The Pacific West and Tri Counties Association of Realtors, a Realtor trade group in Southern California, has lost about 2,500 members since the end of 2006 with the decline in area home sales. But the group has a plan — lots of plans, in fact.
Last year, the Realtor group implemented a hiring freeze and is considering the possibility of layoffs. The group launched Market Meter, an online tool for members that provides detailed real estate-related statistics for each of the dozens of cities in the association’s market area. The goal is to provide more ways for members to track market trends and help their clients understand market conditions.
The association has also offered workshops related to foreclosure properties and financing in an environment of tighter lending restrictions.
"I know a lot of our members are among the percentage who haven’t been around in a down market and it’s a difficult market for them," said Nancy Gilmore, CEO for the association.
As for the association, "We have a way of surviving. We pull in, we suck in our waistband. We are seeing where we can make a few additional changes that make sense without crippling the service that we provide to our members," she said.
"I’ve been through this before and somehow we always survive and thrive."
Other local Realtor associations in challenged market areas are similarly combating the housing downturn with focused training and statistical tools to keep members abreast of market trends and opportunities.
The Pacific West group, based in Anaheim, Calif., has seen its membership sink from a peak of about 14,000 at the end of 2006 to a current level of 11,500 members, Gilmore said. "This is not the end — we’re not at the bottom as far as membership goes," she added.
Nationally, membership in the National Association of Realtors trade group was down about 5.3 percent in February compared to the same month last year, to a total of 1.25 million Realtors. Members of the national group are also members of local and statewide Realtor groups.
The Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors, which has about 8,500 members, also launched a series of statistical reporting tools for its members during this slow period in real estate sales. The tools include a weekly market activity report covering major population centers, as well as more detailed monthly statistics for 205 areas.
The information includes property type and construction status. Mark Allen, association CEO, said the detailed statistical tools were launched about two years ago. "Changing market directions demonstrated a need to get that out there."
He said the data ranks high in popularity among association members.
Sales in the region are off about 65 percent from the peak of the booming market about three years ago, said Allen, "and that’s a big shift for agents to face." Membership, meanwhile, has fallen about 80 percent from its high point.
Most of the association’s current members have not experienced a depressed market, he said.
"What was a fairly significant seller’s market … is now a significant buyer’s market," he said, with an estimated eight- to nine-month supply of for-sale inventory for the entire market area and pockets of the market experiencing up to a 20-month supply.
"We need to help our members make that shift in what is now an extreme buyer’s market."
The association has worked to educate members about the tightening mortgage market and the potential opportunities for working with distressed properties, such as bank-owned foreclosure properties, better known as REO properties.
Like the Pacific West association, the Minneapolis association implemented a hiring freeze last year. So far, the association has avoided layoffs, though the group is now operating at a staff level that is about 10 percent to 15 percent lower than it was two years ago.
Many Realtor associations own or are affiliated with multiple listing services that handle real estate data supplied by member brokers, and even during the real estate boom years there were efforts to consolidate and share MLS data to facilitate a greater ease of access to data by member brokers.
Such efforts are ongoing during this real estate slowdown, Allen said, as brokers continue to seek greater efficiencies in operations.
Allen said that the association plays an important role in the real estate marketplace in lobbying for or against legislation and regulations that can assist its members and clients in the marketplace.
And the association reaches out to the media to provide a perspective and context on local real estate market statistics in the face of reports about national real estate trends and statistics.
The Realtor Association of Greater Miami and the Beaches Inc., based in Miami, Fla., has found jam-packed attendance for some of the training seminars it has organized for members, and membership in the group actually increased 7 percent in the past year even as the sales market has slumped, said CEO Teresa King Kinney.
According to the latest market report by the statewide Florida Association of Realtors trade group, sales of single-family resale homes were down 41 percent in February 2008 compared to the same month last year, with the median sales price falling 20 percent to $306,100.
Sales of resale condos declined 46 percent year-over-year in February, with the median resale condo price rising 5 percent to $293,300.
A seminar for members about short sales attracted 155 people at the association’s conference center, Kinney said — and there were "chairs lined up along the wall."
"When the market had just seen a significant shift — from that point and consistently for the last two years — our programming is all member-driven," Kinney said.
The association hosts more than 800 seminars and events per year, and the vast majority are free to members, she said. "It’s such a tough market for them and when they come to these (events) they get additional tools, additional ideas."
And because there had been such an influx of new Realtors during the long run-up in housing sales and prices in the Miami area, "Most of the people (in the business) had really not experienced anything other than this 10 years of incredible market," Kinney said.
"We need to again teach people how to do this real estate business — you’re not just order-takers anymore."
Membership in the association peaked at about 10,000, Kinney said, and she anticipates that association membership will be level with last year’s market or perhaps down 2 percent to 3 percent.
The association has worked to educate members about affordable housing opportunities, she said, and launched a Web site at MiamiHomePrograms.com with details about housing assistance programs.
Also, the association has worked to strengthen ties with real estate groups overseas in recognition of the popularity of Florida real estate among international buyers. The group has published a series of legal white papers in multiple languages to assist foreign buyers in learning about U.S. real estate transactions.
Gilmore, of the Pacific West Realtor group in Orange County, Calif., said that she is optimistic about the future of the association, though she expects there will be associations "that will just not be able to survive the downturn."
While there are still new members coming into the association, Gilmore said she expects a 15 percent year-over-year drop in membership this year.
"The leadership of the association have been very careful with our funds and been very judicial over the years," she said. "As an association we’re doing as well as anyone at this point."
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