Push Is on to Pass Health Plan Bill

Associations take grassroots action to keep the pressure on lawmakers to pass the Small Business Health Fairness Act.

State and local associations are following the National Association of REALTORS®' lead in turning up pressure on their congressional representatives to support the Small Business Health Fairness Act, H.R. 525/S.406. The legislation would give independent contractors—the largest segment of real estate practitioners—access to affordable group health insurance.

"Overwhelmingly, our members want more choices," says Tara Lightner, government affairs director for the Raleigh Regional Association of REALTORS®, N.C. "Unless they are married and can get on their spouse's plan, they're forced to go it alone." Because the cost of independent health insurance is so high, many real estate practitioners simply do without. According to a recent NAR survey, 28 percent of members, or more than 330,000 real estate practitioners, do not have health insurance.

Some state associations—including those in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and New York—have partnered with insurance companies to provide members the option of buying insurance coverage or creating a health savings account. However, those plans generally aren't as affordable as a national group health plan, which can leverage more collective bargaining power and take advantage of volume discounts and lower administrative costs.

The Small Business Health Fairness Act has gained approval from a House committee, but consideration by the full House probably won't occur until this fall, according to NAR.

Although it's hard to predict whether Congress will take action this year or next, NAR considers it a big step that the Senate committee of jurisdiction has held preliminary hearings on the bill this year. That's the most progress since the proposal was first introduced more than eight years ago, says NAR.

It's also a good sign that President George W. Bush has shown solid support for small-business health plans; he made it a cornerstone of his speech at the 2005 Realtors® Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C., in May. While NAR continues its large-scale campaign in support of the act—which has included a $1.2 million advertising blitz in Washington, D.C.—state and local associations are leading lobbying trips to Capitol Hill and encouraging members to contact their legislators.

In addition to bringing their message to North Carolina's U.S. senators and House representatives, the Raleigh association forwards NAR's Calls to Action to its 4,818 members, and encourages them to support this issue.

Similarly, the Chicago Association of REALTORS® "saturated" its 14,380 members with e-mail messages encouraging them to use NAR's Action Center to contact their legislators. The association also launched a postcard campaign, faxed letters to brokerages, and made two lobbying trips to Washington. "We've hit this issue really hard," says Brian Bernardoni, government affairs director.In addition to fulfilling members' need for insurance, an affordable group health plan would serve as "a great recruiting tool," Bernardoni points out. "Of course we want people to join for the other services we provide them, but this would clearly be a substantial member benefit," he adds.

If the House and Senate approve the legislation and it receives the president's signature, the federal regulatory structure will need to be determined before associations could be allowed to make group health insurance coverage available to members.

If the bill as currently proposed is passed, group health plans could be offered by any trade association—national or regional—that can meet the legislation's criteria for a sponsoring organization.

Although a national REALTOR® plan could be administered by NAR, any decisions as to whether an NAR plan would be feasible will depend on the legislation as passed and the regulatory structure.rae

Talks Continue in Search of New Policy for Display of MLS Data Online

As of mid-July, NAR and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) remain in the midst of negotiations regarding how the association will govern the display of Multiple Listing Service data online. NAR hopes a revised policy can resolve the DOJ's two-year-old concerns over what it says were anti-competitive provisions in the previous policy, the Virtual Office Website (VOW) policy.

As a launching pad for discussion, NAR in May presented the DOJ with the updated Internet Data Exchange (IDX) policy, which included key elements from the existing VOW policy. Although the new policy retains an opt-out provision, it doesn't offer a selective opt-out provision, as included in the original VOW policy. Under the new policy if brokers want to restrict their listing data from display on competitors' Web sites, they must restrict it from display on all competitors' Web sites. Additional provisions not included in the new policy are also being discussed.

Should discussions with the government fail to result in an acceptable final policy, NAR leaders may opt to defend its policy in court. "We hope we can find a common ground with the Justice Department but we ... are reserving the right to defend our policy," said NAR President Al Mansell.

