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Realtors' convention to go regional This week's session is last for city only


This week's convention of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors will be succeeded next year by a regional meeting co-sponsored by Realtor associations in Anne Arundel, Carroll and Howard counties -- a sign of the changes rippling through the real estate industry.

"This is the last GBBR convention with a sole sponsor," said GBBR Executive Vice President Christine A. Vasiliou.

The GBBR convention tomorrow at the Baltimore Convention Center is the ninth held by the Greater Baltimore board, but the move to a regional annual meeting may presage what could be a larger consolidation among local Realtor associations.

"Membership's been dwindling for everyone," Ms. Vasiliou said. "We're forced to do more with less."

She expects most of the dozen continuing education classes at this week's convention to be full, with as many as 1,200 Realtors attending the one-day gathering. The event, according to Ms. Vasiliou, is the largest local Realtor convention in the country. Its trade show will feature 120 exhibitors. By comparison, the recent Maryland Association of Realtors convention in Ocean City drew around 1,000 Realtors.

But planning has already begun for next year's yet-unnamed gathering at the Timonium Fairgrounds, generically known simply as the Regional Realtor Convention.

Ms. Vasiliou said the "conservative" budget calls for 2,000 to 2,500 real estate agents in attendance and as many as 200 exhibitors. The convention will be held in May.

"It's a step toward greater cooperation between the boards," Ms. Vasiliou said.

The Greater Baltimore board, the oldest in the country, has seen its membership decline from the 5,500 peak of the late 1980s to about 3,500 now in Baltimore and Baltimore County. The board recently sold its building in Baltimore and is leasing space in the facility while it decides where to locate its headquarters -- and how large it will need to be.

"All of the Realtor associations in the state have lost membership," said Tom Quattlebaum, executive vice president of the Anne Arundel Association of Realtors. Mr. Quattlebaum's organization peaked at 3,700 members in 1989 and now has 2,400, a drop of more than a third.

"There's a lot of changes coming in the next two or three years," he said. "I think there will be some mergers and consolidations, and some sharing of services to reduce costs."

The Anne Arundel association had been considering holding an annual convention like that of the Greater Baltimore board. "We just thought it made sense to combine with them," he said.

"By sharing ideas and our talents, we can put on a better convention," said Dolores Kerby, executive vice president of the Howard County Association of Realtors.

One major theme of tomorrow's convention will be the changing technology facing Realtors. A "technology row" at the trade show will allow Realtors to try out the latest in communication devices, computers, personal digital assistants and software.

According to Mr. Quattlebaum, the rapidly evolving technology has played a role in the shakeout of agents, not just the tighter economy or the stress of complex agency and disclosure laws.

"A lot of our members are at the point in their lives where some of them don't want to learn about computers," he said.

But the technological revolution continues to unfold, and it is not just affecting individual Realtors. Advancing technology is another in an array of forces prodding Realtor associations toward consolidation. By next year's regional convention, a new, larger computerized multiple-list service will have already shown on many Realtors' desktops.

The Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. -- a new computerized database with listings from Northern Virginia to Pennsylvania -- will start competing with local multiple-list services that have been operated by subsidiaries of individual Realtor boards. Nearly two dozen Realtor associations own stock in the new MRIS.

"A lot of associations are going to face choices," Mr. Quattlebaum said. "We're going to lose money from our MLS's because there's going to be a big regional MLS."

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