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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Should You Really Care Whether Your Real Estate Agent Is a Realtor?

[Published Sept. 5, 2013, in the Jeffco editions of the Denver Post's YourHub section and in five Jefferson County weekly newspapers]

By JIM SMITH, Realtor
Last week, I gave you 18 questions you might ask when interviewing an agent to list your home, but I forgot the one question which could prove to be the most important: Is he (or she) a Realtor?

This question may puzzle you. “Aren’t those terms synonymous?  Isn’t every licensed real estate agent a realtor?”  (Notice the lower case on “Realtor.”)

For decades the National Association of Realtors (NAR), which owns the trademark term “Realtor,” has been fighting a losing battle to educate the general public and even its own members that only members of NAR can call themselves “Realtors” and that “Realtor” is a trademark (like  “Kleenex”) that should always be capitalized.

NAR also owns the website, but contracts with a for-profit company, Move, Inc., to operate it.  This website used to be the number 1 real estate website, but I’ve read that recently it has lost market share and is now behind Trulia and Zillow.

I have frequently reminded sellers of homes that a big reason to make sure your listing agent is a member of NAR — that is, a Realtor — was because only Realtors’ listings are uploaded to that all-important website by Metrolist, the Denver MLS. .  That argument, however, is about to go away, since the NAR Board of Directors has made changes to its operating agreement with Move, Inc. to make it more competitive with Trulia and Zillow, which carry non-Realtor listings and even “by owner” listings.  Metrolist has confirmed to me that they will start uploading non-Realtor listings to “soon.”

Since the recent market downturn, and even before that, NAR and its local Realtor associations have been bleeding membership, as agents by the thousands (hundreds locally) have given up membership in NAR  to save the $500 cost of annual dues.

So why would it still be important for you to ask your agent if he or she is a Realtor — i.e., a member of his local Realtor association and therefore of NAR?

You can find my answer to that in my August 15th column, in which I described the qualifies of successful agents — one of them is to be a Realtor.  I didn’t say that specifically. What I wrote was that a successful agent “gives back” by supporting his trade association (NAR) as well as joining service clubs and chambers of commerce. Successful agents do this not because of what’s in it for them — a specific monetary payback — but because it’s the right thing to do.

What our Realtor associations do actually benefits the consumer as well as their Realtor members. It is NAR which has a major lobbying presence, for example, in Washington, DC, to make sure that Congress does not tamper with the home mortgage interest deduction, which is so important to all homeowners. NAR also led the fight to keep banks out of the real estate brokerage business — important to its members but which would also have had serious ramifications for the general public.  Our Colorado statewide and local Realtor associations also actively lobby the state legislature and city councils on real estate issues that truly matter to all homeowners.

Since it’s safe to say that the most likely reason an agent would NOT be a Realtor is to save $500 per year, you should ask yourself, “Do I want to entrust the marketing of my house to an agent who needs to scrimp on expenses such as his NAR membership?”  If he (or she) scrimps on his membership in and support of the trade association which is fighting to preserve the American dream of home ownership, what expense will he scrimp on in marketing your home?  Photographs? Video tours? Postcards and emails to buyers and agents? Advertising?  Think about it -- you really should care that your agent is a Realtor!


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