RealtorŪ associations are taking full advantage of the Internet to communicate with members, market products, rally grassroots support for political causes, and increase the public's awareness of RealtorsŪ. That's what the judges of the 2002 Outstanding RealtorŪ Association Web Site contest found after reviewing its 72 entrees.
The first competition, sponsored by RealtorŪ Association Executive magazine, recognizes associations that offer outstanding member service and helpful online information for homebuyers and sellers.
In March, twelve judges evaluated entries in three categories: member, consumer, and dual member/consumer sites.
Since association Web sites are as varied as the associations themselves, entries weren't judged against each other, but rather on how well each site communicates association and industry information and promotes its members. Judges surfed the sites just as members and consumers would. They rated each site by assigning points to key aspects: depth and timeliness of content, consistent and appealing design, logical navigation, and overall functionality.
To evaluate member sites, judges looked for offerings such as continuing education class schedules, legal advice, and policy guidance. In essence, outstanding member sites are virtual associations, delivering nearly every service and resource that members would find by visiting their association office.
Regarding consumer sites -- those designed to promote members to homebuyers and sellers -- judges agreed that the most important features are an easy property listing search, school and community data, and information on finding and using a RealtorŪ, including a searchable roster and links to member sites or e-mail addresses.
To assess dual member/consumer sites, judges considered whether the sites provide sufficient information for both audiences and are easily navigable. In addition, winning dual sites offer a home search tool (either a custom version or one linked to an aggregator), homebuying tips and community information, and a roster of members and links to their Web sites
Based on information the entrants provided, RAE found that most associations design their own Web sites or assume a large role in the process. Many have hired at least one technology staffer to manage site operations. Smaller associations say they have less time and fewer resources than large associations to dedicate to expanding their sites. Still, many small associations say that even a modest Web presence is important to member service. In fact, entrants say that providing basic information such as event dates, class schedules, and member rosters, along with useful links to other sources, such as REALTOR.org, has decreased the number of phone calls to their offices.
Because their sites are proving successful, many associations big and small report grand plans for their online offices in the future, including adding virtual real-time classrooms, chat rooms, and message boards; an online dues payment function; a job listing section, where members can advertise salesperson and staff openings; and searchable databases of local real estate-related ordinances.
Associations say they're making a greater effort to conduct more business and offer more services over the Internet. And as these winning sites show, it's possible to serve members and inform the pubic effectively and thoroughly through a virtual association.
So without further adieu, our winners.