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Powered by RealTown, AE Talk is for Association Executives of Real Estate Associations.
Opt In vs. Opt Out in Real Estate
Managing Security Deposits
Value Range Marketing


Exception to the Rule vs Grandfathering

Mistaken Identity — Variance vs. Nonconforming Use

What if you're working with a client who is buying or selling a piece of property and its use is outside of the current zoning guidelines? Can you ask for an exception to the rule, or maybe the property is grandfathered for this use?

The intelligent real estate agent understands the lingo of the trade and delivers the value of their knowledge to their clients. Do you understand the difference between these often confused terms? Variance vs. Nonconforming Use, each represents an exception to the current zoning code, but in very different ways.

Understanding a Variance

Getting permission from governmental zoning authorities to build a structure or conduct a use that is expressly prohibited by the current zoning laws or an exception from the zoning laws represents a variance. A variance gives some measure of elasticity to the zoning game.

The use of variances can have many forms. Many variances are granted conditioned upon the commencement of construction within a certain time period (for example, 12 months). This helps to eliminate land speculation. 

There are also use variances such as for apartment use in a single-family residential area. There is also an area or building variance where the owner attempts to get permission to build a structure larger than permitted.

To be granted a variance, the applicant usually must: 
  • Describe how they would be deprived of the reasonable use of the land or building if it were used only for the purpose allowed in that zone. 
  • The request should be due to unique circumstances and not the general conditions in the neighborhood.  
  • Detail how the use sought will not alter the essential character of the locality or be contrary to the intent and purpose of the zoning code.

Understanding Nonconforming Use

This exception is a permitted use of real property that was lawfully established and maintained at the time of its original construction but that no longer conforms to the current zoning law. 

The nonconforming use might include: 


  • The structure itself
  • The lot size 
  • Use of the land or use of the structure

The use will eventually be eliminated, although the nonconforming use status does not necessarily have to be discontinued upon the sale or lease of the property. 

By allowing the use to continue for a reasonable time, the government can assure itself that the use will not continue indefinitely and, at the same time, avoid having to pay just compensation for taking the property through condemnation.

When purchasing a nonconforming structure, a buyer should be made aware that in case of substantial destruction by fire or otherwise, the zoning statutes may prohibit reconstruction of the structure. In such a case, a buyer should discuss the possibilities of purchasing demolition insurance from an insurance agent. A nonconforming use can also terminate upon abandonment of the property.

So in the simplest terms, a  variance is an exception to the existing zoning, whereas a nonconforming use (also known as a grandfather clause) arises when there is a change to the zoning, but an existing use is still permitted to continue.

What is your experience with Variance vs. Nonconforming Uses? Have you ever had to deal with one? And if so what was your experience with the process?
  • November 14, 2017

  • John Reilly

Emerging Marketing Strategies “Where’s the Beef?”


For REALTORS® to compete successfully in an evolving online and connected world, they must understand how to create and implement marketing strategies that take into consideration changes in technology, evolutions in consumer expectations and competitors actions. 

But when is the right time for associations to recommend a new piece of technology to its membership? It seems that everyone is jockeying for position in a race where no one is quite sure of either the starting line or the finishing line.

The decision to adopt new technology is no small one, especially if that technology replaces a core business function. For REALTORS® this may include using new technology to manage sensitive areas such as gathering leads or interacting with prospects. The importance of the decision is compounded by the limited marketing resources REALTORS® have available.

To better serve their membership and offer sensible advice on adopting new technologies, REALTOR® associations must stay informed of industry and technology changes in their local and national markets.

If associations are to serve as a member resource, they must not only be able to look at the marketing landscape, but also be able to gather information for members about future marketing possibilities. Too early adoption of some technologies can be just as costly as too late adoption. 

Technologies are not adopted overnight and are implemented in a somewhat predictable pattern (predictable except as to the time frame) as discussed by Geoffrey Moore in his technology-marketing classic, Crossing the Chasm. In his book, Moore names the phases of technology adoption. Several of them may well seem familiar to associations that struggle to help their membership decide which new technology is relevant. 

The following distribution of how users interact with technology is provided to us by Moore and can provide a valuable resource for understanding how technology makes its way into a marketplace.

Innovators (2.5% of Users) 

The earliest adopters of new technology fall into this category. Innovators tend to be young with more financial flexibility and thus less risk aversion. They are comfortable placing themselves at the forefront of new technologies, most of which may ultimately fail. 

Associations can learn from innovators by gauging the type of technologies they are using. For example, when innovators began to experiment with many new and varied social networks, it represented the dawning of the social age of technology. This trend continues today and has changed the professional landscape of many business sectors including real estate.

However, associations must also be wary of the innovator's passion for a specific piece of new technology as most new tech adopted at the earliest stages will either completely change in its nature or fail entirely.

Early Adopters (13.5% of Users)

Those who like technology and want to be among the first to own it, even if there is no actual practical application with only the idea of how the technology might be applied. Early adopters are valuable for their open mind and passion for technology products. But recommending technology en mass before it's well-vetted leads to all kinds of potential issues with security, adaptability and usability. Not to mention the fact that the vast majority of new technology, even at this slightly later state will still fail.

