ANAHEIM, Calif. — The National Association of Realtors, during a board of directors meeting Monday, approved $332,140 to support an Oregon Association of Realtors campaign to pass a constitutional ballot measure next year blocking real estate transfer taxes in that state.

The state association has a petition drive under way and has set up a website at in an effort to block the state or local governments within the state from establishing taxes, fees and other assessments that are collected when ownership of a home, land or commercial property is transferred.

The proposed amendment to the state constitution would not impact any transfer taxes that were operative as of Dec. 31, 2009.

The NAR Issues Mobilization Committee recommended the expenditure.

NAR fights mandatory energy audits

Separately, the Issues Mobilization Committee approved $97,000 to support the Seattle King County Association of Realtors’ opposition to any mandates to release the findings of a home energy audit — which is intended to identify areas for improvement in lowering energy consumption — upon the point of sale of a home.

The association stated in a January 2009 letter to the city of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and Environment, for example, that it was "particularly troubled about an implementation program that would mandate disclosure of an energy performance score at the point of sale," as the "introduction of new mandates within the real estate transaction places yet another burden on an already complicated, stressful and costly process.

And in a 2011 Voting Guide, the association suggests that Realtors should consider where candidates stand on the issue of energy audits, noting that "some cities have contemplated new requirements directing a home seller to conduct an energy audit and disclose the audit results to prospective buyers."

During a session at the NAR conference last week focusing on federal issues important to association members, a speaker noted that "energy scoring" and "energy labeling" of homes appears to be a dead issue on Capitol Hill, though on the regulatory side the issue may live on.

Realcomp II MLS faces class-action trial in 2013

NAR’s board also approved spending of $272,550 to support seven legal cases, including up to $25,000 to help defend the Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Realcomp II multiple listing service against a consumer class-action lawsuit alleging that the MLS’s rules damaged consumers in the form of increased commissions paid for real estate services, according to a NAR legal summary.

NAR will pay an amount matching the contribution of the Michigan Association of Realtors, according to a report by NAR’s Legal Action Committee.

Crain’s Detroit Business reported that a 2013 trial date has been set for that case, and that the MLS had spent a total of about $2 million, with support from NAR, defending against a 2006 antitrust complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission related to its policies.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal filed by Realcomp II after the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in March 2011 denied the MLS’s petition to overturn a 2009 FTC order for the MLS to rescind its rules.

RESPA issues weigh on NAR’s legal war chest

NAR’s directors also agreed to contribute up to $50,000 to support the defense of Birmingham, Ala.-based JRHBW Realty, a brokerage that does business as RealtySouth. A homeowner filed a class-action lawsuit charging that the company’s collection of a so-called "administrative brokerage fee" on top of a percentage-based commission is a violation of the federal Real Estate Settlement and Procedures Act.

A District Court judge found that the fee violates RESPA unless there are specific services performed for the fee, and RealtySouth intends to appeal the decision to the 11th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, according to the legal committee’s report.

NAR directors also approved up to $75,000 to support a litigant in a separate RESPA-related lawsuit. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide how to interpret a section of RESPA relating to fees that are charged for settlement services when no services are provided for such fees.

NAR intends to file a court brief in Freeman v. Quicken Loans Inc. to support Quick Loans, which has argued "that the express language of RESPA Section 8(b) requires a split of the fee for a violation to occur," according to the report by NAR’s legal committee.

Because of "the increasing number of requests for funding for lawsuits alleging violations of Section 8 of RESPA," which relates to illegal kickbacks for business referrals, NAR’s board of directors approved a new "work group, (presidential advisory group), or other appropriate group of members to examine current legislative, regulatory, administrative and judicial interpretations" of that section of RESPA.

The new group will investigate "specific remedies to eliminate or mitigate any continuing adverse impact on brokers under Section 8."

NAR provides legal aid for HomeServices, Weichert Inc.

In Shomer v. Alliance LLC, another case involving alleged unlawful fees, NAR directors approved a contribution not to exceed $50,000 to defend against claims of unfair trade practices and violations of Pennsylvania’s consumer protection law.

NAR directors also voted to contribute $50,000 to aid HomeServices of America Inc. and HomeServices of Kentucky Inc. in defending against a lawsuit alleging "agreement among … real estate brokerage firms to fix brokerage commissions, in violation of the Sherman Act."

