The catch phrase in the real estate business these days is consumer education. Not so long ago a real estate broker could sign an agreement with a nationwide franchise and expect to generate more business, but today that's not enough.
In response, real estate franchise operations are changing dramatically. A broker now needs more than a sign that signals to the world that he is a member of Century 21, Red Carpet, or some other group.
Indeed, consumers have learned there is no real difference between the quality of service provided by a franchise member and a nonfranchise broker. So today's franchise organizations are finding that they must provide substantive service programs for their broker members - services that are genuinely helpful to property-buying and -selling consumers.
Franchises, as a result, are going into consumer education in a big way, providing printed materials as well as video tapes for use in consumer seminars - a wide variety of informational programs keyed to the interests of today's consumer.
Other services include creatively structured financing programs, referral operations, home-warranty plans, and other special services.
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Service, for example, has expanded its consumer-education programs substantially to cover a wide range of informational printed materials which are distributed to consumers by member brokers.
Generally, these materials fall into four categories, according to Gayle G. Butler, spokesman for the franchise.
* Many publications focus on the process of buying and selling a home in the current market and range from ''how to save tax dollars'' to the ''ins and outs of condo purchasing.''
* Informational materials center on strategic real estate investing.
* A variety of materials address the subject of ''custom financing'' the sale of real property. These are designed to educate both consumers and brokers (as well as salespersons).
In addition to these informational materials, several new consumer-oriented programs now are being structured, according to Butler. One is an information package which is designed to help people over the age of 50 and will include a booklet on how to assess and plan for housing needs during retirement years. Also, a workbook is being prepared for use in consumer seminars for senior citizens.
The Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Service franchise has also structured other services for consumers. An ''equity advance plan,'' for example , makes it possible for a home seller to buy another home before the sale of his previous residence is closed.
The franchise offers a home-warranty program which covers home buyers against unexpected expenses for repairing the operating components in the newly acquired previously owned home.
Another new program involves a referral network operation that is keyed to serve the needs of families who are relocating in far-away communities. A broad representation of brokers throughout the United States - franchise members and nonmembers alike - will participate in the network.
It's a new era for the industry where the name of the game is consumer education and service.