Early Majority (34% of Users)

The first of the masses to use a successful product are far more pragmatic, want solutions to their existing problems and only buy thoroughly baked products. While early majority adaptors will find technology at this stage better established, there must still be some level of patience for working through bugs and rough patches that exist as with all newer technologies. 

The early majority tends to be comfortable with technology and are often the best guinea pigs for an association to test new technology. This stage of tech development is a sweet spot for savvy associations to look at new technology. Many tech startups are willing to negotiate incredible deals to get fresh blood into a developing platform. However consider that while the risk of product failure is reduced at this stage, associations should still be wary of bringing in new technology at early stages, especially if it impacts critical systems.

Late Majority (34% of Users)

Are among the last to adopt technology after it has become established in the mainstream. Late majority folks are skeptical about technology and are only comfortable adopting new tech after the market leaders have blazed a successful path in using it. For associations, this group of technology users are comfortable to hang back and see how others experience success with new technology before signing on themselves.

When technology has reached this stage, it is generally safe to bring it into core systems and recommend it to an association's user-base. (Assuming the tech is useful in servicing the needs of the membership.)

Laggards (16%)

Skeptics who are slow to adopt even established technologies. Users in this category are typically older and more focused on tradition. They also tend to be the loudest detractors about adopting new technology and can present significant hurdles for organizations to adopt new systems.

Finding the Way Forward

Understanding how users adopt new technology is one consideration, but most associations are ultimately most curious about which specific piece of new technology will become the next big thing in real estate. We can't guess which specific company will change the face of traditional real estate sales. But it is safe to say that some piece of newly developed tech will likely create a significant impact on the next business cycle. 

However, we are prepared to make a definitive statement about which technologies in the real estate world will likely be at play in the next paradigm shift. This includes everyone's favorite real estate subject Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

  • The MLS is and will continue to be the number one marketing tool for real estate brokers and their agents into the foreseeable future. 
  • There is no substitute on the horizon for the gathering, cleansing, maintenance, and dissemination of real property inventories that could replace the current system. 

Two concepts that could have a dramatic impact on MLS are:

IDX – Internet Data Exchange

Creates a new way to advertise. It is of significance to brokers, agents, and MLSs as the rules of use of content by competing brokers will become established locally. You can find out more about IDX on the National Associations of REALTORS® website where they discuss this topic in some detail here.

VOW – Virtual Office Web Sites

VOWs might lead to brokers having their own intranet sites for the licensees in their firm. Which then might lead brokers to demand a different fee structure from MLS as their agents access the broker’s own, internal database, and not use the MLS infrastructure for access and searches. 

A VOW could also use instant messaging or chat technology to provide consumers with virtual agents. These technological creations are available to answer questions online about property availability, their specific transaction, or real estate in general. Once the questions asked by a consumer exceed the technology of a chatbot, the client can be routed to a live agent.

Here is a wiki link that provides more detail about VOWs. You can also find more information about VOW's on the National Associations of REALTORS® website

However the future of technology in the real estate industry unfolds, we can be assured that as tech companies continue to build new products for real estate, associations must continue to analyze and critique this technology to ensure their membership remains relevant and in touch with an ever-changing market.

  • November 5, 2017

  • RealTown

Opt In vs. Opt Out in Real Estate

Are you in or are you out? Did you know that data from the MLS is regularly harvested and utilized for all kinds of purposes? Did you authorize this? Maybe you did and you don't even know it! Make sure you understand the difference between opting in and opting out when it comes to the use of data in the MLS. 
  • November 1, 2017

  • RealTown

Managing Security Deposits

You've rented a property and collected a security deposit. Now what? There are lots of in and outs when it comes to managing a security deposit. Here Saul and John discuss the evolution of this concept and how managing this kind of situation can be tricky.
  • November 1, 2017

  • RealTown

Value Range Marketing

What is value range marketing? How did it begin and does it work? Industry experts Saul Klein and John Reilly dive into the history of this marketing technique. 
  • November 1, 2017

  • RealTown

Lead Generation in Real Estate

Many real estate agents are all about the leads. They ask questions like: Where can I get leads? How can I get more leads? And why don't my leads convert? But leads are only a small part of building a relationship with a client. Saul Klein and John Reilly spend some time examining the concept of leads and how to best consider this controversial topic.
  • November 1, 2017

  • RealTown

Association Executives Welcome to AE Talk

Welcome to AE Talk. We are the resource for Association Executives of Real Estate Associations. This blog is powered by a partnership between RealTown and RE Altitude. We invite you to explore this site and maximize the value that you can bring to your association.
  • November 1, 2017

  • RealTown

Multiple Jobs in Real Estate

We've often heard the mantra proclaimed by Saul, "Work for free, work for free, work for free, work for free, get paid." It's the call of the real estate agent and it's true even today. Saul Klein and John Reilly spend some time discussing the idea of working multiple jobs while making your way in the real estate trade.
  • November 1, 2017

