Texas REALTORS® Achieve Tax Reform for Texas Property Owners

In Texas, where there’s no state income tax or a state-levied property tax, it’s the tax bills from your county, your municipality, your school district, and various other special districts that’ll get you. All these entities are largely dependent on property taxes to fund their budgets and have benefitted for decades from an outdated and murky tax structure and the steady rise in property values across the state. At the same time, property owners have seen higher and higher tax bills, and more than a few have been forced to sell as a result. Texas REALTORS® have been battling the ‘Hidden Property Tax’ inherent in the system for years, and on June 12, 2019, with a boost from a sweeping Issues Mobilization campaign, the Texas Property Tax Reform and Transparency Act was signed into law.

“We are so grateful to the REALTOR® Party for its support of our Hidden Property Tax campaign, which helped shift the statewide discussion on the need for property tax reform,” says Tray Bates, 2019 Chairman of the Board of Texas REALTORS®. “The campaign also provided legislators with the support they needed to feel confident their actions were in the best interests of, and desired by, their constituents.”

“This is huge,” adds Daniel Gonzalez, the association’s Chief Lobbyist and Director of Legislative Affairs.  The ‘Hidden Property Tax,’ he explains, results from the misleading claim by local taxing entities that they have not raised ‘taxes,’ when, in fact, they mean ‘the tax rate.’ The rise in appraisal value ensures that their tax revenue increases, along with the tax burden on property owners, despite a level tax rate. If property owners see contesting higher appraisal values as their only recourse, they will inadvertently devalue their investment – and local market values. The new law addresses these issues with two important reforms:  first, the creation of online databases providing taxpayers with a transparent understanding of the process that determines their annual property tax bills; and second, a lowered threshold for increasing public revenue via property tax collection and a mechanism requiring voter approval for increases beyond the established thresholds.

The Hidden Property Tax campaign was fully comprehensive, reaching REALTOR® members, consumers, and legislators with a website, social media, direct mail, earned media, and online advertising. As consumer confusion over the property tax structure was a significant part of the problem, Texas REALTORS® made a concerted effort to educate the media about the issues, with enhanced media relations, including a special three-part media-training series last year. “Journalists really are interested in seeking out sources and getting their facts straight,” notes Gonzalez, “and while the challenge is that journalists tend to be transferred to different beats and different markets, we’ll just keep helping them to understand the real estate issues. In the end, we’re building a valuable network of professionals whose business is presenting information to the public.”

Housing affordability is a problem all over the country, Gonzalez adds, noting that another beneficial side-effect of this campaign has been demonstrating to the public that the REALTORS® are not in it for themselves and their industry, but for their clients and property-owners throughout the state. “Making sure homeowners have the information they need about their property taxes is going to result in healthier, stronger communities, and that’s good for everyone. History will show that this legislation will have a tremendous impact on homeownership in Texas.”

To learn more about how Texas REALTORS® have succeeded in reforming the taxation process and protecting property owners in the great state of Texas, contact Daniel Gonzalez, Chief Lobbyist and Director of Legislative Affairs, at 512-370-2143.

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Post-Hurricane Harvey, Houston REALTORS® are focused on Flood Impact – and How to Keep it from Happening Again

Exactly one year after Hurricane Harvey slammed Harris County, Texas, killing 50 people and swamping 204,000 homes, voters were called to the polls to accept or decline the region’s largest bond proposal ever: $2.5 billion for flood-control projects and flood mitigation. The measure passed with 85% support; the Houston REALTORS® helped get out the vote.

Adoption of the Harris County Flood Bond Ballot Measure does more than create a fund paid for by a modest 10 to 15-year property tax increase: it will provide the necessary seed money to secure matching dollars from the federal government. “We’re talking about funding for major flood-control projects on 23 watersheds right in Harris County, says Dana Kervin, Chief Political Strategist of the Houston REALTORS®. “These projects are shovel-ready, and now we know where the money’s coming from.” The projects include channel improvements, detention basins, flood-plain land acquisition, new flood-plain mapping, and an improved early flood-warning system, plus a significant allowance for prevention and mitigation measures yet to be identified.

