Success Story

Southeastern Oklahoma REALTORS® Create Gathering Space in Historic Downtown McAlester

On a vacant lot in downtown McAlester, Okla., adjacent to a large historic building and across the street from a bustling coffeehouse/brewery, an attractive new gathering place has sprung up, providing the family-oriented community with a central new green space and priming the area for additional growth and development. It’s the result of a collaboration between the Southeastern Oklahoma Association of REALTORS®, the McAlester Main Street organization, a local property owner – and a whole lot of elbow grease.

‘The Lot on Choctaw’, as it has come to be known, had been unused for as long as anyone could remember, but its location made it a prime candidate for ‘placemaking,’ a concept promoted by the National Main Street Center. Through placemaking, communities create immediate, affordable, and focused improvement projects that help to activate outdoor spaces, bringing people together and demonstrating potential for future development investment. Local REALTOR® Shelly Howard, a member of the 175-member Southeastern Oklahoma Association of REALTORS®, led the project with a $4,000 Placemaking Grant.

Working closely with McAlester Main Street, a partner organization of the National Main Street Center, Howard helped to coordinate the gift of the vacant lot – actually a long-term $1-a-year lease – with the owner of the vacant landmark building next door, who hopes eventually to restore and develop the building; should the owner ever have to terminate the lease, $5,000 will be provided to the town to relocate the new public park.

McAlester Main Street designed the project: a lovely plaza of handsome brickwork and turf, three large shady pergolas, five picnic benches, and numerous large oak planters containing small trees, as well as low maintenance grasses, roses, and other flowers.  REALTORS® provided much of the manpower needed to make the plan a reality. Says Howard, “For each of the five workdays we had, from March through the completion in September, about ten REALTORS® were there, cleaning, painting, building, planting. It was a great turnout, and an impressive volunteer project for a town with a population of about 19,000!” Much of the heavy lifting was contributed free of charge by a contractor who does a lot of work for McAlester Main Street; another company donated the planters. The town will be helping to maintain the Lot on Choctaw, but Howard finds herself stopping by to water and weed periodically. “I can’t help myself – it’s really my baby!” she laughs.

The park was designed to accommodate food trucks along one side for special events, which brings an even more robust and vibrant level of usage to the new space. “Our community is committed to creating more green gathering space – for families, young professionals, older folks – and to attract more business development to the historic downtown area. We’re so proud of what the REALTORS® have been able to contribute to that goal.”

She continues, “When I see Facebook posts by community members who are using the new space to gather for class reunions, it just warms my heart,” says Howard. “This is exactly what we built it for.”

To learn more about how the Southeastern Oklahoma Association of REALTORS® is using REALTOR® Party resources to enhance life in towns like McAlester, contact Shelly Howard, at 918-424-1735.

 

 

 

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North Carolina “Congressional Road Shows” Highlight Working Relationships of REALTORS® and Capitol Hill Counterparts

“August recess” sounds like a lovely month of downtime, but for hardworking members of Congress, it’s one of the busiest times of year, packed with constituent meetings and events in their home districts. In North Carolina this summer, NC REALTORS® experienced the phenomenon first-hand through a series of “Congressional Road Shows” that gave them rare access to Representatives across four districts. The opportunities capitalized on, and gave REALTORS® members a glimpse into, the successful workings of the state’s Federal Political Coordinators (FPC).

NAR’s Federal Political Coordinator program takes political advocacy to the halls of Congress and makes it personal. Each state association pairs a knowledgeable REALTOR®, the Federal Political Coordinator, with a member of Congress in a one-on-one relationship, in which the FPC can effectively advocate for favorable real estate industry policies, and serve as a resource and educator on housing issues in a given state or district. Often, the FPC and his or her Congressional counterpart have an existing relationship, making the working bond even stronger.

