Tag Archives: association

Raising the NAR: Sink ships or float boats?

Lack of real estate agent professional competence: it’s a perpetual topic of industry conversation. Marginal agents have been called the #1 threat to the agent sphere in the recently-released D.A.N.G.E.R. Report. “Raising the bar” in real estate is the prime focus of one of the largest agent-led groups online.


Missing the mark on raising the bar

While the industry professes to want improvements in agent competency, tangible progress is inconsistent. Franchisers, brokers, associations, MLS’s, and licensing boards control the barriers to entry and sustaining licensure in real estate. These organizations are primarily driven by the inertia of their need to sustain revenue.

Raising the bar for the industry is widely accepted as a necessary goal, but few have the motivation to fund it.

This paradox was particularly evident at NAR Annual this year, with the debate over making ZipLogix a nationwide member benefit. NAR would spend $12 million per year to provide the transaction management platform to all of its members. The funds would come from NAR reserves.

ZipLogix for all agents?

Proponents of the deal spoke of the long-term benefits to Realtors:

  • Keeping the real estate agent at the center of the transaction
  • Protecting the data of Realtors from outside vendors
  • Recruiting the almost 1 million non-Realtor licensees into NAR

These were all important points in guiding the financial and technological strategy for the organization. There was also a significant undercurrent in the discussion, though, about raising the level of membership professionalism. Financial and competitive issues aside, it was implied that this service could improve the competence of the members who currently don’t use transaction management software.


Efficiency and professionalism increase

There’s an argument in favor of the deal, simply for this cause. By getting the vast majority of real estate agents on board with a platform that will increase their efficiency, it could improve the professionalism of their interactions with clients. Theoretically, better tools could boost the image of a Realtor in the eyes of consumers, one transaction at a time. Each time a client closed an efficiently-managed transaction with a tech-savvy agent, NAR’s broader image would be enhanced to the buying and selling public.

That’s a lofty goal, but one that shouldn’t be dismissed simply because of its difficulty.

Spending money on the lower rung

The flipside is that most successful agents are already using software that improves their transaction management, document management, and e-signature processing. There are a plethora of tools that competent agents already pay for on a monthly basis and use consistently in their businesses.

This is a clear duplication of costs for this group. The implication for them, and their brokers, is that money is being spent on those members who aren’t willing to step up and commit themselves to better tools and service. They see NAR spending money to raise the level of competence of its lowest-performing members. The top performers will continue to use the tools they currently have, while carrying the water for the rest of membership.

We often hear in these circles that this strategy doesn’t actually improve the image of the organization, but preserves its lowest rungs. It focuses on those who can’t, instead of embracing those who can and do, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

There are strong arguments for both sides. Does a rising tide really lift all ships? Can we raise the bar in real estate by bringing up the baseline of all agents?

Taking out the weakest links

Or, should NAR be torpedoing everything that’s a drag on the top line of our industry? Does the industry, and NAR, ultimately only improve when focusing resources on those who can lead a smaller successful core of agents toward a higher level? There is plenty of rhetoric about significantly increasing the costs associated with membership and shrinking the population to put more business in the hands of the purportedly more capable bigger producers.

A board divided

With the stated goal of recruiting many of the 1 million non-Realtor licensees into the fold with the ZipLogix deal, it seems that the current leadership is leaning toward the rising tide. NAR’s directors voted two-to-one for the proposal. But that is a highly divided board, compared to the nearly unanimous approval that most proposals receive by the time they get to the directors.

This is a discussion that has to be central in the search for NAR’s ideological future. Is it in our best interests to focus our resources on increasing the population of members from its current slate of 1.2 million? Will that increased membership have the resources to improve the level of real estate agency services nationwide, or will it dilute the organization’s focus and lend less resources to its best and brightest?

Getting off the fence

We certainly have the ability to provide different services to distinct groups within our membership. But choosing to bifurcate our mission to both a bottom-up and top-down approach means we’ll be less successful at both.

Float more boats or sink more ships? Let’s decide, let’s say it out loud, and let’s put it on our flag, so everyone on board knows where we’re headed.

Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth, and 2016 president-elect of Seattle King Country REALTORS®. You can find his team at SeattleHome.com and BellevueHomes.com.

Justify Your Existence

This post was originally published on Realtor.org:

Changes in technology are creating questions about the future roles of real estate associations, MLSs, and brokerages. As a result, REALTOR® association leaders have been increasingly focused on defining our value to members.

A good friend of mine, who was an engineer at Apple, used to recount Steve Jobs’ version of this value-seeking process. He’d walk into a room of employees and yell, “Justify your existence!”