There’s no question that flood mitigation is very much a REALTOR® issue, says Kervin, noting that every day in the year since Hurricane Harvey made landfall, the Houston Association of REALTORS® (HAR) has been working on recovery. “Our ear is on the ground, and preventing this kind of destruction from happening again is our top priority. Right now, as we see it occurring in the Carolinas,” she adds, “we’re working on sharing what we’ve learned here with our colleagues there, so they don’t have to re-invent the wheel.”

In October 2017, HAR President Kenya Burrell-Van Wormer led an industry-wide conversation on the subject of flood recovery, loans, and FEMA. This summer, HAR supported the NAR’s Call for Action on extending the National Flood Insurance Program with a number of local calls for the cause. And Ed Wolff, co-chair of HAR’s Government Affairs Advisory Group, has become a significant community leader on flood issues. “Ed is a great spokesperson, leading the charge for greater homeowner protections; his own home has been flooded three times, so he speaks from hard-won experience.” His fellow co-chair, Ward Arendt, is right there with him, working on the state and federal side, says Kervin. She also credits Judge Ed Emmet, and Jim Blackburn of Rice University, with reaching out to diverse populations to get many people on board with the Flood Bond. “They provided the transparency that gave voters confidence in the measure. The election was scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of Harvey, but as it wasn’t a regular November election, it wasn’t necessarily on the radar with Harris County voters. It took a lot of doing to raise awareness.”

In early July, HAR commissioned a poll through the NAR’s campaign services staff to gauge the temperature of the voting public. “It showed us that registered voters who were aware of the Flood Bond were largely in favor of it,” says HAR Governmental Affairs Advisor Amber Burton. The positive results meant that HAR could stop short of a full-on Issues Mobilization campaign. “The poll helped us to maintain a lean strategy,” notes Burton, “and we were also able to use specific data results to craft our message in a targeted mailing, urging members to vote.” She adds that this kind of policy decision affects Harris County residents on a very personal level: “Ever since Harvey, it’s so stressful when it rains. I know I’m not alone in wondering, ‘Am I going to be able to get to work?’ The passage of the Harris County Flood Bond measure is going to relieve a lot of minds.”

To learn more about how Houston REALTORS® are helping to safeguard the region against future devastation like that wrought by Hurricane Harvey, contact Chief Political Strategist Dana Kervin at 713-629-1900 ext. 223; or Governmental Affairs Advisor Amber Burton at 713-629-1900 ext. 269.


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Houston Association Gathers and Shares Hurricane Harvey Recovery Resources with Multicultural Associations

Hurricane Harvey wreaked Texas-sized devastation on the greater Houston region, but the larger-than-life spirit of Texas residents helping each other through the hard times is a powerful silver lining.

Being especially in tune with the complexities of destruction caused by flooding, real estate professionals are at the forefront of the ongoing aid effort:  the state association’s Disaster Relief Fund was mobilized before the storm had subsided, and the leadership of the 37,000-member Houston Association of REALTORS® (HAR) launched into gear while people were still being rescued. In November, with the help of a REALTOR® Party Diversity Initiative Grant, HAR brought together and shared recovery resources with its multicultural industry colleagues in a program called “Road to Recovery: Life After Harvey.”

Kenya Burrell-VanWormer of JPMorgan Chase, who is HAR’s recently installed 2018 Chair, explains point-blank: “Natural disasters do not discriminate. Harvey affected everyone!” The inspiration for the event, she continues, came from an all-day relief effort sponsored by the Houston Black Real Estate Association, in which she, her 9-year-old daughter, and a fellow HAR Director participated right after the storm. “It was such a moving experience, and it prompted us to plan a program of our own at HAR. As REALTORS®, we know that our professional value is in our information and knowledge.  As leaders, we realized that by engaging our fellow industry professionals in all the local minority associations, we could provide these valuable resources which they, in turn, could share with their clients and colleagues and friends.”