Kevin Green, the FPC working with Representative Mark Walker of North Carolina’s 6th District, including Greensboro and Asheboro, reports that the Congressman and his staff were excited to participate in this summer’s “Town Hall” type meeting.  “He was able to interact with his constituents, answer real-estate specific questions and share with us his view of the mood in D.C.  The FPC program allows us to personally connect with our Congressman, and also gives him a resource for real-estate related economic data and demographics in his district.”

Bill Aceto, who is paired with Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina’s 5th Congressional District, which includes Winston-Salem, agrees that the mutual value of the FPC relationship is invaluable. “There are very few, if any, other industries I know of that have this kind of access, and such positive relationships with members of Congress across the board; of course, it doesn’t hurt that RPAC provides such generous support. Our representatives look to us as a reliable resource,” he continues, “with good industry data and our fingers on the pulse of what’s going on in the district. They know that we’re not lobbyists, but volunteers: we are citizen advocates!”

Troi Bachmann, Local Government Affairs Director of the Winston-Salem area, helped to coordinate the event with Representative Foxx, working with Katharine Wendt, NC REALTORS®’ State Grassroots Coordinator and Regional Government Affairs Director. “Our members were thrilled,” says Bachmann. “It was so powerful to see our elected Congresswoman here in our REALTOR® association office, in conversation with our own Bill Aceto, talking through a pre-approved agenda based on NAR’s guidelines; it really showed our members the power of the REALTOR® brand. Bachmann, who is a shared GAD with the local Homebuilders Association, arranged for its members to attend the event, as well, and Representative Foxx addressed issues of concern to both industries. These ranged from the National Flood Insurance Program, to association health care reform, to a shortage of skilled building labor. The hour-long event seemed to make an impression on the Congresswoman, too, says Bachmann. “She asked us to make sure we do it again!”

Also making themselves available to their REALTOR® constituents were Representatives Ted Budd and David Price. According to Wendt, who began planning the Congressional Road Shows more than four months in advance, they were lucky to get as many as that:  “We reached out to each of the 13 Congressional district offices in the state, and some were already booked for every minute of the August recess!” she recalls, adding that members who sit on the Homeland Security Committee advised them that, during hurricane season, they’d have to cancel if FEMA called…. On the strength of the success of this year’s Road Show, NC REALTORS® is going to repeat the effort next year, and will start planning even earlier. “Now that we’ve built connections with the schedulers in each office, we should have a leg up,” says Wendt. The value of opportunities like this, she adds, is that it’s not feasible for all REALTORS®   to attend the REALTORS® Legislative Meetings in May and travel to the Capitol for National Legislative Day visits coordinated by the FPCs. “This gives them a chance to be involved closer to home, advocating for issues close to the heart of their industry and communities.”

In addition, FPC Bradley Cohen was asked by his Congressman Richard Hudson to participate in a small business round table organized by the 2020 Trump Campaign, part of a larger effort by the Trump campaign asking business leaders across the country about the economic impact of their industry. NAR Political Representatives and Research staff helped prepare Bradley Cohen with appropriate North Carolina-specific real estate data. Trump Campaign Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany prompted many questions directly to our FPC during the panel. He was able to lead the conversation around a myriad of housing issues including: the economic impact on the average home sold, improving home ownership rates, tax reform with the 20% deduction for independent contractors, opportunity zones, affordable housing, and association health plans.

To learn more about how NC REALTORS® are working with their elected officials to make a difference for the state’s property owners, the real estate industry, and small businesses, contact Katharine Wendt, State Grassroots Coordinator and Regional Government Affairs Director, at 919-573.0988 x388.

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Maryland’s Coastal Association of REALTORS® Battles Restrictions on Short-Term Rentals

The local REALTOR® association representing three counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore was aware that Worcester County was looking to overhaul its outdated rental code, but was expecting the effort to focus on clarity and uniformity of language. What was presented was a set of severe restrictions on short-term rentals, which is naturally a major issue in coastal communities. When some of the County Commissioners proved unreceptive to the REALTORS®’ initial advocacy, it was time to call on the Land Use Initiative and Advocacy Everywhere programs. The County Commission heard the message loud and clear, and sent its proposal back to the drawing board.

