Creating an in-house real estate sales department can help a club find new members and reap the full benefits of its brand.
Increasing membership is the one of the biggest challenges that private clubs face in today’s world. And while there is no “quick fix,” one option that’s often overlooked is to establish an in-house real estate operations department.
To some, the thought of creating a real estate brokerage would seem to add unnecessary layers of overhead and management to a club’s operation. So why should clubs now look at controlling the real estate associated with their properties? The answer is simple: To add another avenue for attracting new members.
Telling Your Story
First impressions are lasting.
Think about a realtor who meets a prospective homebuyer—and club member—at a local coffee shop, and rattles through several listing sheets of available properties within your gates. This might be the first impression of your club that a prospective member gets—and you have no control over what picture is being painted to them.
Is that realtor showing multiple club communities? What information is being shared about each? How many potential members are looking past your club, without ever getting to experience the full story that you and your staff have worked so hard to create?
It’s paramount to recognize that not every realtor may be familiar with the details of the club communities they target and sell. However, there are several ways you and your club can begin to control the story and gain better leverage of available real estate, to help increase your membership.
“Quail Ridge Country Club is fortunate to have always had ownership of its onsite real estate office,” says Donald “Chip” Misch, CCM, General Manager & COO of the Boynton Beach, Fla. club. “In a challenging market, it is now more important than ever to ensure that your club and community is being promoted effectively, and that you’re maintaining brand, logo and message consistency.
“An established real estate office also provides a welcomed revenue center, helping to absorb marketing costs and generate additional earnings [that can be put] back into the community to offset [Property Owners Association] fees,” Misch adds.
“A member-owned real estate office is ideal for encouraging new member referrals from existing members,” he concludes. “And that’s a critical component in attracting new members to your club.”
Real Estate Options
There are several avenues to consider, should your club wish to explore adding some sort of real-estate component to your operation.
- Option 1: Create an in-house real estate department with a broker who is an employee of the club or the Property Owners Association (POA). This option will require the most amount of work and financial obligation, but stands to reward the club with a consistent internal message and financial payoff. But recruiting a broker and support staff, as well as creating the office and its necessary tools from scratch, will be time-consuming and the most costly option.
- Option 2: Build a relationship with a local and existing real estate brokerage. This option involves significantly less work and cash outlay. Hiring and working with a brokerage that is willing to understand the needs of the club will be challenging, but the rewards can be lucrative.
- Option 3: Develop a program with a department head, possibly the Membership Director, to create a relationship with the agents who list and sell in your club’s community. This program should include providing those agents with up-to-date marketing materials, so they can best tell your club’s story.
No matter which option you choose, consider this: if a new program did not
produce any additional income, but the club added five new members in addition to what was gained from its normal membership campaign, what would this mean for your overall operation?
Selling the Concept
Once a connection has been established through any of the available options, creating ways to introduce the club’s involvement with its property’s real estate division will also be important. Current members must see the importance of this new strategy and embrace the club’s decision to include real estate as part of its operation.
Utilizing innovative marketing ideas will also be an important part of your success. The new broker/director must be knowledgeable in real estate operations and become known as an ambassador of your club. Having this person tell the club’s story in a consistent manner will ensure the success of the new real estate initiative.
Including the members in this process, be it through social media, special meetings or incentive programs, will also allow them to feel a sense of ownership and contribute to the program’s success.
Certainly, there will be obstacles and challenges throughout the process. Members who are also realtors and sell property in and around the club will express their opposition. There will also be challenges about how the new in-house real estate entity should be positioned, and how it might affect the club’s tax status. These are all valid issues that will need to be handled with “kid gloves.”
Utilizing a third-party consulting group in this process might be a good option. It will give the club’s real estate committee a chance to agree with the recommendations of the consulting group regarding who should be part of the new program, based on sales and listing reports within the club. It will also take pressure off management for excluding part-time realtor/members from the new program.
Ultimately, adding a real estate sales component to your operation will take work—but the reward of gaining new members is often worth it.