The Directors of HAR agreed that such an event was needed, and the attendance numbers bear out their vision. With the support of President and CEO Bob Hale, and the tireless staffing of TREPAC Director Karen Driscoll, HAR developed a half-day program featuring a line-up of candid, open-minded industry speakers who covered topics ranging from mold remediation, to available funding for homes and businesses, to tax relief, to dealing with the emotional aftermath.  HAR invited members of the local chapters of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB,) the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA,) the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP,) the Hispanic Mortgage Lender Organization (HMLO,) and the Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals (VAREP,) as well as the Houston Independent Real Estate Brokers Association (HIREBA) and the Houston Black Real Estate Association (HBREA). Nearly 300 individuals attended, enjoying a complimentary lunch and a supportive, informative, collegial afternoon. Many received door prizes of gift cards to grocery and department stores; one even won an iPad. All were heartened by a report from an industry analyst showing that despite Harvey, the outlook for the regional real estate market was stronger than expected.

“In our industry, we can all admit to short attention spans, constantly checking our phones,” laughs Burrell-VanWormer, “so I think it’s a clear measure of success that the audience was totally engaged with the speakers, and paying serious attention to all the highly relevant information.” At a simple reception for committee members following the event, she adds, the question on everyone’s lips was “Ok – what next?” The follow-up is still in development, but one thing is clear, she notes:  “Houston is the fourth largest city in the country, and we have one of the most diverse populations in the nation.  As a city, we embrace diversity, as an association we embrace diversity, and with the continued support of the REALTOR® Party, we will continue this mission as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act in 2018.”

To learn more about how REALTORS® in the Houston region are helping neighbors, clients—and each other—survive the effects of Hurricane Harvey, contact 2018 HAR Chair, Kenya Burrell-VanWormer, at 713-628-8383.

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Texas REALTORS® Bring Clarity to Voting Process

In a democracy, it’s in everyone’s best interests that ballots are clear and straightforward. But when the names of propositions are duplicated on other propositions on the same ballot, as was happening in Texas, voters can become confused.

The Texas Association of REALTORS® (TAR) recognized that the commonsense solution was to mandate a simple system of naming conventions for all propositions admitted to a ballot in the state. The association had little difficulty convincing state lawmakers, and in late May, the Texas Senate and House of Representatives unanimously approved Senate Bill 957. 

The good news continued on June 1, when Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill into law, effective immediately.

In Texas, the governor has up to 20 days after the legislative session ends to sign or veto a bill—bills that are not vetoed by then automatically become law. That date this year is June 18, so the governor’s quick action was notable.

“Historically, bills can take a while to make their way to the governor’s desk after receiving the Legislature’s support, and the governor often takes all 20 days,” says TAR Director of Legislative Affairs Daniel Gonzalez. “It’s unheard of that a bill like this would be signed in five business days, but that just reinforces the across-the-board support for this legislation.”

The new law will distinctly differentiate ballot propositions, bringing much-needed clarity to the voting process. Starting in the upcoming November election,

  • state propositions will appear first on the ballot, followed by local propositions;
  • all state propositions will have numerical names, while local propositions will have letters of the alphabet; and
  • all propositions will begin with name of the entity ordering the election.

In the Texas Senate, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick described SB 957 as a “little bill with a big impact.”

The bill received bipartisan support throughout the legislative process. It was co-authored by two senators, one Republican and one Democrat; it was sponsored by representatives of both parties; and, in a rare display of unity, it was supported by the entire legislative body.

“We appreciate that every member of the 85th Texas Legislature voted in support of this bill all the way through the legislative process,” says TAR Chairman Vicki Fullerton. “SB 957 received bipartisan support in both chambers because lawmakers know voters deserve clarity about what’s on our ballots.”

This solves a years-long problem, adds Brandon Alderete, TAR’s Director of Political Affairs.  As a recent example, he cites the November 2015 election, when REALTORS® were supporting a proposed amendment to the state constitution, known as “Proposition 1,” which would increase the homestead exemption and ban real estate transfer taxes.

