When I started my working life in the early 1980s, I had a job as a merchandise manager at JC Penney’s. Apart from learning about retail trends and the importance of dressing for success, I walked away with two big lessons:Staff can make or break an organization.
Putting the right people in the right roles and pulling them together as a team is critically important. Without team play, the organization slowly falls apart—no matter how talented the individual players.Change is inevitable.
Manage it thoughtfully. During my time at JCP, the company was evolving from a network of locally managed retail stores into a centralized, top-down organization. Based on the direction retail was moving, it was the right move. But later, they hired a CEO who implemented a radical vision for change. It wounded JCP and the company never recovered. So, while it’s true that organizations must change or die, the process must be done with a scalpel, not a sledgehammer. Lasting and beneficial change takes time.
There have been plenty of changes since I came on board as CEO of Minnesota Realtors® (MNR) in 2008. From a market-crashing recession that quaked the industry to a global pandemic that froze the economy and threatened millions of lives, there have been no lack of challenges. Despite the obstacles, I’ve had one goal from day one: to leave the organization in better condition than I found it.
From the beginning of my tenure, it was clear we needed to serve our members better. Grappling with legal issues was an outsized challenge for REALTORS® and brokerages, so we recruited the best attorneys and created a Risk Management department. Through the Legal Hotline, brokers could get expert legal insights without the expense of hiring an attorney. And with hearings moderated by MNR lawyers, disputes over commissions, client grievances, and ethical issues were settled quickly and equitably.
To ensure the needs of REALTORS® and homeowners were addressed by legislators at the State Capitol, we expanded our lobbying team—and our impact. Working with our members, we supported bills that protected the property rights of all Minnesotans, increased homeownership tax benefits, and promoted affordable housing. And we opposed legislation that would increase the cost of housing and homeownership and weaken property rights.
By eliminating handwritten forms and adopting electronic forms in 2010, we saved REALTORS® a lot of time and money. Because they could be shared digitally, agents no longer had to deliver purchase agreements to sellers in person. And when we partnered with RMLS to bring every association onto NorthStar’s common database platform, it became much easier for members across the state to serve their clients.
To keep our members informed of important trends and developments in our state, we launched a communications effort that has grown into today’s robust Marketing and Communications department. From the award-winning The Minnesota Realtor® magazine and The Legal Download to informative emails, blogs, and housing market reports, we bring you the intel you need to expand your knowledge and make good decisions for your business and career.
As a state association, we achieve the most when we come together with a common vision and specific goals. One of the best ways to achieve that is to gather in one place—if only for a few days—and meet, network, learn, and inspire each other. That was what we set out to achieve when we relaunched MNR’s annual convention as UNITE! in 2017. Starting out small, it has grown every year, fueled by member enthusiasm and participation. It is living proof that when we unite, we can achieve great things.
Finally, with the purchase of our new offices in Minnetonka, we found a home where MNR can grow and thrive for years to come. We own the building free and clear, have rental income, and plenty of space to serve our members with conferences, hearings, and classes. Through it all, our dedicated member volunteers have been critical to everything we’ve achieved over the last fifteen years. None of it could have happened without their commitment to moving the organization forward.
As I wrap up my time here at MNR, I’ve been thinking a lot about the industry’s future. The biggest challenge is how technology is changing the way consumers see and experience real estate transactions. Before the pandemic, virtually no one bought a home without touring the property in person. All that changed in 2020 and 2021, when 12% of homes in Minnesota were sold without the buyer visiting the property before the purchase agreement. Multiple offers and the fast pace of the market also played a significant role in this historic shift, but there’s no doubt that visual technology has given consumers much greater access to available properties. And with rapidly evolving digital technology, consumers are more deeply involved with transactions than ever before, from drafting forms to things like the mortgage, title, and inspections.
All these changes might leave you wondering, will there be a role for REALTORS® in the future? The answer is yes—but only if they continue leveraging their greatest assets: knowledge and experience. REALTORS® who can guide their clients through the complexities of contracts and skillfully manage difficult situations will continue to demonstrate their value and be rewarded with a good living. Big picture, stay focused on the consumer experience, and don’t be afraid to experiment with different business models. Technology can make it challenging to build a personal relationship with your clients, but doing so makes the difference between being forgotten a month after closing and repeat business and referrals for years to come.
Come February, I won’t be making the daily commute to the office for the first time in many years. That’s a big reset for me, but I’m already looking at new ventures to put my energy and focus on. A couple of organizations have approached me about consulting and business planning, and I’m exploring opportunities to help publicly funded programs that assist the disabled. And, of course, I’ll be making time for a little golf, some travel to warmer climates, and enjoying life with my wife and family.
So, heartfelt thanks to all the staff and members who have dedicated their time and talents to the association through the years. Because of you, our century-old organization is vital, relevant, and well poised to support the needs of REALTORS®, brokers, and homeowners for the next hundred years to come.