Togetherness was clearly the watchword for NAR’s 2014 Leadership Summit.
NAR President-elect Chris Polychron
Every August, incoming state and local REALTOR® association presidents from around the country and their association staff executives get together in Chicago to address major industry challenges.
At this year’s summit, Aug. 18-19, NAR President-elect Chris Polychron set the tone with his opening remarks, forcefully asserting REALTORS®’ role as the first point of contact in a real estate transaction. Polychron garnered huge applause while repeatedly asking the audience of 1,500, “Are you with me?” Later, audience members participated in a collaborative songwriting project, creating a song with the lyrics, “We have the knowledge. We are your voice. I’m a REALTOR®, your No. 1 choice.” The following day, a panel of top industry executives echoed Polychron’s sentiments, reminding the audience that the cooperative model built by REALTORS® is the envy of the world.
Polychron emphasized the critical importance of protecting the integrity of listing information online, and asked for the help of the board presidents, MLS professionals, and association executives to take on the challenges of the day.
“We are in this together. We are the group who can get this job done,” he told the crowd assembled at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers on the banks of the Chicago River. “There is no ivory tower. We can’t afford to have any distance between our national leadership and state and local leadership.”
At Tuesday’s industry panel, moderator Stefan Swanepoel asked real estate executives Ron Peltier, Alex Perriello, Helen Hanna Casey, and Hugh Kelly to offer a frank look from the top. The executives said work was needed both to reduce industry fractionalization—and to change media perceptions.
On the latter point, Peltier was particularly vociferous. “Why is every question about what’s going on in the real estate business talking about what Zillow and Trulia are doing?” asked Peltier, chairman and CEO of HomeServices of America Inc. “They’re not in the real estate business!”
Broker forum: Ron Peltier, Alex Perriello, Helen Hanna Casey, Hugh Kelly, & Stefan Swanepoel
Alex Perriello, president and CEO of Realogy Franchise Group, directed brokers in the audience to take the technological bull by the horns. While many complain about the way their listings look on third-party sites, he said, they often don’t do enough to differentiate their own site to optimize the presentation of listings.
“Why not have a hundred more photos, and a video tour? It’s a great opportunity,” Perriello said.
Perriello added that differentiation should also extend to the franchise level. He says that real estate associates and companies considering a partnership with Realogy are often encouraged by many the tools the franchise provides.
“They have to feel better off with us than without us, [and] the value proposition continues to change with technology,” Perriello said. “Once you get everyone on a common platform, innovation becomes a lot easier.”
Talk of a common platform quickly segued into a discussion of how many MLSs each of the large brokers had to join—and each of the panelists, at some point in the discussion, expressed support for MLS consolidation.
“It certainly makes sense for MLSs to start consolidating,” Peltier said. He suggested several smaller MLSs from the same region could partner to create “a consumer site that does not pick winners and losers,” referring potential clients back to the listing broker’s site.
Perriello caused a stir in the audience when he suggested that MLS consolidation should happen “through acquisition,” with larger MLSs taking over smaller ones that aren’t able to adapt.
“It is an exit strategy for some of them,” he said. “People won’t voluntarily say, ‘Well I think we’ll just close up shop.’”
Perriello reminded brokers that they can leverage a history of cooperation that real estate professionals in other countries can only dream of.
“The majority of brokers around the world do not have the benefits of MLS,” he said. “Competitors don’t even talk to each other much less cooperate with each other.”
Hugh Kelly, CRE, chair of NAR affiliate the Counselors of Real Estate, encouraged attendees to think deeply about how they can help energize human capital in their organizations. “Data is not knowledge… [and] what REALTORS® have to contribute is knowledge,” he said. “At its root, real estate is a people business…. We need to think about how we can most effectively organize intellectual capital.”
Brokers can benefit immensely in the knowledge department through greater association involvement, said Casey, president of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services. As the chair of the 2014 Large Firm Involvement Advisory Board, Casey said she’s able to tap into industry news well ahead of her colleagues.
“It amazes me continually when my local board sends me something I knew about two months ago,” Casey said. “All of us benefit from the committees we’ve served on… There should be a system where we share this.”
“It’s a very great power we all have together,” Casey added. “We have to be supportive of each other.”
For its part, the audience was equally tuned in to both the need for change and the ability to partner up to accomplish it. During the panel, Swanepoel asked audience members to text their responses to two survey questions. Seventy-one percent of the respondents agreed that “REALTOR® associations and MLS organizations are at a tipping point,” and 86 percent voted in favor of the idea that “the people in this room, by working together, can make a difference.”