  • RealTown

Presenting Offers

Presenting an offer is an exciting proposition for even the most seasoned industry professional. But this is also a delicate time fraught with pitfalls and confusion. Industry experts Saul Klein and John Reilly take a couple of minutes to hit the highlights of important parts to consider when navigating this critical detail of the real estate transaction.
  • November 1, 2017

  • RealTown

Hiring Attorneys

You may love them, you may hate them, you may even be one! But attorneys perform a critical role in the real estate industry. Do you need one and if so when? Saul Klein and John Reilly (who knows a thing or two about lawyers) spend some time examing this interesting topic.
  • November 1, 2017

Organized Real Estate

Technology companies often make the mistake of developing products for the real estate professional without understanding the many ins and outs of working with the technology that runs real estate and the associations that control that technology. Long-time real estate expert Saul Klein dives deep in this video to explore the world real estate tech development and what issues must be considered before diving into real estate tech.
  • November 1, 2017

  • RealTown

REALTOR® Compensation

How you heard this one before, "Hey I know what, I'll become a real estate agent, it's easy and they make tons of money!" This often heard comment among noobs makes any seasoned real estate professional laugh. Real estate is a serious business and it takes real work and time to become successful. Saul Klein and John Reilly spend some time considering working in the business and what newcomers can expect on the job. 
  • November 1, 2017

  • RealTown

Trusting Opinions Online

Not always right but never in doubt! It's the cry of the online opinion! With the rise of social networks, we're often subject to strange and unique opinions on all kinds of topics. But what you really need help, who can you trust online? Saul Klein and John Reilly, long time industry experts in social networks tackle the subject of online opinions and render their own in the process. 
  • November 1, 2017

  • RealTown

Real Estate Commissions

It's the most taboo topic in real estate. Even watching this video could land you in prison! But wait... Maybe somewhere along the way real estate agents got confused about what they really can and can't say about commissions. Saul Klien and John Reilly take some time to discuss this interesting topic and uncover some of the misconceptions about commissions in real estate.
  • November 1, 2017

  • RealTown

Seller Representation Among Real Estate Agents

In real estate everybody represents the seller, right? Not so fast, this idea that was once a foundational part of the real estate business changed some time ago. Saul Klein and John Reilly take some time to examine the elements behind who can really represent the seller in real estate.
  • November 1, 2017

  • RealTown

Facilitate and Communicate


Communication Plan for Associations - What's Your Plan of Action? - In our decades of working for and with real estate associations across the United States, we've found the most common complaint coming from association staff and membership is regarding executive directed, organization-wide communication.

Communicating effectively at all levels of the organization seems to be a challenge for many associations. Great communication requires the creation of a communication plan and commitment to its implementation. 

We've encountered this exact issue so often we've developed a communication implementation plan. Use these guidelines for enacting a new communication plan for your association. Or review these guidelines to ensure your current communication plan is robust and thorough.

Communication Plans Require the Following Considerations

ONE. Identifying the different channels of communication at your association. Some examples could include:

  • Leadership to Staff
  • Staff to Leadership
  • Staff to Staff
  • Staff to Member
  • Member to Staff
  • Member to Member
  • Association to Public
  • Committee Chairs to Committee Members
  • Committee Chairs to Committee Chairs
  • Committee Chairs to BOD

TWO. Identify benefits derived from effective communications and which of those benefits you wish to experience.

  • Cost Savings
  • More Participation
  • Greater Understanding of the Workings of the Association by Everyone (Members, Staff, Public, etc.)

THREE. Identify current communication means used by your association and other tools you are not using.

  • Meetings
  • Magazine
  • Newsletter
  • Telephone
  • E-mail
  • Website
  • Autoresponders
  • Social Media - Facebook/Twitter/RealTown Communities

FOUR. Identify sources of content to communicate besides the "as needed" communications.

  • Minutes
  • Agendas
  • Calendars
  • Magazines
  • Schedules

FIVE. Decide which communication tools will be employed for each communication channel.

SIX. Determine the frequency of current communications down the channels identified.

  • Daily
  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Annually


  • President to Board of Directors - Monthly by Meeting and Weekly by E-mail, Supplemented by Website 
  • Committee Chairs to Committees - Monthly by Meeting, Weekly by E-mail

SEVEN. Determine person responsible for ensuring the implementation of the communication plan.

EIGHT. Monitor results.

If you feel you need better communications at your association, what are you doing differently to accomplish your desired results? 

We've heard insanity defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I think Albert Einstein said this, or maybe it was Ben Franklin, actually, it's probably a Chinese Proverb. But getting serious about communicating with your membership and the other people within your association is no laughing matter.

Too often Association Executives delegate communication plans to others, rubber stamp the entire process, or leave out disciplined communication entirely. But building, implementing and monitoring an organization-wide communication plan is one of the most important tasks an AE can endeavor.

What's your experience with communication within your organization? How did you overcome obstacles set in your path to deliver a great communication plan? We'd love to hear from you!

  • November 16, 2017

  • Saul Klein

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