Sarah Rayne, Government and Public Affairs Director of the 1,000+ member Coastal Association of REALTORS® of Maryland, recalls the list of restrictions the County Commission was proposing:  “They wanted to limit the number of ‘unrelated’ people in a short-term rental unit to five; to require all short-term rental units to install an extra parking space; to define ‘short-term’ as under twenty-eight days; and even to prohibit birthday parties, showers, and other special events. The REALTORS®’ position is that a short-term rental is still residential, and so all these restrictions were simply unfair.” The ordinance also sought to create a rental license requirement, which Rayne notes that the REALTORS® do not oppose, as long as the fee is not exorbitant.

While the REALTORS® have strong relationships with most of the Worcester County Commissioners, it was clear that their first efforts at direct advocacy were not getting through to some. So, Rayne commissioned a Land Use Initiative review of the proposed ordinance to analyze land use and zoning legislation. “I’ve worked with them a number of times, and they’re always great – they seem to thrive on tight deadlines,” she says. “This time, they sent us sixteen pages of very useful information, which we condensed into a brief position statement and sent to our members, the media, and the County Commissioners.”

Just a few days prior to the vote, some of the Commissioners were still resistant to the REALTORS®’ reasoning. “That’s when we realized, ‘Ok – we need to get our members involved!’” says Rayne.  “We’re a small association, but our members are great, and very supportive of our Government Affairs efforts and advocacy.”  Rayne called on Susan Mitchell, Director of Government Affairs for the Maryland REALTORS®, who activated an Advocacy Everywhere effort using REALTOR® Party Mobile Alerts. “It’s such an effective program,” says Rayne, “it was very easy for our members to respond.” And respond they did: the alert went out on a Friday, and over the course of the weekend, the seven Worcester County Commissioners were bombarded by more than 630 emails from 90 unique addresses.

At the next meeting of the County Commission, several members of the Coastal Association of REALTORS® of Maryland were present and testified on behalf of property owners.

The Commission voted to approve the creation of a rental license and sent the rest of the proposed ordinance back to staff for re-drafting. “They’ll be addressing many of the REALTORS®’ concerns in the re-write,” explains Rayne, adding, “It was a definite win for property owners and our members. I’m certain that our call for action made a big difference.” Although the association is small, she says, REALTOR® Party resources help it achieve results that are relatively major. “I’m a big fan of all these tools that allow us to create such an impact!”

To learn more about how the Coastal Association of REALTORS® of Maryland is protecting the rights of homeowners in Worcester County and beyond, contact Government and Public Affairs Director Sarah Rayne at 410-641-4409.

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New Jersey REALTORS® Combat Last-Minute Tax Threats to Property- and Business-Owners

With just four days remaining in last year’s legislative session, an age-old puzzle was playing itself out in the New Jersey statehouse: lawmakers were scrambling to find revenue to balance the state’s budget, and negotiations were flying. When New Jersey REALTORS® learned about two proposals that would be seriously detrimental not only to the housing market, but to many businesses that also play a significant role in the state’s economy, they called on their members to make their voices heard. Timely calls for action supported by the REALTOR® Party’s Advocacy Everywhere program got the job done.

As Jarrod Grasso, Chief Executive Officer of the New Jersey REALTORS®, explains, both proposals would have hit property owners hard. The first sought to impose a sales tax on seasonal rental properties. “The Jersey Shore and other areas that depend on summer tourism could have suffered greatly,” he points out, noting that, according to one study, the average vacationer in New Jersey spends as much as $1,000 a week on food, transportation, shopping, and entertainment. “The bill would have hurt not only the homeowners who rent out their homes, but also all those businesses that depend on the profits they make during the high season.”

The second proposal looked to increase the realty transfer fee on homes sold for over $1 million, adding a minimum of $10,000 to the expenses associated with selling each such property. “In the Garden State, there are about 60,000 homes within the targeted price bracket, or one in every 43 properties,” added Douglas Tomson, Vice President of Government Affairs for the New Jersey REALTORS®. “For the counties with the highest home values, this added financial burden for aspiring homeowners could have resulted in a flattening of the market, or even an outmigration.”

