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fall: Charlotte real estate trade groups’ memberships take hit in recession

fall: Charlotte real estate trade groups’ memberships take hit in recession

In 2006, before the recession, the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association had 8,152 members.

Today, its membership is thinner by about 1,407, a decline that, no doubt, is a byproduct of the market’s downturn.

It’s not as much of an exodus as CRRA President Laurie Knudsen said she was expecting.

“We don’t necessarily depend on membership in the organization to survive,” she said. “But we are a membership-based group, so we notice when the numbers change like this.”

Throughout the Charlotte area, real estate trade associations, such as the Charlotte Regional Board of Commercial Realtors, are reporting lower numbers as the industry’s struggles chased many away from the business.

“As soon as things started to get tough, we lost a lot of people,” Knudsen said. “But to me that makes sense. Some people got into real estate because they thought it looked easy, and it isn’t.”

From the height of the housing bubble in 2006-07, the CRRA, for which it costs about $500 to join, has steadily declined in the number of Realtors who are members. In 2007, membership peaked at 9,578. Then the market crashed, and by this past Oct. 10 membership had fallen to 6,745.

In the commercial real estate industry, a membership slide occurred during the same five-year span for the CRBCR, although on a smaller scale.

In 2006, the commercial real estate group had 1,000 members. By 2007, the number had risen to 1,080. By 2010, it dipped below 1,000 for the first time, to 956. As of October, membership is 967, a decline of 10 percent from the 2007 level.

“People had to make choices about whether they were going to seriously be in the business or not,” said Theresa Salmen, CRBCR’s executive vice president. “We are fortunate it is only down about 10 percent from our all-time high in 2008.”

The cost to join CRBCR is $666, including a $250 initiation fee.

Charlotte’s surge in commercial real estate agents seems to have come about 12 months later than the residential surge.

“The peak of the membership for commercial came later in the cycle because residential agents were trying to broaden their scope to stay in business,” said Andrew Jenkins, a managing partner with Karnes Research, a Charlotte-based real estate research and consulting company. “When the housing market was falling apart, you had Realtors joining the commercial side as a way out.”

Karnes maintains and administers CRBCR’s website of North Carolina property listings: the Commercial Property Exchange.

But, Jenkins said, many found they couldn’t smoothly transition from residential to commercial real estate.

Salmen agreed.

“You had those people trying to sell both commercial and residential. When the times were good it was fine to branch out,” she said. “But to do commercial effectively it is a long-term, relationship-building business. You have your key people in the industry who work long term to build and maintain their customer base. You can‘t do this halfway.”

One thing that has kept some people members of the CRBCR is a stipulation on the use of the Commercial Property Exchange, Jenkins said.

“For the Charlotte region, specifically, since you have to be a member of the commercial board to even get on our system, if they lose membership then they can’t be members of the CPE,” Jenkins said. “That has worked well in tandem. Since people want to be able to market their properties on the CPE, they have stayed on the membership rolls.”

Other real estate-related groups in the Queen City and the surrounding area have started to see a slide in participation. Salmen is well acquainted with two of them.

In addition to her CRBCR duties, she also serves as district council coordinator for Urban Land Institute-Charlotte — which is affiliated with Washington, D.C.-based ULI — and as executive director for the NAIOP (formerly the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties) of Charlotte, a commercial real estate development association.

“Some people think of the ULI as a developer organization, but really we’re not,” Salmen said. “It does include developers and brokers, but also design professionals and planners.”

Those ties to civil servants and government staffers have contributed to a downturn in participation for ULI-Charlotte, Salmen said. But she said the group does not keep official membership rolls.

“You have a lot of budgets from counties and municipalities being cut, so you have furloughs and layoffs in those planning departments,” she said. “We have a smaller group of people involved, but I don’t think that means the ULI district council is any less effective.”

The national ULI seems to agree, as the group has chosen Charlotte for its spring meeting in May.

At NAIOP, participation is also down, but the group doesn’t report membership numbers.

“The huge thing in any of these trade organizations is they are more relevant than they have ever been,” Salmen said. “There is very little commercial real estate development going on right now. Contractors, environmental organizations, etc., have all shifted their focus.”

Knudsen said the CRRA was hoping to be ready for when development returns, but she didn’t have a timeline for when she thinks that will be. Instead, she pointed to the CRRA members who were still in business as determined.

“It takes a lot of hard work to make a living in real estate right now,” Knudsen said. “When the business returns, those agents who worked hard will be happier than pigs in slop.”

Baughman can be reached at [email protected].

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