HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan made an appearance at the National Association of REALTORS® Midyear Legislative Meetings on Wednesday to laud the work of his agency in promoting housing policies and programs that acknowledge the equal rights of gay and lesbian Americans. The agency makes clear that sexual orientation is no barrier to accessing any HUD programs, he said.
“We have a broad requirement that housing opportunities should be available to all persons regardless of sexual orientation,” said Donovan, who spoke to members gathered for a reception of the National Association of Gay & Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP).
But Donovan noted that there is still a long way to go on the civil rights issue that has rapidly been gaining ground in recent months and years. Noting President Obama’s strong support of marriage equality and recent same-sex marriage cases brought to the U.S. Supreme Court, Donovan added, “There is still an urgent need for legal protections based on sexual orientation.” The 45-year Fair Housing Act does not include sexual orientation as a protected class.
NAGLREP Founder and CEO Jeff Berger said he was delighted by Donovan’s appearance at the meeting and his commitment to ending discrimination in housing faced by the LGBT community. The movement clearly has momentum, he said.
Berger cited the group’s drive, working with Wisconsin REALTORS®, to get sexual orientation included as protected classes in the NAR Code of Ethics. That change was approved by NAR’s board of directors at the Midyear Meetings in 2010. Now, an effort is underway to add Code of Ethics protection based on gender orientation. The proposal will be voted on by the NAR Delegate Body at its meeting in November. Berger also hopes to get NAR to include LGBT data in future versions of its Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers and Member Profile. “It will give REALTORS® a truer picture of who is in their markets if lesbians and gays and same-sex couples were acknowledged,” Berger said.
A standing-room-only crowd was on hand as members of the National Association of REALTORS®’ Strategic Planning Committee revealed a report Tuesday afternoon that summarized the results of a year’s worth of REThink sessions.
Released at the Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C., the report was compiled from 16 workshops across the country in an effort to answer the question over the future of NAR in uncertain times.
“I’m glad to see that we had a small enough room for this crowd,” joked NAR 2013 President Gary Thomas. He said he was thankful for the enthusiasm, adding that broad engagement is what makes the REThink report special. “It’s coming from the members rather than a small, insular group.”
The event was so widely attended that the committee added a second session Wednesday, May 15, at 1:30 p.m. Eastern at the Omni Shoreham hotel.
The report distilled responses from 4,500 individuals who used these workshops to come up with actions that individual real estate professionals, industry players, and NAR can undertake to stay relevant in the changing world of real estate. But this was not just an exercise of pulling the curtain back on data.
“We’re here to ask your feedback,” said Strategic Planning Committee Chair Shannon W. King. “We want you to agree that these are the right issues.”
Some of the many items discussed at Tuesday’s event were “big data” issues, industry collaboration, the opening up of association leadership positions, and more. Two suggestions that garnered widespread applause among attendees were increasing professional standards for members and “taking back realtor.com,” as one facilitator quoted from the report. Continue reading »
It may seem out of left field, but when NAR regional vice president Vince Malta isn’t selling homes in San Francisco, he’s collecting baseball bats hit by legendary players like Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. The unlikely combination is a result of deep-rooted family traditions; Malta is a third generation REALTOR® who has been in the business for 35 years, and joins his father and grandfather before him as a passionate fan of the game.
“I’ve always loved baseball since I was a child,” said Malta, CEO at Malta & Co., Inc. in San Francisco. “I got into bat collecting because I thought it was very interesting to collect a piece of history.”
And that’s where this hobby could have ended, with a few prized bats and the satisfaction of holding baseball history in his hands, if not for Malta’s real estate mind working overtime to analyze the way the bats were being sold.
“I started doing some research and it seemed like there were a couple of experts who knew about baseball bats but were also selling them,” he said. “So they wound up authenticating the very bats they were selling. In real estate, we call that a ‘conflict of interest.’”
