Realtor® Rebound

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2011 President Laurie Knudsen has it in her sights
By Susan Shackelford

As Laurie Knudsen takes over as association and CMLS president in 2011, she will be like her last two predecessors in one big way: she will be leading in tough economic times.

An association board member since 2005, and treasurer in 2008 and 2009, Knudsen is keenly focused on the nuts and bolts to get members and the association through the downturn.

Choosing “Realtor® Rebound” as her presidential theme, she believes the economy has bottomed out, but warns, “It’s a sloppy bottom.”

To learn what she means by that, and what she sees ahead, you’re invited to read on.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I’m a very to-the-point kind of person, but I’m not intense or compulsive. There always needs to be fairness involved in every decision. I think my agents will tell you that if they ask me a question, I’ll answer it — maybe abruptly, but I’ll be honest. Also, I’m a better listener than I am a talker; and I’m a good strategizer. I also am happy to hear from members at lknudsen@helenadamsrealty.com.

Tell us about your theme of “Realtor® Rebound.”

Beginning in 2008, our industry had what I like to call a “Thelma and Louise” moment. Just like the women in the movie, we went off a big cliff. We survived, but were standing there like deer in the headlights, with no way to predict what was going to happen next. I believe we will continue to rebound if we do three things: Rethink, Retool and Recover.

What do mean by “Rethinking”?

It means we put everything on the table for review. We (the association and CMLS boards of directors) have been doing this since the downturn began. We have continued to operate off a strategic plan we developed several years ago, tweaking it along the way in light of the economy.

Going into 2011, we decided to have a joint meeting of the association boards of directors and Audit, Budget and Finance Committee one afternoon, and look at how we wanted to tweak the plan. In lieu of paying a facilitator, I ran the meeting. Each of the department heads gave overviews of their respective areas. I liked involving the department heads; we could hear from the people who carry out our mission on the front lines every day.

On another occasion last fall, we brought in Nancy Axelrod, an expert on board development. We looked at best practices of boards across the country and how we want to go about our governance. It went well; we all had our “ah-ha” moments. Two of mine were making sure committee work stayed out of board meetings, and considering ideas on how we can better orient our new board members to get them up and running faster.

What about “Retooling”?

This is putting in place the technology, staff, facilities, and all the ancillary things that help make members more efficient and effective, not just today but into the future. With CMLS, we want to make sure to keep Realtors® at the center of the transaction. It’s always our goal to provide the tools to serve members well.

Last, what about “Rebound”?

It’s been unfortunate that we’ve lost good Realtors® as unintended consequences of the recession. I hope as the economy recovers that some of these people can come back, and that people who remain standing will do better financially. I also hope that young people coming out of school will see real estate as a viable occupation. Many of them have an entrepreneurial orientation, and real estate could be a good fit.

What do you recommend to fellow agents about riding out the bad economy?

There is still business out there. People always want homes. Don’t focus on the sale but on offering advice and knowledge, and helping them with the transaction. Anybody can point to a room and say that is the kitchen.

Concentrate on educating buyers and sellers well. Know the industry and what’s going on in the market, and be familiar with the types of transactions taking place (short sales, foreclosures, etc.). Also be able to

judge personalities and present to someone in the way that bests suits that client’s personality. Additionally, you always need to let go of the outcome and do what is best and right for the client.

Furthermore, in this economy, people need to stay engaged. The association is here to help with that through education and social gatherings, where we can talk and share ideas. We will continue to host Realtor® Hot Topics, which we increased last year, and we have the Young Professionals Network (YPN), which began in 2010. We will also have the Realtor® EXPO again in 2011.

Do you think the economy has hit bottom?

Yes, but it’s a sloppy bottom. I think the recovery is going to be slow. Until most foreclosures and distressed properties are resolved, the normal resale market is going to be a challenge.

What is the association’s biggest challenge?

To remain fiscally aware. We are not in financial trouble, fortunately. The biggest challenge is to be the most efficient association model we can be while still offering top-quality service to our members.

With a decline in membership, we have budgetary challenges that could be greater this year. We’ve spent a lot of time looking at services and staff, studying what we offered in 2003 and 2004, when we were about the same size as we are today. I’m aware if you amputate too much of the beast you’re going to kill it. We want to streamline and produce the most relevant services in the most efficient way.

A year from now, what do you hope to have accomplished?

Other than the association remaining fiscally sound, I would like to be able to say we weren’t afraid to change — that we looked at the issues before us and looked at them honestly, and that we weren’t afraid of change in any area.