Ray Larcher, president and CEO of Triangle MLS Inc. and executive vice president for the Raleigh Regional Association of Realtors, said a centralized showing service that the board of directors unanimously approved in 2002 has become vital for many members.

"It took more than two years to get everyone on board, but if we eliminated this service today, it would cost my job," Larcher said. "It is the No. 1 performing service in our association."

CORRECTION: The original version of this column contained errors and has been updated. Missy Stagers is a member of the executive committee for the San Antonio Board of Realtors and is a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker. Also, Centralized Showing Service Inc. has served Realtors in more than 60 market areas, according to company CEO Bob Faherty.

Ray Larcher, president and CEO of Triangle MLS Inc. and executive vice president for the Raleigh Regional Association of Realtors, said a centralized showing service that the board of directors unanimously approved in 2002 has become vital for many members.

"It took more than two years to get everyone on board, but if we eliminated this service today, it would cost my job," Larcher said. "It is the No. 1 performing service in our association."

Centralized Showing Service Inc., the company serving the association’s members, works with almost a dozen associations across the country, scheduling about 15 million showings a year for about 130,000 Realtors in more than 60 market areas, according to company CEO Bob Faherty. The company grew about 9 percent in 2011.

From what I can gather from conversations with agents using the appointment setting service, it gives agents a way to maximize showings, reduce cancellations, and increase seller cooperation with price and cosmetic issues, because they are getting written feedback from the buyer prospect.

"Within 30-60 minutes of their listing being shown, our agents are getting buyer prospect feedback, which is an extremely valuable service for the listing agent and their sellers," Larcher said, " because the seller can see what the prospective buyer liked and did not like about his home: The home is in great shape, but the floor plan did not work," for example.

"We service an average of 14,600 listings a month. In 2011, we had 591,000 showings through the system. We processed 400,000 inbound calls and 826,000 outbound calls The company averaged only 15 mistakes a month, and had only seven hours of down time all year," Larcher said.

Why would a major successful and highly visible association like take this on at a time when there was no precedent for it? Why take the financial risk? Why commit to the work it would take to make it happen, if it, in fact, would happen?

Call it vision, courage, or leadership. It takes a passionate commitment by a special group of professionals to take on a no-precedent task of this magnitude.

"Other calling services started showing up and it started to get confusing. We could see that it worked at the broker level, and our leadership felt that our agents and sellers would be best served if we centralized the service," Larcher said.

"The smaller offices resisted — some feeling that the larger offices would benefit the most. But in many ways the smaller offices realize the most benefit, because they are now on equal footing with all offices," Larcher said.

For the San Antonio Board of Realtors, offering the service to its members "was a no brainer," says Missy Stagers, a member of the board’s executive committee and an agent with Coldwell Banker.

"There are only so many things an association can provide as member benefits. When our brokers, both large and small, understood the service, the question was ‘Why not do this?’ "

Eighty to 90 percent of their members now use the service, according to Stagers.

Both Larcher, Stagers and their respective associations saw the service as a way for members to raise the level of professional services offered to real estate consumers. There are other similar services, too, available across the country.

"It provided a consistent, dependable service to 7,000 agents instead of 500," Larcher said.

Linda Morgan, association executive of the Northwest Louisiana Association of Realtors, said her leadership ran into strong opposition from a major office, but some of its early opponents are among its supporters today.

Stagers was instrumental in bringing the service to her board, which has used the system for more than five years.

There are no doubt good reasons other associations have not embraced this service or others, based on local market customs and peculiarities.

But in my view, the associations with the vision to see an opportunity for change, the passion to drive it, and the discipline to complete the task of bringing something new that has become so popular with members, deserve some credit.

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