- As Realtor association CEO retires, merger talks come to life to offer agents and brokers economies of scale.
Two local Florida Realtor associations are merging to form the third-largest Realtor association and one of the largest MLSs in the country.
The boards of directors of the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches (RAPB) and Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors (GFLR) have unanimously voted to merge to become the Realtors of the Palm Beaches and Greater Fort Lauderdale, which will have more than 25,000 agent, broker and appraiser members.
That’s more than every other local Realtor association except the Miami Association of Realtors directly to the south and the Houston Association of Realtors in Texas.
The two associations will also merge their MLSs, RAPB’s BeachesMLS and GFLR’s South Florida MLS, which will have 30,000 MLS subscribers, making it one of the 10 largest MLSs nationwide.
“For brokers and agents, the merger creates a new, much larger territory for expansion and growth without the need for joining multiple MLSs,” RAPB said in a press release.
“The merged association and combined MLS expect to create economies of scale, opportunities to invest in new, user-friendly technologies and increase services to members.”
This merger will be one of the largest Realtor association mergers in history, according to the release. RAPB is the larger of the two associations with more than 15,500 association members and about 19,000 MLS subscribers.
“We’re really excited about creating a reimagined association and MLS. We know that our members must be partners and innovate in order to be relevant for this next phase of real estate that we’re approaching and we want to make sure that we’re their partner in that,” Dionna Hall, current CEO of RAPB and future CEO the merged association and MLS, told Inman in an interview.
“There are so many changes right now with the different technologies and solutions and what they need to make sure they stay relevant and what we want to do is make sure we’re standing by with answers to their questions and pain points.”
Trends toward consolidation
More MLSs and associations are consolidating this year, which supporters say translates to several benefits for agents and brokers on the ground, including better services, reduced fees and increased efficiencies.
Many MLS members wish their associations or MLSs would join forces, and a couple of major wins for merger proponents already came to life this year with the newly formed Bright MLS and with the upcoming SmartMLS in Connecticut.
The Realtors of the Palm Beaches and Greater Fort Lauderdale will cover Palm Beach, Broward and St. Lucie counties and its MLS will cover those three counties as well as Martin County. BeachesMLS currently data shares with the Realtor Association of Martin County and that data share will continue after the merger, Hall told Inman.
The merged MLS will carry more than 40,000 on-market listings, totaling over $21 billion in inventory, RAPB said.
The merger still needs to be approved by the memberships of both associations to happen. Hall anticipates the memberships will vote sometime in the next 30 days.
“We don’t anticipate any issues. This is something that the members and the brokers have really been wanting for quite a long time and we’re really excited about the new technologies we’re going to be able to implement to cut down on the red tape for all our members,” she said.
The merged MLS will offer members what’s commonly called “front end of choice” — the ability for subscribers to choose between more than one MLS system. In this case, they will be able to pick between the MLS systems that BeachesMLS and South Florida MLS currently provide: flexmls and Matrix, respectively. This means agents won’t have to change systems if they don’t want to.
“We’ll have one set of MLS rules and regs in the backend. We’re going to work to match up the fields as closely as possible between the two systems so the data flows as seamlessly as possible,” Hall said.
In talks for a decade but new push for change
RAPB and GFLR have discussed merging for over a decade, but those talks didn’t go anywhere, in part because RAPB belonged to Regional MLS, an MLS owned by three shareholder associations that did not include GFLR, according to Hall.
That MLS dissolved in July 2013 and the two other shareholder associations no longer exist after merging with their neighbors. One of those associations, the Realtors Association of St. Lucie, merged with RAPB in September 2013.
RAPB and GFLR picked up merger talks again this year, according to Hall.
“Our markets are contiguous. There is overlap. We understand that the way the future is going the brokers require more tools, seamless technology and the ability not to have barriers. They have to work fast,” Hall said.
Part of what has spurred the change is that current GFLR CEO Rick Barkett announced his plans to retire last year. That eliminated one common obstacle to MLS consolidation — the CEOs did not have to wonder about who would lead the new association. Barkett plans to retire once the merger is complete.
“I think the right leaders were in place at the right time,” Hall said, noting that RAPB’s current president John Slivon was a key player in negotiating the merger with GFLR President Ron Lennen.
Slivon had also been the president-elect of the St. Lucie association but stepped down in order for that merger to happen, Hall said. He will be president of the merged association and Lennen will be president-elect.
“The partnership will create significant opportunities for our members. First, by expanding the geographic territory of our association as well as the number of members, to dramatically amplify the amount of listing exposure and targeted leads they can generate,” Slivon said in a statement.
“Second, we can save hundreds of dollars for our members that currently belong to both associations. Ideally, they can redeploy this money for marketing programs and other methods to grow their business.”
The merged association will have local regional boards, which Hall described as “mini boards of directors,” that will help ensure that agents and brokers get the best of both worlds: a strong association with robust technology tools at a lower price but also input into local market decisions, according to Hall.
The five regional boards will have 10 members each and be distributed across the association’s coverage area in Eastern Broward County, Western Broward County, South Palm Beach county, North Palm Beach county and the Treasure Coast.
The regional boards will encourage members to stay involved in local issues and continue to give to the Realtor Political Action Committee (RPAC), Hall said. An example of issues the boards will deal with is political candidate screening.
“We call in different politicians running for office and then local Realtors interview them and make sure they are the best candidate for the real estate industry. We want to make sure we don’t lose that,” Hall said.
“We also want to make sure local boards can continue to coordinate events that they think are most meaningful to their localized market area.
“And again we think this a great way to make sure that we’re cultivating local leadership because sometimes when you get very large not everybody’s voice is heard, so this is an opportunity for the members to be involved if they would like.”
The new association will maintain all six of the local service centers run by the two predecessor associations, RAPB said.
Political advocacy chops
The current president, president-elect, and vice president of the state Realtor association, Florida Realtors, all hail from what will be the merged association, according to Hall.
“So we are in line to have a state president for the next three years,” she said.
“It ensures that [members’] local voice is being carried to the state level and those state presidents also have major influence at the national level especially since the state of Florida has such a large Realtor presence,” she added.
Should the associations’ members vote to merge, when would the merger be official? “We’re still working on those details but fairly soon,” Hall said.
Members will be able to choose their MLS front end as soon as the merger is effective, but merging fields between the two systems will be its own process.
“We’ve already started working with the vendors. We hope it’s sooner than later,” Hall said.
She’s not sure whether the system merger will be complete this year because one of the vendors, CoreLogic, is switching its older MLS systems to Matrix. The company converted more than 50 MLS clients to Matrix in the past 30 months and plans additional conversions this year.
More than 700,000 agents and brokers will be using Matrix by the end of the year, according to CoreLogic.
“We’ll have to wait for those internal conversions before we can actually physically make the changes,” Hall said.