By Timothy Defeo
Organizational success demands management leadership—it’s a lesson
every accomplished business owner realizes. And, it certainly holds true
for successful real estate brokers and owners.
They must act as a teacher, mentor, and facilitator to their agents in an ever-changing business environment that includes: legal issues, regulatory rule-making, economic cycles, marketing shifts, etc.
It is the responsibility of the broker/owner to find the tools, the resources, and the information to help their agents create a thriving agency.
While focused attention on the agency is critical, many brokers are compelled to get involved beyond their day-to-day interests and help shape the politics and policy of real estate. This type of external leadership is critically necessary for the health of the industry and the local realty community.
Massachusetts brokers are involved in many formal programs and personal initiatives to achieve both of these goals.
Advocacy for the Industry
The Broker Involvement Program allows participating brokers to get their agents involved in the political process. It gives the REALTOR® community and NAR a clear and commanding voice on Capitol Hill. That political nexus has been invaluable in many, recent high-profile bills that NAR has both supported and opposed.
It has proven to successfully rally a unified constituency of REALTORS® with speed and influence on the national legislative process.
There are typically three to five Calls for Action per year. The CFAs are fully automatic and sent from NAR directly to agents with the broker’s name and company logo, thereby eliminating any confusion in the email delivery. Brokers can determine how many of their agents are responding, but they cannot know which individual agents are participating.
The program is free to the broker. Brokers who wish to learn more, or sign up, can go to: www.realtoractioncenter.com/brokersjoin.
“There is nothing more powerful than a grassroots effort on the political front,” according to Laurie Cadigan, owner/president of Barrett & Co., based in Concord. Cadigan was the 2011 MAR president, and was actively involved in promoting the program.
One result of spending time in Washington during the annual REALTOR® week was learning that federal senators and representatives rarely hear from their constituents, according to Cadigan. It is highly unusual for them to receive feedback from more than a dozen people on any one issue. NAR realized its potential to affect the political process and began to work toward that end.
But, it also expanded its scope. It became an effort to go beyond issues important to REALTORS® as an industry. “There are very few people out there fighting-the-fight for property owners and real estate rights,” adds Cadigan. NAR took up that mantle as well.
At first, when CFAs were sent directly from NAR, the redirect rate to Congress was under 5%. The Broker Involvement Program, directed through individual broker emails, was born out of this frustration.At the outset, it was intended for only large-scale brokerages, but became available to offices of any size soon after its start.The program is only five years old, but has quickly grown to nearly 10,000 participating brokers nationwide, which multiplies its effective membership to 370,000 agents. Massachusetts has 186 registered brokers, which represents a group of over 8,100 agents.
MAR became the first state in the nation to test the Program’s platform for state-specific issues. “In MAR’s case we were actually able to test the system last year on the bill which seeks to prevent metal theft in homes,” explains Mel Martocchia, broker/owner of Martocchia & Company, REALTORS® in Waltham and 2011 Chairman of the MAR Government Affairs Committee. “It was an easy way for REALTORS® across the state to weigh in and make a difference.” In fact, a week after the Call for Action, the bill on Copper Pipe was recommended favorably out of Committee after an eight month stay.
Cadigan cites the 2011 extension of national flood insurance as a “major win for us.” It had significant impact on home buying in Massachusetts, she adds.
The CFAs are frequently directed to all members of Congress. But they can also be steered toward committee members or individual agencies. For example, a 2008 CFA was initiated for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
A few CFAs have been targeted at the regulatory process, but most are initiated during the critical voting stage of the legislative process.
“Timing is everything,” says Erin Murphy, manager of the Broker Involvement Program. She cites the 2010 CFA effort that successfully extended the home buying tax credit.
CFAs have been sent out for many other critical issues in recent years. For example, numerous attempts were made to set the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac conforming loan limits to one national limit of $417,000. If this had come to fruition, 21 states including Massachusetts would have had their loan limits reduced.