At the same time, however, a highly controversial local “Proposition 1” was on the ballot in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.  The identical names muddied the waters and threatened the success of the constitutional amendment, which actually had substantial legislative and popular support.

With help of the REALTOR® Party, TAR launched an energetic voter awareness campaign to cut through the confusion and ensure the voting public in Houston could distinguish between the two ballot measures called “Proposition 1.”

“In that case,” says Alderete, “we had a political interest in the outcome of the vote.  But in the bigger picture, the situation shined a light on the need for election transparency.  No matter what issues are at stake, confusion at the polls is detrimental to the democratic process. The REALTORS® know, and clearly the legislators agree, that this is good for all Texas voters.”

To learn more about how the Texas Association of REALTORS® took the initiative to bring clarity to the voting process, contact Brandon C. Alderete, Director of Political Affairs, at 512-370-2124.

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Texas REALTORS® Take Advocacy to Another Level Using Social Media

Headquartered across the street from the Texas Capitol and just around the corner from the Governor’s Mansion, the Texas Association of REALTORS® has never been shy about political advocacy. In recent years, it has also eagerly harnessed the power of social media to communicate with its 114,000 members. Combining its political prowess and social media savvy, in mid-December TAR upped its advocacy game by offering a preview of the state’s upcoming legislative session on Facebook Live.   

The half-hour preview and Q&A event was hosted by TAR’s Director of Legislative Affairs Daniel Gonzalez, whose depth of knowledge and engaging demeanor make him a natural spokesperson. Opening with a brief overview of his department’s work at TAR, he reminded members that the association’s legislative agenda is not driven by staff, but by REALTOR® volunteers from across the state who serve on TAR’s Public Policy Committee. Assuring viewers that TAR will read every single word of the six-to-seven thousand bills filed during the course of the session, he noted that it would be tracking roughly one third of them, including many that aren’t about real estate or private property rights, but which have a big-picture, long-term bearing on the industry.

In addition to letting viewers know what their legislators will be tackling in the session that began in January, Gonzalez took the opportunity to direct their attention to the latest issue of Texas REALTOR® magazine, and to hiddenpropertytax.com, an educational site that TAR has launched to clarify a complex legislative issue now in play in Texas.  He also urged members to participate in the annual REALTOR® Day at the Texas Capitol this spring. With ten minutes to go, he fielded questions from the live audience on topics ranging from title insurance rates to homeowner associations.  

Brandon Alderete, TAR’s Director of Political Affairs, points out that the association is right at home with webcast technology. “We’ve been delivering CE course content to our 77 local associations via online video for several years now,” he notes. “The live feed is the exciting innovation here, allowing us to interact directly with so many members who are already right there, following us on Facebook.” Nearly 1,500 viewers tuned in to the live and recorded sessions over the first 24 hours, and the post was also shared by dozens of individual Texas REALTORS® and local associations. TAR had promoted the event with organic and paid social media, through email newsletters and via text message through the REALTOR® Party Mobile Alert system just before the webcast began, generating more than 500 click-throughs.

“Whatever we can do to enhance communication with members, we’ll pursue it,” says Gonzalez.  “Facebook Live is a fairly new phenomenon, but we thought it would be worth a shot,” he adds, noting that based on the enthusiastic feedback, his department will continue to share legislative issues with the membership via live webcasts.  “Our members really responded, and seem to want more. That’s the way we like ’em: engaged and asking questions!”

To see firsthand how the Texas Association of REALTORS® is keeping its members connected to legislative issues affecting their industry and their communities, see https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10155514734234298&id=89617004297. To learn more, contact Brandon C. Alderete, Director of Political Affairs, at 512-370-2124.

