the measure of membership

REALTOR® Recruiting and Retention: The Non-MLS Value Proposition

Sam DeBord

Sam DeBord

By Sam DeBord

Compulsion is the crutch that lulls our organization’s recruiting and retention capabilities to sleep. When real estate licensees are compelled to be members of a REALTOR® association because of their need for MLS services, we often fail to aggressively sell them on the broad spectrum of REALTOR® benefits, most of which lie outside of the MLS sphere.

The MLS is integral to our members’ businesses, and will continue to be important to our industry. Legal, financial, and technological shifts have significantly changed its role over time, though, and we should be prepared for the inevitability of future changes.

As a member of Washington REALTORS® and Seattle King County REALTORS® Board of Directors, I believe the long-term danger for REALTOR® associations is in resting on a value proposition that relies almost singularly on the benefits of compulsory MLS membership. Building apps and services that complement the MLS can reinforce the board/MLS’s value, but without member appreciation for non-MLS benefits, a REALTOR® board is putting all of its eggs in one basket.

The organization’s reputation has to be built on more than just transactional services.

Political advocacy, legal protection, corporate partnership benefits, and education are all services that can and should be relayed to members regularly to create a more consistent and broad picture of the value derived from membership.

the measure of membershipNAR has made a significant investment this year to define the REALTOR® Value Proposition, and our local boards nationwide could benefit greatly by sharing our successful strategies with one another. YPN members who serve on their local or state REALTOR® board, take note: More collaboration between REALTOR® boards could streamline the identification of the most effective messaging strategies to be leveraged in membership-building campaigns across the country.

I’ve had the opportunity to chair a communications task force for Seattle King County REALTORS®, and we’d like to share our first steps in reinventing our value proposition.  Our president, executive committee, staff, and creative agencies have been working for over a year to audit our communications and messaging strategies. This is our first concrete value proposition piece, which going out this week to members alongside the annual dues invoice.

The annual bill is the single piece of communication between boards and members that will be delivered without fail. We’ve added our benefits brochure this year, with the front giving a quick visual highlight of most concrete REALTOR® tools available from NAR, the state board, and local board. The back side highlights timely advocacy issues and the specific financial ramifications for the member’s bottom line.

This is the most poignant moment to clarify member benefits. Educating members on the wide range of protections and services we provide should happen year-round, but we should be especially vocal on the day that we ask our members to recommit another year of financing for the organization which supports their businesses.

The impetus for Seattle King County REALTORS® to create this kind of messaging was greater than most boards would have – our regional MLS is not REALTOR®-owned.  Our local licensees have to find enough value in non-MLS services to justify REALTOR® membership. Despite that challenge, our board continues to retain the majority of local full-time agents within our membership, and our members do the bulk of the total sales in our market.

This kind of messaging, with a few local tweaks, should be applicable to nearly any board and a great complement to those providing MLS services as well.  We will be redesigning our entire platform of communication this year to make certain we’re contacting our members with timely, engaging, and useful information every chance we get.  We’ll be sharing more as the process moves along, and we’d invite you to invest in the development of the REALTOR® Value Proposition by sharing your most successful communications campaigns as well.

Sam DeBord is a director for Washington REALTORS® and Seattle King County REALTORS®, and managing broker with Coldwell Banker Danforth. Connect with his team, Seattle Homes Group, at and

  1. As Realtors,we’ve been screwed again by NAR. The website was suppose to be just for realtor association listings. Then they allowed non members to list their listings such as Corcoran real estate brokerage in New York City, and many have followed. Then listings from phone app and aggregator sites were next…while for 16 years I (we) were paying dues and MLS Fees and held to NAR standards and code of ethics and trust me when I say…none of those standards apply to non realtors. I stopped paying my dues and board fees because what for? I can get my listings and that of my agents on and every other listing database aggregator out there and use those fees for marketing. Two things are going to happen: with Zillow buying Move ( including and Trullia…realtors are going to have their leads from their listings go to the highest bidder by zip code (already is the case…you can buy the lead from Zillow by paying a monthly fee for the zip code where your listing is located) and the second thing…the entity of Realtor will disappear or you will pay a fee to call your self a realtor and your local board will disappear and or mean squat, other than a social group.

  2. Ron, you’re 100% right. We’re seeing another dues increase this year and we just voted to allow non-REALTOR members onto our Commercial committee and we’re allowing them to vote! The R is losing it’s luster.