There remain many critical legislative proposals that NAR continues to both abet and confront, which depend on the help of its membership. One such vital issue is the Mortgage Interest Deduction. Deficit reduction and tax reform will likely play a significant role in the upcoming election, and may become even more relevant in 2013 depending on the outcome of the presidential race and Congressional control. The elimination of the mortgage interest deduction continues to surface within some early-stage proposals. It remains an issue of great importance to the real estate industry, and it is critical that NAR has the ability to shape the debate. Also critical is that brokers are involved at the forefront.
“We should be driving what the policies of our business ought to be,” says Martocchia. “If broker/owners are serious about our business, we have to be engaged in what is going on in the political arena, because it affects the rules we play by and the amount of business we expect.”
The Realty Guild is one unique solution for independent broker/owners in search of a leadership tool.
Founded in 1987, the Guild is a Massachusetts organization of solely independent brokers/owners. Potential members first meet with the board of directors and then are voted on by the entire membership.
Any independent REALTOR® office is eligible to join, “but not every office is a fit for the Guild and the Guild is not a fit for every office,” according to Executive Director Inez Steele.
Only one broker per town is accepted. (Larger cities or regions may have more than one member.) The Guild currently has 38 member-brokerages, representing over 600 agents.
Agents of member firms can take free CEU classes, which has been particularly helpful for brokers and their agents over the last few years.
The Guild holds a monthly, educational meeting for broker members called Solutions, as well as a two-day Fall Summit.
“We look at them as sister offices,” says Michael Coletta, president of the Realty Guild and broker/owner of Signature Real Estate Services, based in Norwell, describing the relationship among members. It is a “place where an owner/broker has the ability to talk to another owner/broker, so they can get advice and answers to questions they are facing in their own offices,” says Coletta.
Janet Hilton, RN, Esq., broker/owner of Country Crossroads Realty in South Hamilton, joined the Realty Guild one year ago. After many years with several large brands, she decided to make the move to establish an independent brokerage. She realized that many buyers and sellers have the misperception that bigger is better. The Realty Guild gave Hilton the ability to be independent and retain the benefits of a larger group through its strong
Another important aspect of membership is the camaraderie of a gathering of likeminded brokers and owners.
If you can find a group whose “goal is cooperative sharing and learning,” join it, says Hilton. “They teach me, as I teach them.”
Ad Hoc Strategies
Formal groups and programs are obviously available, but the personal style and initiative of broker/owners very likely has an even greater impact on the ultimate success of their agents and the direction of the industry. It is the brokers’ work ethic and drive that brought them to the position of agency owner, but translating that personal achievement into successful team leadership and industry-wide influence is another level of skill and commitment.
“We forget how powerful the manager or the owner in the office is to individual agents who are in a fairly isolated industry,” concludes Cadigan. “It can be a lonely job. I think part of the reason that agent retention
is high in many companies is because there are managers and owners who are very sympathetic and concerned about the success of their agents.”
“My involvement with the state and national associations has helped my agents considerably,” says Cadigan. Her agents have confidence that they have up-to-the minute information on economic numbers, forecasts, and industry issues.
Cadigan encourages her agents to avail themselves of the resources at marealtor.com and realtor.org, which she believes are very under-utilized by the real estate community.
“I’ve spent 25 years being very involved in education for my own personal reputation and real estate background,” says Coletta. Over that time, he has become a licensed construction supervisor, seniors’ real estate specialist and certified title examiner, etc.
“Anything you can learn to further your knowledge of the industry is helpful,” concludes Coletta.
Hilton has maintained a monthly study group of four brokers for the past six years. The mix of brokers has a significant age range, and each brings a unique perspective to the meetings. It is a freewheeling discussion of problems and issues facing their brokerages. Hilton has found talking to this group of trusted and respected brokers to be especially helpful during the tough real estate market.
Hilton also returns to the Code of Ethics as a teaching tool, both as a reminder for herself, and as a mentoring guide for her agents. She frequently takes passages from the Code, and conducts role-playing scenarios during agents meetings.
Statewide and nationally, associations are clearly providing the leadership tools, programs, and resources for brokers to be successful. It is contingent upon them to not only access these initiatives, but to foster their own leadership initiatives. Both are critical—not only for the success of their own agencies—but also for the entire real estate industry.