‘A significant service’

Despite the hot real estate market and the seeming prevalence of Internet for-sale-by-owner services, Realtors are just as popular as ever.

The Connecticut Association of Realtors last year commissioned a study to help determine whether the association should start an image campaign for Connecticut Realtors. The group decided to do the study after some members expressed concern that for-sale-by-owner companies were taking away Realtors’ business.

“Members were saying they felt that possibly we needed to do some advertising,” said Robert Fiorito, president of CAR.

But the association decided against it – at least for the time being – when the study’s final report was released. Results of the study, which was conducted by Glastonbury-based Marketing Leverage Inc., showed that 92 percent of recent homebuyers or sellers who were surveyed reported using the services of a real estate agent on their last purchase or sale, while 8 percent said they did not use an agent. There is also little indication of a trend away from using real estate agents, according to the report: Ninety percent of homebuyers or sellers said they would use an agent again for the homebuying process and 84 percent said they would use an agent again to assist them in selling their home.

Those numbers have stayed fairly static over the years, Fiorito said.

“People still realize Realtors provide a significant service,” he said. “People are still using a Realtor, and I think that supports the fact that we do worthwhile work.”

Another significant finding in the study was that none of the homebuyers or sellers who were surveyed mentioned non-traditional competitors.

So the company that conducted the survey advised CAR against initiating an image campaign.

“If it were our money, we would not initiate a special campaign directed at consumers at this point,” according to the study.

CAR’s campaign would have piggybacked off of the National Association of Realtors’ ongoing nationwide image campaign that began in 1997.

“Much to our delight, the conclusion was we probably didn’t have to do that,” Fiorito said.

Still, NAR has been doing a good job with its campaign, he added.

‘Terrific’ Feedback

The national association has advertisements on television and radio that promote Realtors, according to Linda Johnson, a spokeswoman at NAR. This year, NAR has had ads in primetime television and sponsored PBS’ “Nightly Business Report” for six weeks. The association is also sponsoring a show on XM Satellite Radio’s public channel.

NAR also is focusing on Hispanic homebuyers and sellers with a 30-second commercial, according to the association’s Web site.

The ad campaigns have been getting a very positive response and the association has budgeted for them through 2007, according to Johnson.

“Most of [the feedback] has been terrific,” she said. “It’s one of the most well-received programs we have.”

Although CAR isn’t initiating a campaign now, the study results still have value for Connecticut’s Realtors, Fiorito said. CAR is using the information learned from the study out to its members to help it in its own marketing.

Locally, many Realtors never miss an opportunity to promote the profession. The Stamford Board of Realtors last year hired a public relations professional to help get out the word on the value of Realtors.

“I always think it’s a good idea [to boost Realtors’ image],” said Geri Guzinski, a Realtor at William Raveis in Stamford and the president of the Stamford board. “I never would pass up an opportunity to boost a Realtor’s image.”

If CAR ever does initiate a campaign, Guzinski would like it to focus on Realtors’ professionalism and training and the fact that they are often involved in their communities. Realtors have to go through vigorous ethics training, and the public is largely unaware of that, Guzinski said.

“There’s more to being a Realtor that just selling a home,” she said.

In Stamford, the Board of Realtors does projects like the upcoming “Rebuilding Together,” where Realtors and other community professionals help renovate the homes of low-income people. The board also is trying to get out information to the public about Realtors’ fight against the state’s controversial conveyance tax, Guzinski said. Realtors are working on behalf of homeowners, but much of the public does not realize that, she said.

A campaign that shed more light on how a Realtor does there job would be helpful, according to Barbara Pearce, president and chief executive officer of H. Pearce Real Estate Co. in North Haven.

“I think the problem with how people view Realtors … is that they think Realtors aren’t necessary,” Pearce said.

Many people don’t understand concepts like buyer brokerage and don’t understand the day-to-day duties of a Realtor. A campaign that focused on those aspects of the profession would be helpful, Pearce said.

Her suspicions about the public’s perception are founded, according to the study. Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed did not think there was a difference between Realtors and real estate agents, according to the study. But in Connecticut, both terms apply to most people who sell real estate. Also, when the homebuyers and sellers surveyed associated Realtors with real estate agents, they favor Realtors because of their national professional association, continuing education, high ethical standards and large network to draw buyers.

“A muddy or unfocused awareness/understanding of what a Realtor is may not necessarily be a bad thing,” according to the study.

Marketing Leverage Inc., the group that conducted the study, did the survey in three parts. The first part was a two-hour working session with CAR’s working group that was concentrating on the image campaign. The second part consisted of in-depth telephone conversations with five recent homebuyers or sellers who had worked with a member of CAR. Those buyers and sellers were selected by CAR’s working group. The third part consisted of 200 telephone interviews with individuals who had recently bought or sold a house in Connecticut.