The association has postponed the implementation of its existing VOW policy until Jan. 1, 2006, to allow time to negotiate a new policy.

For the latest developments and announcements concerning this issue, along with resources for associations, check in at nar.realtor regularly.

Magel Winner on What It Takes to Be a Great AE

Cindy Butts, executive vice president of the Maine Association of REALTORS®, is the 2005 winner of the William R. Magel Award of Excellence. Butts, rce, cae, has more than two decades of association management experience and served as the 2004 Association Executive Committee Chair. She has been involved with NAR committees since 1992.

The Magel Award, given annually by NAR's Association Executive Committee to a person who has excelled as a REALTOR® association executive, was established in 1983 to honor the memory of William R. Magel, who served Realtor® organizations for 22 years. Magel was a model and mentor for many executive officers around the country and exemplified teamwork and collaboration--traits that Butts' colleagues say she holds. RAE spoke with Butts about the honor she was recently awarded:What does the Magel Award mean to you? It's a huge honor to get an award from peers who are the only ones who genuinely know the challenge of Realtor association management. Learning that my immediate past president [Sam Mitchell] submitted the recommendation was also extremely meaningful to me.

What do you think are the most important qualities a REALTOR® association executive can possess?

The ability and willingness to make things happen quickly; flexibility, because the real issues and problems aren't what we expect; and knowing how to secure excellent officers.

What can association leaders do to stay current with the marketplace and better serve their members?

First, think like a consumer. I want to pay my dog's license fee online in the middle of the night, not drive to the town hall during work hours, so I understand that consumers want convenience. Ask members what their clients and customers are asking of them and what they fear. That will make it easier to know where to focus. Second, watch what other associations are doing and talk with other AEs. The best bylaws and programs we've adopted started somewhere else. And finally, spend time and money on professional development. No one can learn for you.

You've spent your entire professional life in association management. Do you see yourself ever taking your career in a new direction?

I initially thought association management was what I'd do until I went to law school. My career kept moving in ways that kept it interesting, so I never wanted to leave. Having worked with so many small-business owners during the past 20 years, the next thing I'd try would be a small business.Work-life balance is a major theme for NAR this year. How do you manage a busy career and find quality time for family and friends? I definitely don't race motorboats and cars as Bill Magel did. I go to the movies, read everything, and walk my dog Baxter. I have two teenagers involved in sports so balance requires planning and technology. I can send an e-newsletter to my membership from my office, an airplane, or at half-time during a field hockey game in the middle of nowhere Maine. Instant messaging makes it easy to communicate with teenagers from anywhere--across the country or across our home.

Ethics Training Loophole Closed

REALTORS® who fail to complete quadrennial ethics training can no longer benefit from an unintended loophole that has allowed some to remain on "suspended" status indefinitely without losing membership completely.

NAR's Board of Directors in May amended existing policy to enable associations to terminate the membership of REALTORS® who are suspended for more than two months for not fulfilling requirements of the second (and subsequent) quadrennial ethics training cycle that ends Dec. 31, 2008. Currently suspended members have until the end of 2005 to complete the training or have their membership terminated.

"Previously, if members failed to complete the requirements, we had the authority to suspend them, but that was all," says Kevin King, executive vice president of the Realtor® Association of South Central Wisconsin and a member of the 2005 AEC Quadrennial Ethics Evaluation Work Group, which recommended that the policy be changed. "Members could continue, in essence, to go along their merry way with a suspension that never ended."

Suspended and terminated members lose all benefits of Realtor® membership. However, suspension or termination doesn't affect MLS user or subscriber rights for sales associates or nonprincipal brokers.

Most associations have reported high compliance with the recent quadrennial ethics trainings, King says. But for the relatively few associations that have had to deal with members who are indefinitely suspended, the loophole became an important issue to head off.

"It certainly wasn't an epidemic," King says. "But this amendment will prevent an epidemic in the future."

Associations have to adopt the new policy into their bylaws within a "reasonable" time frame, NAR says.

