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RISMEDIA, December 14, 2010—As we continue to make our way closer to the end of 2010, everyone seems to be talking about the “new normal.” In this month’s Power Broker Roundtable, real estate professionals Steve Brown and Charlie Oppler discuss what the new normal is and what it means for the real estate industry as we make our way into 2011.

Steve Brown, 2010 Special Liaison for Large Firm Relations, NAR

Charlie Oppler, 2011 Special Liaison for Large Firm Relations, NAR

The Power Broker Roundtable is brought to you by the National Association of REALTORS® and Steve Brown, NAR’s Special Liaison for Large Firm Relations. Watch for this column each month, where we address broker issues, concerns and milestones.

Steve Brown: With this month’s discussion, I pass the moderator’s baton to my long-time friend (and a consummate real estate professional) Charlie Oppler. A 29-year industry veteran with deep roots in New Jersey, Charlie is broker/owner of Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty, with nine offices and 375 agents in the Garden State. An RPAC Hall of Famer, he is equally at home in the national real estate arena, where his keen wit and understanding of the industry make him a popular speaker and advocate. Welcome, Charlie. I wish you as fruitful and interesting a term as I have enjoyed as Special Liaison.

Charlie Oppler: Thanks, Steve—and thanks on behalf of NAR and its brokers for the depth and breadth of the topics you’ve addressed in these Roundtable discussions. I’ll do my best to come up with a slate of equally relevant and motivating topics. In fact, I thought it might be appropriate as we head into the New Year to talk a little bit about a catch phrase we seem to be hearing more and more these days: the “new normal.” What exactly is the new normal, and what does it mean for our business?

SB: At the top-most level, the new normal means dealing realistically with the hard, cold reality of today’s market. Brokers, along with consumers, have faced shrinking property values, shrinking numbers, and conflicting outlooks over the past few years. For many, it’s been a struggle just to hang on.

CO: That’s true—although we all know that markets are a local issue. In my local market in Northern New Jersey, I’m happy to say, prices are up 3% over last year and we’re 10% up in units sold—and the numbers seem to be stabilizing or creeping up in many parts of the country.

SB: That’s the good news. But there’s no doubt times will continue to be tough for a while. At the same time, we are looking at a crisis in consumer confidence. We have a long history of being able to show that buying a home is the most valuable investment a person can make. Now there is a generation of kids who’ve seen their parents lose their homes and who are questioning the value of homeownership. That’s something we need to work hard to overcome.

CO: I think what you’re saying is that we need to find ways to redefine customer expectations.

SB: That’s right—and our role as REALTORS® as well. The new normal is also the way technology and social media have revolutionized the way we do business. All the information we used to provide is available to everyone free of charge—so the fact is, technology may make doing business easier, but it’s not a differentiator.

CO: If anything, technology, in some ways, has distanced us from our customers. Impeccable service has to be the way to stand out from the competition—and that means getting back to the basics—putting in the face time.

SB: No question. If the new normal is not to see people, then you have to hire experienced agents who will put down their cell phones and reach out face-to-face.

CO: I agree. It’s the only way we can manage and frame information for customers in a way that technology can’t replicate.

SB: Most of all, we need to reshape the industry in ways that put Realtors back where they should be—in the center of every transaction—and that reinvigorate skeptical buyers with some of the pride and promise of homeownership.

As the old song says: “Everything old is new again.” That was never truer than in our industry, where cycles are a part of the landscape. The economy will come back—maybe slower than we’d like, but as you said earlier, we seem to be headed back toward more positive markets even now.

CO: I look forward to the challenge, Steve. We’ve got some great topics coming up.