Editor’s note: Since the Homestead Act more than 150 years ago, politics, policy and real estate have gone hand in hand. Today, politics and policy are even more central to a vibrant and functioning real estate market. In this special four-part series of stories during an election year, Inman News looks at the relationship between politics and real estate. (See Part 2: Housing’s public policy agenda; Part 3: Realtors have money, masses; and Part 4: People, money, issues drive housing’s political agenda.)
Realtor Bruce Cohen is running for Congress. As a Libertarian running against a Republican incumbent in California’s conservative Orange County, he knows he’s not likely to win.
Still, Cohen, who works for Coldwell Banker in South Laguna Beach, is hoping to bring more exposure to the Libertarian party. In the process he’s also brought more attention to himself. Some clients are attracted to his political activism and have hired him to help them with their real estate needs because of it.
That’s not always the case though. Cohen remembers casually revealing his political affiliation to one couple–both Democrats–he was representing in a real estate transaction.
“I just mentioned in passing that I had a Libertarian event that evening to go to and they were really uptight about it,” Cohen said. “They said, ‘If you ever mention it again, we will not use you as our Realtor.'”
Cohen heeded their warning and eventually closed a deal for them. He was surprised by their reaction, but it hasn’t deterred him from his politics.
Real estate practitioners have long been active in politics, drawing upon some of the same skills, such as the ability to sell, that have made them successful in their businesses. Many have been Republicans, fulfilling the image of real estate and its related finance industries as being Republican territory.
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“The one thing the Republicans have done is they have kind of set themselves out as being the party of the rich and famous,” said Randy Button, a real estate agent and appraiser, who is also chairman of Tennessee’s Democratic Party. “Everyone in the real estate business wants to be successful, and they see that being successful has sometimes paralleled the Republican party of the multimillionaires.”
But Cohen’s Libertarian activism serves as an indication that the Republican real estate monolith isn’t as strong as it once was. E-Loan’s CEO and cofounder Chris Larsen, who raises money for John Kerry, the Democrat’s presumed nominee for U.S. President, is another example.
In short, there appears to be more political diversity than there once was among real estate professionals–or at least more people are willing to reveal their non-Republican point of view.
Of course, there are still plenty of Republicans inside the real estate industry. They say that’s because real estate professionals are businesspeople and naturally tend to be more conservative in their politics.
Narender Reddy has been selected as a Georgia delegate to the Republican national convention this August. Reddy, an agent with MetroBrokers/GMAC Real Estate in Georgia, has raised more than $100,000 for the Republican Party.
Reddy has drawn upon his contacts as a Realtor to help raise that amount, contacting past clients about possibly donating. And since he focuses on commercial properties worth at least half a million dollars, Reddy has access to high-income possible donors.
“This real estate business gives me bigger exposure,” Reddy said.
It also gives him the ability to close the deal when he asks for donations. He said he gets very few denials, though it may take a few visits or telephone calls.
John Mudd also understands the connection between politics and real estate. Both require people to make a name for themselves and reward their ability to make deals, said Mudd, an agent with Exit Realty Suncoast in Florida. Mudd has worked on multiple Republican campaigns, beginning with Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential bid.
Mudd, whose father was a city manager, grew up with politics as a constant source of family discussion. He believed being politically active was simply something one did.
When it came time for him to become involved, Mudd found himself more attracted to Republicans than to Democrats because of his conservative leanings. He’s found a lot of other real estate professionals feel the same way, even if their party affiliation would suggest otherwise.
His first broker, for example, is a Democrat, but never votes for Democrats, he said.
“Real estate is a business, and business people do tend to lean more toward Republican ideological values,” Mudd said.
Democratic-leaning real estate professionals see things differently. Things are shifting, Button said, especially since those within the industry tend to be community-minded and interested in education, traditional Democrat issues. And because most real estate agents are independent contractors, they’re also concerned about such issues as rising healthcare costs.
Larsen believes more people in the real estate industry will seek out the Democratic Party as Democrats pursue issues of concern to entrepreneurs. Republicans tend to focus more on big businesses, but many people in real estate are small-business entrepreneurs.
Larsen, who has windsurfed with Kerry, raises money for the presidential hopeful by hosting dinners. Larsen said he tries to be involved in areas “where we thought it generally makes sense with our views of the world.” Consumers’ control over personal data, privacy rights and transparency in business rank high on that list.
E-Loan has “tried to be a counterweight within the industry” because the banking industry is heavily involved in politics and tends to be very conservative, Larsen said.
That may be a small move compared with the weight of other companies and employees in the real estate and finance industries, but it demonstrates a growing shift from the dominance, at least in perception, of the Republican Party.
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