Thumbs Down on Independent Group's Standards

NAR's Board of Directors voted in May against the endorsement or recommendation of a set of real estate service standards drafted by the newly incorporated Real Estate Standards Institute (RESI). NAR's Risk Management Committee recommended that the board not endorse the standards--a set of nearly 100 practices covering customer care, transaction management, professional courtesies, and more--because it believes the standards are not reflective of the standard of care in real estate, and could expose Realtors¨ to a risk of litigation.

"Any standard of care is a legal measure of negligence and a REALTOR® can be held liable for failing to meet a standard," David Mansell, vice chair of the Risk Management Committee, said at the 2005 Midyear Legislative Meetings & Expo in Washington, D.C. "The committee feels these standards expose real estate brokers to an unreasonable risk."

RESI, a grassroots group of state and local REALTOR® associations, says its set of voluntary best practices is a way for real estate practitioners to increase their professionalism and profitability.The institute plans to offer training and certification in the standards, and market the value of the certification nationally to consumers.

Greg Rokeh, immediate past president of the Orlando Regional Realtor® Association and a founder of RESI, says the organization didn't expect an NAR endorsement.

RESI has gathered suggestions on its best practices from various industry players, including NAR, and will adopt some of the recommended changes in an updated version of the document expected out this year, Rokeh says.

Members Save at the Pump

Filling your car with gas isn't cheap, but Realtors® in Minnesota are getting a break with a new member savings program launched by the Minnesota Association of Realtors®.

Through the association's partnership with Holiday Station stores—chain of 300 gas stations and convenience stores in Minnesota and nearby states—members get a discount of 3 cents a gallon when they make a purchase using their special co-branded Holiday credit card that displays the association logo.

"Response from our members has been overwhelming," says Chris Galler, senior vice president of administration and public affairs. According to Galler, hundreds of members have signed up, and it's become one of the most popular savings programs--on a par with errors and omissions insurance.

Under the plan, members are also entitled to a $2 discount on car washes at the chain and discounts on parts and services at Jiffy Lube stores in the Twin Cities area. --Jane Adler

Associations Battle to Keep Bases Open

REALTOR® associations are fighting to save local military bases slated by the U.S. government for possible closure. Emphasizing that a closure would be too big a blow on their local economy, associations are holding rallies, writing letters, sending action alerts to members, and joining up with other local business groups for greater protest power.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) announced recommendations for 33 major base closures and submitted the list to the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission for review. The commission will review the recommendations and hold hearings this summer before presenting its feedback to President Bush by Sept. 8. One of the criteria the DOD used in developing its list was community impact.

For many cities, base closings would mean lost jobs, declining retail sales, and weaker housing demand. The closure of the New London Submarine Base in Groton, Conn., the single largest suggested closure on the BRAC list, could cost the area 7,096 military and 952 civilian jobs--about one-third of the area's workforce.

The Eastern Connecticut Association of Realtors®, based in Norwich, is "seriously concerned about the Groton base," says John Bolduc, the association's executive officer. Although a closure would free up land, extensive contamination at the site would have to be cleaned up before housing could be built. And with so many employees and homeowners affected by the closing, the local housing market could take years to recover.

Eastern Connecticut Association members took part in a June rally when BRAC commission members visited Groton. The association has sent members talking points to use on why the base should remain open, and has urged them to write to President Bush and the BRAC commissioners to get the base off the list.

In Portland, Texas, the San Patricio County Association of Realtors® is working to keep its local base open by getting involved in the local chamber of commerce's grassroots "Save our Station" movement.

"The chamber has been coordinating all the meetings, and our members are supporting its efforts," Association Executive Mary Ard says. The closing of the Naval Station Ingleside, near Corpus Christi, would mean the loss of 1,901 military and 260 civilian jobs. "No one really knows how big of an impact it will have on us until it happens," Ard says. Like many others rallying against the closures, she hopes they never have to find out.

Minimum Service Law Signed

Despite opposition from the U.S. Department of Justice, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry signed into law a bill that forces real estate brokers to meet minimum service requirements.

