It’s almost January and time to pony up and pay your dues to your local, state and national Realtor associations. In case you’re not aware of the value the various associations to which you belong provide, keep reading. You may be very surprised.
It seems as if the majority of agents, brokers and associations are struggling with how to demonstrate their value. In the past, Realtors were the gatekeepers of the multiple listing service and created their value by the information they could provide consumers. The associations are also the keeper of the ethics of how the industry conducts itself as well being a primary source for providing education.
One function that very few agents pay attention to is the role that associations play in interacting with the politicians who can make or break our businesses. To illustrate this point, I recently attended a legislative review session sponsored by the Austin Young Professionals Network.
Texas is unusual in that we have a six-month legislative session every two years. The challenge is that during the session, more than 6,000 bills will be proposed. The Texas Association of Realtors will monitor 2,400 of these bills that can have a tremendous impact on the industry. Since there is no way the legislators can track that many bills, they must rely on lobbyists to update them on the pros and cons on each side.
Whether you realize it or not, the lobbying arm of your associations has done much to protect your business as well as the homeowners in your area. For instance, Texas is currently looking for a way to relieve the property tax burden on homeowners. Although the state has no income tax, current property taxes run from 2.2 to 2.7 percent of the full value of your property, less your homeowner’s exemption.
One alternative that was proposed was to increase the sales tax. Eliminating the property tax and replacing it with a sales tax would have resulted in a rate of 18 to 25 percent. Such a move would have pretty much killed the economy.
Another bill came before the Texas Legislature that would add a small transfer tax to each sale for some legislator’s favorite cause. That $10 fee could have easily expanded into hundreds or even thousands of dollars of transfer tax once the Legislature opened the door to using that vehicle to create additional funds.
What has the Texas Real Estate Political Action Committee (TREPAC) really fired up at the moment is a proposed professional services fee on real estate commissions. Since Texas doesn’t have state income tax, the proposal would have generated what in essence was an 8 percent "fee" (income tax) on commissions.
Needless to say, the state and local associations voiced strong disapprovals. The Texas Association of Realtors and TREPAC are monitoring this situation carefully to make sure there isn’t a rider or some other amendment to a bill that could result in this sizable fee.
Protecting Realtors from litigation
In California, one local bar association actually put on a seminar called, "How to Sue a Real Estate Broker." Texas passed legislation removing Realtors from a protected class where it was harder for lawyers to bring frivolous lawsuits.
As soon as the bill passed removing Realtors from the protected class, the frivolous suits exploded. The Texas Association of Realtors and TREPAC fought to change this legislation and were successful. The result is that consumers and Realtors alike have a much greater degree of protection from frivolous litigation.
Water policy is about to become one of the major hot-button issues in many places throughout the country. The National Association of Realtors’ Rethink Initiative has already identified water as one of the huge challenges facing the industry now and in the future.
For instance, one of my past clients in California owns a bed-and-breakfast property where she conducts weddings at the lake on her property. Recently, a buyer purchased an adjacent ranch that he intends to convert to a vineyard. The ranch currently lacks irrigation. If the water permit for the vineyard is approved, it will not only put my client’s bed-and-breakfast out of business, it will dry up her well where she will no longer have water for her home.
Water rights are something that few Realtors are concerned about and yet they can have a huge influence on the local economy. For example, Allied Van Lines still reports that Texas is the No. 1 destination for companies that are moving. Michigan, however, is working to attract companies by pointing out the potential water shortages that Texas is already facing. There’s no water shortage in Michigan.
Our Realtor associations will be on the forefront of this issue doing their best to maneuver through what will be required legally while doing their best to protect the interests of consumers and their own members.
As you can probably tell, this legislative review meeting was quite an eye opener for me. The next time you feel like complaining about your dues or that your association isn’t doing enough for you, take the time to investigate what they do for you at the local, state and national level. You may be surprised at how many things the "Realtor Party" does to continue to protect your business and the dream of homeownership.