A challenge from changes GBBR: Outgoing Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors President Gayle Briscoe oversaw a turbulent year, but guided the organization over the rough spots.

October 12, 1997|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

When Gayle Briscoe took over as president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors last October, little did she know that she would be presiding over one of the most turbulent years in recent board history.

With the GBBR convention being held Wednesday at the Baltimore Convention Center, a new executive vice president ready to be introduced tomorrow and with her term almost over, she rattles off the adjectives that described the last 12 months:

"Challenging. Stimulating. Mind-stretching. Faith-building. It was all those things," Briscoe said. But it was the "unanticipated challenges [that] stretched me even further. In the history of our board -- the oldest in the nation -- some of the issues we had to face this year were pretty much on the cutting edge."

She should know. Within the last year, the board switched to a new multiple-listing service that frustrated its membership; saw its executive vice president resign in controversy; and had its offices relocated to Baltimore County, marking the first time that the 139-year-old trade organization would not be based in the city.

For Briscoe, a vice president for Otis Warren Real Estate Service, it was a year of change not only for the board, but for her as well.

"I'm not the same person today than when I took this job," said Briscoe, who will be succeeded by Gilbert D. Marsiglia of Gilbert Marsiglia & Co. "I have more empathy and a keener vision.

"Being president of this board has given me so much insight and so much business savvy. Learning how to run an effective business like this, I feel like I have to stimulate myself now. What will be my next challenge? I'm a person who always wants to be challenged."

Looking back on her tenure, Briscoe will have to search long and hard to find similar challenges. But through the difficult times, Briscoe said she is most proud of being able to find solutions.

The first crisis came when the membership had to make the transition from their multiple-listing system -- the Mid-Atlantic Real Estate Information Technologies -- to the Metropolitan Regional Information System.

The MARIT system had been in place for years and was tailor-made to the GBBR's needs. The replacement system, however, was much more technologically advanced and required agents to be more computer savvy. And when the plug was pulled on MARIT in mid-February, the outcry was heard from Baltimore to Rockville, where MRIS is located.

Some home sale listings didn't get transferred into the new system. Real estate offices couldn't get online. And when they did get online, the MRIS computer would periodically cut them off. For many area Realtors, it was chaos.

"That was a troubling time," Briscoe said, recalling even her own frustration with the system. "We had planned for it, but you really can't foresee everything Change is not an easy one. There were a lot of bugs."

But now almost eight months later, most of the bugs are out and agents, through aggressive education and training, seem more comfortable with the system. And Briscoe remains convinced that it was the right time to embrace what the new system had to offer.

"With technology the geographical boundaries have really come down. This system takes in [properties] all the way from Virginia to West Virginia so to not participate in something like this means that you're not really helping your industry, you're not helping yourselves," she said.

"Somebody from Montgomery County can come over here to Baltimore and sell a listing. A lot of people from Silver Spring are looking to buy investment property at Camden Yards. We see people from D.C. coming over and selling investment properties in Union Square. If we weren't in that regional system, that would impede that type of thing from happening."

Yet while the Realtors were grappling with a new multiple-listing system, another problem was brewing within the offices of the GBBR.

Christine A. Vasiliou was hired in September 1994 as the executive vice president for the GBBR. However, when she fired several staff members in April, a backlash occurred and stories of her combative management style surfaced.

Briscoe, whose educational background is in psychology and social work, sought the help of an industrial psychologist to talk to the staff while she did her own investigating.

Afterward, Briscoe, along with other executive board members, concluded that those who were fired should be reinstated and that Vasiliou should be asked to resign, which she did.

Easing tensions

Briscoe then asked Mal Sherman, a GBBR president in the 1960s, to come in as an interim executive officer and later serve as a consultant. Almost immediately, Sherman's easygoing style helped to ease the tension within the GBBR office.

"When people began to call me at home [about Vasiliou] I began to look into it and I think it took a lot of tenacity and courage," Briscoe said of the investigation.

"I had known Mal, but I didn't know him that well. I called him and he came right in.

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