Worse still, some of the bats for sale weren’t exactly priceless memorabilia worthy of glass display. But it would take years of conducting research and scouring decades-old factory records before Malta could decipher the legitimate from the lies.
“I bought a game-used Jackie Robinson-autographed bat and thought, ‘wow that’s really cool,’” Malta recalls. This cool factor quickly thawed when he returned to the bat years later, armed with extensive knowledge about its production and make. He analyzed the model, concluding the bat was rendered in 1973; a fine year for the Oakland Atheltics to defeat the New York Mets in a seven-game World Series thriller, but for Jackie Robinson—who stopped playing baseball in 1956 and passed away in 1972—using that bat would have been, well, impossible.
“People were telling you things and giving you stories about the bats that just weren’t accurate,” Malta said. “I think the bat needs to speak for itself.”
It’s a dictum that can resonate in real estate as well as baseball—an agent can stage a house with all the shiny bells and whistles, even provide anecdotes about how much fun the home owner’s children had playing in the spacious backyard, but in the end, the property must speak to the buyer.
However, it still helps to have those words interpreted by someone in the know.
“There will always be a person out there who will sell you something,” Malta said. “You need a facilitator with knowledge guiding you through the process.”
To Malta, this is why authenticating bats can’t be an act of whimsy; it must be a serious practice—as complex as a real estate transaction—determined by things like labeling, wood type, and the hitting characteristics of the player who purportedly used the bat at that time.
Even the National Baseball Hall of Fame staff keeps extra copies of Malta’s book, “A Complete Reference Guide Louisville Slugger Professional Player Bats,” on hand. The publication is widely acknowledged as the most comprehensive manual for collectors of Hall of Fame players’ bats. The Guide was a labor of love for Malta, who worked in conjunction with Jack Hillerich, grandson of John A. “Bud” Hillerich—maker of the first player-customized baseball bat—to gain access to Louisville Slugger factory records.
Since its release in 2007, the book has established Malta as one of the foremost authorities on bat collecting. More than just a baseball textbook, it weaves the history of the sport throughout its pages, in a narrative enriched by Malta’s own experiences meeting the greats of the game. “Many of the players are so warm and personable,” Malta said, listing Ernie Banks and Brooks Robinson among those he enjoyed speaking with.
But some of his most frame-worthy baseball encounters occurred on the job. At an NAR meeting in 2005, while sitting with his wife, 13-year-old son, and 1984 Hall of Fame inductee Harmon Killebrew, (an invited guest at the event), Malta’s wife casually mentioned to the right-hander that her son was having a tough time at the plate. Immediately, Killebrew stood the struggling young player up and began to give him a batting lesson. “It’s all in the hips,” he instructed, as REALTORS®—and the Maltas—watched in awe.
“We still have the picture of Harmon Killebrew giving my son tips,” Malta said. “I love that players are so open and such great ambassadors of the game.”
As an ambassador of homes, it’s easy for Malta to see the connection between his favorite sport and the real estate profession. “We provide a valuable service,” he said. “People can consider what we do like baseball bat authenticating: We make sure they get what they expect.”
Seeking to make a better connection with consumers online, Web site realtor.com® (yes, with a lowercase “r”) unveiled new branding this week. The rebranding effort covers — for now, anyway — the corporate logo and the overall design and structure of the Web site.
“We wanted to focus in the near term on the new look and feel,” says Andrew Strickman, realtor.com®’s vice president of brand and creative. “One of our desires was to clean up the design — make it more open, warmer, and brighter.”
The rebranding is the product of an “exhaustive” research and information-gathering project started by realtor.com® and its parent company, Move Inc. in the first quarter of 2012. That initiative involved input from internal stakeholders, REALTORS®, and consumers, Strickman explains.
Based on the feedback received, the overall strategy is to engage both the hearts and minds of visitors.
“People care deeply about the place they live in,” Strickman says. “It’s an emotional decision, but also a logical one. We really wanted to understand the role that a site like realtor.com® plays in the consumer’s mind as they think about and dream about buying a home.” Continue reading »
Chances are, you have heard of the Realtors Property Resource® (RPR) by now. But what is it, exactly, and how can it benefit you?
