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Several realtors switch affiliation

Several South Pinellas real estate companies have withdrawn from the St. Petersburg-Suncoast Association of Realtors and have joined the Greater Clearwater Association of Realtors.

The companies are Century 21 Iles Madeira Beach and Century 21 Mills First in Seminole and St. Petersburg; Prudential Florida Realty offices in Seminole, St. Pete Beach and St. Petersburg, and the Seminole offices of Realty Executives Gulfcoast and Re/Max Affiliates. The offices represent 200 Realtors.

The move is expected to have little effect on the home-buying and selling public. "I'm not sure the public is necessarily aware of what association a Realtor belongs to," said Alan N. Riley, president of the St. Petersburg board. Riley is with Re/Max Affiliates in Seminole, which has moved its primary membership to Clearwater but is maintaining a secondary membership with St. Petersburg. "The important thing to the buying public is that they're dealing with a professional Realtor."

Realtor associations provide the multiple listing service, the database where real estate agents list homes for sale and search for homes for their buyers. The associations also provide continuing education, lobbying and networking for their members. Realtors traditionally are members of the board or association in their natural market area.

The moves to Clearwater had been long expected. They come after a divisive and ultimately unsuccessful battle last spring to create a countywide association of Realtors. Clearwater Realtors favored merger. The St. Petersburg association, after a series of votes, rejected it. The St. Petersburg organization represents Realtors south of Ulmerton Road; the Clearwater association represents those north of Ulmerton. Clearwater is in the process of changing its name to the Realtor Association of the Gulf Coast to reflect its membership, which includes some Realtors in west Pasco County.

The move has a potential financial impact on the St. Petersburg board, where members pay $140 a year in dues. The departure of 200 members would mean a $28,000 loss. "Those members are paid until the end of September, and we would encourage them to pay their dues again with us," Riley said.

The companies that have left "have made a business decision," Riley said. "We talked to them before they made a final decision and encouraged them to maintain their primary membership with us. They made a decision. Our goals now are to do everything we can to encourage them to come back, and our main thrust is to take care of serving the members who are staying with us."

Joyce Geras of ERA Camelot, president of the Clearwater association, said the decision would "absolutely, positively not" have a negative effect on the public. "As a member of a common database, all Realtors have equal access" to information about homes for sale all over the county, she said. "I can't see it would do anything but enhance these companies."

Ginger McQuigg, executive vice president of Prudential Florida, said her company's move was "not necessarily" a reaction to the failed merger: "We've talked about this off and on for a while." She said Prudential felt it would be "better served as one group from one company rather than one company served by different groups," i.e., by different Realtor boards.

Affiliating with Clearwater would cost members no more than staying with the St. Petersburg board, she said, and would offer benefits such as a courier service. Clearwater-based Prudential Florida is the largest real estate company in Florida.