing and technology they can bring back and offer to the members – thus abetting my business in the least obstructive way.

      Limited Model ($50 to $120 dues) – There are a few minimum services

      I think Cheryl nailed this pretty well. Have you read the link? The Limited Model is completely self-serving… it has nothing to do with benefiting the agents. Here is the problem I face each time I try to get involved with my local Board. They don’t get that everything they do should be analyzed through a simple prism: how does this bring a benefit to our members?

      In a real sense, no mater what the association does it potentially competes with members.

      Not so. How can the Board ever compete with the association? Make information freely available to your members and stop communicating with the public (not your job). After that it is not the Board’s concern whether or not some of the agents are using the tools and information you offer. Just offer it (for free) and move on.

      I don’t mean for this to sound like a personal attack Dave. I believe you are coming from a place of absolute integrity when you ask these questions.

    7. Jim Duncan July 28th, 2008 10:45 am

      or should we have left our members to their own limitations of creativity?

      The flip side of this is that you should have left members on their own to creatively excel, rather than focusing on those who have limited creativity. If members choose to their limitations – whether deliberately or not – what role does/should the Association play in helping them?

      Just a thought, and I’m responding in the context of this post, not necessarily to the specific situation.

    8. Russell Shaw July 28th, 2008 11:19 am

      If you will compose your posts in “Windows Live Writer”, a free download – most of those code issues will be eliminated.

      In answer to your question (which I am glad you brought up), I believe that the correct role of an association is to do those things for the members that they can do for themselves (just like government). Individual citizens can’t pave their own streets, have their own police departments, their own fire departments, etc. The role of NAR and all of the state and local associations would be to do those things.

      I believe that if a member can do it for themselves the association should not be doing it. I don’t see a public MLS / IDX search in that same category, as the listing links back to the individual member anyway (but that would give an advantage to the larger brokers who have more inventory. But they were their listings in the first place).

    9. Dave Phillips July 28th, 2008 11:34 am

      Some responses…

      Jim, the phrase “own limitations of creativity” was not intended to indicate that members have limited creativity. Rather, I intended to say that by leaving them alone, the only limit they would have would be up to them. More creative/talented members would excel (as they already do) and less so would struggle (as they already do).

      Sean, you said:
      “In the alternative, they should be out looking for marketing and technology they can bring back and offer to the members – thus abetting my business in the least obstructive way.”

      Doesn’t this level the playing field? If some are smart enough to go find marketing and technolgy themselves, wouldn’t the assocaition just be competing with these members?

      Greg, I just copied the link from the browser address bar just like I always do. Sorry about my technical ineptness, or can I just blame Microsoft.

      Todd, yes we have and are still considering shipping our listing to national aggregators, but again, isn’t that competing with members who are already savvy enough to do it themselves?

    10. Greg Swann July 28th, 2008 11:55 am

      > Individual citizens can’t pave their own streets, have their own police departments, their own fire departments, etc.

      Nonsense. Every gated community in Phoenix paves and maintains its own streets. Much of unincorporated Maricopa County is served by a free-market fire department. There is a difference between individuals freely working together in mutually-voluntary cooperation, and people being herded together into organizations they cannot escape at will.

      If we’re looking for a meaningful reform in Realtor Associations, here’s a great idea: Make membership voluntary.

    11. Dave Phillips July 28th, 2008 12:28 pm

      Russell, thanks for the tip on Windows Live Writer. I have downloaded and it looks pretty cool.

      Greg, NAR would tell you that membership is optional. In some places that would mean you would not be able to access the MLS, lockboxes and other services, but you do not have to be a member of NAR. In certain areas, a large percentage of real estate agents are NOT Realtors. I’m guessing that is not the case in your area.

    12. Sean Purcell July 28th, 2008 12:54 pm

      Dave,

      Doesn’t this level the playing field? If some are smart enough to go find marketing and technolgy themselves, wouldn’t the assocaition just be competing with these members?

      Thus stating the inherent fallacy of rotarian socialism (one of Greg’s greatest posts). Yes, any help the Board gives affects the playing field. But barring disbandment of the group that requires us to voluntarily join, take a look at it from the Board’s perspective.

      If you are going to exist, your purpose should be minimal and benign. Provide info, marketing and tech suggestions to those that would have it and don’t worry about those that won’t.

      PS
      The people that are already smart enough to go find marketing and technolog themselves are never concerned with competition from a bureaucracy. They are worried about the bureaucracy’s power to level the playing field of competition.

    13. Greg Swann July 28th, 2008 1:13 pm

      If I could gain access to the MLS without being forced to belong to PAR/AAR/NAR, I would already be getting everything I want from those criminal cartels.