More than four years ago, the idea of a nationwide online database of comprehensive, high-value property information was conceived from an idea that came out of NAR’s Second Century Ventures (SCV) initiative. A plan was developed and approved by National Association of REALTORS® leadership to provide this as a benefit to members, and a very knowledgeable team was organized to execute the initiative.
During the past couple of years, RPR has partnered with about 440 multiple listing services throughout the United States. With those partnerships, about two-thirds of all REALTORS® are able to access RPR as of mid-October, 2012.
Even with that high level of access, as a member benefit, part of RPR’s core mission is to deliver this technology to all of NAR’s 1,000,000 REALTORS®. This is important because it allows “all members to take advantage of RPR’s high value tools, features and reporting capabilities,” says Dale Ross, CEO of RPR. To that end, RPR has announced that they are making the system available to all REALTORS® on Nov. 1, 2012.
“The RPR team is very excited about the opportunity to bring RPR to markets which have been waiting for access to the system,” adds Jeff Young, RPR senior vice president of operations. “We’ve been telling members for months that the wait is almost over.”
So what can RPR do for REALTORS®? Here are just three advantages it can provide:
1. Generate data-rich reports: RPR collects loads of data on individual properties and their surrounding communities. You can use the system to generate custom reports that can include as much of this information as your clients want. “I have never heard of any buyers and sellers who do not like the reports,” Ross says.
2. Connect with younger consumers: Homebuyers and sellers from generations X and Y are doing the majority of their property researching online, often before they contact a real estate practitioner. When they do reach out to agents, these consumers expect them to be able to immediately provide even more valuable information on certain homes. With its extensive yet user-friendly database, RPR allows REALTORS® to do just that. “REALTORS® who use RPR will certainly have more information on properties than consumers who do research online,” Ross says.
3. Provide insight into property values: With the fluctuating housing market during the past few years, it is often difficult to get a handle on a home’s value at any given time. But with RPR’s Realtor Valuation Model® (RVM), users of this system will have an authoritative source with which to provide information about property values using tax information, sale history, and comparables and other data sets. “RPR’s RVM offers best-in-class automated valuations which REALTORS® can refine with their local market knowledge to make it even more accurate,” Ross says.
Want to learn more about how RPR can benefit your business? Go to http://blog.narrpr.com/national-launch. Also, be sure to register for a free REALTOR® Magazine webinar, “A Look Ahead: RPR’s Launch to All REALTORS®,” taking place this Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012.
UPDATE: The webinar is now archived. Go here to download or playback the event recording.
After going through the major political, economic and technological shifts of the past decade, many real estate professionals are probably asking themselves, “When is business going to get back to normal?” And the answer is never — if “normal” is defined as a market that operates similar to the one that existed before 2001.
If the discussions at the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Leadership Summit yesterday afternoon in Chicago were any indication, the changes over the next few years could come faster — and hit the industry harder — than the ones experienced during the boom and bust of the previous decade.
About 1,600 association executives, real estate practitioners, and brokers shared their ideas on what’s next for real estate as part of a REThink session, NAR’s new “open source” strategic planning initiative. REThink aims to involve tens of thousands of REALTORS® across the country in high-level conversations about how to adapt to many different futures for the industry. To accomplish this, NAR is presenting various plausible scenarios that have been generated through consumer research, as well as fostering discussions among large groups of members and real estate experts about those hypotheticals.
These scenarios include:
Ostrich: The leaders of associations count on what they already know, while consumers migrate over to so-called “Big Data” providers of real estate information on the Web. Members see their associations as out of touch, and leave in droves.
