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Local Leadership

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With one of the biggest MLS systems in the country based in South Florida and two of the largest Realtor associations operating in Miami-Dade County, local Realtors have a plethora of resources available to them. Learn what services are currently being offered in the Greater Miami community and which industry group can best serve your career.

By Melissa Cantor

In any business, choosing one’s affiliations is a delicate matter. Whether membership in a specific group provides a platform for networking or adds a reputable logo to your business card, choosing what industry groups you will belong to is a decision that can impact your business and have profitable, or costly, effects.

For real estate professionals in particular, affiliations can mean access to specific courses, networks, representation and, in many cases, even MLS systems. They can also be used as a way to distinguish yourself from the tens of thousands of other Realtors pursuing the same listings and sales.

As those who tout Top Producer status or belonging to a Legends Society know, industry memberships can elevate you in the eyes of potential clients. Carolyn Block Ellert, founding chair of the Broward Master Brokers Forum, says that most MBF members use the logo on their marketing materials as a way to stand out from the competition.

“In a real estate market that is as dynamic and chaotic as South Florida’s, buyers and sellers should demand a level of expertise from their real estate agent that rises above the ordinary,” she says.

A discerning client will look into your memberships and designations, says Martha Bullman, CEO of the Realtor Association of Miami Dade County, one of the two largest local associations.

Which groups you join can say something to buyers and sellers who are determining whether or not to do business with you. Although membership in local Realtor associations is available to anyone with a real estate license, and Realtors must join at least one association in Florida in order to have access to the MLS, it does not mean that such memberships are not important to potential clients. Many consumer groups advocate hiring professionals who belong to trade organizations because it symbolizes a commitment to professionalism and indicates access to education and networks.

In addition, competing associations offer different services in an attempt to attract members, and these services can make a big difference to individual Realtors.

Teresa King Kinney, CEO of the Realtor Association of Greater Miami and the Beaches (RAMB), says that some of the features offered by a particular association can determine who secures a sought-after listing.

“One woman who is a member of RAMB but has her MLS access through another association, recently told me that she lost a very large Coral Gables listing because her competitor used a sheet we call Our World,” Kinney says. “Our World shows clients that RAMB members can provide properties with additional US and international exposure through our international referral network and software that translates them into 13 languages. Because the other association’s listings don’t go in all of the places our listings go, she lost the client.”

Accessing the MLS
A source of controversy for many Realtor associations across the country is whether to consolidate and regionalize their MLS services—a step the NAR has been advocating since 1980, and something 55 percent of Realtors surveyed desire, according to a 2006 survey by the Center for Realtor Technology.

Iverson Moore, a spokesman for the NAR, says that urbanization often necessitates this regionalization.

“As the area around different cities grows, there starts to be overlap between them,” he explains. “If there are different boards who represent each city and different MLS systems, the problem that Realtors have is how many MLS systems they have to join. Because of that, there is always an impetus to consolidate regions, so that there are different boards of Realtors, but the MLS is a regional one.”

South Florida Realtors took that step eight years ago and thereby formed one of the largest listing services in the country, with the consolidation of the tri-county area’s MLS systems and the formation of the Southeast Florida Regional MLS in 1998. There is also a data sharing agreement with the RMLS in Palm Beach.

According to King Kinney, the task of regionalization was not an easy one. “We all had to give up members, market and money to be able to do this,” she notes. “We had to change our listing forms to be able to get all of us into one system, but we did it at no additional cost to the members. Now it’s one of the largest MLS systems in the country.”

Even though it would seem that all Realtors in South Florida are on the same MLS, membership through each association gets you a different suite of services that you can offer your clients.

“Probably all the Realtor associations provide the same type of scope and services,” Bullman says.

King Kinney disagrees, and says that RAMB offers services that other associations in the county do not have, such as Immobel, iMapp, GreatSchools.net and free Showcase Web sites.