When news of the real estate budget proposals broke, the New Jersey REALTORS®’ Government Affairs team sprang into action.  Using the REALTOR® Party’s Advocacy Everywhere program and social media, they contacted all REALTOR® members, urging them to send messages to their elected officials – and ask family, friends, and clients to do the same. Within just 24 hours, legislators received more than 10,000 messages from the voting public, expressing strong opposition to the two bills. Thanks to RPAC, Grasso and his team have built strong relationships with state politicians supportive of real estate issues, and spoke with them directly. They also sent out press releases to all New Jersey’s major news outlets.

A whopping 17,914 electronic letters opposing the seasonal rental tax and realty transfer fee hike were sent, reports Tomson.  “The response to our Calls for Action was so immediate and so strong, that legislators had no choice but to pay attention,” he says:  both real estate tax proposals were dropped from consideration on the final day of the session.  “We’re grateful to the REALTOR® Party and its Advocacy Everywhere program for making it simple to mobilize our members at a moment’s notice, and to RPAC for its deep support of political team-building.  This situation really highlighted how important these resources are to protecting New Jersey’s property owners and its real estate market.”

To learn more about how New Jersey REALTORS® are using the resources of the REALTOR® Party to speak for real estate issues in the statehouse, contact Douglas M. Tomson, Vice President of Government Affairs, at 609-341-7100.

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Mississippi REALTORS® Maximize Returns with RPAC Fundraising Grant

In 2019, RPAC celebrates 50 years of supporting REALTOR® issues. This past February, Mississippi REALTORS® demonstrated impressive support for RPAC: at a festive annual event that coincides with its Winter Meetings, the 6,500-member state association parlayed a $5,000 REALTOR® Party grant, matched by funds of its own, into more than $83,000 of RPAC investments.

“Mississippi is a very giving state,” says Beth Hansen, the organization’s CEO. “For a state association, we may be small, but we have a really strong culture of MARPAC success,” she adds. That’s a considerable understatement: in fact, Mississippi has been awarded the REALTOR® Party President’s Cup in six of the past seven years.

This was the eighth consecutive year that the association has hosted a ‘MARPAC Drawdown’ event following a day of committee meetings and preceding its big annual REALTOR® Day at the state capitol. Hansen is careful to note that while ‘drawdowns’ are a very popular fundraising device in Mississippi, they may not be permissible in other states. A month before the event, members began snapping up $100 tickets, plus $25 ‘second-chance’ tickets for the drawdown, which promised a winning pot of $5,000. They also purchased $25 token packs to vote for their favorite acts in the lip sync contest. Not only did the event surpass its goal by more than $11,000, it attracted sixteen new Major Investors at the $1,000 level; substantial investment increases by 19 other members; and numerous first-time investors to Mississippi’s RPAC family.

This is the second year that a REALTOR® Party grant supported the rental of a large event venue, and a separate admission fee offset the cost of the catered dinner. “It’s grown every year,” says Hansen, “and our members really look forward to it.” As about 150 REALTORS® dined and caught up with colleagues from across the state, they were entertained by a spirited Lip Sync Throwdown – dominated by the Northwest Mississippi Association of REALTORS® for the second year in a row. All in good fun, the lively musical numbers are interspersed with dramatic moments in the suspenseful drawdown, which eventually brings five final ticket-holders to the fore; the finalists are given the chance to split the prize or continue with the drawdown. Hansen reports that the final five ticket holders typically opt to share the pot, leaving everyone feeling good about a win-win conclusion.

