What Is a Real Estate Association?
A real estate association is a trade group made up of agents and brokers that can provide trainings, lobby the government, produce market research, and operate an MLS for the benefit of its members. The National Association of Realtors is the largest real estate association in the U.S., though hundreds of local associations operate as well.
The real estate industry is unique in that most agents and brokers work for themselves. They set their own hours, develop their own clients, and collect their own commission. This decentralization can provide great flexibility to real estate professionals, but it can also lead to redundancies.
Beginning in the mid 1800’s, real estate professionals began organizing themselves to share resources. In 1858, a group of brokers in the Baltimore area founded the Baltimore Board of Real Estate Brokers and Property Agents. Now known as the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, the group considers itself the first real estate association in the country.
Other early real estate associations were the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, the California State Realty Federation (now the California Association of Realtors), and the Philadelphia Real Estate Brokers Association (now the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors).
What started as informal gatherings soon grew to formalized arrangements with officers and membership dues. Today, real estate associations operate as independent organizations with a budget and leadership approved by the members. Some retain dozens of permanent staff.
The role of the real estate association has greatly changed as well. Early organizers sought to create a venue where brokers could share listings for mutual benefit. Under the old system, each brokerage shared its listings only with its own clients, which made it difficult to match prospective buyers with available properties.
To meet the growing demand for real estate listings online, many real estate associations have begun operating MLS and taking on a variety of data management and information technology responsibilities. A few that have developed their own software solutions are even beginning to look like tech companies.
In 1908, a group of early real estate associations met in Chicago and formed the National Association of Realtors with the aim of advocating for favorable federal policy. Today, NAR represents 1.3 million members across the country. Many local real estate associations maintain ties with national chapter in the sense that their members automatically become members of NAR. In some cases, three-way agreements ensure that a local real estate association member automatically joins the state association and the national association.
The Real Estate Board of New York is probably the biggest real estate association that is not affiliated with NAR. REBNY pulled out of NAR in 1994 over a dispute involving fees in its three-way agreement with NAR and the New York State Association of Realtors.
Some real estate associations also have political action committees that direct campaign contributions to candidates deemed friendly to real estate.