In addition, some associations offer exclusive access to additional MLS systems as a membership bonus, via partnerships with other associations. RAMB members can access the mid-Florida MLS and place listings on an international network. Members who list through the Realtor Association of Miami Dade County’s MLS have their listings featured on eight additional Web sites.

Building up business through education
In the changing real estate environment and with more active agents than ever before, association leaders stress that education is crucial to Realtors, and an important part of what Realtor associations can provide.

“In the past, this association had been run like a country club,” Bullman says. “There was an occasional meeting, a committee that would get together and maybe have a monthly luncheon, but it was mostly social. In the early and mid-1990s, when a lot of professionals were losing their jobs because Miami-Dade County lost many of its big companies, more people came into the real estate profession. These people didn’t want to go to meetings unless it was for a purpose that served them business-wise.”

Bullman says that one of the main functions of a Realtor association is to educate Realtors about current market conditions and prepare them to conduct business in the environment of the day.

“We can’t control what happens on the market or how real estate goes,” she says, “but we can help the agents adjust to it and learn how to read the market. We try to provide them with all of the information they’ll need in order to change as they need to change, and hopefully be ahead of the market so they’re always prepared to help their buyers and sellers in the best way possible.”

Fortunately, many trends originate on the West Coast, which gives local leaders the opportunity to speak with experience when presenting information to Realtors in Miami, according to Bullman.

“Our speakers have national knowledge rather than just local knowledge, because a lot of times the trends start in California, come through the US, and get here six to nine months later,” Bullman explains. “This means we have an option of people who have been around the country and teach in other places, experts in all the different fields, from sales to marketing, who come in and hold seminars for our members and teach them how to do the very best for customers.”

Some of the most pressing issues that the Realtor Association of Miami Dade County addresses, and encourages its members to become familiar with, are affordable housing and selling to single women.

“What we’re trying to do is help the Realtors get to these people and show them how to save money and get into these homes. People want to own rather than to rent, so the Realtors need to look into ways of having people qualify for mortgages,” Bullman explains. “We also need to tell the Realtors that single women are buying more homes than they used to, and show them how to appeal to single women, which goes back to the issue of affordable housing.”

RAMB also places an emphasis on education, King Kinney notes.

“We provide over 600 seminars and events a year for our members to choose from,” she says. In 1998, a gift from the Educational Foundation of RAMB led to the creation of the Jerome Bain Real Estate Institute at Florida International University.

One of the focuses at RAMB, according to King Kinney, is international education.

“We have the largest and most active international real estate council in the world,” she says. “We represent about 1,500 members specifically in our international council, in addition to all of those who take advantage of our international events.”
Recently, RAMB hosted its 10th annual Real Estate Congress, a conference and expo that counts delegations from all over the world among its attendees.

“We have agreements with over 50 foreign associations around the world, and each year we have delegations from different markets come in. This year was the first year the French delegation participated with us,” King Kinney says.

RAMB also sponsors in-bound trade missions, and delegates come from Brazil, Russia, Mexico and Central and South America to attend seminars on topics such as FERPTA training, and to network with RAMB members.

Bullman encourages members to not only make use of the many training seminars and networking events, but to obtain designations after their first year of working in the industry.
“Realtor designations tell the general public that a Realtor has studied above and beyond what a normal person with a real estate license has,” Bullman says. “It’s kind of like going for your master’s degree when you get some of these designations because it takes you into a higher level of education where you learn specific things.”

What they can do for you
King Kinney says that people often think she sells real estate when she explains she is the CEO of a Realtor association.

“My response is, ‘No, but I represent those who do,’” she says. “The best way of explaining it is that we’re to the real estate community what a chamber of commerce is to the business community.”

King Kinney says that, aside from educating members at international expos and partnerships, her goal is to promote the South Florida marketplace and represent the Realtors.

King Kinney also says that the services RAMB offers to its members are a bonus, but that the real reason Realtor associations were created was to protect and enforce the NAR’s Code of Ethics.

