In ‘Vacationland’, aka the state of Maine, second homes abound, many of which might be unused for whole seasons at a time. At its annual REALTOR® Day Rally, the Maine Association of REALTORS® focused attention on proposed legislation that threatened to tax vacant residential properties, and their vocal opposition convinced lawmakers to prevent its passage.
The state of Maine isn’t known as “Vacationland” for nothing; not only has it been a popular destination for out-of-staters for well over a century, but its long-held ‘camp’ tradition means that 67%-75% of second homes in the state belong to Maine property owners, often over the course of several generations. So, when the state legislature proposed a new impact fee on residential properties (LD 1337), the Maine Association of REALTORS® knew it had to step in and defend property owners from the added tax burden. With help from an Issues Mobilization Grant from the REALTOR® Party, and a boost from the Advocacy Everywhere program, it conveyed a powerful message to Maine legislators, who ultimately opposed the bill and prevented it from enactment.
According to CEO Suzanne Guild, it was a major win for the state’s REALTORS® and for Maine homeowners, who already pay a transfer tax at the time of purchase, property taxes, and an additional 9% tax on rental income if applicable. On top of that, the bill threatened to impose a local option fee with no clear definition of “vacant” nor “fee”, leaving it to the discretion of the municipality. As the real estate industry accounts for 19% of the state’s gross product, notes Guild, any new challenges to the buying and selling of property would have had a direct and negative impact on Maine’s overall economy.
Claire Berger, the association’s Communications & Government Affairs Manager, explains that proponents of the legislation claimed that it would reduce existing property taxes and generate local funding for badly needed affordable housing. “Everyone agrees that Maine needs more affordable housing, and our association is working hard to be part of the solution and increase housing opportunities. In fact, we backed three other bills this session that address affordable housing. Our opposition to the proposed tax was chiefly because of its infringement on private property rights, but, also, we were not convinced it would combat housing shortages.”
A Call for Action through the REALTOR® Party’s Advocacy Everywhere program brought a strong response from members and primed them for an even bigger effort a few weeks later at the association’s annual REALTOR® Rally Day – virtual, again this year. To further educate members as to the importance of opposing the bill, the association had mounted a strong Issues Mobilization campaign, including a postcard mailing; live calls; digital ads and social media targeting members and voters in NAR’s consumer database for Maine; and a dedicated landing page on the association website. “The rally drew an incredible response, and 40% of those who contacted their legislators were new advocates,” reports Berger. “93% of our state legislators heard from REALTOR® constituents we’d reached through the campaign!”
“All our work, with the support of the REALTOR® Party, made the difference,” adds Guild. We know that our Call for Action efforts and then our virtual Rally swayed the House vote. And once the House vote occurred, there was momentum to defeat the bill in the Senate, which happened –overwhelmingly!”
This was Berger’s first time applying for a grant from the REALTOR® Party, and while she admits there was a learning curve, it wasn’t overly burdensome. “An added benefit was that because the application required specific details of our advocacy plan, it encouraged us to stay organized. So, it was beneficial from an administrative standpoint, as well as allowing us to tap into these great resources,” she says. “Being a small staff, without the REALTOR® Party behind us, our reach would not have been as extensive, and our deliverables would not have been as polished or efficiently produced within our timeline.”
To learn more about the Maine Association of REALTORS®’ advocacy efforts to protect Maine’s private property rights and the real estate industry in general, contact CEO Suzanne Guild at email@example.com or Communications & Government Affairs Manager Claire Berger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207.622.7501.