      > The people that are already smart enough to go find marketing and technolog themselves are never concerned with competition from a bureaucracy. They are worried about the bureaucracy’s power to level the playing field of competition.

      This is specious. I hate the NAR because it is a criminal cartel devised to artificially limit access to real estate representation, to the unearned benefit of its membership and to the undeserved detriment of everyone else. If the NAR had nothing whatever to do with coercion, either of the general population or of its freely-voluntary membership, I would have no objection to it. The boobs you think you are going to help are not ever going to succeed as Realtors, but all I want is for you and they to get the hell out of my way.

      As always, I do admire you for sticking your head in the lion’s mouth, but there is no benefit to be realized from crime that mitigates the crime itself. If you want peace and plenty, stop pushing innocent people around at gunpoint.

    14. Thomas Johnson July 28th, 2008 4:04 pm

      “How often are these dues charged and payable? I am with the Marin County Association of Realtors and we are charged $450 per quarter.”

      Here’s a shitstorm waiting to happen. When Realtors across the country start comparing costs of “membership” It will sure be interesting. As a fully coerced member of HAR, our dues tend to be lower, because with 25,000 or so fellow colleagues by compulsion, there is a boatload of money sloshing around.

    15. Sean Purcell July 28th, 2008 4:12 pm

      ME: They are worried about the bureaucracy’s power to level the playing field of competition

      GREG: This is specious. I hate the NAR because it is a criminal cartel devised to artificially limit access to real estate representation, to the unearned benefit of its membership and to the undeserved detriment of everyone else

      Aren’t we saying the same thing (granted you are saying it better)? The fear I have of any bureaucracy with power is their ability to artificially change the rules to benefit whomever they they feel like benefitting (usually in the name of equality or righting non-contiguous and distant wrongs).

    16. Greg Swann July 28th, 2008 4:38 pm

      My mistake, Sean. I thought I was quoting Dave.

    17. Dave Phillips July 28th, 2008 6:23 pm

      Greg,
      So if Sean says it, it is okay, but if I do… Just joking with you.

      I told you not to read this, but I guess you had to just to fix my code issues.

      Frankly, I’m disappointed in the pounds’ response to the question I raised. I wasn’t expecting an answer from you Greg, but only Sean came close to answering the question of which playing field was the best ground for members to compete and for the assocaition to stay away from.

      The best line was from Sean when he said:
      “The people that are already smart enough to go find marketing and technolog themselves are never concerned with competition from a bureaucracy. They are worried about the bureaucracy’s power to level the playing field of competition.”

      Finally, I’m not looking for admiration for sticking my head in the lion’s mouth. I want opinions and information – sarcastic or septic as required – to help me do my job. I was on a fishing trip with this post and only caught two fish – Sean’s comment and Russell’s tip on Window’s Live Writer.

    18. Teri Lussier July 28th, 2008 8:28 pm

      >The fundamental question to me is what is the playing field that members are or should be playing on? Is the playing field founded on competition of who can create the best web site? Is the playing field based on data distribution as I discussed in To Z or not to Z? Is the playing field based on who can provide the best customer service, data interpretation, and marketing?

      You- meaning any assoc- should not be concerned with the playing field, that is our business- and the free market’s business- leave us to it. The market, if left to it’s own devices, could decide the field, and the players, and the methods, etc.

      >Frankly, I’m disappointed in the pounds’ response to the question I raised.

      It’s so strange to me that assoc keep asking the same question- how can we help you? and the answer keeps coming back to you: Please disband. It doesn’t matter how nicely or how intelligently or how sincere the question, I sincerely, nicely, and intelligently respond the same: Please go away, disband, I want nothing from you.

      The problem, it would appear, is not that the question is not being answered, but that assoc refuse to listen to the answer.

    19. Greg Swann July 28th, 2008 8:39 pm

      > I want opinions and information

      I hadn’t read the post until now, just dealt with issues in the comments.

      Having read it, I’m with Teri. The best thing any branch of the NAR can do is die quietly. Failing that, make membership voluntary and get out of the coercion business — no new lobbying except to lobby for the repeal of all the anti-capitalist laws the NARetc has lobbied for in the past. In any case, the NARetc has no business being in the technology business.

    20. Russell Shaw July 28th, 2008 8:56 pm

      I believe that we need local and state associations and our national association, as well. I don’t agree with much of what is done but I don’t like most speed limits either. But totally agree with actions to remove drunk drivers from the road. So there is “government” of some kind – there has to be. Inefficient? Sure. But until there is a better system, I will continue to support the existing one.

