Pam O’Connor, president and CEO of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, would like to think she’s had some influence on raising standards in the real estate industry.

"Unfortunately, it’s too easy to get a real estate license and too easy to be in the business when you don’t know about the business," O’Connor told Inman News at the Chicago-based network’s annual convention in Las Vegas last month.

"You lead by example, and if you do a good job it makes other people have to do a better job to keep up with you."

LeadingRE represents 600 local and regional real estate firms with a combined total of 5,000 offices and 150,000 sales associates worldwide. The network’s participants produced nearly $250 billion in home sales in 2009, according to its website. The network competes with national brands such as Re/Max, Keller Williams and Coldwell Banker.

In order to participate in LeadingRE, firms have to be among the top five independent brokerages in their market, based on multiple listing service data.

"We always talk about relationships in the business. In our world, we like to do that based on performance. We have had some companies we didn’t renew based on performance," O’Connor said.

Elevating standards holds "people more accountable, so consumers see this business as something that has value," she added.

LeadingRE members also have to have a good reputation, a quality website, and "nice" offices, among other requirements. Joining also means committing to participating in the network’s referral and Web-linking systems, O’Connor said.

"It’s an annual membership, so people can leave if they’re not seeing value," she said. "We have very little attrition."

After getting a journalism degree in 1972, O’Connor held a job at a television station in Atlanta for two years. She started her career in real estate as a communications manager for All Points Relocation Service.

After leaving All Points and holding a couple of other positions, including running her own public relations firm for three years, she returned to the company as its CEO in 1985.

In 1997, the RELO real estate network acquired All Points and O’Connor moved to the Chicago area to head up the RELO network. The following year, RELO merged with Reliance Relocation Services and became the nation’s largest relocation network.

In 2005, the network changed its name to Leading Real Estate Companies of the World to better reflect its identity as a real estate organization rather than one solely focused on relocation.

LeadingRE is a "diversified brokerage services network," O’Connor said. "We’re sort of the ‘unfranchise.’ We do everything franchises do, but we’re not a franchise. We take a local brand and give them that global connection."

The network provides lead-generation services, including 35,000 broker-to-broker referrals per year, she said.

About 200 of the network’s 600 companies also participate in its Luxury Portfolio International marketing program for high-end properties.

LeadingRE provides its members with technology tools, including Institute 2.0, an online learning platform, and Our World, an online community platform O’Connor described as a "Facebook for business, but just for the LeadingRE network."

The network has also made its marketing materials and listing presentations "iPad-friendly" to communicate with consumers "wherever they are," O’Connor said.

"We are also trying to educate (brokers) on how to (incorporate mobile tools) with their own businesses. Every company is a little different, and we can provide certain generic things, but at one point you have to customize it," she said.

The network’s members are most worried about "things that are harder to control," O’Connor said, such as the housing market and the economy. Aside from that, they’re most concerned about making their business models more efficient and profitable, she said.

"One of the big headaches has been brick-and-mortar (offices), so I think a lot of (brokerages) are thinking about how to redo (them)," O’Connor said.

She doesn’t like virtual offices — mainly because they lack agent cohesiveness, she said. 

"A lot of brokers are struggling to find enough of an office presence where people can come and congregate and get energy off each other without the ridiculous overhead," O’Connor said.

In that vein, she thinks brokers don’t get enough credit for what they do, perhaps because they "don’t toot their own horn" enough.

"They’re the ones with the overhead and the infrastructure costs. They really create a platform for the agents to work. They deserve credit for the job that they’ve done in this economic environment," O’Connor said.

"I think they should do a better job of showing their agents and their customers the value they bring."

While revenues from the housing market have dropped 40 percent, many brokers have adapted, she said.

"They had some good years and were good stewards of their cash. We’re definitely coming out of it, but it takes a special kind of leader to do that," she said.

That was one thing she missed about the real estate industry when she ran her own public relations firm for a few years.

"I missed the vibrancy of it," O’Connor said. "In this down cycle is when the good people come to the fore. It’s an industry of survivors."

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