  • Table décor from the Drawdown

 

The fun and games of investing in RPAC gave way to more serious business the next day at the Capitol, when members heard from the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House and Secretary of State, and met with their legislators about the current legislative agenda as it regards real estate and private property issues, explains Hansen. At the Political Advocacy Luncheon that followed at the state REALTOR® headquarters, Mississippi REALTORS® President Adam Watkins moderated a discussion of the 2019 statewide election forecast with the Chairmen of both the Mississippi Republican Party and the Mississippi Democratic Party. “Our members understand the importance of political advocacy, and how it affects not just the industry, but the communities they inhabit and serve. We’re proud to be acknowledging the 50th anniversary of RPAC at every meeting and in all our branding,” she continues, “It’s an important reminder of all RPAC has done for us, and why we continue to invest.”

To learn more about how the Mississippi REALTORS® are engaging in political advocacy and raising the bar for RPAC investment, contact CEO Beth Hansen at 601-932-5241.

 

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Royal Palm Coast REALTOR® Association Keeps Redundant, Burdensome Zoning at Bay

In the last three years, more than 45 municipalities across Florida have modified their vacation rental ordinances to be more restrictive. In Cape Coral, a seasonal residence for many homeowners, REALTORS® aided by a Land Use Initiative led a successful charge to keep additional restrictions off the books.

The rush to update ordinances covering vacation rental issues is explained by Chris Lopez, Public Policy Director of the 7,300-member Royal Palm Coast REALTOR® Association, which serves two counties along the Gulf Coast:  “It became evident several years ago that there was a big gap in ordinances dealing with the technology that brought us all the on-line booking platforms. The instinct seems to be to create a whole raft of new ordinances addressing the perceived ‘threat,’ rather than investigating the suitability of what already exists in local code. City Councils also reflexively jump on the ‘gap’ as a funding opportunity, where they could impose registration fees, fines for violations, and collect business and rental taxes on these properties. Our goal has been to minimize this excessive government involvement.”

Faced with a proposed new set of such ordinances, the Royal Palm Coast REALTORS® applied for a Land Use Initiative review by NAR consultants. “It’s always my first step, in cases like this,” says Lopez, noting that, “if we can use this legal expertise in early conversations with city leaders, we may be able to head-off expensive efforts for both sides down the road. Having the national and state framework that NAR consultants provided was extremely persuasive in these meetings, and in workshop settings when we seek to re-draft legislation, and in support of our testimony during public hearings. It’s a powerful ace-up-the-sleeve.”

The REALTORS®’ strongest objection to the Cape Coral proposal was that most of the concerns it attempted to address were already covered by existing city ordinances. “We have regulations regarding noise. We have rules about parking, and trash collection, and property upkeep. All these issues can be effectively managed with a call to the police. There is simply no need to duplicate the legislation by adding a redundant layer just for vacation homes.” Beyond that, the economic burden that the new rules would impose on affected property owners and businesses could be onerous. After a good faith effort at workshopping the proposed Cape Coral ordinance with city staff and a like-minded coalition of organizations, including Airbnb and the Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, the REALTORS® found that they still could not support the resulting compromise language.

At that point, reports Lopez, they mobilized REALTOR® members and the general public with a mailing. “At the second public hearing on the ordinance, we filled the room with business people, REALTORS®, and homeowners, many of whom voiced their fears that these overly restrictive measures would affect their ability to live and do business in Cape Coral.”  There was no one to speak in favor of the proposed ordinance, and the City Council was forced to concede that the protections in place were adequate, if no one wanted them changed. “It was a pretty great victory,” admits Lopez: “going in to the hearing, the outcome was a toss-up. After our people had their say, all seven Council members and the Mayor had come around to our way of thinking.”

“I can’t speak highly enough about the service that Robinson & Cole provides,” he adds. “These collective resources of the REALTOR® Party that can be called into play when high stakes are on the table are so important, and form a critical part of our ongoing advocacy. We keep a constant eye on local municipal agendas, and work hard at maintaining strong relationships with our civic leaders, so we’re able to be fully engaged and keep finding good solutions for our communities.

To learn more about how the Royal Palm Coast REALTOR® Association is keeping a vigilant eye on short-term rental ordinances and other legislation of concern to Southwest Florida property owners, contact Public Policy Director Chris Lopez at 239-936-3537.