The law, backed by the Oklahoma Association of REALTORS®, states that brokers must present offers and counteroffers to their clients, keep clients informed of the transaction's progress, and provide estimates of closing and brokerage fees. Some brokers offering menu-based packages contend the measure forces consumers to pay more for services they may not want, but the Oklahoma Association maintains that the law is a matter of consumer protection.

"This new law ensures that consumers will receive the protections they deserve when dealing with licensed real estate professionals," says Theresa Stewart, president of the Oklahoma Association.

Fight Won Against FSBO Web Site

In a victory for the Iowa Association of REALTORS®, a state court ruled that an online company that advertises for-sale-by-owner properties must state that it doesn't offer services comparable to those provided by licensed real estate practitioners.

The ruling by the Fifth Judicial District Court of Iowa stemmed from a lawsuit brought by the association against AgentsBeware.com for running a real estate business without a license. The association accused the Web site of falsely suggesting that homeowners would get services beyond property advertising.

The ruling states that the company can't provide real estate-related forms directly to consumers or advertise in the real estate section of the phone book's business listings. Also, the site's marketing materials must state that the service is not operated by a licensed real estate broker.

"We're very pleased we won this case," says Paul McLaughlin, legal counsel for IAR. "We want the consumer to be absolutely clear on what this Web site really offers." --Jane Adler

Association Puts the Squeeze on Tax Proposals

As part of an effort to defeat bills that would raise real estate transfer taxes, the Pennsylvania Association of REALTORS® sent a house-shaped squeeze toy to every member of the state Senate and the state House of Representatives. Scrawled across the toy house's roof is the phrase "Don't Squeeze Home Ownership."

The house, similar to a stress ball, was packaged with a seven-page booklet that included a flip chart showing how a transfer tax hike would hurt the state's housing sector and economy, according to James Mentzer, PAR's director of communications.

"Our membership absolutely loved the idea," he says, adding that the toys generated lots of comment from the legislators, who recieved the toys at their offices. "It was a targeted way for us to further our message that we strongly oppose any efforts to raise transfer taxes."

The association used money from its Issues Mobilization Fund to pay for the squeeze toy campaign, Mentzer says. Some proposals to raise transfer taxes are still on the table, but Mentzer's confident that PAR's message will be remembered when it's time for legislators to make up their minds. --Pat Taylor

Wrapped in Red Tape

Nearly 2,000 members of the California Association of Realtors® were wrapped in red tape—literally—on the steps of the California Capitol in June to protest local and legislative barriers to homeownership. Fewer than one in four households in California can afford a median-priced home.Software Checks Member Sites for Policy


A new software application, PolicyPage, developed by NAR's Center for REALTOR® Technology, allows Multiple Listing Services and REALTOR® associations to read member Web sites for compliance with Internet display policies, such as NAR's IDX policy or MLS disclosures.

By applying objective standards to each site, the software checks that all members' Web sites are following the same rules. After scanning a Web site, it generates a compliance report and sends an e-mail to the site operator saying either that the site is in compliance or that it needs revisions. A separate report tells where the problem occurs and which policy governs the issue.

Several versions of the software are being issued this year, free to members. The version, scheduled for release in September, checks listings using a Real Estate Transaction Standards (RETS) data feed from the local MLS.

Stevens to Unveil 06 Goals at Summit

As new forces in technology, changing demographics, and emerging business models reshape the real estate industry, you can either constantly reevaluate your business plan or be left in the dust. That's a message you can expect to hear from NAR President-elect Thomas M. Stevens as he takes the stage at this year's Leadership Summit, Aug. 18-20 in Chicago.

Stevens' theme for 2006, "Tomorrow's Future Is Today," centers on the importance of embracing change in the industry, whether you're an association leader or real estate salesperson.

Stevens knows a thing or two about embracing change. His decision to invest in technology in the early 1990s, (even though his competitors were not) helped his Vienna, Va.-based real estate company, Coldwell Banker Stevens, Realtors®, grow into one of the country's largest before he sold it to NRT Inc. in 2002.