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Charrette helps Austin REALTORS® Imagine Their Community

It was a classic stand-off of Texan proportions, between a big developer and a suburban neighborhood.  A 31-acre, twelve-building office park not far from downtown Austin had been bought by a Dallas-based developer, who sought to re-zone and re-develop the property along higher-density mixed-use lines, in keeping with the city’s recently adopted 30-year growth plan, known as ‘Imagine Austin.’  The property’s neighbors, already concerned about traffic congestion, saw only tall buildings, increased traffic and no benefit to themselves in the proposal. 

Lawn signs went up in protest.  The controversy became bogged down in tense negotiations and eventually came to loggerheads.  From the beginning, there was a great deal of REALTOR® interest in the project, known as ‘Austin Oaks,’ says Andrei Lubomudrov, Policy Analyst of the Austin Board of REALTORS® (ABoR;) in fact, the northwest Austin neighborhood in question is where a high concentration of ABoR members live, and the City Council Member representing it is a REALTOR®, herself. 

The opposing parties agreed to engage in a charrette, an intensive collaborative design and planning process in which all stakeholders have a voice.  In a gesture of good faith, the developer asked that the city Planning and Zoning Commission undertake no further work on the application, and the owner also committed $88,000 in funding for the charrette.  ABoR secured a Smart Growth Action Grant of $15,000 from the National Association of REALTORS®, which it contributed in the interests of reconciling redevelopment goals with the values of the community.  This is the second charrette in as many years that ABoR has sponsored through Smart Growth Action Grants; the first helped to create a vision for a stretch of Austin’s underdeveloped South Central Waterfront, and shone a spotlight on the need for zoning updates as the city rewrote its land development code. 

A national expert and local professionals guided the process of the Austin Oaks charrette.  Over the course of several weeks, a number of community information meetings and ‘Vision & Values’ workshops were held to gather opinions and ideas that would inform the central element of the charrette: a week-long design workshop at the end of January 2016.  More than 250 neighbors participated in this intense phase, and in another show of good faith, the owner of the Austin Oaks property came down from Dallas to spend the charrette week working with neighbors and designers.  The week began with a day of background information, including presentations on traffic, environmental conditions, demographics, real estate market trends and zoning.  A baseline plan, reflecting what could be created on the property under current zoning, was drawn to serve as a reference.  In the days following, the design and engineering team worked feverishly to present alternative plans based on the community values determined by the preceding workshops, revising them according to public feedback until a general consensus was reached.  In the end, a strong majority of neighborhood participants accepted additional development impact in terms of square footage and traffic, to ensure that the ‘Preferred Plan’ includes real community benefits like parkland, bike lanes and a trail along the creek. 

“What impressed me most was the way the facilitator emphasized fairness and trade-offs: shorter buildings mean a bigger overall footprint; preserving heritage trees would mean taller buildings; and so on,” says Lubomudrov.  “The brilliance of the process was the constant striving for a balance of competing priorities.  Not that it was easy—but, as an approach, it really worked.”  He points out that the transparency of the public process is an important point of leverage, and that both sides are expected to abide by the design that emerged from the collaborative effort.  Having NAR as a sponsor kept the charrette from being solely developer-funded, and thereby increased its credibility, he adds.  “Having this significant contribution from a group without a direct stake in the process made it more even-handed; even ABoR has no direct stake in the site, beyond wanting good growth-planning for Austin.”

To meet certain time restrictions of the Zoning & Planning Commission, the charrette had to take place in fairly short order, even though the redevelopment of Austin Oaks will take years, thanks to a number of existing leases. “It’s been a contentious process, but I think it will all be worth it in the end,” says Lubomudrov. 

To learn more about how the REALTORS® of Austin are finding ways to help communities reach compromise in optimizing their development, contact Andrei Lubomudrov, Policy Analyst of ABoR’s Public Affairs Department, at 512-454-7636.

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Everything is Bigger in Texas, Including Efforts to Pass Proposition 1

From the very beginning, the campaign for Texas Proposition 1 was a matter of education, not persuasion. 

