He’s All In

Tom Salomone’s commitment to the next generation is a driving force in his NAR presidency.

Tom Salomone is not a dabbler.

When he signed on to coach his sons’ baseball and basketball teams more than 20 years ago, he didn’t just pitch in for a few seasons and move on to the next hobby. He went on to coach 46 south Florida teams over a dozen years, including sports he knew much less about, such as flag football and street hockey. “Whatever team I was part of, I expected everyone to give their best, including me. If you’re on my team, it means you’re counting on me and I’m counting on you,” he says. “I never wanted to be the dad in the stands.” What he didn’t know at the time was that his extreme dedication to his kids’ teams was subtly laying the groundwork for the mantra of his 2016 presidency of the National Association of REALTORS®: “Average people do what’s expected of them. Great people do what’s expected—and then some.”

Teamwork, he explains, is a way for any group of people to achieve more, “but it’s also how people learn to respect one another,” he says, whether in a family, an office, or an industry. Indeed, he speaks proudly about the fine young men his own boys have become: Today TJ, 28, owns a marketing company in Las Vegas and works with real estate clients. Bryce, 26, works in insurance and recently got his real estate license in Pennsylvania.

Salomone’s commitment to helping young people notably defines a central mission of his presidency. “Where are we going to be in this industry in 20 to 30 years and what kind of world is this going to be?” Salomone asks. “It all depends on what happens with kids. I’ve been thinking about how we can best have an impact as REALTORS®. We are determined to protect private property rights and home ownership for the next generation. Well, kids are our future.”

Those deeply felt sentiments prompted Salomone to start building relationships with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America even before he was sworn in as the 108th NAR president in November. When he announced NAR’s partnership with the nation’s preeminent youth services organization at a summit of REALTOR® association leaders in August, the Chicago Association of REALTORS® immediately heeded the call for action and presented the two local affiliates with a $10,000 check. The 150-year-old Boys & Girls Clubs organization, started in Hartford, Conn., now has 4,100 clubs across the country serving nearly 4 million children annually. It relies heavily on private fundraising to stay in business. “Boys & Girls Clubs need money, but they also need positive role models, people who can tutor kids once a week or who can help with sports,” Salomone explains during a recent visit to NAR’s Washington, D.C., office, where he outlined his leadership objectives for 2016. Learn how to get involved with a club near you at realtor.org/BGCA.

Your Business Is His Business

Beyond championing the youth clubs, Salomone, the -broker-owner of Real Estate II Inc. in Margate, Fla., will be juggling his duties as an on-the-ground residential real estate practitioner with his responsibilities leading the national association. “I am a grassroots agent. I live what our members are going through every day,” he says. Salomone consolidated his large brokerage operation in 2007, just ahead of the steep downturn, by closing two of his three offices and paring down his agent ranks, though he retained an affiliated title insurance business called Title Network Services.

He takes none of the recent improvements in the housing markets for granted. His inspiration to seek the presidency, in fact, came during the nadir of the markets in 2009, as sales plummeted, lending seemingly evaporated, and practitioners exited in droves. “I thought about whether I could make a difference. I knew it would take a lot of work to get back to where we were before,” One way he tackles challenges is to avoid sugar-coating them. “I’m a black-and-white kind of person. I’ve always tried to call things the way I see them. When people describe problems as opportunities. I say, no, it’s a problem. Call it a problem, deal with it, and fix it.”

As a longtime leader at the state and local association levels, Salomone, 59, has faced a host of challenges without flinching. As president of the Florida Association of REALTORS in 2003, he led the battle to defeat a popular legislative initiative to add a real estate transfer tax after the measure had been passed in the state senate. And on his first full day as president of the North Broward Association of REALTORS® in 1991, he found himself in the center of negotiations on behalf of agents at a large brokerage that suddenly found its assets frozen by a U.S. bankruptcy court. “When the agents came to work that Monday, their offices were padlocked and the judge had determined that listings were assets,” he explained. Over the next few weeks, Salomone helped secure an agreement that allowed the practitioners to get their listings back when they moved to other companies and to retain their share of commissions. What really matters as a leader “is how you deal with problems that seem to come out of nowhere. If there’s a problem, you face it and come up with a solution,” he says.

He and his leadership team, which includes appointed vice presidents Michael Labout, GRI, of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Sherri Meadows, CIPS, CRB, of Ocala, Fla., won’t be targeting just one or two policies as priorities during his NAR presidency at the risk of giving short shrift to others. “There are approximately 50 different legislative and regulatory issues that we are monitoring at all times,” he says. “I’m reluctant to single out any one as more important than others. Commercial members will be more focused on 1031 exchange rules and technology experts may be thinking about things like the latest transaction platforms or drones. It’s our job to just constantly be focused on protecting our members’ profession and allowing them to practice in an environment where they can be successful.”

Labout, who has worked on NAR committees with Salomone since 2008, says the president’s leadership style depends heavily on consensus building. “He takes in a lot of perspectives and advice. But what he’s always thinking about is how decisions affect the members on the street,” Labout says.