In addition to sharing that story, Stevens will use the summit's opening presentation as an opportunity to touch on NAR's legislative goals for the year ahead, including the passage of the Small Business Health Fairness Act and continued efforts to keep banks out of real estate.

Thomas M. Stevens, 2006 NAR President

  • REALTOR® since 1972
  • NAR director since 1985 
  • Previously served as NAR first vice president; vice president & liaison to government affairs; and regional vice president
  • Has chaired NAR's Issues Mobilization Committee, Multiple Listing Service Policy Committee, and Large Board Subforum
  • Past President of the Virginia Association of REALTORS®
  • Holds GRI, CRB, and CRS® designations
  • Life member of RPAC
  • Lives with wife, Lindy, in Vienna, Va.

AEs on the Move

Dennis M. McDermott, executive vice president of the Missouri Association for 18 years and a REALTOR® for 25 years, has announced plans to retire because of health issues. He'll continue to lead the 24,500-member association until his contract expires at the end of 2005. Recently named to the Dr. Almon R. "Bud" Smith AE Leadership Society, McDermott hopes to put his experience with REALTOR® organizations to work after retirement as a consultant to state and local associations. A committee is narrowing its search for McDermott's successor, whom they plan to have in place before the end of the year.

R. Scott Brunner is the new CEO of the Virginia Association of REALTORS®, effective Aug. 1. He succeeds Robert Authier, who left early this year to head the Massachusetts Association of Realtors¨. Brunner served as AE of the Mississippi Association of Realtors¨ since 1994. He's now in his 17th year of association management, having started as director of public relations with the Alabama Association of Realtors¨ in 1988. Angela Cain, who was the Mississippi Association's vice president of marketing, succeeds Brunner as EVP.

Larry Meltzer is the new AE at the 340-member Highlands Cashiers Board of REALTORS® in Cashiers, N.C., where he replaced two part-time workers at the end of March. Previously, he had worked as a commercial real estate appraiser for 20 years in South Florida.

Jeanne Farley retired from her 14-year post as AE of the Livingston County Association of REALTORS® in Howell, Mich., in May. She previously served with the Detroit Board and is succeeded by Michelle Brant, who joined the 868-member association in April after working as chief of staff for state Rep. Chris Ward, R-Brighton, the majority floor leader in the Michigan House of Representatives.

In Memoriam

Gene Howard Cheatham, former executive officer of the Orlando Regional Association of REALTORS® (1984-96) died June 26. Before his service in Orlando, Cheatham was the executive officer at Realtor® associations in Seattle and Layfayette, La. For the last six years, he was the EVP of American Dynasty Realty Inc. in Orlando in charge of marketing while also working as a consultant to Realtor® associations across the country.

Kevin Fritz, vice president of communications and marketing for the Orlando Regional REALTORS® Association has authored a novel, Cross Over (AuthorHouse, 2005), about a journalist who delves into the inner workings of a corrupt nonprofit organization with the goal of garnering a Pulitzer Prize. "It's always been a dream of mine to write a novel, and I finally accomplished it," he says. The book is sold at Authorhouse.com, Amazon.com, and other online book stores. Fritz, who has been with the Orlando association for 13 years, is at work on a second novel.

Influential AE, Author Remembered

Milton H. "Milt" Shaw, former EVP of the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®, died on June 23 of complications from pneumonia.

Shaw was president of MAR in 1965, and in 1967 he became the association's first executive vice president, a position he held until 1988. In recognition of Shaw's accomplishments, MAR named its Distinguished Service Award after him.

The author of Handbook for Real Estate Examinations and Practice, the study guide for the Massachusetts real estate pre-licensing test, Shaw is also a familiar name to those entering the industry. His book has helped thousands of people prepare for their new career.Shaw was awarded the national association's William R. Magel Award of Excellence in Association Management in 1988.

Condolences can be sent to Anne Shaw, 5 Mill Dam Road, York, Maine, 03909. Donations can be sent to the MAR Charitable Fund, 256 Second Ave., Waltham, MA 02451.

