In 1977, Jay Buerger began his real estate career in Denver at the age of 19. It was a time when fax machines were the up-and-coming dream technology for agents. But as the saying goes, the world keeps spinning, and after 43 years in the business, Buerger has witnessed many changes, yet his simple philosophy remains: “When you find the right house for a family, you don’t have to sell them anything. The product sells itself.”
Buerger, CRB, CRS, broker-owner of Buerger and Co. Real Estate, is among a special group who have established longevity and success over four decades as members of the National Association of REALTORS®, earning the REALTOR® Emeritus status.
“It’s just been amazing to be recognized for the experience I have,” says Buerger. “Sometimes, I don’t even realize how much I know. It just all comes naturally because I’ve been through it before. With slight tweaking, the problems in today’s market are still the same.”
In addition to 40 cumulative years as members, those who receive this honor must also have completed at least one year of service at the national level. The service qualification changed in 2020 to include only national participation, which means serving as an officer, director, committee member, president’s liaison, federal political coordinator, or regional coordinator to a country with which NAR holds a reciprocal agreement.
Take a peek into the worlds of three REALTOR® Emeritus recipients who have spent most of their adult lives in the real estate business. While their stories are different, they all built businesses that have lasted through ups and downs.
When Buerger received the Emeritus honor, it made him think about real estate’s cycles of the commodity over the years and the related significant events, such as interest rates reaching 18% in the late 1980s and plummeting to 3.3% in 2012.
He remembers waiting outside people’s homes at 1 a.m. in “not-so-good parts of town” because it was the only time they could meet about selling or buying a home. “A police officer once came over to my car and asked me what I was doing parked there.”
He didn’t get a listing for the first nine months of this career. “My broker kept telling me that I [won’t close a deal] until I’ve met 25 people.” So, Buerger knocked on doors in blizzards and rainstorms. “By my third year, I was the top producer in the whole company, which had 900 agents,” he says.
While Buerger credits the internet for making an agent’s job easier and faster, he still believes that that you must go out and get in front of people face-to-face to build your business. “Agents today need to truly show a sincere desire to help people—whether it’s next week or next year.”
Buerger has served on both his state and local associations’ Professional Standards Committees and their hearing panels. He has gained a lot of empathy for newer brokers and the general public over his years of service, and he makes sure his own office is a model for ethical standards.
One trick of the trade he swears by is creating useful postcards with information on topics clients are interested in, such as how to get ready for an inspection. “They don’t want to see recipes. You are a REALTOR®. Represent your business and give them something of value in the real estate arena,” he says.
In 1974, as a divorced single mother of two sons, Annette Graw decided that working as a clinical pathologist in a hospital just wasn’t cutting it financially or for family flexibility. At age 33, Graw earned her real estate agent license in California and started working at a large brokerage.
“I made more money the first summer as an agent than I would have all year at the hospital,” says Graw, ABR, SRES, now a broker-associate at NW Real Estate Brokers in Manhattan Beach, Calif. “I was hooked on real estate. Of course, no one told me about the downswings in the economy.”
She always thought she’d go back into the medical field. In 2000, she stepped back from real estate management and got her master’s degree in theology. She serves as a lay minister, a licensed lay preacher, and secretary of the Corporation of the Diocese of Los Angeles. She has always remained in the real estate business, even while serving as an active lay leader at her parish.
“Real estate today is a technological wonder. You have contracts, reports, and data generation right at your fingertips,” says Graw, who works hard to stay up-to-date on the latest tools. “I have found that embracing new ideas is the path to success and that change is inevitable and necessary. Taking classes and learning must be a part of your path to success.”
She believes the NAR Code of Ethics is the backbone of the industry, and has served on national fundraising and advocacy committees. She urges agents who are involved a difficult transaction to step back and leave their egos at the door. “Let the buyer buy and the seller sell,” she says.
Graw adds that her hardest sale was of her own home more than 30 years ago. “My best friend and co-agent finally told me I was fired. She took over my listing. I had to get out of the way for her to succeed, and it was a great lesson.”
While teaching elementary school, Paul Harsch got antsy. Someone mentioned real estate, and he decided to jump in. He lived in a small town in Vermont near the border of Massachusetts and New York.
“I worked with my broker in his home house. I wasn’t allowed to work on weekends or after 5 p.m. because it was his main house,” says Harsch, CRB, CRS. So a few years later, in 1979, he started his own business, Harsch Associates in Williamstown, Mass. He charged a higher commission and marketed more aggressively than anyone had seen in that area.
“The other agents took open listings. I only took exclusives. I had great success bringing in buyers out of the area in larger numbers,” he says.
But his company has weathered a lot of storms over the years. He initially grew it to include 70 agents in five offices in Massachusetts and Vermont. Then, when a recession hit in the early 1990s, he shrunk the business back down to one office and three licensees. He discovered he enjoyed direct contact with buyers and sellers more than being the president of a large company.
In February 2019, Harsch was invited by the Vermont Governor Phil Scott to serve on the Real Estate Commission. “This is the perfect opportunity to give some input,” he says.
Harsch also helped to form and then served on the Vermont MLS Committee in 1980, when there was no MLS in the Bennington area, and served on a Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® committee in 2002 in order to get transaction brokerage introduced formally into law. He didn’t know anything about the Emeritus status until about the time he was eligible for it. “It wasn’t something I was chasing after, but I was proud to earn it,” says Harsch. “I’m proud to have served in a wide variety of boards and served in my state of Massachusetts.”
Any REALTOR® member with a NRDS ID, even if they are an appraiser, can qualify for REALTOR® Emeritus status. About 2,000 to 2,500 people each year receive this status. The benefits include a pin and certificate along with national dues waived beginning the following year after approval. Emeritus members also become exempt from NAR Code of Ethics course requirements. The next deadline to complete the application forms is April 2, 2020. An applicant begins the process, but it must be completed by the candidate’s local association. The approval comes in May during the REALTORS® Legislative Meeting and Trade Expo in Washington, D.C. Apply today.