No merger for MIAAOR: Island Realtors nix proposal to join Naples board

Lance Shearer

A wall at the headquarters of MIAAOR, the Marco Island Area Association of Realtors, is dominated by plaques bearing the names and pictures of past presidents of the organization, going back to its founding in 1977. When current president Gary Elliott completes his term, he would be the 40th past president, and fit neatly into a niche at the lower right corner of the display’s grid.

MIAAOR headquarters on Waterway Drive, valued at over $1 million, was part of the merger discussion. A proposal to merge the Marco Island Realtors' organization with the Naples board has been withdrawn and is dead for now.

For a couple of months, it looked as if Elliott might also have been not just past president, but last president.

In April, the board of MIAAOR and the board of NABOR, the Naples Area Association of Realtors, voted to approve a merger of the two organizations, pending approval of the membership of both groups.

Voting was originally scheduled to be complete by May, but after a wave of controversy among Marco real estate salespeople, it was pushed back to September. Subsequently a vote was rescheduled for July 23, but on Tuesday afternoon, an email was sent to all members of the Marco board, saying that for now, the merger is dead.

“After serious consideration and member input, your Board of Directors has voted to terminate the vote to merge with the Naples Area Board of Realtors,” said the release. “Your Board realizes that members who want to take advantage of the member benefits of the merger can still do so via MLS of Choice and NABOR membership … This has been a difficult but important challenge for our association. It has caused all of us to look forward to our future.”

Shirley English, MIAAOR CEO, right, with staffers Kandy Sweeney and Linda Johns-Carroll. A proposal to merge the Marco Island Realtors' organization with the Naples board has been withdrawn and is dead for now.

“It’s a dead issue for now. The proposed merger is not going to happen,” said MIAAOR president Gary Elliott, who was inducted in December and backed the proposal. “Each year the board members change,” so future boards will have to grapple with the issue if they choose.

“Each member has a list of options. Each can join multiple MLS’s if they choose.”

“Disappointed would be my reaction,” said NABOR president Rick Baranski. “There were benefits to the agents, the Realtors, both boards, and the consumer. “We were looking forward to this happening.”

With about 550 agents as members of MIAAOR, and over 6,000 in NABOR, there was a strong fear among salespeople on the island that Marco would be subsumed by its larger “neighbor.”

Marco real estate salespeople also worried that the merger would just make it easier for off-island Realtors to pick off sales on Marco, without understanding the local market the way they do.

“I’m really excited it’s not happening,” said longtime Marco Realtor Jim Prange.

If you’re not a member of the Marco Island MLS, you don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “Bonita Springs Realtors can say, ‘I’ll take you down there.’ Our MLS system blows Naples away” for Marco Island listings.

New MIAAOR president Gary Elliott, left, presents a ceremonial gavel to outgoing president Michael O'Rourke. The Marco Island Area Assn. of Realtors installed new officers and gave out awards during a luncheon in December at Hideaway Beach Club.

Another issue was the MIAAOR headquarters building on Waterway Drive, valued at approximately $1.3 million, and completely paid off. Marco Island staff and offices were committed to remain in place for five years, absent any separate issues, but eventually, numbers would dictate that Naples interests would dictate.

The anti-merger forces went to the trouble of creating a “save MIAAOR” website, and listing their reasons why it would not be in the island real estate community’s best interest.

After the email rescinding the merger proposal went out, though, there was a marked closing of the ranks among Marco real estate professionals, usually the most communicative of people. Jim McGregor, credited with creating the website, characterized it as “a group effort.” He said a statement would be emailed, then that it would be posted on the website, but no statement was forthcoming.

“We had discussed not talking to the press about this,” said another Realtor in the anti-merger camp. “I’ll have to get back to you.” There was no further communication.

Elliott, originally a vocal proponent of the proposal, was quoted in April as saying, “this is a great benefit for brokers and members alike as it will simplify their day-to-day processes," he said, also touting the cost savings from not having to join two associations.

The “tempest in a teapot” of the on-again, off-again merger will be the last hoorah for MIAAOR CEO Shirley English, who is stepping down and retiring in July, after 12 years running the organization.

Shirley English has been MIAAOR CEO for 12 years, but is retiring in July. A proposal to merge the Marco Island Realtors' organization with the Naples board has been withdrawn and is dead for now.

“Why go out quietly?” she laughed. “I’m not a Realtor, I’m a staff person. We had strong opinions both positive and negative,” she said, diplomatic to the last. English’s personal plans include international travel, with an Indian Ocean cruise to ports in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and India already scheduled, and more time seeing family in Chicago.

Eventually, she said, she is looking at starting up a proofreading business.

“Everyone needs it,” said English, although we’re not shure what she meens by that.

For now, in any event, the MIAAOR-NABOR merger is being edited out, the status quo preserved, and room will have to be found on the wall for future past presidents.