Changing times for Realtors board

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In 1988, at its peak, the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors had 5,500 members. At the time, the concern was that its headquarters was too small, particularly given the growth of its computerized multiple-listing service.

Either the building at 1501 W. Mount Royal Ave. in Baltimore had to be expanded, or a new facility found. Ultimately, the board decided to make do with what it had.

Today, the board -- the oldest in the United States -- is faced with very different circumstances. Like many Realtor boards across the nation, it has seen its membership shrink -- to 3,300 TC members -- as the boom years of the 1980s have yielded to the less lucrative '90s. And the looming start-up of a new, larger multiple-list service -- stretching from Fredericksburg, Va., to the Pennsylvania line -- has raised doubts about the future of the GBBR-affiliated listing service, now called Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies (MARIT).

So when the board was approached last spring by Maryland General Hospital to sell the 23-year-old headquarters building, the GBBR went for the deal.

The sale is now scheduled to close 30 to 45 days after the hospital gains approval from the city to operate a clinic in the building, said GBBR Executive Vice President Christine A. Vasiliou.

A zoning hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

The board will lease back around 8,000 square feet, moving its 16 employees downstairs to the ground level, and the hospital will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars converting the upper level to primary care offices, said Ms. Vasiliou, who declined to reveal the sale price.

MARIT, with about 40 employees, will move to leased offices in Woodlawn. The GBBR owns 82 percent of MARIT, formerly known as the Central Maryland Multiple List Service.

Large regional brokers with offices spanning the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area have long wanted one interstate multiple list system to replace the eight local services, including MARIT, that they have had to use.

Their efforts prodded 15 local boards of Realtors to form the new Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (MRIS), the multistate listing system that is set to begin running in Montgomery and Frederick counties in the first quarter of next year. The GBBR, which is now one of nearly two dozen boards that own stock in MRIS, is tentatively scheduled to go on-line with the new system in late 1996 or early 1997, according to Ms. Vasiliou.

Meanwhile, as it prepares to move into leased quarters at 7133 Rutherford Road in Baltimore County, MARIT is working with a consultant to help it chart its future, said Warren Tunkel, MARIT executive vice president.

Mr. Tunkel said MRIS is still "a nebulous situation" that has yet to prove itself. He said that move to Woodlawn gives MARIT a more modern facility that will reduce the service's operating costs.

But Dale Ross, chief executive officer of MRIS, said he has signed contracts for software, arranged bank financing and is moving ahead with hiring. "We'll be going from two people to 17 people in two weeks," he said from his Rockville office. "We're moving fairly quickly."

The GBBR building sale gives the board more flexibility to plot its own course, says Ms. Vasiliou, who went to work for the GBBR in September.

With the trend toward greater regionalization of Realtor organizations, the board needs time to make decisions on where to locate its headquarters and how large a facility it will need, she said. The lease with Maryland General is for about 2 1/2 years.

"I don't think any long-term decision has been made where we want to be in three years," she added. "We just wanted to be as flexible as possible."

"We have to re-engineer. We can't do business the way we did in 1988 with 5,500 members," Ms. Vasiliou said.

Adam Cockey, president-elect of the GBBR, said the board's headquarters has been "a great location," with easy access to the Jones Falls Expressway and I-695.

But the board has many decisions to make, and the transaction with Maryland General gives the board a "very reasonable" amount of time to consider its options, such as location.

The board has had its offices in Baltimore since its founding in 1858,and, Mr. Cockey said, "The city has served us well."

For Jim O'Conor, chief executive officer of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn, the sale brought back memories of 1972, when he was president of the Board of Realtors and the GBBR opened their new 20,000-square-foot building. The board had 2,700 members then and had moved from East Lexington Street.

"It's sort of nostalgic, in a way," said Mr. O'Conor, who, in an interesting historical coincidence, is now chairman of the board of Maryland General's parent company, Maryland Health Systems Inc.

Agents with MacKenzie/O'Conor, Piper & Flynn handled negotiations for both the building sale and the MARIT lease. Christopher Smith negotiated the lease of the 11,652 square feet in Woodlawn, and Scott Wimbrow and Robert Aumiller negotiated the sale.

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