NAR Forms Alliance with Lowe's

NAR, under its REALTOR VIP® Alliance Program, and Lowe's Companies Inc. have teamed up to provide free, fully customized direct mail pieces for members to send to buyers, sellers, or new homeowners. Also coming soon is a 5 percent discount on Lowe's gift cards. 

Meet the New RCE Designees

  • Elsie A. Abramo, rce, EO, West Essex Board of Realtors®, N.J.
  • Sonya S. Burgener, rce, AE, Greater El Paso Association of Realtors®, Texas
  • Robert Campau, rce, VP, Public Policy /Legal Affairs, Michigan Association of Realtors®
  • Tori Chriestenson, rce, EVP, Montrose Association of Realtors®, Colo.
  • Kathie C. Feldpausch, rce, RVP, Michigan Association of Realtors®
  • Connie R. Goodnow, rce, CEO, Topeka Area Association of Realtors®, Kan.
  • Tina C. Gordon, rce, cae, Dir. of Leadership Development and External Relations, N.C. AOR
  • Susie Helm, rce, EVP, New Castle County Board of Realtors®, Del.
  • Allan Hetkowski, rce, cae, EO, Greater Scranton Board of Realtors®, Pa.
  • Kevan S. Lyons, rce, EO, Chaffee County Board of Realtors®, Colo.
  • Bill Martin, rce, CEO, Michigan Association of Realtors®
  • Andrea Nix, rce, AE, Ocala Marion County Association of Realtors®, Fla.
  • Stephen Perkins, rce, EVP, Huntsville Area Association of Realtors®, Ala.
  • Nicholas A. Sabatine, rce, CEO, Greater Greenville Association of Realtors®, S.C.
  • Stephen R. Snell, rce, EO, Realtors® Association of York and Adams Counties, Pa.
  • John Stih, rce, Southeast Valley Regional Association of Realtors®, Ariz.

AE Professional Development: Successful Students

The following students successfully completed Realtor® Association Management Self-Study Courses between April 1 and June 30, 2005. Students are eligible to receive points toward their Realtor® association Certified Executive (RCE) designation.

  • Amy Aschenbrenner, Longmont Assoc., Colo.
  • Nancy Banker, Sanibel and Captiva Islands Assoc., Fla.
  • Breanna Frederixon, REALTORS® Assoc. of the Palm Beaches, Fla.
  • Jayne Hege, Columbus Board, Ind.
  • LeAnn Holsapple, Beverly Hills/Greater LA Assoc., Calif.
  • Robert Johnston, Anne Arundel County Assoc., Md.
  • Vicki Kohr, Illini Valley Assoc., Ill.
  • Connie Lynch, Southwest Riverside County Assoc., Calif.
  • Brittni Matt, Arizona Association
  • Mia Mengel, Lehigh Valley Assoc., Pa.
  • Vanessa Nedd-Mitchell, Arizona Assoc.
  • Colleen Porter, Oakland Assoc., Calif.
  • Carre Rangel, Pasadena Foothills Assoc., Calif.
  • Jenni Shephard, Lenawee County Assoc., Mich.
  • Debbie Strange, Kansas City Regional Assoc., Kan.
  • Brite Whitaker, Gainesville Alachua County Assoc., Fla.
  • Lisa Winn, San Luis Obispo Assoc., Calif.
  • Advanced Administrative Concepts Self-Study Course
  • Professional Standards Module
  • Cindy Pelz, Iowa Association
  • Kaaren Winkler, Washington Association

Advanced REALTOR® Association Management Self-Study Course

  • Kim Bergeron, Gulf South Real Estate Information, La
  • Jennifer Burmester, Lompoc Valley Assoc., Calif.
  • David Cheek, Corpus Christi Assoc., Texas
  • Jenny Pakula, Oregon Association
  • Cindy Pelz, Iowa AssociationJenni Shephard, Lenawee County Assoc., Mich.
  • Diane Tofell, Klamath County Assoc., Ore.