As a licensed real estate agent, you may have wondered at some point, “Why should I join my local board of Realtors?” It’s not that it’s hard to quantify how useful it is to be a member of a real estate trade organization like Austin Board of Realtors (ABoR), Williamson County Realtors (WCRealtors), or the Home Builders Association (HBA) of Greater Austin, but what every real estate professional needs to know is that without the backing of a BOR or the HBA, you’re limiting, in various ways, what you can achieve in your career.
The fact is, as a licensed Realtor, you’re officially a “businessperson,” but without a formal education in business, you’re at risk of making a lot of avoidable mistakes, especially early in your career. That’s exactly where BOR associations come in. Between ABoR, WCRealtors, as well as HBA Austin, real estate industry professionals can take continuing education classes, work on professional development, access marketing and development tools, network with peers, learn about and participate in local government representation, find a mentor and eventually be a mentor.
ABoR president Susan Horton says when she got her license, connecting with ABoR was one of the first things she did. “It was the most important benefit that I ever gave myself,” she says. “It was bigger than just selling real estate.” One of the most important benefits of joining a board early in your career, says Horton, is that “you don’t feel like a fish out of water.” What the board’s 2021 president is referring to is the fact that Central Austin is populated with roughly 14,000 real estate professionals. For some people, the difference between succeeding in this business and not is getting involved with organizations like ABoR, WCRealtors and the HBA. “I knew from the very beginning there was always somebody there that understood my needs that could help me,” says Horton.
Austin Board of Realtors bills itself as a professional trade organization that has everything agents need to run a successful business, including a subscription to the ACTRIS multiple listing service (MLS), which offers the most complete listing data for Central Texas. There are several hundred MLSs in the country and ACTRIS regularly lands close to the top of industry rankings in regards to subscriber numbers. Due to its size, the residential real estate brokerage research group, T3 Sixty, calls ACTRIS a “Mega MLS.” And in past years, the analytics company has also placed ABoR on its list of top 20 local Realtor associations in the country.
Other member benefits at ABoR include free continuing education license renewal, subscription to industry trade publications, Remedy urgent care and doctor’s visits, housing market reports and coworking and closing-room space at its headquarters.
The ABoR headquarters is located on Spicewood Springs, just north of Central Austin. The organization holds new member orientation three times a month, which includes a “sphere of influence” class. Kelea Youngblood, ABoR chief marketing officer, says orientation is designed in a way in which new members can start lead generation right away. “Then they also get a two-and-a-half hour code of ethics class to ensure they’re upholding the most recent NAR (National Association of Realtors) criteria,” says Youngblood. “We want new members to be successful as soon as they join.”
During these pandemic days, most programming is available online until everyone can get back into classrooms, says Youngblood. “New members can still easily learn how to use the MLS to its fullest and connect the data to client needs and start selling homes quickly.”
For real estate professionals who live or have clients concentrated north of the city, there’s Williamson County Realtors, or WCRealtors. (We should note here that there’s no limit to the number of organizations one can join. Many Realtors in Austin-Round Rock have memberships in all three advocacy groups.) WCRealtors has about 2,000 members and serves professionals across the industry, including new agents, experienced brokers, inspectors, title representatives and mortgage and loan originators. Heather Bonamo, WCRealtors director of membership and MLS, says, “We’re about promoting members’ business, connecting them, being advocates for them, and we’re about providing education.” And Natasha McKenzie, communications and events manager at WCRealtors says, “Our philosophy here is a true walk-in board with personalized service and customer-first thinking.”
“When a Realtor comes on board,” says Bonamo, “and they go through our orientation for the MLS and its code of ethics, we really do try to bring them the knowledge of what it is to belong to an association.”
As most real estate license holders know, it’s a requirement for an agent to join a board when their sponsoring broker is a member of NAR. “Agents must choose one of the boards that their broker is a member of,” says McKenzie. What often happens after someone joins their local BOR is that they start building their business and then, with obligations at home and at work, they easily forget about the plethora of membership benefits available to them. “If they’re spending that kind of money year over year,” says Bonamo, “what a waste to not utilize the benefits and not get involved.”
To keep members up-to-date on the organization’s offerings and activities, WCRealtors runs a drip campaign throughout the year. “We reach out and touch new members to really try to engage them.” It’s especially important, says Bonamo, because new members get so much information thrown at them in their first week. “It’s impossible to remember everything because they’re so green and they’re learning as they go.”
Other benefits for members of WCRealtors include a subscription to the CTXMLS and Supra/eKey service, complimentary professional seminars, networking mixers, discounts on electronics and at the Realtor Store, FedEx and FedEx Office and for car rentals; offers for personal insurance and risk management products, plus much more. Members also have access to WCRealtors Facility Rental with reduced member pricing.
One way that ABoR and WCRealtors believe members can really turbocharge their career is by getting involved with the organization on a whole deeper level. That means volunteering to be on a committee. And members don’t necessarily have to wait until they’re seasoned brokers to be an influential member of the real estate community in Central Austin. Bonamo says “we really value even brand new Realtors sitting on committees and giving their input.” It’s a great opportunity to learn about the industry, but also greatly expand one’s network.
“There’s really a lot of opportunities to get involved,” says ABoR’s Youngblood, “from protecting private property rights to getting involved legislatively at the city, local, state or national levels with regards to TREPAC (the Texas Real Estate Political Action Committee).” When members start seeing the industry from the inside, says Horton, “you quickly learn there’s so much more to our real estate industry than just selling houses.” The board at WCRealtors say that the organization has a culture of service. Standing committees that members can volunteer on include Candidate Vetting, Finance, Professional Development and MLS Committees.
This is how Horton hopes that members see their ABoR experience: “Realtors can succeed on their own terms at ABoR, but they need to let ABoR be the engine of their success.”
Another local non-profit trade organization, Home Builders Association of Greater Austin, serves a slightly different membership. Among the community today are about 700 member companies and individual subscribers who work in building, remodeling, and development, in trades like plumbing, electricians and HVAC. Real estate professionals also join HBA as associate members. “Any company that relies on or is impacted by the housing market can and should be an HBA Member,” according to the group’s member benefits page. When you join HBA, you also become a member of the Texas Association of Builders (TAB) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
Erin Scott, HBA’s director of programs and membership, says this year it’s especially important to get involved with the advocacy organization. “Our advocacy and government relations efforts [are] crucial to the industry. Through intense lobbying and pressure at the city, county, and state level, we were able to keep Austin building during the pandemic while many other industries were shuttered,” says Scott.
The HBA’s mission can be broken down into five main categories: Advocacy, access, knowledge, assurance and advertising. Scott says the organization “works tirelessly to ensure that the regulatory environment in Central Texas’ seven-county area is pro-housing.” There are also dozens of large and small-scale virtual and, when possible, in-person networking events. Members can increase their exposure to other members and programming by joining a council or a committee. The HBA offers certification, general and continuing education programs. Members have access to a variety of promotional opportunities, including through sponsorships and traditional advertising. Other benefits include discounted insurance products and services, plus TAB’s Model Construction Safety Program and Job Site Safety Package and access to the NAHB Legal Code Department.
All in all, joining ABoR, WCRealtors and HBA of Greater Austin means that you’re on the inside, says Bonamo. “You’re getting involved. You’re making a difference, you’re learning and growing.” It also means empowering yourself and giving yourself a voice in the real estate industry. “Getting engaged with your industry,” says Bonamo, “means understanding how it impacts your community.” Also, you don’t feel like you’re alone out there.