Beauty and the Beast: Many new real estate brands come into being, and old ones reinvent themselves. The housing market comes roaring back in some places, while others remain depressed, contributing to a growing wealth divide. Continue reading »
The magazine’s April 19 legal webinar with National Association of Realtors® attorneys Ralph Holmen and Finley Maxson made a good jumping off point for a series of blog posts. In previous posts, I discussed the RESPA case, Freeman v. Quicken Loans (recently decided by the Supreme Court in favor of NAR’s position; see “Supreme Court Provides Clarity on Brokerages’ Administrative Fees”) and the Fair Housing case Gallagher v. Magner. This week, I explore the property rights victory in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency.
NAR First Vice President Steve Brown wrote about the case in the NAR Leadership Team’s Voices of Real Estate blog (“The Supremes Rule”), and even though this case has been covered quite a bit, it’s worth examining more closely because it speaks so profoundly to an issue that’s at the core of NAR’s purpose—private property rights. The plaintiffs, Michael and Chantell Sackett, bought land in 2005 with the intention of building a house on it. Today, despite the Supreme Court decision in their favor, the Sacketts are still living in a leased property and waiting to build that house—and it’s quite possible their case could be in the courts for several years, according to their attorney, Damien Schiff of the Pacific Legal Foundation.
I wanted to offer a closer look at what the Supreme Court did and didn’t resolve—and to look at what else real estate practitioners should consider when they’re selling land in wetlands areas.
The Issue: What rights do property owners have to challenge Environmental Protection Agency determinations?
The Law: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is charged with writing rules for and enforcing environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Among provisions of the Clean Water Act are rules regarding the preservation of wetlands, defined by the EPA as “those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs and similar areas.”
The Clean Water Act gives the EPA authority to regulate development on a wetland that’s in the area of a “traditional navigable water”—but property owners have often been at odds with the agency over (a) what constitutes a navigable water and (b) what relationship that water and the wetland need to have. This conflict has resulted in owners seeking to challenge so-called EPA wetlands determinations in court. In the past, judges have held that EPA determinations couldn’t be challenged in court by property owners. It sounds ludicrous, but to get their day in court, owners had to fail to comply with the determination and wait to be sued by the agency. In the case National Association of Home Builders v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for example, the plantiffs sought judicial review of an EPA determination, but a district court granted an EPA and Army Corps of Engineers’ motion to dismiss on the grounds that the agencies must be able to administer the Clean Water Act “without becoming entangled in premature litigation.” The Sacketts faced the same barrier.
The Case: Michael and Chantell Sacketts owned a 2/3-acre lot within a developed subdivision that already had a sewer infrastructure in place. The subdivision overlooks Priest Lake in the Idaho panhandle. As my colleague Rob Freedman explained in a post written before the Supreme Court decision came down, “The couple secured local building permits and even received a verbal okay from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the property, which has water on it periodically but isn’t adjacent to any standing body of water, is not a wetlands.”
But when the Sacketts began taking the first steps toward building a house—filling in a portion of their lot with dirt and rocks—EPA officials ordered them to stop and to restore the property to its original state. The Sacketts asked for an EPA hearing but were denied, so they brought the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho. They said the EPA’s order was “arbitrary [and] capricious” under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and that their inability to gain judicial review violated the Fifth Amendment, which states that “No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Their court dismissed their claims, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling.
In 2011, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Along with a number of other organizations, NAR filed an amicus curiae brief that pointed out, among other things, that environmental groups have had no trouble gaining judicial review of agency determinations. “Thus,” the brief said, “as it now stands, judicial review of jurisdictional determinations is a one-way ratchet . . ..”
The Decision: On March 21, 2012, the Supreme Court affirmed NAR’s position, granting the Sacketts the right to challenge the EPA determination. The justices unanimously rejected the government’s assertion that the EPA determination wasn’t a “final order,” and thus wasn’t subject to judicial review.
The Sacketts’ case is now back in District Court—and the couple will get their day in court. The chance of success depends on the evidence. “We don’t know what is in the EPA’s record,” Schiff says. “They never had to file evidence. I’m hopeful that sometime this year, the EPA will file its record and we’ll be able to see what evidence the agency has to support its determination. I suspect there’s not much because EPA was never on the property.”