      I have yet to see Dave write something I had NO agreement with – but I do believe he just had to know THIS wasn’t the best place to ask his question.
      :-)

    21. Todd July 29th, 2008 7:47 am

      “I want opinions and information…to help me do my job.”
      Dave Phillips, Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS®

      “…Please disband…Please go away, disband, I want nothing from you.”
      - Teri Lussier July 28th, 2008 8:28 pm

      “…I’m with Teri. The best thing any branch of the NAR can do is die quietly”
      Greg Swann July 28th, 2008 8:39 pm

      The above quoates are to be printed on T-shirts and available for sale at the Bloodhound Blog Store.

      ;)

    22. Dave Phillips July 29th, 2008 10:54 am

      Teri,
      Thanks for the response. I am NOT asking what you want from associations. I am asking which sandbox you want me to stay out of and let members alone to play as they will. I desparately want to avoid competing with members or messing with free enterprise. Like Russell, I think there is a role for the association in the process and I was hoping to figure out what you thought. I think you stated your position very clearly. Thanks.

    23. Teri Lussier July 29th, 2008 11:15 am

      Okay Dave, sorry I misinterpreted your question.

      I really would love to have this conversation, but I don’t understand the difference between “I am NOT asking what you want from associations” and “I am asking which sandbox you want me to stay out of and let members alone to play as they will.”

      There is no sarcasm in that statement, btw. Obviously, I don’t understand what you are looking for.

    24. Dave Phillips July 30th, 2008 6:39 am

      Teri,
      It is a tough question to make clear. Let me try one more time. Thanks for the indulgence.

      The premiss of my post was to get some opinions on where realtors should compete – on which field they should play the game of real estate. Some answered “whatever damn field we want.” That is a legitimate response and certainly works well to back up the “just go away” theory.

      For instance, my opinion is that realtors should be competing on customer sevice, marketing, data interpretation, and local knowledge. In that case, the assocition should be careful not to offer services that level this playing field. CAAR, for instance, does not offer classes and programs in how to be a successful sales agent. That is the brokers/agents responsibility and to help agents become better at selling would compete with firms and franchises that have in-house training programs.

      So, all I want to know is your opinion as to where you want to compete. IF we can figure that out, then it will be easier for the association to stay away from competing with the members and leveling the playing field. If you just want to say, “wahtever field we want, please stay away,” I’m okay with that as a legitimate answer.

    25. Sean Purcell July 30th, 2008 9:05 am

      Dave,

      For instance, my opinion is that realtors should be competing on customer sevice, marketing, data interpretation, and local knowledge. In that case, the assocition should be careful not to offer services that level this playing field

      That this is even a thought for any Board is scary. Do you honestly believe that anyone should decide in what areas agents should compete? Doesn’t the very idea of a “benevolent” group of volunteers helping to decide what’s fair, what should be open to competition and how much the group of “benevolent” volunteers should take over themselves give you an eerie Big Brother feeling?

      The association, assuming its continued existence, should offer convenience based on economies of scale. Lower priced health insurance, discounted forms, a library of books and tapes that agents can take out to improve themselves.

      By the way, did you catch the comments on Eric’s post re The LA Times?

      In response to one of the comments Eric points out that they now advertise their Open Houses on the Board’s web site among other locations.

      Again, I am philosophically opposed to the idea of the NAR and it’s kind. But let’s be honest: they are not going anywhere in the foreseeable future. And in the real world (as opposed to the philosophical one where it is so much fun to debate :) ), there are functions a Board can serve that are needed. Unification of contract forms is an example. Most of us do not have the expertise or time that Greg Swann does to create our own. So, in the spirit of answering your specific question, Eric highlights the type of service that your association might offer. A web site for Realtors to post Open House notices that is well known for doing so by the public.

    26. Greg Swann July 30th, 2008 9:26 am

      > Most of us do not have the expertise or time that Greg Swann does to create our own.

      For the record, the only forms I have created are a sane and workable dual representation disclosure, which, so far, we have never used, and the addenda uniquely required by our business practices. Note also that Article XXXV of the Arizona State Constitution permits me to draft language incident to the transfer of real property. In other states, this might be construed as practicing law without a license.

      However, Cameron got home last night and we’re already talking about using a cloud-based multi-page PHP form to collect the data to populate real estate forms and reproduce them as PDF files. Unfortunately, if we build this, I won’t be able to share it with other brokers because of the malevolent monopolization of the Arizona Association of Realtors. Real crime in real life.

      > A web site for Realtors to post Open House notices that is well known for doing so by the public.

      This would work much better on an open MLS system like HARMLS.

    27. Teri Lussier July 30th, 2008 11:28 am

      What Sean said.