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Realtor association’s membership falls 13 percent

Central Florida’s still-slow residential real estate market now is taking its toll on the Realtor association membership rolls statewide.

On the local front, the Orlando Regional Realtor Association’s just-released numbers show a 13.3 percent membership drop from 12,616 in 2007 to 10,940 through Feb. 26 this year — a 19 percent drop from the association’s all-time high of 13,500 in 2006 during the peak of the red-hot real estate market.

An analysis of membership numbers in other areas of the state shows similar declines, including Tampa, 13.4 percent, and St. Lucie County, 25.8 percent.

That’s not surprising, considering single-family home resales in Orlando fell 36 percent in January, to 881 last month from 1,385 homes in January 2007, according to the Florida Association of Realtors’ most recent report. Existing condos saw an even steeper 63 percent decline in sales, from 247 in January 2007 to just 91 last month.

And with the drop in home sales, Realtors are earning less, which makes it harder for them to justify shelling out the cash for association dues, Multiple Listing Service (MLS) fees, continuing education courses, and the marketing and advertising costs required to sell homes, says Roland Jernigan Jr., a broker associate and Realtor with Sanford-based Jernigan Properties Inc.

Real estate agents at his firm pay about $2,000 annually in fees and dues. “There are a lot of expenses people don’t realize we have,” he says. “They think we just stick a sign in someone’s yard and when a buyer comes by, we get a boatload of money on it. That’s not the case.”

For instance, the Orlando Regional Realtor Association charges its members an average annual fee of about $390, plus monthly MLS dues of another $260.

Those fees are why many agents either have stepped away completely from the business or turned to other ways of advertising homes for sale, says Thomas Allen, co-founder of Urbanista, a brokerage firm that focuses on sales, resales and rentals of downtown condos.

“You can create your own MLS and market it, or you can go get a Web site yourself,” says Allen, who adds that he’s never joined a Realtor association. “That’s what people are starting to do. It’s all to buck MLS.”

But the Orlando Regional Realtor Association aims to keep those numbers from falling further by offering classes to members, says President Steve Moreira. The association’s newly formed education committee has added 32 new classes — many offered free to members — to the 2008 calendar, including courses on 1031 exchange, residential construction, real estate investing, reverse mortgages, property management and new construction.

“Our volunteer members have welcomed the opportunity to use their free time to help each other,” says Moreira. “We haven’t cut back on our programs or professionalism at all.”

Originally posted on the Orlando Business Journal website by Anjali Fluker, Staff Writer.

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