Q: Please describe what HAR was like during your year.
A: In 1995, the HAR office was at its current location on the Southwest Freeway. We were in the process of completing a significant remodeling of the building. The HAR membership was approximately 13,000-14,000 in size. We had benefitted from solid leadership for many years and were seeing steady growth in membership. We were still recovering from the high interest rates of the 1980s and were optimistic about the Houston real estate market.
Q: What was the most controversial issue during your year as HAR president?
A: I recall two major local issues. First, NAR had announced that effective, January 1, 1996 they would no longer observe territorial boundary requirements for membership. The change was dubbed “Board of Choice” and allowed REALTORS® to join any board they chose. Bob and I attended networking meetings with the Montgomery County Association of REALTORS®, Fort Bend Association of REALTORS® and Bay Area Association of REALTORS®. I spoke at the meetings, sharing the good news about what HAR was doing for our members. Second, we were in the process of changing how we billed for MLS. Traditionally the broker/owners paid fixed monthly fees for company participation in MLS. We started billing MLS on a per-agent basis. Large companies’ total contribution (agents + broker) to MLS increased and they didn’t like it. We had a meeting with the large brokers at HAR and confronted their concerns. The change was made and the MLS billing structure remains in place today.
Q: What were some of the “hot” issues in Houston during that time – politically, socially and otherwise?
A: It was a controversial time in local politics. We had several heated discussion about city council races and controversies over whom we should support. In one meeting, emotions ran high and I had to “gavel” the meeting to order. In the process, I chipped the edge off of my wooden mallet. We ultimately reached a peaceful consensus and moved on with the association business. A staffer was nice enough to glue the mallet back together and it resides on my office wall today. It provides a great reminder of how HAR consistently works collaboratively and cohesively to make decisions and formulate the direction of the association.
Another issue which significantly impacted the real estate industry was the 1995 commercialization of the Internet. When the Internet went public, HAR started looking at how it would impact members. We were invited to meet with NAR about a new initiative they called the Real Estate Information Network (RIN). There were mixed feelings, as there are today, about NAR being the national provider of real estate information for consumers. Although RIN failed and NAR proved ineffective as the national provider of real estate information, it was the precursor to Realtor.com. Realtor.com, with new ownership, and a different business model became a huge success! Ultimately, in 1997, HAR.com was created (thank you, George Stevens) and HAR proved a local association could have a large presence on the World Wide Web. We didn’t just observe change, we responded to it!
One more thing. This was also the year that NAR past president, Bill Chee, proclaimed Microsoft as the “Lion coming over the hill” which would apparently take over the real estate industry. As it turns out, he was wrong. He did, however, heighten our awareness to the importance of being of being a player in the new world of real estate and having a seat at the table. HAR embraced change, looked for opportunities and acted when prudent. Great job, Bob Hale, Jeremy Conaway and excellent staff and volunteer leaders!
Q: What do you consider the greatest accomplishment of your year?
A: In 1995, we hired Jeremy Conaway as a consultant to HAR. HAR had been involved in annual strategic planning, but not really seeing dynamic changes result from our efforts. Jeremy arrived at our 1996 Strategic Planning meeting in August 1995 with a whole new perspective on operating an association. He helped develop a plan which incentivized staff and encouraged leadership to be forward thinking. The results were (1) over a period of time, we developed a highly qualified, accountable staff; (2) leadership started thinking longer term, addressing future challenges and turning potential problems into opportunities.
Q: Do you have any funny moments or stories to share from your term?
A: There was the time [HAR President and CEO] Bob Hale and I attended an NAR meeting in Chicago. When I traveled with Bob, he always wanted to arrive at the airport several hours before the departure time. So the meeting ended and it was time to return to Houston. As normal, Bob insisted we arrive at the airport very, very early. We checked in and proceeded to our gate, to find they were already boarding our plane. We got in line, boarded the plane and walked to our seats. We arrived at our seats only to find they were occupied by other passengers. We called for the flight attendant to straighten out the confusion. Before she arrived to help us, we heard the pilot on the airplane’s PA system say, “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for flying Continental Airlines today. Our scheduled arrival time in Cleveland is 3:45 PM.” We inquired of the flight attendant and we were, indeed, on the wrong plane. We had arrived at the airport so early, our plane had not yet arrived in Chicago and we had boarded a flight going to Cleveland. I have often reminded Bob of this trip and his penchant for arriving at airports, way “too” early!
Q: What do you consider the greatest innovation at HAR since you served as president?
A: That’s an easy one. HAR.com!
Houston REALTOR® will visit with another HAR Past President in the December 2011 edition.