Robert W. de Heer, a real estate pioneer and author of the "Realty Bluebook," died July 1 in his San Rafael, Calif., home, according to family members.
De Heer, who was 87, had been suffering from multiple ailments when he passed away, including dementia, a broken hip and pneumonia.
According to those who knew him, Robert "Bob" de Heer was a born organizer who created a tome, the "Realty Bluebook," which became known as a "bible" for the real estate industry. He was also one of the first to create standardized real estate transaction forms for agents and brokers — the descendants of those forms are still in use today.
"Robert was a pioneer in bringing standards and professional information to the real estate industry and to the homebuying and selling public," said Inman News publisher Bradley Inman, who first met de Heer about 25 years ago.
"His leadership, publications and actions helped bring order to a fragmented and free-ranging industry."
De Heer was born Bob Willem Julius de Heer in The Hague, Netherlands, in 1923, according to his daughter Catherine. His mother met his father while she was a secretary at the German Embassy. She was part Jewish. When de Heer was 3, his family moved to Berlin, where his father was hired as an accountant.
In 1938, as Nazi power grew and it became more and more difficult for Jews to live in Berlin, de Heer and his mother moved back to The Hague.
In 1940, after World War II had broken out, the German Nazi regime occupied the Netherlands. As the family story goes, on the day the Allies invaded Italy in 1943, de Heer’s mother placed flowers on her window sill. A neighbor who didn’t like the family reported his mother to Nazi authorities. She was arrested and died in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Meanwhile, de Heer himself did not meet the threshold for Jewish blood and was not obligated to wear the yellow star required of Jews as of 1941. But as a young Dutch male, he feared being rounded up by the Nazis to work in their munitions factories.
"(By 1943) it was clear that the Germans weren’t doing well, so it was all hands on deck. All men from 16 to 60 were to report to work in the work camps," Catherine de Heer said.
"My father hid under the kitchen floor because the floor was concrete" and he figured the Nazis couldn’t shoot him through it, she said.
She’s not sure how long de Heer hid under the kitchen, but he eventually sold the household linens and other belongings to pay his board in a farmhouse outside of the city. There he survived a close encounter with Nazi authorities by hiding under attic floorboards, peering at them as they searched the room above him.
In 1945, he left the country. He considered going to live with an uncle in South Africa, but found too many paralells to the Nazi regime in that country’s apartheid system, Catherine said. Instead, he went to live with another uncle in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. De Heer had learned English through his schooling and worked for a couple of importing businesses there.
He lived in Rio for about six years and then decided to "hitch" his way through South America, Catherine said. Throughout his travels, he carried a book he had originally created in the Netherlands to help him study for a high school history exam.
"He created this amazing book organizing the history of Western civilization in a timeline," his son Christopher, known as "CJ," said. The family has kept that book as one of the first instances of the young de Heer’s knack for organizing.
In 1952, de Heer reached the United States, crossing over at Nogales, Ariz., on a Greyhound bus. When he arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area he was greeted by the huge white words "South San Francisco The Industrial City" cast in concrete on a hillside.
After experiencing the beauties of Rio, he thought he might have made a "huge mistake," Catherine said.
Nonetheless, he stayed and lived in various cities around the Bay Area. He was living in San Francisco when he met and married his first wife, Marion. According to their children, he likely worked as a real estate agent at Saxe Real Estate in San Francisco throughout the 1950s.
Partly because real estate brokers were required to be U.S. citizens at the time, de Heer gained his citizenship in April 1960, CJ said. In doing so, de Heer changed his name to Robert William de Heer, likely to identify himself more as an American, CJ said.
He also had an entrepreneurial bent in his nature and had always wanted to work for himself. So, in 1961, he opened his own brokerage, de Heer Realty, in San Francisco’s West Portal neighborhood.
"The sign on the front said, ‘Keep in touch with the Dutch,’" Catherine said. "He was maybe not an advertising genius."
It was while working as a San Francisco real estate broker that de Heer would realize the two main avenues his career would take — both of which would involve his knack for organization.
As a broker, de Heer compiled information he needed on all aspects of a real estate transaction in a binder. When more and more people asked to borrow his binder, he decided to create the "Realty Bluebook," after the "Kelley Blue Book" for automobiles.
The "Realty Bluebook" would contain information about every aspect of a real estate transaction: finance instruments; types of mortgages; loan underwriting; conventional, FHA, VA and seller financing; the Truth in Lending Act and necessary disclosures; the Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act (RESPA); financial tables; technology tips; selling and listing techniques; risk management; environmental hazards disclosure; federal law requirements; tax information; exchange agreement information; and transaction checklists.
Robert Bruss, a late Inman News columnist and a friend of de Heer’s, described the Bluebook as the "industry bible for real estate salespeople" and "the industry standard for accurate and concise reference information."
At the same time as he was creating the Bluebook, de Heer noticed that a lot of real estate professionals seemed to treat their clients’ transaction information a little too casually, leaving out important information on desks for others to see and crafting their own contract language in purchase agreements.