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Bay East REALTORS® Mobilize on Short Notice to Fight Just-Cause Evictions

California’s Bay East Association of REALTORS® had numerous reasons to oppose the city of Hayward’s proposed just-cause eviction ordinance, but less than a week to get an opposition campaign underway. Although the emergency legislation passed, support from the REALTOR® Party’s Advocacy Everywhere program helped raise awareness of the serious downsides of the ordinance and put City Hall on notice that REALTORS® are paying attention to all the housing and property rights policies coming to the table.

David Stark, Public Affairs Director of the 5,800-member association, explains that its philosophical stance on just-cause eviction stems from its belief that property owners should be able to do what they want with their property – including ending a lease. He notes that the members of the Hayward City Council had been under intense pressure from tenants-rights advocates, but, as he points out, the outcome has been short-sighted and detrimental to an already fraught housing situation. “Hayward is not far from Silicon Valley, and has a robust economy of its own, so the demand for housing is huge and spans a broad demographic — from tech executives to college students. Unfortunately, the city has a history of inhibiting development, and hasn’t adequately planned for the housing needs of its growing population. That failure to plan has created a crisis.”

“As a practical matter,” he continues, “we support affordable housing in many forms, but the just-cause eviction ordinance actually erodes the strength of rental housing. Property owners who own rental housing now must be concerned about this new limitation the city has imposed on their freedoms, and if they choose to sell or otherwise withdraw those units from the rental market, that will actually force rental prices up.” REALTORS® have to care about rental housing rules, he adds, because they directly affect families who are buying and selling homes, and the way REALTORS® do their jobs.

The Bay East Association of REALTORS®, together with the rest of the public, learned about Hayward’s proposed rental ordinance less than a week before it went to vote. Springing in to action, they designed a REALTOR® Party Mobile Alert text campaign, and a targeted email campaign: more than 175 messages of opposition were sent to the City Council in a 48-hour span.

Prior to the vote on the ordinance, 2019 Bay East Association President Nancie Allen testified before the City Council. In addition to citing the need for better planning and the additional burden of liability that the just-cause eviction requirement places on her members, she respectfully asked the Council to provide the public with more notice when such important issues come up in the future. Though the ordinance was passed, Stark points out that engaging members through Advocacy Everywhere was a big step in the right direction. “This has just been one chapter in a much longer story, in which the REALTOR® Party is going to be an important character,” he says. “I can’t say enough about working with the staff at the National Association of REALTORS®, and the incredible systems they’ve established. We were able to set up the robust campaign we needed in less than 90 minutes,” he adds, noting, “In the midst of these challenging issues, it’s nice to know we’ve got NAR behind us with resources and expertise.”

To learn more about how the Bay East Association of REALTORS® is protecting private property rights and safeguarding the region’s vulnerable rental housing market, contact Public Affairs Director David Stark at 925-730-4068.

 

 

 

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Successful Florida REALTORS® Campaign Leads to Property Tax Limits on Non-Homestead Properties

In Florida, where non-homestead properties represent a significant proportion of all real estate, a 10% tax cap on such properties was set to expire in 2019. For the state’s economy and real estate markets, the effect was likely to be devastating. For approximately 700,000 Florida property owners, it meant a projected $700 million-plus increase in additional property taxes annually. So, with the backing of NAR, Florida REALTORS® brought like-minded organizations around the state together to convince 60% (plus one) of the voting public to pass a constitutional amendment to make the tax cap permanent. More than 66% of the electorate agreed, and the measure passed.

Eric Sain, 2019 President of Florida REALTORS®, explains that REALTORS® had been working to limit the non-homestead property-tax cap for several years, and the “Amendment 2” campaign was the last of a four-phase effort. “Our Office of Public Policy worked closely with the Florida Legislature to help educate them on the need for the 10% cap. When the state legislature passed the ballot measure for the 2018 ballot, we spun into action and formed a campaign team to educate the public. It was critical to avoid massive tax increases on business owners, investors, snowbirds, and renters. It would certainly have made the affordable housing crisis that Florida is experiencing even worse.”