Maniacal as his temperament was, his goal was focused and strategic. If an employee or an organization can’t succinctly state the value it creates, it won’t be able to justify its existence to its constituents.

Building Justification for REALTOR® Membership

Here in Washington, we’ve been working at the local and state level, along with NAR support, to create a framework for delivering concise messaging that sells the value of REALTOR® membership to real estate licensees. The tacit compulsion of membership for MLS access is a benefit to some markets, but every association needs a non-MLS value proposition as well.

Seattle King County REALTORS® have been working with a communications consultant and creative agency for the past two years to develop a messaging platform for REALTOR® value. Our work may be of value to other boards seeking to improve their engagement with membership, so we’d like to share it with any of our interested counterparts nationwide.

Our associations need an elevator pitch that quickly and succinctly educates members as to why they are REALTORS®. That requires boiling down all that we do into soundbites that are relevant to members.

Segmenting the Value Pitch

While a general elevator pitch for membership can be a good starting point, a more focused set of pitches segmented by audience improves engagement. Our members are diverse in their backgrounds and their roles. They’re also bombarded by advertising messages every day. Crafting narratives that specifically address each of their needs has been the focus of our rebranding (see nwrealtor.com).

segmenting the value pitch


Government affairs and political advocacy are arguably the most important roles that the REALTOR® association serves in the industry. Brokerage owners and managers usually agree. They’re focused on the big picture of a healthy real estate market for their agents.

Delivering news about legislative wins, as well as legal or political threats, is an effective way to engage to this constituency. Company owners regularly tell us that they simply want to hear about how much money we spend on advocacy, and how well we’re doing. They want us involved, and focused, on government affairs.


Example: “Through advocacy, the REALTOR® Association protects brokers and their agents from onerous financial, legislative, or legal barriers and allows them to build their businesses.”


Real estate agents, on the other hand, are much less likely to be swayed by the value of political advocacy, and I’ve found they’re often turned off by it. The engaged faithful of our REALTOR® associations are, of course, dedicated to these causes, but most agents are simply focused on sales. It’s our job as involved association leaders to keep our focus on their sales as well.

Real estate salespeople want to sell more homes and take home larger paychecks. An association has to be able to show them how we help them do that. If that’s through advocacy, it has to be directly and visibly linked to the agent’s paycheck.

Member benefits, education, and legal guidance are all services that improve an agent’s bottom line, and that’s how they need to be messaged to the member. If it makes the member more money, state succinctly how it does.


Example: “Our association provides the business support tools and financial protections that allow REALTORS® to sell more homes.”

Seasoned vs. New Agents

The services we promote to our members can be focused on those who will be most likely to use them. New agents need business building education and informational support for learning the framework of the industry. We’re focusing messaging for new members on just those items.

seasoned vs new

The classes that are most valuable to them should be specifically offered to them when they join the organization. Benefits like discounted services, technical support, and a legal hotline need to be immediately promoted to new members to create the first impression of value. An explanation of the direct financial impact of our advocacy efforts on their paychecks will set the tone for their view of REALTOR® membership for the long-term.

Seasoned agents, on the other hand, may need to be reminded of these services, but are also seeking a deeper level of knowledge. They need education about expanding a successful business, building a support team, selling a business for retirement, or becoming involved in leadership.

seasoned vs new 2

Messaging to this group should be significantly different than to a brand new member. Seasoned agents are more likely to have been through an upturn-downturn cycle and be more receptive to the advocacy pitch. It will still need to be focused on their bottom line.

Selling, Not Telling

The overriding theme of the communications audit and creative agency work we’ve done is that we are a sales organization. Seattle King County REALTORS® is selling membership.

selling not tellingAssociations often fall into the mode of telling membership what we’re doing. We talk about our organizational processes. We give annual reports and committee updates. These rarely break through the rest of the marketing noise that our members are faced with every day.

Every time we touch a member, it should be with a sales mindset. Each phone call reinforces value. Every e-mail subject line says, “Open me up because it will benefit your business.” Every dues billing says, “This is why you’ve chosen the value of membership.”

That mindset has been a shift for our board and our staff, but it’s one we’re embracing because it focuses us on our future viability. No matter what technological changes face our industry, if the REALTOR® association is providing clear benefits that our members can see, we’ll continue to thrive as a trade organization.

Our board has spent a lot of time and resources going through this process, but we believe it has been well worth it for our members and the organization as a whole. If your board is going through the same process or would like to engage in it, feel free to contact us. Refocusing our communications by engaging membership with segmented, sales-oriented messaging can benefit any local or state organization.

Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth. He is 2016 president-elect of Seattle King County REALTORS® and vice-chairman of legislative steering for Washington REALTORS®. You can find his team at SeattleHomes.com and BellevueHomes.com.