Buzz Steele, Director of Marketing and Research, Tennessee Association of REALTORS®
By John Peretz, Real Estate Technology Writer
Real estate continues to evolve in the Volunteer State of Tennessee. Distinctly Southern, Tennessee has felt the effects of the real estate downturn, but perhaps not as much as other much publicized states such as Florida, Nevada and Arizona. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Buzz Steele, the Director of Marketing of the Tennessee Association of REALTORS® (TAR), which services over 18,000 plus members in cooperation with over 20 local associations throughout the state.
So, can you tell me what’s happening in Tennessee from a real estate standpoint? How have you weathered the storm?
“Well, we certainly have some issues, but I think the South, with perhaps the exception of Florida, has weathered the downturn much better than the rest of the nation. In a sense, we’ve been pretty insulated from a lot of it.”
What do you attribute that to?
“I would say that in general, the cost of living in Tennessee is really good and we have a dynamic and diverse economy that’s not reliant on any one industry. So, I don’t think we took as big a hit as other states did. We’ve had our share of short sales and foreclosures, that’s for sure, but overall, it’s been pretty good here in Tennessee compared to the rest of the nation.”
What about membership numbers?
“We have a little over 18,000 members. At one time, before the real estate market turned, we had about 30,000 members. That was about four years ago.”
In a recent interview, I spoke with Ms. Karen Kage, the CEO of Michigan’s largest REALTOR-owned MLS, and she said they’re starting to see people who left the business come back. Are you seeing any of that in Tennessee?
“Well, not so much yet. I think they will, that’s just part of it. The ones who are professional are obviously the ones that are going to stay. The ones that are doing this to do two or three sales a year, the first thing to go is going to be their membership and we understand that. So, when the market gets better we know it’s going to go up, but I don’t know if it’s ever going to go up to 30,000 again. I do see us slowly increasing down the road, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon. I think maybe we’re bottoming out right now, in my opinion. And so from here I think we’re going to go up, but I don’t think it’s going to be a huge transition like it was going down. It’s going to take some time to build those numbers up, but I don’t think that we’re going to be where we were, with 30,000 members.”
What are the trends you’re starting to see in Tennessee from a technology standpoint?
“We’re continuing to see a lot of Web 2.0 stuff, and a lot of social interaction outside of our sites. So we’re looking at how to tap into that by using all sorts of social channels. And then how to basically integrate all that back into one service area. That’s one of the challenges that I see for all of the REALTOR associations in general.”
What about Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and social networks like that?
“Oh, it’s just exploded. You see a lot of groups that create their own pages and they go to those areas because they’re already online with their friends, networks, and spheres of influence. I’ve already had times where I’m actually answering tech support in Facebook. The mobility of services has also been going on for a few years now. You know, mobile apps on phones, tablets and mobile sites … these channels are there and you have to identify them and take advantage of those as an opportunity to reach your members.”
Do you see any correlation between the use of technology and increased agent production?
“I certainly hope so. In the world that we’re in now, people want it fast and convenient. Technology is certainly the way to go if you want to provide that type of service. I’d like to see more of our older members take advantage of the technology, because we certainly see the younger ones using it. Sooner or later, I believe that if you don’t embrace technology, you’re just going to weed yourself out.”
What do you see from an eSigning standpoint in Tennessee?
“We’ve had it for a couple of years through TransactionDesk™ but it’s been a slow process for our members to take it on. Still, we’re doing some things at TAR that are making a difference. We’re running a promotion right now for the eSignatures, and it includes a lot more, like document storage and faxing, and the price point seems to be really working for our members. From what I’ve heard, they’re eating it up because it’s so economical.”
Tell me a little bit about your technology training.
“We’ve created some train-the-trainer courses where we give trainers across the state the ability to provide CE credits on a local basis, rather than just having one or two experts answer a phone or whatever else. And we provide that to the local associations for a very, very small cost. That way the local associations can provide their own training if they want to. All they have to do is supply us with their instructors. So what I’ve tried to do is basically duplicate myself. We have given the instructors the ability to go out with courses and a kit we provided. One is called the Basic Course and one is called the Advanced Course and they get 3 hours of CE credit and they can put that on. We don’t charge any royalty fees to the local associations, so it’s embraced a lot easier. And the local associations can charge what they want.”
“We’re also planning on doing a bunch of screen casting, tutorials, quick tips and things like that. So, we’re hoping to provide as much support as we can through media and through ourselves if we can. Also, the webinars work out great. Instanet Solutions also has been placing their training videos on YouTube.”
“So our members really like the service and we have some that are just really die-hard disciples.”
What would you tell someone who is first coming into the industry? What advice would you give them?
“First of all, take advantage of everything that is already out there that is provided free to you from your associations. Because they’ve already done the hard work and they’ve already compared them with other materials. The other thing I tell them to do is to embrace the technology as you’re coming in, and use those tools a lot. You can put yourself in an advantageous spot if you just go ahead and use as much of the technology as you can, especially if it’s provided as a member service. Jump right in.”
You work with Instanet Solutions to provide online forms and TransactionDesk™. What can you tell me about them?
“Wonderful. The first time we had them down here we actually looked at several different vendors. While they weren’t the cheapest, they were the most impressive, and so we chose them for that reason.”
“And now with their full TransactionDesk™, that includes online forms, document storage, faxing, mobile access and unlimited eSigning, you put that up against Docusign™, Silanis™ or anyone else, it’s the best gig going.”
“I love working with the Instanet team. Anytime I give them a call, I feel like I’m getting special attention. So that’s a one-on-one thing that we have, and I can’t remember any issues that I’ve ever run into that they haven’t really solved for me.”
About Mr. Buzz Steele:
Mr. Steele has been with the Tennessee Association of REALTORS for over 15 years, after a stint in production management. His current roles within the TAR organization include marketing, training, technology and research.