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It’s time for REALTOR Associations to do something they don’t like to do: Change. Certainly, over the past two decades, I’ve watched a fair amount of “changes” at REALTOR Associations worldwide: Executive Officers have come and gone; Associations have moved to bigger, then smaller, then bigger locations; they have changed their newsletters from print to email. All of these are “changes” but none of them represent the Change I mean when I say it’s time for REALTOR Associations to change.

I mean: It’s time for them to Evolve.

Recently, the National Association of REALTORS released it’s 2008 Association Study. By and large there was nothing in it to make me fall off my seat. But that’s because I’m usually already sitting on the floor when it comes to REALTOR Association usage. Now, in all fairness, many Associations have worked hard – at some things – but once again, the Study shows us yet another “quantum delay” in the REALTOR community’s adoption of as a whole.

Here are a few excerpts to make the point. When asked “what was your biggest technology achievement in the last year?” these notable accomplishments were listed:

  • Ability to send mass email without a large percentage being blocked
  • Changed over to an electronic newsletter
  • Going wireless
  • Established a technology committee
  • Setup online registration for classes and events

and my personal favorite…

  • Developed a technology strategic plan


On the surface of it, these all seem like “good” accomplishments. Except that, objectively, they all should have been done five years ago. Or earlier.

How can we say that? Well, it’s simple: Most of the Association’s members have already been doing these kinds of things for at least three to five years. Really. I know, it’s hard to believe. Aren’t we all in the dark recesses of the cave together?

To clarify, I’m only talking about the Association’s members – not their “membership” – which means I’m only talking about the brokers, not the agents, and only those brokers who are actually producing serious results in the marketplace. Those are the Association’s members. Most everyone else just pays their dues during their short tenure from “new agent to no-longer-an-agent” over a year’s period.

What’s an Association to do – if the kinds of things they are just getting around to are already “old news” to their members? How will they remain relevant, critical, worthy of membership dues, if they only got around to putting their newsletter online last year?

It’s time to get serious. REALTOR Associations don’t have the luxury of making slow, small incremental changes any more. It’s really do-or-die time for most of them: Even years after Board of Choice – in which a REALTOR could choose to pay dues to any Association within their state, not just the most-local one, the majority of Associations are still servicing local agents, most of whom never attend the meetings, use the services or come to the classes. As it stands, most Associations are still mostly just lucky. And not by much, because the number of agents is dropping across the boards, so the number of dues-paying members is dropping with it.

How do REALTOR Associations get serious about change? Here are Five Focus Areas for them to start.

1. Get Radical. REALTOR Associations can’t just change a little, over time. They need to tear down the house – literally – and rebuild it. No more “renovations.” Most slow-change approaches are because the Association “doesn’t want to upset the staff” who might not have the skills to keep up. Well, either train them or part ways. Your members expect the highest levels of performance from their Associations – that’s what they are paying for – and they just won’t put up with “leaving a voice mail to register for a class” or worse – sitting in a classroom that still has a chalkboard!

2. Lead Your Members. My friend Roger Turcotte is one of the smartest persons I know. He’s not just a trusted advisor with thirty-plus years of experience in this industry. He’s a proven leader in both and military careers. And for years, he has focused on a troubling issue that the industry seriously lacks: . Roger travels the world helping Associations develop their volunteer and paid – to help them develop their association with a “purpose” in mind, not just a “reaction to the members”.From his lessons, I have come to the conclusion that too many Associations do not lead their members: They follow them. For proof, consider that the “changes” they made last year were already old-news to the productive brokers in their Association – who already use e-newsletters, online class registration and wireless internet to list and sell homes. Too many Associations simply “survey their members and then do what they are being told,” rather than say to their members: Watch this! We have the research (from NAR) and the brainpower (for which we are hired) and we’re going to lead you up and over the next hill! You’re not going to love it all the time, but you’re going to thank us when we get there. So stop coddling your members – especially the whiniest and the loudest and the ones who don’t sell homes so they have plenty of time to sit in committee meetings – and start telling them where you’re going and how they can come along.

3. Get Serious about Education, or Get Out of the Business. Recently, I read a news article which did make me fall off my chair. A REALTOR Association leader was quoted as saying that their members “wouldn’t like online classes” and “preferred” classroom style with a live instructor. Needless to say, they did slip in the “and we’d lose too much cash flow if we put it online” motivation for their “assessment” of their members. Now, our company teaches more than 300 live classroom sessions a year – so we know it works and we love doing it. But we also teach 2000 online seminars annually – with live instructors – and we also know that works, and is increasingly preferred by the attendees over travelling to classrooms and hotels. There is a time and place for both forms of education. And REALTOR Associations need to build deep competence in the online portion, and do it fast, otherwise they’ll be out of the education business altogether. For two reasons: The bigger brokers already offer all the live classroom training an agent needs – and for free (so how’s that for a revenue challenge?) – and the of agents isn’t going to sit in a class NO MATTER WHAT. So it’s demographics and competition, folks. It’s time to get on or move on with your education.

4. Create a Comprehensive Strategic Plan. Associations who have “technology” plans are making the same mistake that many agents and brokers do when it comes to business: They view the “technology” portion as something “separate” from their vital, efficient operations. There is NO SUCH THING as a technology strategic plan. There is a comprehensive strategic plan for your business or Association: and it will include technology as a component that will maximize your strengths and opportunities. It cannot be separate. Technology is as “ordinary” to your strategic plan as your “marketing” or “personnel” components. Associations need to start thinking of them simultaneously – so that the operation of the Association automatically takes into account the possibilities of technology.

5. Stop SWOTting and start saying SO-WhaT! At Matthew Ferrara & Company, we have created the “anti” planning tool. Traditional strategic plans and assessments have focused on the “Strengths, Weaknesses, Oppportunities & Threats” model. Well, we think that’s junk – a total waste of time – because the emphasis always ends up on your weaknesses and threats. Never to SWOT model plans focus enough of your attention on what you CAN do WELL – and TODAY. That’s why we prefer to use our SO-WhaT model, which says: Identify your STRENGTHS and OPPORTUNITIES – and plan EVERYTHING you do around maximizing them, perfecting them, implementing them every day. Sure, we make a list of your weaknesses and threats, but ONLY so that we can quickly find ways to marginalize them, outsource them or just simply stop doing them. The idea is part of a “Strengths” movement that we learned from Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton’s fantastic series. The key book to read is “Now Discover Your Strengths” or visit their website. Until Association stop focusing on all of the things they can’t do well, and start focusing only on the things they can – AND SHOULD – be doing every day, they aren’t going to change. It might even be worse…

I have a lot of confidence that REALTOR Associations can change. I have seen many of them take tremendous steps – leaps, really – over the past two decades. I have watched leaders “fight” their members’ idiosyncrasies and lead them, kicking and screaming most times, to places they didn’t want to go, but are now happy to be. The challenge is simply time. Most of the innovative, leading Associations have implemented their evolutions slowly over time. They started early, so they are in a good place today. Too many Associations, however, sat around, especially during the boom-years, and “serviced” their dues-paying members rather than pushed them forward. And now, possibly, they may be out of time, and money, to become the organization they need to be for the future.

REALTOR Associations face a choice: evolve into something distinct or join the fossil-pile of the extinct. By focusing on these Five Areas of Evolution, they can choose to avoid becoming an Associationasaurus.