"Selling a house was like selling a chair. There were no disclosures, no systems at all," Catherine said.
What most disturbed de Heer was that real estate agents and brokers created their own residential purchase agreements on pads of paper obtained from title companies. The forms had blank spaces to include not only the names of the parties involved but also the terms of the deal.
"De Heer noticed that (1) many agents were terrible writers who produced contracts with errors and ambiguities, and (2) by writing contract language, they were essentially practicing law without a license," Catherine said.
Unauthorized practice of law "was not considered a risk in those days because risk management was a term that did not appear in the real estate lexicon until much later, when harmed buyers began filing lawsuits against sellers and brokers," according to publishing company Dearborn Real Estate Education, which would later buy the rights to the "Bluebook."
De Heer subsequently decided to create a standard purchase agreement, which went from one page in 1966 to about seven pages by the time he retired in 1993. The de Heer family moved to San Rafael in 1968 — de Heer wanted sunshine, Catherine said.
He closed his brokerage and founded a company, Professional Publishing, to publish forms and the "Realty Bluebook" full time. The book was published in a pocket edition so that agents and brokers could carry it with them on the job.
The "Realty Bluebook" "was the gold standard for almost anything related to real estate loans, transactions, taxes and ownership," said Leigh Robinson, author of "Landlording" and "Eviction Book for California."
"My father gave me copies of two books once I became interested in real estate back in the ’70s. One was Nickerson’s ‘How I Turned $1,000 into a Million in Real Estate in My Spare Time,’ and the other was de Heer’s ‘Realty Bluebook.’ I wore both of them out," Robinson said.
De Heer updated the Realty Bluebook almost every year even after his retirement in 1993. The last, 33rd edition was published in 2003 and is still for sale. In its later publications, annual sales exceeded 50,000 copies, according to Dearborn.
De Heer also eventually created some 150 forms to cover all kinds of real estate transactions, from leases between tenants and landlords to listing agreements between clients and brokers, according to Jim McKenney, who bought the forms business from de Heer upon his retirement. McKenney now publishes the forms online at TrueForms.com.
"The California Association of Realtors began publishing their own forms shortly thereafter, so they were competitors," McKenney said.
De Heer’s forms "caught on very rapidly," McKenney said. De Heer had clearly filled a necessary void at the time.
"I was impressed by the fact that his timing was so good," said his former wife, Marion, who was with him when he started his businesses. "He filled a need at the time that was so important."
Success came slowly, she said, but she was not terribly surprised when it did.
"He definitely had the talent and zeal to carry it through. He worked hard on everything. It’s just the way he was. He was extremely creative, always doing projects around the house."
From all accounts, de Heer was a very focused, detailed worker who would not rest until what he created was perfect.
"He loved his work, could just bury himself for days in his work. Total focus. He was really driven and absolutely willing to spend however much time it would take to get something right," said Jim Little, a friend and former colleague who used to teach seminars on the "Bluebook" to local Realtor associations.
After retirement, de Heer remained active as a real estate author. He not only updated the "Bluebook," but also published the "Homeowner’s Kit" in 1995.
In his spare time, he loved to sail and was a member of the St. Francis Yacht Club and the San Francisco Yacht Club.
As far as his personality, those who knew him marvelled at his sense of humor.
"He was a master at telling jokes. An absolute master. He would have me in stitches with some of the stories that he would tell," Little said.
And that aspect of his life was not exempt from his fascination with organization, either.
"He kept (the jokes) all organized in his Palm device," CJ said.
He passed on his love of organizing to his children. Catherine is a senior technical writer at Adobe Systems. CJ is a former graphic designer and has been a Coldwell Banker agent in Santa Cruz, Calif., for the past six years. De Heer’s youngest son, Robert, is a computer programmer in Palo Alto, Calif.
In addition to his children, Robert de Heer is survived by a half-brother, Yorck de Heer of The Hague. De Heer’s ashes will be scattered in a private ceremony. His family will hold a memorial service for him at a yet-to-be-determined date in September.
Jeff Lubar, longtime NAREE member, dies
Jeff Lubar, a dedicated volunteer and leader for the National Association of Real Estate Editors (NAREE), also died recently, the National Association of Real Estate Editors announced this week.
Services were held for him Wednesday in Fairfax Station, Va. He died of cancer and is survived by his wife, Barbara, and three children.
Lubar was a director of communications for the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America (MICA) and a NAREE member for almost 25 years.
He received the NAREE President’s Award for Outstanding Service in 2009 and 2005.
"Jeff was instrumental in providing help with more than a half dozen NAREE conferences, working tirelessly behind the scenes, offering expertise, insight and guidance on every project. He was always fun to work with, displaying his sense of humor and compassion even on the tightest deadlines," said Mary Doyle-Kimball, executive director of NAREE, in a statement.
"Jeff was a dear friend to so many NAREE members. We will all miss him more than words can express."