One of the most important aspects of the campaign was an active Ambassador program, which identified, trained, and organized more than 100 REALTOR® members to be the industry’s “voice on the ground,” says Sain. “Because our association staff and volunteer leaders can’t be everywhere, we needed informed members across the state who were willing to speak to the media, and to fellow members, colleagues, neighbors, and community groups to spread the word and explain the importance of Amendment 2.”

“Our biggest challenge was the issue of public awareness,” he continues, “and helping voters understand that this tax cap affects everyone in the state, not just owners and renters, and that passing the amendment would keep our economy strong. This is where our REALTOR® members made all the difference.”

The Amendment 2 campaign relied on direct mail; television, radio, and social media advertising; and print collateral branded with the campaign logo in its messaging. Polling and focus groups also played a significant role throughout the campaign, notes Sain. “We continually evaluated the mood of the voting public,” he explains. “This helped us determine how best to allocate our limited resources most effectively, in response to what we learned.”

 Amendment 2 is now in effect. Looking forward, Sain says that the experience, perspective, and preparation that the REALTORS® gained from the campaign is invaluable. Although there’s no comparable effort on the immediate horizon, the campaign staff in the association’s Office of Public Policy is ready for the upcoming 2019 legislative session. “We’re especially proud of the success and hard work of our Ambassador program. With this in place, we can accomplish anything,” he adds.

To learn more about how Florida REALTORS® has protected Florida property owners and prevented increased pressure on the state’s economy and affordable housing situation, contact Florida REALTORS® Public Policy Office at 850-224-1400.

 

 

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Local Maryland Association Takes Bold, Successful Step into Politics

In the space of a single campaign season, a 380-member association representing three counties on Maryland’s Eastern Shore went from being quietly a-political to being all-in, no-looking-back, politically involved. It was a one-day REALTOR® Party program on identifying REALTOR® Champions that lit a fire under the Bay Area Association of REALTORS® (BAAR), and of the thirteen candidates it endorsed in the general election, twelve were victorious in their races for County Commissioner, Sheriff, and State’s Attorney – all elected offices that have the potential to affect the local real estate market.

Bob Friday, the association’s Executive Vice President, credits his former Government Affairs Director with encouraging BAAR to apply for the REALTOR® Party training program. “A few of our members were vehemently opposed to our becoming politically engaged,” he says. “But our Board examined the opportunity carefully, and determined that it was in the best interests of the industry and our association to endorse candidates who share our values and positions regarding real estate and private property rights. We simply did the best we could to reason with our dissenting members; regrettably, we did lose two,” he notes. “It’s unfortunate, but our members need to understand the purpose of our organization. If we’re not going to walk the walk, then forget it.”

The REALTOR® Party’s Candidate Training Academy is offered just a few times every year, and BAAR felt lucky to get it, says Friday. “We invited the neighboring Mid-Shore Board of REALTORS® to join us at the training session, where a terrific consultant came up from North Carolina to show us all what to look for in a REALTOR® Champion,” he explains. Five BAAR REALTORS® who’d participated in the training became the association’s candidate selection committee, in addition to Friday, who served without a vote.

The BAAR selection committee then sent invitations to all candidates in the three counties it covers who were in challenged primary races for local offices. They interviewed a total of thirty-six candidates, reports Friday, and decided to endorse eleven candidates, ten of whom made it through to the general election; in the general election, BAAR endorsed thirteen candidates of whom twelve won the offices they were seeking. The REALTORS® signaled their endorsement through a full-page ad in the local newspaper supporting all its chosen candidates. “Needless to say, we were very pleased with the outcome of our selections, and grateful for the tremendous help NAR provided in teaching us the do’s and don’ts of this process,” says Friday.

He adds that having publicly endorsed candidates has given BAAR an entirely new level of visibility and respect in the community. “Those elected are extremely grateful, and some have approached us seeking to appoint our members to various boards and commissions in the counties we serve,” he reports. “At least one has said to me, ‘I wouldn’t have won without the REALTORS®’ endorsement.’”

