The trend toward acquisitions and mergers in the real estate industry has begun not only to affect the companies that Realtors work for, but the associations that represent them as well.

Weeks after the South Shore Association of Realtors and Plymouth County Board of Realtors announced to their respective members that they had entered into merger talks, officials at the Greater New Bedford Association of Realtors confirmed last week that they, too, are looking to partner with a neighboring Realtor organization.

Letters were sent in recent weeks to some of those neighboring boards stating that Greater New Bedford was interested in starting a dialogue on the matter.

We’ve always been open to [a merger or partnership], said Greater New Bedford Executive Vice President Rita Ramsay. We sent out these letters to let it be known that we are interested.

We’re open to consolidation, agreed Joyce D. Lopes of Joyce D. Lopes Realty/Better Homes and Gardens in Acushnet and 2000 president of the local association. We believe it’s the wave of the future.

As is the case many times when smaller, independent real estate firms are scooped up by companies like GMAC Real Estate or The DeWolfe Co., Lopes and Ramsay stress that their association is a strong one and is financially solvent but lacks the services available in a larger organization.

We’re solvent and successful, Ramsay said. But our feeling is we could join together with another board to do the best job.

We’re strong financially. It has absolutely nothing to do with that end of things, Lopes said. Consolidation is the wave of the future, and it will make the organization stronger, for both of the boards involved.

Lopes said a consolidation would be a fiscally sound move. For one thing, both boards would end up saving money because you would only have to hire one accountant and one attorney, where before you had two, she said.

Ramsay described her association as medium-sized, with about 450 members serving the New Bedford area, covering towns from Wareham to Dartmouth and north toward Lakeville. In addition to Ramsay, the board has just two full-time and one part-time staff members, making it difficult to expand the board’s offerings with such limited support.

We have one to one-and-a-half positions just for running the MLS, Ramsay said. That leaves two staff members to do the entire work of the board.

I think we do a really outstanding job for what we have, she added. Our members need better services, but as a small group, we can’t always have specialized functions or do everything we want to do.

We want to provide services, but at the same time we need to stretch every dollar as long as we can, and that can be done by linking to another association to provide these services without having to raise dues, she said.

Preserving Local Presence
Greater New Bedford officials said their exploratory letter may not necessarily result in a full merger or consolidation. There is also a possibility of teaming with other boards for continuing education or other services. Whatever the outcome may be, Lopes said it is paramount that Greater New Bedford members still feel they receive a high level of service.

There still needs to be a strong local presence, Lopes said. Even if we merge with another association, each area still has its own strengths, and we don’t want our members to think they don’t have a strong local connection.

Ramsay said despite the state Realtor association’s board of choice offering that allows members to affiliate with any local association in the state, New Bedford’s membership has remained strong because of the level of quality of service provided.

There’s not a member that calls here that doesn’t get the utmost respect, Ramsay said. Our staff members have little signs near their desks that say ‘Find a reason to say yes,’ and I think that’s one of the reasons why people have stayed.

Both Ramsay and Lopes said Greater New Bedford has had discussions with the Greater Fall River Association of Realtors.

With only the town of Dartmouth separating Fall River and New Bedford, the alliance makes the most sense geographically. However, the boards have two distinct visions and were headed in two different directions, Ramsay said, so merger talks broke off.

Because the letters were sent out just recently, Ramsay said her board has not yet received official feedback from the area boards she contacted. Plymouth and South Shore are busy with their own merger talks, so I don’t think we’ll hear from them soon, but I spoke with [Executive Vice President] Henry DiGiacomo at the Cape and Islands association and he said he would look at things, she said. Basically, we put an offer out for anyone who’s willing to sit down and talk with us.

Though letters were sent to several associations, New Bedford plans on ultimately working with just one. You really need to work with only one entity at a time, Ramsay said. Whoever said ‘two’s company and three’s a crowd’ wasn’t just saying that.

The Greater New Bedford association has not set a target date for an acquisition or partnership.

New Blood
In addition to changing through associating with other local boards, the Greater New Bedford Association of Realtors is in the midst of other changes as well. We’ve got a lot of new blood in here, and they want to do a lot of new things, Ramsay said.

As for Ramsay herself, the executive vice president announced she will be leaving the association next month after working there for about 10 years to pursue other interests in another area of the state. A new executive vice president has not yet been announced.

Meanwhile, talks between the South Shore and Plymouth associations continue.

We actually had a meeting this morning, and things went very well, Donna T. Wood of MacDonald-Wood Real Estate in Duxbury said in an interview last week.

The membership wants this to happen. It’s not a simple process. It’s not that difficult a process, but you need to get people involved, added Wood, the 2000 president of the Plymouth County Board of Realtors.

The trend in general – whether you’re talking about banking or real estate – is toward consolidation, she continued. I think technology, and the cost of technology is driving a lot of these consolidations. I applaud New Bedford for having the courage to write the letters, but it’s not a new thing by any means. We’re all a part of the same phenomenon.

Wood added that Greater New Bedford would most likely not be included in the Plymouth-South Shore merger talks because of the difficulty associated with bringing in a third party once merger talks have already begun.

Right now we’re trying to do the best with what we have, Ramsay said of the Greater New Bedford Association. Our frustration is that we want to do more.

For Sale: New Bedford Board

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 5 min