experts: real estate column Saturday, November 02, 2002

No RealtorLink access for the brains of the operation

The receptionist/secretary/administrative assistant sit the least appreciated person in the real estate industry.

By Marty Douglas

As published in REM - independent news and opinion for Canada's real estate industry.

Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence, The Circle of Innovation) observed the person least appreciated in the healthcare system - over worked and under paid - is the person with the most frequent contact with the customer - the nurse. Ditto for teachers in the education system. In real estate, the REM columnist - just kidding - the receptionist/secretary/administrative assistant. In other words - the brains of the outfit, or as we call her around our office - she who must be obeyed.

Ask a Realtor to put a price on a great secretary and they may be at a loss - especially if they have never suffered the misfiled telephone message, the rebuffed walk-in, or the lost referral. From a manager's perspective, in addition to giving good phone, the very best alert you to problems with personnel, recruit (or advise against), guide and train new staff and take on responsibility far beyond their compensation. Who else un-jams the copier, organizes the Christmas Party, restarts the computer and knows the janitor's name? They love their work and on Secretaries Day, have the heaping desk as proof.

However, when it comes to defining their role in CREA or your local board, they don't belong. Not eligible for membership. Undefined, they are forced to borrow passwords to access RealtorLink. If you want your secretary to download the latest contract form from WebForms or look up Hatfield Valley Agencies in Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan - can't be done. You have to do it. Or reveal your mother's maiden name - that is your password isn't it?

Hard to believe? I have been tilting at this windmill for a couple of months now. It all started with a little email from a 500 Watt radio station in Nebraska - (just kidding, but was that from Mary Tyler Moore or WKRP?) - as I was saying, a small email from me to my local board. I got this reply.

"Hi Marty, . . . wanted to let you know that I followed up with CREA re: a category for broker office staff on REALTOR Link (so we could setup access for them). I have been advised that it will NOT be done at this time, however if 'there are sufficient requests or a need to', perhaps they will relook at it in the future for enhancements."

Since I had heard Alan Tennant telling jokes in Banff, felt I was almost related - and he is the Chair of CREA's MLS & Technology Council, I wrote;

"Dear Alan, Why is it the newest staff person at the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board office has better access to Realtor Link than my secretaries, one of whom has been serving members of the Board for more than 10 years? OK that was sort of a rhetorical question.

"Give the customer what they want. Make it easy for the customer to get your product. Open the lines of communication. Don't create too many layers between you and the customer. Sound familiar?

"I have been asking my Board for sometime to allow unlicensed admin. staff employees of the agent member, to have access to Realtor Link. Much of what the Boards, Associations and CREA communicate by linked memos, maps, newsletters, updates, minutes, etc. involves an email to the member advising 'You absolutely have to read this document or will surely suffer a horrid death! Click on this link for the cure!' followed by 'I'm sorry, you don't have a password, you're not worthy, what are you - just a secretary?'

OK so I embellished a little.

Not everyone, not every manager, reads or links immediately. Sometimes they never link. At least if the admin. staff had access, there would be a file copy and we could circulate - or not. The admin. staff don't necessarily know what is being communicated or what's available.

Forms through Realtor Link are incredible. Where would we be without them? But when the administrator notices we are getting low on Change Order Forms, she can't download to create more. Saying we shouldn't have used the last copy isn't a good answer.

I can't believe this is a first request, can't imagine persuasive reasons not to grant controlled access. We know lending them passwords, like lockbox codes, wouldn't be approved even though it is probably widespread.

I then received a number of replies:

"NAF does distinguish member types. The boards would provide the code "A" in their upload and we in turn would know that this is an affiliate. Affiliates do not have access to WebForms or IXN data. It is up to the board to decide.

"So it would be an issue for a Board to decide if they want to classify an office staff person as an affiliate, the system can do it this way."

Which prompted this comment from my board:

"Hi Alan,

"I believe that one of the reasons Marty would like to have a classification for administration staff is he wants them to be able to do tasks for REALTORS (correct me if I'm wrong Marty) which means they need access to everything that a REALTOR does. However, if we upload them as a REALTOR, they appear in all the membership lists as a REALTOR (this applies to uploading them as affiliates as well), therefore membership lists are no longer correct.

"From a board perspective, I think it would be useful to have a classification for broker office admin staff as they could then do work as requested, as well as sign up for any e-mail lists (the e-mail lists in particular would be useful as being able to ensure that office admin staff get information circulated can be an important cog in the information system)."

Which resulted in this:

"I can see why you/we wouldn't want them to be classed as salespeople and I'd be uncomfortable with office staff getting access to webforms, so a new category may be needed, but with the usual provision that it is up to the Board to determine who gets access - if they choose to use this category at all."

So I chipped in this:

"Thanks for the attention to this matter. It sounds like a solution is available. But - and as anyone who has seen it says, it's a big butt - what's the magic about WebForms and staff access to them? It's not like they don't have access to the blank forms in the office. If we are concerned about saved forms - why? They see them the moment they are turned in. It does sound to me like the final decision would be the individual Board's and they could create agreements much like we do with lockbox security if necessary."

Which caused this:

"The issue of access to the forms takes on quite a different slant versus blank forms when the user is able to print a form that is basically complete and professional looking. No doubt a clever person could do the same with the old printed forms but not nearly as easily when it comes to adding clauses and phrases. Your perception of what a staff member who is properly supervised could do, is probably quite different than the sinister scenario we can dream up but we have to develop policy that will handle both. At any rate the MTC philosophy has always been that access questions such as these are up to the Boards to decide within the limitations of what our products can do.

"My idea for a work-around is not all that appetizing to you and it wouldn't be easy to create a new category after all. The reality is that after double checking with staff - this is the only request we've had for Administrators access. Thus, this is a low priority and as you heard the first time from CREA staff, it may make the grade in a future enhancement priority list. We've got a lot on our plate right now and there just aren't any compelling arguments to cause us to adjust our priorities. In the meantime, a philosophical debate on a national level on where licensed activity starts and support staff leaves off would be quite interesting. I think the current buzz words of VOW and IDX distract us from the role our 'human' assistants or support staff should play. With more and more 'team' approaches and the creation of on-line automated client contact we may be ripe for an industry wide process check.

"Geez Marty, there might be a column in there somewhere!!!"

I riposted thusly:

"Thanks for your reply. I actually thought the delay was due to a staff person dragging you to the bureaucratic back room and administering a beating for trying to help a customer. Oh well! Of course, just because mine is the first or only request doesn't mean it is less worthy or critical. I will pursue it with my board since you suggest that is where the access authority lies. If "they" do not grant access, regardless of category, then members will continue to give access to secretaries and assistants by lending passwords. We give access to appraisers who are non-Realtors. We contract non-members with lockbox access. By ignoring the obvious we condone an ongoing security breach, compromise the statistics of who is using RealtorLink, and perhaps negate the privacy obligations you are attempting so hard to introduce. But if it's not that important . . . . now there's a column. What do you think?"

Final volley in this set to Mr. Tennant:

"Fill yer boots Marty! A little debate never hurt anyone."

Remember the definition of a committee? "A cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled." It's up to you - you're the member, you decide. Could you work a little more effectively if secretaries had access? How much an hour is your time worth online? Alan Tennant's email address: alan@provenprofessionals.ca

Marty Douglas is the sales manager for Coast Realty Group (Comox Valley) Ltd., one of nine Coast Realty Group offices on Vancouver Island. He is a past Chair of the Real Estate Errors and Omissions Corporation of BC, the Real Estate Council of BC, the BC Real Estate Association and the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board. email mdouglas@island.net 1-800-715-3999 fax 250-897-3933




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