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The Christian Real Estate Network, which refers home buyers and home sellers to Christian real estate professionals, has come under fire for alleged discrimination and breaches of fair housing laws, said Justin Smith, president of the 2-year-old company.

The network, based in California, has received some “hate mail” and other criticisms, though the company is open to doing business with everyone and the criticisms are misguided, he said.

In a Jan. 2 announcement, Smith stated that “hate mail” received by the Christian Real Estate Network “increased substantially in 2004.”

“There is a basic misunderstanding on how we operate as a business. It would be silly to deny anyone service – we never say anything like that at all,” he said.

Since its start in January 2002, the referral network has grown to represent about 340 real estate agents and about 60 loan officers. The network also refers business to Christian property managers, and last month the network expanded to include referrals for Christian appraisers.

Agents pay $200 for a three-year membership to the network, which supports the network’s advertising budget. Also, member-agents pay the network a 25 percent gross commission, before any broker splits, on all transactions referred by the network. To join, agents must be licensed for at least three years and must have closed at least $1 million worth of sales in the prior year. Also, members of the referral network must agree to contact each referred client within 24 hours

Christian loan officers must pay $49.95 per month, or $475 a year, to participate in the network, and must have at least six months of experience.

Bart Smith, Justin’s father, is CEO and co-founder of the network, which is a family-run business. Bart Smith also has served as a broker-owner in the RE/MAX system since 1987. The network reportedly processed more than 1,000 requests for real estate agents and loan officers in 2004, and there are members in all but a few states. The network also is open to real estate professionals in Canada.

“Our critics clearly have a misunderstanding of the fair housing laws and how our business operates,” Bart Smith said. “The reason we started this network in the first place was because we found that there is a huge number of people who would prefer to use a Christian agent.” The network’s Web site carries an equal housing opportunity logo on its home page.

The network advertises on a number of Christian-affiliated Web sites and radio stations. How broadly does the network define “Christian?” The group’s “statement of faith” is fairly all-encompassing, Justin Smith said, with membership open to most “mainline” Christian denominations, such as Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian faiths, he said. The network does not recognize members of the Church of Latter Day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses as eligible to join the referral network, though, he said.

The network’s pledge of performance states, “As committed believers, and as real estate professionals, we agree to provide a level of service to our clients which will glorify our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.”

The group may eventually expand the network to include Christian notaries and lawyers, Justin Smith added. “We’re just trying to respond to the need,” he said.

Another Christian-faith-based real estate network, the Michigan-based Exodus Network, links home buyers and home sellers with Christian Realtors. Realtors in the Exodus Network are selected after an application and screening process. The network advertises that its Realtors “work with biblical integrity and honesty.”

The group’s Web site carries the notice, “The Exodus Network abides by all the practices of the fair housing law.”

In addition to faith-based real estate referral networks, there are other specialized real estate networks. Gay Real Estate Inc., for example, has assembled a national network of over 4,000 gay, lesbian and gay-friendly residential and commercial real estate professionals to assist the gay, lesbian and transgender community.


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