A merger of two local Realtor associations in New Jersey has created the third-largest Realtor association in the state.

New “core standards” for associations from the National Association of Realtors were not the original impetus for the merger, but played a role in encouraging the Meadowlands Board of Realtors and the Eastern Bergen County Board of Realtors to unite under the latter’s banner on July 1. The combined association now has more than 3,300 members.

Only about 300 members previously belonged to the the Rutherford-based Meadowlands board. With a small membership and just one full-time staff member, the board knew it would likely not be able to comply with NAR’s new standards, said Nancy Lastra, Meadowlands’ 2014 president.

“It would have probably been difficult to maintain the standards that they’re asking for now,” Lastra said.

The stricter core standards are intended to “raise the bar” for Realtor associations by ensuring that every association is capable of enforcing the Realtor Code of Ethics, playing a political advocacy role, conducting outreach to consumers, maintaining fiscal responsibility, and operating a website promoting member programs, products and services.

Because of the new standards, Meadowlands understood that a combined association would be able to offer better services to members, said Melissa Piccinich, spokeswoman for the Hasbrouck Heights-based Eastern Bergen County board.

“The only way that our members were going to be positioned to be the highest standard that Realtors are is if we went further than shared services and took that extra step (to) being a larger, more vibrant association,” she said.

The Eastern Bergen County board has five full-time staff members and more than 150 member volunteers who serve on 11 subcommittees, according to Piccinich. When NAR approved the new standards in May, the board was already in compliance with all of the standards, she said.

Nonetheless, both Lastra and Piccinich emphasized that the standards were not the catalyst of the merger. Talks began last year because membership in the Meadowlands board had declined since a peak of about 500 members six years or so ago, Lastra said. She attributed the decrease partially to market conditions, but also to other boards offering their members more education than Meadowlands was able to provide.

The merger with Eastern Bergen County means members will now have access to continuing education classes and ongoing seminars, she said. The board runs from a new 6,500-square-foot facility with two classrooms and offers a “Tech Tuesdays” program covering topics such as how to use LinkedIn for referrals and recruiting or whether Instragram or Pinterest is better for building business.

“With the changes in technology that have happened … the real estate business is completely different. So real estate associations have been able to do so much more to provide members with the most accurate information and training,” Piccinich said.

“The more our Realtors know, the stronger their conversations (with clients) will be, the more efficient the transaction will be. The more efficient the transaction, the better for the seller, the better for the buyer,” she added.

The boards’ coverage areas did not previously overlap. As a result of the merger, the Eastern Bergen County board now covers municipalities in southern Bergen County and western Hudson County in addition to the 26 Bergen County towns previously in its territory.

“We see this as a benefit to the members because Bergen County is extremely diverse,” Piccinich said.

While some may think Bergen County contains only luxury properties, the reality is that members serve a variety of niches, from Brooklyn-like up-and-coming areas to multigenerational communities, she said. As a result of the merger, consumers will be able to find a Realtor that can serve them no matter what they’re looking for, she added.

“By combining the assets of both associations and pooling resources, tools and expertise, we will be better able to provide improved services and support, thus elevating the value of local Realtors to consumers throughout Bergen and Hudson counties,” said EBCBOR 2014 President Bowen Pak in a statement.

The merger also amplifies the board’s voice in local government, according to Laura Rubinfeld, the board’s CEO.

“One of the most significant benefits is the added influence a larger member organization will gain in Northern N.J.” she said in a statement.

“When we talk with elected and appointed officials, the business community and the media, we now will be speaking on behalf of more than 3,300 Realtors and their clients.”

At the time, the board does not plan any changes to member dues, Piccinich said. The board also did not apply for or receive any grants from NAR to help with the merger, though it hasn’t ruled out applying, she said. NAR’s board allocated up to $20 million to help small associations meet the new core standards, and facilitate mergers of those that cannot.

Meadowlands’ former association executive, Sharon Eulo, was terminated by Meadowlands’ board of directors on June 30. Eulo was a proponent of the merger and knew she would be let go with a severance package months ahead of time, Rubinfeld told Inman News.

“It’s part of doing business, unfortunately,” she said.

“We knew that to be effective, a merger would be in the best interests of all of our members,” she added.

Inman News was unable to reach Eulo for comment.

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