A number of voices urge remodelers toward the apex of professionalism: There are three trade magazines, several peer networks, a number of related associations like the NKBA, and numerous independent local contractor networks. Conspicuous among this din are the two voices that should logically be the loudest: NARI and the NAHB's Remodelors Council. But while it's easy to distinguish the two from other industry boosters, more difficult is determining whether these two voices are singing in harmony or shouting themselves hoarse trying to be the loudest.
John Graham, executive director of the American Society of Association Executives, has spent a career in the non-profit world. Stressing that he's not familiar with the remodeling industry's particular challenges, Graham says all his experience suggests a single, united association is more effective than two that compete. His logic is simple: “When you have finite resources, and you have organizations that are competing for members — spending money internally to attract members, rather than externally on programs —you're spending in the wrong place.”
When there are two associations, not only does each spend funds less efficiently, Graham says, but many members (as they do for NARI and the Remodelors Council) will pay both sets of dues. The profusion of affiliations and credentials also tends to confuse the public, Graham says.
Picture This Imagine this future: Prospects don't hire remodelers who aren't association members; television, magazine, and radio advertisements tout the value of the industry; and consumer advocacy surveys never list remodelers among the professionals most likely to draw complaints.
Such a vision likely seems distant to remodelers, but it accurately describes a daily reality in the real estate industry and provides an example of what a powerful, unified association can accomplish.
One hundred years ago, the real estate industry was as fragmented and misunderstood by the public as remodeling is today. Scant regulation, low entry barriers, and a dearth of education (sound familiar?) populated the industry, with unprofessional part-timers and flat-out shysters tarnishing the reputations of honest practitioners.
At present, real estate looks much more like the future remodelers can only see in the distance. And the transformation is due in large part to the National Association of Realtors. Founded in 1908 with an original membership of 120, NAR (originally the National Association of Real Estate Exchanges) galvanized the real estate industry, providing education, advocacy, and a standard of professionalism against which its practitioners could be measured.
NAR, both locally and at the national level, drove the very definition of the industry. Achievements like the multiple listing service and the establishment of the mortgage loan system facilitated the work of brokers and agents nationwide. In pushing for consistent licensing laws and other standardizations like the use of written contracts, NAR established a reliable system of doing business that fostered consumer trust. This year, NAR's membership topped 1 million.
Building Value If NARI and the Remodelors Council hope to transform remodeling as NAR did real estate, they have an enormous task ahead of them. Relative to the total population of remodeling contractors, association memberships are rare and certifications rarer still.
To date, NARI and the Remodelors Council represent less than 10% of the industry. The two associations report just about 7,000 members each. And those totals overstate the actual number of affiliated contractors. Suppliers, manufacturers, and retailers account for almost a third of both the Remodelors Council's and NARI's memberships, while membership overlap between the two associations stands at about 23%. Both associations, though, report steady growth: NARI claimed a 17% jump in membership last year, while the Remodelors Council saw an 8% boost, according to Council executive director Therese Crahan.
Attracting new members, however, is an effort in which the remodeling associations face a distinct challenge.
Associations like NAR or the American Institute of Architects, says the ASAE's Graham, derive their success from their ability to fulfill members' needs in certain areas. For most industries, these include advocacy, continuing education and professional development, and the validity provided by certifications and credentials.
Agents and brokers, for example, have a vested interest in joining NAR because their industry requires that competitors cooperate. “[NAR] creates a framework within which people can work, and that framework creates a community. The trademark [Realtor designation] identifies people who are members of that community,” says NAR staff attorney Mike Field.
Other industries provide different incentives. Architects, for whom the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is the pre-eminent membership association, face rigorous education and licensure requirements. Some states actually require continuing education for license renewal. The AIA's own demanding continuing education requirements (members must take 18 hours of classes annually, of which eight must cover public health and safety) help members stay in practice and prove the member is a dedicated professional.
Remodelers, by contrast, lack the same compelling incentives to seek help from an association. Most can independently navigate what little regulation exists. And though maintaining both CR and CGR certifications requires continuing education, neither association's demands match the stringency of the AIA. Perhaps more significant, consumers, at least initially, fail to penalize remodelers for a lack of professionalism.
The associations have tried to create more bottom line value for their members, at both the national and local levels, through affiliations with manufacturers. Some local chapters have realized success, but Mike Weiss, last year's Remodelors Council chair, sees the national associations' failure to broker better arrangements with manufacturers as a major shortcoming.
Pending the passage of laws facilitating association health care, member health insurance discounts are next on the associations' value building agendas.
Charlotte remodeler David Tyson, who has served in his NARI chapter's board, thinks the surest way to attract unaffiliated contractors is through consumers. “We need it to be consumer driven,” Tyson says. “If we can push the consumer to say, ‘If you're not a certified remodeler, we won't hire you,'” association membership would swell fast.
Successful consumer awareness campaigns are common in markets where one or other of the associations maintains a real presence. Remodel Seattle, a biannual promotional magazine created by the Master Builders Association's council, and NARI Charlotte's remodeler directory, 30,000 of which are distributed annually, are two such examples.
Neither association, however, has ever attempted a high-profile, centrally run national campaign focused solely on consumer education. Each lacks the resources to fund what would be a very costly effort.