“We have a very strong process here for code of ethics and professional standards and arbitrations,” she says. “Other basic things that a Realtor association must do are government affairs and issues advocacy. RAMB is the only association in the county that has a full-time government affairs professional on staff, and we are committed to issues advocacy and protecting the right to freely own, transfer and use real property.”

And then there were three …
In the past, there have been as many as six associations operating within Miami-Dade County, but a merger between the Coral Gables and Kendall associations; the Miami and Miami Beach associations; and the dissolution of the Homestead association have whittled that number down to three, with the Realtor Association of Miami Dade County and RAMB each counting approximately 13,000 members.

Both parties say they have engaged in merger discussions with the remaining associations but have been unable to reach an agreement.

Moore says that difficulties reaching a merger agreement are to be expected regardless of the specifics of a situation.

“In any industry when there is a merger, it can be tricky,” he says. “Some people want to merge, some don’t, and there are questions of the terms on which a merger will take place.”

“It’s been quite a number of years since we’ve been in merger discussions with the other associations,” King Kinney says. “At one point, we spent several months in merger discussions, and in the end were no closer to it, although it looked like it was going to happen several times.”

Bullman says that as a business model, a merger would be in both groups’ best interests.

“We do believe that competition is good, but not necessarily good in the Realtor association industry, because with size you could probably do a lot more than with the separate associations,” she says. “If you are really looking for a business model that works, I think the large corporations have proven that mergers are possible. Our association has always supported merger, but it has to work for the benefit of the members. They have to be the beneficiaries of the whole thing.”

Although a merger might be in the industry’s best interests, the competition has ensured that both associations offer first-rate services to members.

“It’s been within the last six or eight years that we’ve started negotiating most of the incredible services that we have as exclusive, because you have to be able to compete,” King Kinney says. “Our approach is to have the best tools, the best services and the best education—thought we would have been motivated to have these incredible services regardless.”

Bullman notes that the competition is akin to what individual members engage in, and that it does not omit the possibility for cooperation.

“It’s like our members who are brokers,” she says. “They are all competitors with one another, yet they work together and sell each other’s properties. It’s just part of the industry.”

Which one is right for you?
Despite the differences within each association, both Bullman and King Kinney say it’s usually only necessary for a Realtor to join one association.

“A sales agent has the option to join any Realtor association within the state that they like, as long as their broker is a member of that association,” Bullman explains. “So you will find some that brokers who have offices in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach belong to all of the associations, so their agents can belong to any of them. Normally agents choose wherever is close to where they live.”

Bullman points out that the NAR rules ensure that agents have access to all the resources the community has to offer, regardless of which association they belong to.

“If an agent belongs to me, for instance, they have the option, through the NAR rules, that they can buy services or attend seminars at other associations. Because of this, it’s never really necessary to join more than one association.”

Ultimately, it is the kind of service provided that determines which association agents choose to join, Bullman says.

“Associations probably do pretty much the same thing, so agents need to choose where they feel that they fit best, where they like the service, where they feel like they’re understood by the staff and where they get the service that they’re looking for,” she says. “Our slogan is that it’s all about the member. We call it a personal association experience because we believe that we offer the personal service. Given that 10 years ago we had 1,032 members, and we have 13, 600 today—the largest in the state of Florida—indicates that members react to personal service.”

King Kinney says that RAMB’s strengths are its international marketing opportunities, the exclusive services provided to members and its representation of commercial agents.

“RAMB is the only real commercial association in the county, and we represent 1,000 commercial members,” she says. “We have seminars, events and monthly property marketing sessions and an annual commercial event for them.”

Angie Ruiz, CEO of the Northwestern Dade Association of Realtors, did not respond to repeated requests for an interview and organization information.

———————-
CONTACTS

Martha Bullman
CEO
Realtor Association of Miami Dade County
[email protected]

Teresa King KInney
CEO
Realtor Association of Greater Miami and the Beaches
[email protected]

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