To learn more about how REALTORS® are helping to shape local politics affecting real estate- and property rights-issues in three counties in eastern Maryland, contact Bob Friday, Executive Vice President of the Bay Area Association of REALTORS®, at 410-758-4866.

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With Advocacy Everywhere, Illinois REALTORS® Rally Peoria Voters against New “Parcel Tax” on Property Owners

Attempting to bridge a $1.2 million hole in its budget, the City Council of Peoria, Illinois, thought it would impose a new fee on owners of all residential and commercial property within its jurisdiction. The proposed fee, which was expected to increase over time with no end in sight, was not going to get by the Peoria Association of REALTORS® without a fight: “They’ve poked the wrong bear!” declared one board member. With help from the state association and the REALTOR® Party, the REALTORS® used Advocacy Everywhere and other measures to call voters’ attention to the threat and encourage calls of opposition to the City Council. Overwhelmed by the volume, the Council agreed to a compromise.

Dallas Hancock, CEO of the Peoria Area Association of REALTORS® (PAAR,) notes that her Government Affairs Committee is proactive and engaged, meeting with the community’s elected officials and staff on a monthly basis to keep the lines of communication open. “Some Council members even contact us directly, when something comes up that needs our attention. And when they don’t, we can depend on Kristie to be closely monitoring City Hall!” Kristie Engerman, the Local Government Affairs Director and Regional Manager for Member Outreach with the Illinois REALTORS®, explains that in this case, the city was trying to fill a shortfall in the Public Safety Pension fund, a perennial challenge that grows exponentially, and which requires a last-minute band-aid every November. “PAAR’s Government Affairs Committee does a great job developing and maintaining working relationships with City Hall, but at the end of the year when there’s a sense of desperation over balancing the budget, you’re going to need more than that. You need pressure from voters,” she says.

Engerman enumerates the “vast store of REALTOR® resources” that PAAR brought to bear on the effort to oppose the proposed Public Safety Pension Fee, part of a program that the REALTOR® Party helped to put together within a matter of hours in mid-November:  “Emails and texts messages to PAAR members, on Fridays and Mondays of two consecutive weekends; and a consumer component supported by the Illinois REALTORS®’ Advocacy Fund that involved texts, social media, and a postcard mailer. We used all avenues at our disposal.  Let me tell you, Peoria is a relatively small community, and when Council members have thousands of constituents calling and emailing – they notice.”

In the end, the Public Safety Pension Fee passed, but in a reduced version of the original proposal: the fee itself was lowered, and a sunset clause limited the duration to three years. Says Hancock, “We’re glad for the compromise. More than that, we really raised awareness among voters in the community. Our REALTORS® saw the advocacy system at work; the public saw REALTORS® in action; and many voters were jolted out of apathy and into action. But most importantly, the elected leadership experienced the impact of the REALTOR® Party collaborative efforts. That’s a big win.”

She continues, “We are just so fortunate to have Kristie handling our Government Affairs – along with those of the rest of the state – with such expertise. Efforts like this could never happen the way they do without her guidance.”  As for Engerman, she notes that it was widely considered time for some push-back on Peoria city budget matters, and it’s been good to put a spotlight on the long-term issues. “For the viability of the entire region, we want Peoria to remain competitive in the housing market, which it can only do if taxes and fees on property ownership are kept at a reasonable level. The REALTORS® are the only organization out there looking to protect private property rights, and at the same time, thanks to PAAR’s strong Government Affairs Committee, we can talk to the City Council about formulating a long-range business plan to resolve challenging budget needs.”

To learn more about how REALTORS® in Peoria used a REALTOR® Party program to protect property owners from unfair tax burdens, contact Kristie Engerman, Local Government Affairs Director and Regional Manager for Member Outreach for Illinois REALTORS®, at 309-253-864; or Dallas Hancock, CEO of the Peoria Area Association of REALTORS®, at 309-688-8591.

 

 

 

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