Above photo: Wildfire Adapted Partnership at work in the field, photo by Wildfire Adapted Partnership.
Editors’ Note: Ashley Downing is the Executive Director of Wildfire Adapted Partnership (WAP) based in Durango, Colorado. Ashley’s organization focuses on helping neighbors and agency partners to create wildfire adapted communities through assessments, incentive programs, education and more. Here Ashley shares the meaningful and ongoing partnership WAP has been fostering with area real estate professionals. She shares the long and winding road that has led to their current program and the fruits it has bore.
One of the biggest wildfire adaptation hurdles we face in southwest Colorado is the influx of people moving to the region, some of whom have never lived in a fire-adapted landscape like ours and are still learning exactly what that means. The majority of the vegetation in our region is ponderosa pine with a Gambel oak understory that used to see fire on an average of every 15-25 years. Today people are moving to the area to live in the forest, and they are not necessarily eager to cut down any trees on their property. My organization, Wildfire Adapted Partnership, works with many different partners throughout its five-county region in southwest Colorado on fire adaptation strategies including creating defensible space, planning wildfire evacuation and preparing for wildfire neighborhood by neighborhood. One important group we specifically wanted to bring into the conversation was local real estate agents. In many instances, real estate professionals are the first people new residents meet when moving to a new area, they are the ones who share the details of a region, from where the parks and trails are to what the best takeout is. Real estate professionals have a vital connection to both new residents as well as the neighborhood, town and region. Our hope was to build a relationship that helped real estate agents more fully understand what it means to live with fire in southwest Colorado and also empower them to inform new residents about our organization and the resources we can offer all local residents including education and mitigation incentive programs.
Wildfire Adapted Partnership has been working to engage local real estate professionals since 2018. We had some meetings with representatives and we were able to get approval from the State of Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies, Division of Real Estate for continuing education (CE) credits for our 7-hour Home Ignition Zone (HIZ) workshop. Although we always received positive feedback from our interactions with the real estate professionals we never really made any great strides. Between 2018 – 2019 we offered the HIZ course 3 times; however, only one real estate agent participated. In late 2019, through a conversation with a representative from the Colorado Association of Realtors’ Colorado Project Wildfire at the Cohesive Strategy Conference, we were connected with the Association Executive at the Durango Area Association of Realtors (DAAR). It was this connection that proved to be the linchpin we needed to have our work with local real estate agents take off, despite the timing coinciding with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Curating Programs to Meet the Audience
Our new connection at DARR suggested that we make the HIZ CE course shorter and hold it on weekdays allowing the course to more easily fit into busy schedules and thus make it more appealing. To that end we pursued approval for a 1-hour virtual course from the State of Colorado. The process to get approval for a virtual course took some time and looked roughly like this:
- We worked on cutting the workshop into a basic overview that could fit into about 50 minutes.
- In Colorado, you have to create a course outline with learning objectives and create the full presentation before submitting for approval. View the outline here.
- We had to explain how we would ensure that participants were truly present and engaged the entire time before they receive their CE credit. We decided it made the most sense to have two people on each workshop: One would run the workshop and take the lead on presenting the information and the other would ensure that all participants had their cameras on and could be seen at all times.
- After the course, we had to supply a certificate that the real estate agents could submit for their documentation.
Overall, it was quite a bit of work to reduce a 7-hour course down to cover just the basics in an hour, but the end result was worth it — we had about 20 people for our two courses offered in May 2021. Fire Adapted Colorado helped promote the May 2021 course throughout the state garnering participants from Alamosa, Boulder, Pagosa Springs and Durango.
In addition to the CE credits provided, we wanted to offer specific site tours to real estate professionals so that they could see good examples of defensible space. We wanted an opportunity to exhibit that properties do not need to be clear cut to meet Colorado State Forest Service Home Ignition Zone Guidelines, which is often a misconception many people have about preparing their property for wildfire. One of our original goals was to have mitigation field tours for DAAR members in April 2020, but, COVID restrictions forced these to be canceled. We planned another opportunity in October 2021; however, there was not much interest in this offering at the time due to other obligations and some iffy weather. Brainstorming with DAAR, we decided we would combine our next offering of the HIZ CE course with an in-person tour so that participants could see real world examples of the concepts they learn about in the course. We are planning to host these two opportunities next spring.
Partnering to Move Good Work Forward
Wildfire Adapted Partnership understands what an important role real estate professionals play when it comes to making first contact to new residents moving to southwest Colorado, and so we are excited to take the time to create learning opportunities for these vital partners. Real estate agents will help new residents understand about what it means to live in a fire adapted landscape and share resources our organization can offer local residents. They can serve as our promoters, if we take the time to help them learn more and make it easy for them to participate. The process for engagement has been incremental, but baby steps are paying off and we know that it will only help to build a fire adapted community in our area.
There are many aspects to consider when trying to build a relationship with real estate professionals in your area. Here are a few of our biggest takeaways from our experiences over the last 3-4 years:
- Baby steps: The entire process to getting momentum going with the local real estate agents has taken a lot of time, almost four years. However, as we take some steps forward and a few steps back we continue to see some strides being made. We are also learning from trial and error and will be able to make adjustments to continue our targeted outreach directly to real estate professionals.
- Take time to build and foster relationships with at least one champion: Taking the time to make the connections with someone who has a strong network and knowledge of the local real estate agents has been imperative. This relationship has provided us with invaluable guidance in what programs, structure and logistics would work for this specific sector. We have continued to foster a strong relationship with the director of DAAR, and she is always willing to share our information in her newsletters, add us to the agenda for regular member meetings and be a trusted partner in program design. We are already brainstorming more opportunities for engagement next year, especially as COVID restrictions hopefully lift further.
- Willingness to make changes to appeal directly to real estate professionals: Specific feedback from DAAR made it clear that we needed to revamp our HIZ workshop to better accommodate the busy schedules of real estate professionals. Therefore, we made it an hour-long virtual course and scheduled it for a Tuesday or Thursday as those are the days many local agents set aside to have meetings and complete CE requirements. Staying nimble and responsive to DAAR’s input has proven to be vital to the success of this program.
- Ripple effect: Real estate agents interact with many different clients and with each other, so if one receives the message and tools they can relay that to many more. Also with the statewide certification we were able to reach real estate professionals outside our region who could easily join via Zoom. All of these touches lead to many more when these individuals interact with their clients, especially those new to the area.
- Laying the groundwork: Over the last two years a lot of effort has gone into creating curriculum and outreach materials specifically for real estate professionals. This is work that we will be able to replicate and build upon for many years to come. The certification we received for our CE course is good for three years and will not require many changes for recertification. The work required is definitely heavy on the frontend, but it will lead to good, strong, sustainable programs that can be offered many times in the future.
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