At the end of the 2015 legislative session, the Texas Association of REALTORS® (TAR) knew that in Proposition 1, it had a prime opportunity to amend the state constitution to increase the homestead exemption and ban real estate transfer taxes on all real estate sales.  It knew that the concept had key friends in the legislature, as well as popular support.  It knew that it made economic sense for Texas, its property owners and aspiring property owners.  But getting Texas Proposition 1 passed wasn’t going to be that simple:  a highly controversial local Proposition 1 in Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, and confusing ballot language, muddied the waters and threatened the success of the proposed amendment. 

Brandon Alderete, TAR’s Director of Political Affairs, describes the statewide campaign that his organization conducted in partnership with the National Association of REALTORS®, using a major Issues Mobilization Grant from the REALTOR® Party that TAR matched with funds of its own.  “First of all, we were very lucky that NAR’s Issues Mobilization Committee was willing to approve the grant at Midyear—before a resolution was even on the ballot; that head-start made all the difference.  We had our A-team working on it, and NAR’s A-team,” he continues, “plus the power of our 100,000 REALTOR® members, which is impossible to overstate!”

Targeting likely voters, Texas REALTORS®, and current and aspiring homeowners, the campaign used poll-tested messaging to create television, radio and online advertising, as well as 15 direct mail pieces, ultimately reaching 812,000 voters in 627,000 households.  REALTOR® leaders and association staff also gave countless presentations and sat for radio and television interviews.

The campaign website, TexansForProp1.com, was a master platform of information for the voting public.  It also featured a dedicated page for REALTOR® members, providing numerous elements to help them engage as grassroots advocates, including a Power Point crash-course on the issues; client-based talking points; a template of a letter to send to clients; flier; email signature blocks; letters-to-the-editor templates; voting-reminder downloads for calendar apps; and branded print ads for local newspapers paid for by TAR’s Issues Mobilization Political Action Committee.

Last but not least, it offered members banner pictures and pre-formatted content for Facebook and Twitter.  “We hit it hard with social media; you know how friendly REALTORS® are!” says Alderete, who believes that REALTORS® are natural political advocates, especially where issues campaigns are concerned.  “They’re informed, they’re social, they sell, they have wide circles,” he says.  “We challenged them to vote, and to encourage all their clients and past clients to vote.  After all, homeowners are the ones who stand to benefit the most from this legislation.  Our members know the value of maintaining contact with clients, and this tax benefit would be the ultimate ‘service after the sale.’”

The campaign was able to break through the messy election-season noise with its targeted messaging, and on November 3, 2015, Proposition 1 passed with a whopping 86.38% of the vote.  “It was really impressive,” admits Alderete, expressing his appreciation for the REALTOR® Party and its Issues Mobilization Committee.  “Their support made this possible.  And the pros who make up their Campaign Services team are rock stars,” he notes.

To learn more about how Texas REALTORS® worked to keep a real estate transfer tax out of Texas, contact the Texas Association of REALTORS®’ Director of Political Affairs, Brandon C. Alderete, at brandon@texasrealtors.com or 512-370-2124.

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Austin REALTORS® Host Summit to Address Housing Gap for Minorities

Inspired by a national report on challenges faced by African Americans in the housing market, the 9,500-member Austin Board of REALTORS® formulated a plan to do something about it in their own back yard.  They began by securing a Diversity Grant from NAR to host a two-day conference to which they invited a variety of local minority organizations and stakeholders.  Hoping for 50 participants, they had more than 80, and they’ve begun acting on ideas that came out of the conference brainstorming sessions…

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Texas REALTORS® & Hispanic Real Estate Professionals Find the Fight for the American Dream is One to Build On – Together!

The 83,000-member Texas Association of REALTORS® (TAR) has a long, proud history of embracing the ethnic diversity within the state, but they decided to take it one step further and capitalize on it.  In mid-August 2013, TAR invited the Texas chapters of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals to join them for a summit to focus on affordable housing and other advocacy goals the two groups have in common.  With a $5,000 Diversity Grant from NAR, they found that the fight for the American Dream is one they can build on – together!

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