Interview with an Assn. Executive, Laura Lafayette
An Interview with Laura Lafayette, Richmond Association of REALTORS®
By John Peretz, Real Estate Technology Writer
Becoming the CEO of a REALTOR® organization can sometimes take a strange path. It’s not like you’re with a group of friends in grade school, where everyone wants to be a teacher, astronaut, fireman, sports star or President.
Laura Lafayette’s start with the Richmond Association of REALTORS® had a very interesting prequel. Freshly out of college, Ms. Lafayette was working on the political campaign of L. Douglas Wilder, who was attempting to become the first elected black governor of Virginia (and in the nation). During his successful bid for office, Mr. Wilder asked Ms. Lafayette to become his first press secretary as governor and she agreed, at the ripe old age of 23.
Ms. Lafayette eventually left the world of politics, and joined the Richmond Association of REALTORS® in 1993. She worked her way up through the ranks and took the reins as CEO in 2009 after the retirement of 11-year CEO Mr. Ralph Cantrell.
Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Ms. Lafayette about the technology landscape and the role of technology in an MLS as well as for individual agents and brokers.
As an MLS, what are some of the things you’re doing from a technology standpoint to help your members?
“We’re always looking at technology products for our member clients. We want to accomplish three things, primarily. First, we want to select tools that will make our members more efficient in their daily business practices.
“Second, we look for tools that will enable our members to position themselves as market experts.”
“And third, we see our role as separating the wheat from the chafe. There is so much information coming at our members, so many technology-related tools… We want to say to our members, ‘These are the tools that if you utilize them, you can be a far more efficient REALTOR®, you can see cost savings in your daily business practices, and you can deliver exceptional customer service to your clients if you utilize these tools.’” Ms. Lafayette explained.
As an MLS, how do you price technology products to your members?
“Well, as an MLS you want to provide the best suites of products at a great price,” Ms. Lafayette continued. “And within the MLS, there are really two trains of thought. The first is to identify and then make available the best technology products on an a la carte basis to your members.
“The second approach is to identify the best technology products and then negotiate enterprise pricing and include that as part of their membership. In the case of the Richmond Association of REALTORS®, they chose the latter.”
A few years ago, eSignatures were a luxury, but now it seems like they are a necessity. What’s changed in the market?
“The rise of eSignatures is a client-driven phenomenon. As the client base moves younger, more buyers and sellers are comfortable with executing documents remotely,” Ms. Lafayette said. “This is the future and you have to adapt. It’s not difficult. It’s intuitive and the prompts make it simple.”
How can technology help your members with buyers and sellers?
“Our goal is to help our members articulate their value proposition to their client,” Ms. Lafayette said. “It’s not all about listings and showings. It’s also the ability to navigate their client through a very complex process, and technology can help a lot with that. It’s not about the macro but it’s about the micro. “Home buyers and sellers now have the ability to see their entire transaction online, in one place. Technology makes it a whole lot simpler.”
“Our goal is to help our members articulate their value proposition to their client. It’s not all about listings and showings. It’s also the ability to navigate their client through a very complex process, and technology can help a lot with that.”
If you were talking to a new agent, what are some of the things you would tell them from a technology standpoint?
“You can’t chase all of the technology that’s out there. You have to farm, give listing presentations, and do all of the things that make a real estate agent successful,” Ms. Lafayette advised. “Technology is a really important element, but it can’t be all encompassing. Besides, good real estate agents are rarely genetically predisposed to sit behind a desk. There would be too much technology to learn that would take them away from doing the things they need to do to become successful.”
The Richmond Association of REALTORS® provides TransactionDesk™, Instanet Forms™, DocBox™, InstanetFax™ and AuthentiSign™ as a member-benefit. What would you tell someone about Instanet Solutions?
“Well, I’ve been in this line of work for 18 years. Instanet has been one of the very best technology vendors to do business with. They do what they say without reminding them, they deliver their promises on time, and they look for ways to add even more value to their partnership. They’ve been marvelous to work with.”