In The Land Man Realty Inc. v. Weichert Inc., Weichert Realtors Northeast Group, and Lorraine Co., NAR directors approved a contribution of $15,550 toward legal expenses incurred by the New York State Association of Realtors in filing a brief supporting the defending brokerages.

In that lawsuit, The Land Man Realty Inc. claimed it was owed a commission based on an oral agreement with a seller, according to the legal committee’s summary.

And NAR directors agreed to contribute $7,000 to defend Larry Rice and Rice Properties relating to commissions earned in dealings purchases of commercial properties by Madison Real Estate Group, which was sued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for alleged sales of unregistered securities and allegedly operating a Ponzi scheme.

NAR pays $1.45M for building adjacent to Chicago headquarters

A report by NAR’s Finance Committee projected membership of 1.01 million in 2012 for the association, compared with 1.02 million at the end of October 2011.

The finance committee also reported that it had approved the $1.45 million purchase of a building at 437 N. Rush St. in Chicago that is home to a Chicago steakhouse called Phil Stefani’s 437 Rush Restaurant. The building is adjacent to NAR’s headquarters building at 430 N. Michigan Ave. in Chicago.

NAR to acquire full ownership of SentriLock

Members of NAR’s leadership team also reported to directors that NAR will buy the remaining 41 percent of stock in SentriLock, a lockbox company that NAR has had majority ownership in since it launched eight years ago.

NAR has supported the development of SentriLock as an alternative to lockbox competitors, such as Supra. NAR CEO Dale Stinton said during a presentation at the conference that the company started because of a perception that "the market wasn’t playing fair with you (Realtors)," and the thought was that reaching a market share of 7 or 8 percent would be an achievement.

Now, SentriLock has about 20 percent market share, with about 20.5 million lockboxes sold, to date. The cost of purchasing the rest of the stock in SentriLock will not exceed $7 million, according to a report presented to the board of directors, and the company has a total valuation of about $17 million.

Stinton estimated that SentriLock has saved NAR members "something on the order of $60 million in the last seven years, and that, to us, is payback." He said the management team for SentriLock will be unchanged.

Realtor University to launch in spring 2012

Richard J. Rosenthal, a past president of the California Association of Realtors, reported to the board of directors that Realtor University, a new institution that will offer education and professional development, including a Master of Real Estate degree, will launch in spring 2012.

Rosenthal will serve as chairman for the board of regents of Realtor University. The university is scheduled to appear before the Illinois Higher Education Commission on Dec. 6, 2011, to receive its operating authority, with classes beginning in March 2012.

About 300 individuals "have indicated a desire to apply for admissions to the first class of the graduate school of Realtor University — we budget for 40," Rosenthal reported.

NAR CEO Dale Stinton is serving as president for Realtor University, and there are 11 members of the university’s board of regents, he said.

There are commitments for about $500,000 million in scholarships for Realtors to attend the university’s courses, he reported.

Maurice "Moe" Veissi installed as 2012 NAR president

The board of directors also installed new NAR leadership, including Maurice "Moe" Veissi, during its Monday meeting.

Maurice "Moe" Veissi, broker-owner of Miami-based Veissi & Associates Inc., will serve as the 2012 president for NAR, a company that specializes in land development and acquisition. He is a past president of the Florida Association of Realtors.

Gary Thomas, a Realtor in Orange County, Calif., who founded Altera Real Estate and is a past president of the California Association of Realtors, is NAR’s 2012 president-elect.

Other members of the NAR leadership team installed during the meeting:

  • Steve Brown, co-owner of Irongate Inc. Realtors in Dayton, Ohio, will serve as 2012 NAR first vice president.
  • William J. Armstrong III, of Mackintosh Inc. Realtors in Damascus, Md., will serve as 2012 NAR treasurer.
  • D.J. Snapp, owner of Dairell J. Snapp Realty Inc. of West Palm Beach, Fla., will serve as 2012 NAR vice president and liaison to committees.
  • Scott Louser, broker-owner of Prudential Minot Real Estate in Minot, N.D., will serve as vice president and liaison to government affairs.
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