Salomone keeps some issues at the center of his radar. He has a major beef with credit score reporting. “The FICO system is flawed. Banks need to look at people’s payment history more than credit card utilization levels,” he says. “People’s credit was misrepresented because banks reduced their credit limits.” On the mortgage credit side, NAR continues to work with federal regulators to find ways to increase the availability of credit, including alternative scoring methods. He applauds the new FHA rules pertaining to condo buildings, endorsed by NAR, which will make financing more available to buyers.

Working the Phones

His plan for increasing member involvement relies more on systematic use of an old-school technology than a fancy computer algorithm: a yearlong series of member-to-member phone banks. In 2012, NAR President and fellow Floridian Moe Veissi named Salomone the first ever REALTOR® Party Activities Director, and Salomone’s experience that year confirmed his belief that effective political advocacy needs strong buy-in at the grassroots level. While a third of NAR’s 1.1 million members now contribute to RPAC, he insists the association can do a lot better. “If every member benefits from what RPAC does, then every member should give something to that effort,” he says.

Salomone notes that in many cases those 800,000 members have not contributed for a simple reason: They have never been asked. During his tenure, that will change. The nationwide volunteer phone bank initiative will aim to make contact with every member who has yet to participate. As of early January, 350 local and state associations had committed to setting up banks staffed by members who will seek to bring involvement and contributions to a new level. “It’s about instilling the commitment to volunteerism that underlies the entire organization,” he says. Daryl Braham, CRB, GRI, the current REALTOR® Party director, says that Salomone’s straightforward approach to connecting with every member will yield tremendous results. “We’ll be making clear to members why they should care,” says Braham. “That piece sometimes goes missing. We will show them how NAR protects private property rights and serves their interests.” (Read more about Braham in the editor's note.)

Salomone’s volunteerism goes back to 1980, when he received an unexpected invitation to join the membership committee of the former Pompano Beach Board of REALTORS® soon after he moved to Florida from his native New Jersey. His immediate reaction? “ ‘Are you nuts?’ The next thing you know I was named vice chair of the committee. At age 25, when I became chair of the committee, I told the members we would only schedule meetings when we had something we had to accomplish. We weren’t there to waste time. We ended up meeting every month [instead of weekly].” Their role was to help new brokers meet standards which included, among other things, preparing for brokerage inspections that Florida officials undertook at the time to be sure brokers were in compliance with state standards for maintaining an office.

Salomone had relocated to Florida a year earlier to run a new brokerage started by his uncle, Jerry. He was a 24-year-old upstart in a Florida market dominated by 60-something practitioners. His enthusiasm caught the eye of the local leadership.

Real Estate Roots

While his volunteer involvement as a REALTOR® goes back 35 years, his real estate experience has even deeper roots. At age 10, he was mowing the grass at the Berg Agency in East Brunswick, N.J., the company at which his uncle was president and his father Matt a regional manager. Berg was the country’s largest independent residential brokerage in the 1960s, says Salomone. “At age 11, I was elevated to ‘key kid,’ which meant keeping track of keys used for showings.” They were hung on a bulletin board at the office in the days before lockboxes. After that, he was promoted to tearsheet duty, in charge of organizing the new listings that came up between printings of the thick, new MLS books.

Though his father enrolled him in real estate school 24 hours after his high school graduation, Salomone was hardly set on a real estate career when he enrolled at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa. Upon graduation with a degree in business management, Salomone had job offers from IBM and Procter & Gamble, but the prospect of earning significantly more money at a young age in real estate, compared to the starting salaries offered by the corporate behemoths, appealed to him. So he returned to the Berg Agency after graduation and two years later obtained his broker’s license.

The flexibility of his real estate career helped him to be a hands-on dad as the boys grew up, even after his divorce from their mother, with whom he shared custody. His personal life changed dramatically after his boys left home. That’s when he switched his workout routine from morning to evening. It was at the gym one night that he met his future wife, Diana, a physical therapist, who eventually got her real estate license and now works with Salomone. “We’d been going to the same gym for years, but at different times. I believe God puts you where you’re supposed to be in life. I was focused on raising my kids for 21 years. And then I met my angel,” he says. They married in December 2014.

Salomone also stays as involved as he can with his father, now 92, who is battling several serious health problems and lives with Salomone’s older brother Matt Jr. in New Jersey. Salomone’s mother, Mildred, passed away in 2006. While the new president laments that his father wasn’t well enough to attend the NAR inaugural gala in the fall, he recalls a piece of advice from him—which he has shared with his own sons—that continues to resonate today as one of Salomone’s guiding principles. “My dad always used to say to me, ‘Just tell people the truth.’ It’s that simple. At the end of the day when you’re brushing your teeth and you look in the mirror, as long as you can say, ‘I gave it my best shot,’ you can’t ask any more of yourself,” he says. Fortunately, for NAR members and the real estate industry, Salomone will no doubt give his best “and then some.”