NAR announced its Core Standard program for local Associations just over a year ago. In essence it is designed to help every association ensure that they are delivering a minimum standard of code of ethics enforcement communication, advocacy, consumer outreach and fundraising to its members.
The program is a good start. At last count it had led to at least 90 mergers, likely with smaller associations who simply did not have the resources to meet the minimum standard. The number will probably be higher than that after the deadline of June 30th has been reached. I applaud the effort to raise the bar for Associations. The viability of the real estate industry is threatened in markets where REALTORS® are not getting the support they need from their board.
While I appreciate this effort I think it’s time to encourage and reward those associations that have gone WAY beyond the core standards. This group of boards can lead the way to a new generation of real estate association. They can test and prove out new methods to improve the relevance and value of real estate associations in the future. They can make bold moves to meet the needs of tomorrow’s REALTOR® and home buyer/seller. Much like the game changer program of a few years ago, this new Gold Standard can be achieved by only breaking the mold, trying new things and demonstrating a dogged commitment to anticipating and meeting the needs of all Association constituents.
So what would an industry-leading Association do differently? Here are the tenets I would suggest to get this discussion going:
- Consumers Become the Center of our Thinking
First, the association will drive the focus on anticipating and exceeding the needs of real estate consumers. Without buyers and sellers, NONE of us have a job and yet we focus most of our attention on the needs of agents. Of course agents are important, but if we don’t drive our industry to higher levels of customer service we are going to be extinct. The best Associations will regularly engage with consumers, forming consumer research panels and asking consumers the tough questions that will make the local real estate industry stronger.
- Putting Teeth in the REALTOR® Brand
Since a Gold Standard Association regularly engages with consumers, they will use the feedback from consumers to drive change in real estate training, services and technology. They will raise the bar on the expectations of what it takes to be a REALTOR®. Today, consumers do not know the difference between a REALTOR® and a licensed agent. These brave Associations will require consumer feedback that will be used to evaluate performance. Those that do not meet the minimum service standards for consumers consistently will be removed from membership. Instead of playing the quantity over quality game, this new generation of real estate association will make membership a privilege, granted only to those that demonstrate a true commitment to professionalism and responsiveness to their clients.
- Members become Customers
Most Associations call the people that pay them dues MEMBERS. While there’s a familiar feeling that can be generated by using that term, it can be dangerous. If Associations acted like they needed to earn their “CUSTOMERS” instead of simply assuming they will join because they have to, there might be a higher level of proactivity. Regular businesses have to focus on their customer’s needs every day or they will walk away to competition. Gold Standard Associations will act like for profit businesses striving to earn their customer’s loyalty every day by consistently raising the bar on the level of customer service they deliver. In a follow-up article I will outline a few of the ways that this could be accomplished by creating much more fun and engaging ways to create loyal relationships with every association member.
Mobile Genius Bars
Every Association we work with complains that their members do not take advantage of the technology, training and events that are offered. Gold Standard Associations will invest in a Mobile “Genius Bar” – this training van will visit offices training agents on exciting new technologies. Instead of a boring training session, this van will show up tossing t-shirts, playing party music and grilling hot dogs. It will attract agents and then teach them a few things in the process. The mobile genius bar will also be used to solve individual technology challenges that agents are facing.
Real estate is a not a 9 to 5 business. If that’s the case then why do Associations operate like it is? REALTORS® close deals at all hours of so why aren’t we there to support them? The new generation of Associations will offer 24/7 coverage so REALTORS® always have the support they need.
- Full use of MLS Technologies
There’s an amazing show on the National Geographic Channel called Crowd Control hosted by a behavioral named Daniel Pink. He conducts really interesting experiments finding innovative ways to change human behavior. We are WAY too flat-footed in the methods we have tried to encourage agents to take advantage of the technologies available to them. It’s time for Boards to take a page from the Crowd Control rule book and try some new things to help REALTORS® leverage technologies to the fullest. The new Associations will find exciting new ways to attract their users to learn more about their technologies instead of trying to talk to them the same old ways with the same old language and expecting different results.
- Broker Partnerships/Integrations
The dynamic between the brokerage community and Associations is definitely changing. Programs like Upstream and the Broker Public Portal have created new and exciting ways for Brokers and Associations to work together. The smartest Associations are going to embrace this change and going deeper with it. They are going to find ways to seamlessly integrate MLS data with services that will help brokers be more profitable. They will provide choice in these endeavors, being careful NOT to level the playing field, while solving important challenges for each of their brokers. They will learn how to truly partner with brokers in much more relevant ways that most do today. Associations will truly become the hub of real estate technology integration to remove hurdles from brokers that are crippling today.
I would love to work with Associations that want to take their service levels WAY beyond those that are required by Core Standards and try some new and exciting ways to break the mold. What can we learn from the entertainment industry about how to attract viewers? What can we learn from the hotel industry about service? What can we learn from Silicon Valley about ways to simplify processes with mobile apps? It’s time to start thinking beyond our own realm to create a more dynamic, fun and profitable real estate industry before someone else does it for us!