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This month’s National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Power Broker Roundtable introduces John Smaby, 2019 NAR president. 

Christina Pappas
– District Sales Manager, The Keyes Company, Miami, Fla.; Liaison for Large Firms & Industry Relations, NAR

John Smaby
– Broker, Edina Realty, Edina, Minn.; 2019 President, NAR

Christina Pappas: With nearly 40 years as a broker with one of the largest firms in the real estate business, John Smaby has seen it all, from a host of new competitors to all sorts of market conditions. And yet, he never let up on his commitment to serving the greater good of this industry, whether as president of the Minnesota Association of REALTORS® or as chair of RPAC. As John says, “A lot of people along the way devoted their time to help the real estate business…I feel it’s important to do my part, as well.” I’m happy to introduce John to all of you today. John, congratulations on your role as 2019 president! In your opinion, what are some of the most significant changes you’ve witnessed over the course of your career?

John Smaby: Thanks, Christina! I’m so grateful for the chance to help serve our members. There’s been so much change, of course, but I’d have to say one of the biggest changes I’ve seen in 30-plus years is the difference in association and broker control. The power today lies with the agent, not the broker or the association. In our current fast-paced, technological world, we have a hard time getting the eyeballs and attention of the agent. In the old days, when I wanted to get continuing education credits, I went to a class. Now, I can take that class online, in my basement, wearing my pajamas. It used to be very easy for brokers and associations to have face time with members. Now you have to work harder than ever to deliver your value proposition.

CP: As president of NAR, how will you help ensure the association is delivering value to members?
JS: For one thing, I’m passionate about being a good steward of our members’ money. My Leadership Team colleagues and I understand the critical nature of investing in our future to ensure our association’s sustainability, but it is imperative that the association spends within our means and the NAR checkbook is well balanced.  At the NAR Board of Directors meeting back in May, directors approved a $30 dues increase that allows our association the chance to reinvest in ourselves and provide greater value to our members. Careful management of this investment in our association now will reap dividends in the future.

CP: Speaking of sustainability, there’s a lot of talk among brokers about the threat new ‘disruptors’ pose to the traditional real estate model. What’s your take on that?
JS: We have to understand our disruptors. They like to win. Winning should also be part of our vision statement going forward—we like to win for our members! We’re competing on a daily basis and we are ready, willing and able to stand up to the disruptors, but sometimes the best strategy is to partner with them—that’s what our recent iOi (Innovation, Opportunity & Investment) Summit was all about. We have to make smart business decisions that make us competitive in the long run. We’re doing everything we can to help REALTORS® win. Technology doesn’t ask for permission or say please and thank you. We’re not going to stop being polite, but we are going to do whatever it takes to lead the future of our industry. 

CP: So we have to embrace disruption to some degree?
JS: In a sense, yes. Disruptors are making us rethink the status quo—that’s a good thing.  When we get out of our comfort zones, we open our eyes to new opportunities. 

CP: What are some of the other challenges facing today’s brokers?
JS: Brokers are being squeezed in many ways. Their bottom lines are impacted more than ever with so many new business models emerging in our industry.  Brokers are getting more creative, and in some cases, they’re learning how to run lean.  Many brokers are taking their space down by 30, 40, 50 percent. They’ve been able to adapt to technology and still provide quality service.

CP: What can brokers do to ensure agent productivity and retention?
JS: The name of the game is still recruit, develop and retain. But in today’s world, developing a great relationship with agents means developing a great relationship with technology. Because agents don’t need to be in the office as often, brokers have to develop digital relationships as much as face-to-face relationships. The best brokerages have mastered this talent working with agents and consumers alike.

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