Even if the judge decides in the Sacketts’ favor, the case could be held up for years in appeals.
Why It’s Significant for Real Estate Professionals:
Unfortunately, when it comes to wetlands, there’s no blanket rule you can follow to counsel clients. “You can have wetlands experts disagree among themselves about what constitutes a wetland, so determinations will continue to be made on a case-by-case basis,” Schiff says.
After Sackett, however, property owners who receive an EPA compliance order now have means to challenge the order. “Obviously, it doesn’t mean that every single compliance act will become the subject of litigation,” Schiff says, “but [owners] now have a bargaining chip.”
Will Sackett change the way EPA makes determinations? “I certainly think so,” Schiff says. “Senior official have said they don’t think the decision will have much effect in practice. In my view, I don’t see how it cannot. It makes sense that an agency knows that if it can’t be held to accountable, it will act differently. Because it now knows that it can be held to accountable, it’ll spend more time researching before it makes a determination. If has to submit records to court, the agency has an incentive to do a better job.”
One issue the Sackett decision doesn’t address is federal reach. That is, which wetlands does the federal government have the right to regulate and which are off limits? “That’s been the subject of litigation for last two decades,” Schiff says. In a concurring opinion to Sackett, Justice Alito takes a direct stab at the issue of federal reach, calling on Congress to provide guidance: “ . . . the combination of the uncertain reach of the Clean Water Act and the draconian penalties imposed for the sort of violations alleged in this case still leaves most property owners with little practical alternative but to dance to the EPA’s tune. Real relief requires Congress to do what it should have done in the first place: provide a reasonably clear rule regarding the reach of the Clean Water Act.”
In this election year, I don’t expect the issue to be high on Congress’s list.
What Else Do You Need to Know About Selling in Wetlands Areas?
The Sackett decision doesn’t free buyers from the need to conduct due diligence. Before they sign a purchase contract, buyers who plan to make improvements or continue an existing commercial use are strongly encouraged to engage a qualified environmental consultant. Among other things, the consultant can help determine whether any environmental reporting or permitting is required for their intended use of the property. The “Real Estate Acquisition Due Diligence Checklist,” provided courtesy of Minneapolis attorney Andy Jacobson, provides a good starting point; however, buyers in your area should be sure to consult an attorney who knows the state and local rules and regulations that apply.
To learn more about wetlands, visit these sites:
National Wetlands Inventory from the National Fish & Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov/wetlands/
New York Times Op-Ed: Where Are the Clean Water Rules?
NAR’s Field Guide to Land Investment (updated June 2012)
Remember: If you have questions about how or whether a law or case applies to your situation, seek the counsel of a qualified attorney.
Next Up: What right do you have to use words and images that you find online?
By Wendy Cole, Managing Editor, REALTOR® Magazine
Is it an art show or an open house? Brett Bender, a sales associate with Prudential Fox and Roach in Philadelphia, has decided that his listing for a 4,000 sq ft. single-family home in the City of Brotherly Love can do double-duty. Bender, who is also an artist, is taking advantage of the big marketing push behind the REALTOR® Nationwide Open House this weekend, April 28 and 29, to “stage the walls” of the unfurnished home with dozens of his journal drawings and paintings. He’s using Facebook to spread the word about the art reception he’s holding in the house on Sunday, and hopes the event will generate buzz for both the property and his evocative creative work.
REALTORS® and real estate associations across the country and worldwide hold thousands of open houses in their communities as part of the event, which is intended to give a boost to the spring buying season. Practitioners should keep in mind that nearly half of all home buyers visit open houses during their home search, according to the 2011 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers survey conducted by the National Association of REALTORS®. And the extra atttention this weekend, along with record home affordability, could well bring a notable foot traffic boost to homes on the market.
What other distinctive ideas are you incorporating into open houses this weekend?