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Local association in spat with mayor over use of ‘Realtor’ on flyers

The Lompoc Valley Association of Realtors says that mayor Bob Lingl passed out misleading re-election campaign flyers
  • Lompoc Valley Mayor Bob Lingl passed out re-election campaign flyers against a proposed drag strip that read: "Will the noise from a drag strip lower your property values? Realtors think it will."
  • Lompoc Valley Association of Realtors president Maria Aguiniga caught wind of the signs and asked Lingl to pull them because she says they mistakenly hint that LVAOR is endorsing Lingl's viewpoint.
  • Lingl has apologized for using the term "Realtors," but apparently hasn't stopped use of the signs. Aguiniga has hinted at pulling the National Association of Realtors legal team into the matter.

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There’s an election issue making waves in Lompoc Valley, California — but it has nothing to do with either Presidential candidate.

Instead, it’s about the use of the word “Realtor” and a proposed drag strip known as the Lompoc Valley Motorsports Project.

Lompoc Valley Mayor Bob Lingl, who is up for re-election on Nov. 8, began passing out the flyers, which read: “Will the noise from a drag strip lower your property values? Realtors think it will.”

The Lompoc Valley Association of Realtors caught wind of the signs, and LVAOR President Maria Aguiniga privately presented her concerns to Lingl before a candidate forum on Sept. 19, according to a report by the Lompoc Record.

Aguiniga didn’t share the specific details of her initial conversation, but a Sept. 21 “cease and desist” request letter signed by the president suggests that it didn’t go well.

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In the letter, Aguiniga said Lingl’s “unauthorized” use of the term “Realtor” was “misleading and therefore may be a violation of state real estate license laws.”

Last week, on Oct. 4, a group of Realtors attended a Lompoc City Council meeting to publicly air their grievances and read Aguiniga’s letter to the mayor and the rest of the attendees.

Lingl stood by his actions and gave this response: “It’s a question: Will noise from the drag strip lower your property values?”

“I admit that I use the term ‘Realtors’ (when) I said that Realtors think it will. I was using that term, Realtors being plural, because several Realtors have indicated that (the motorsports project) will affect (property values).”

He then pointed to a specific line in LVAOR’s letter that stated “… individual comments should not and cannot be construed as support or endorsement by the entire Association of Realtors…” as an acknowledgement that some association members in fact do agree the drag strip could lower property values.

Fast forward to Oct. 10, and Lingl said he’d stop use of the original “Realtor” signs in his possession. According to an email conversation with the mayor, he “blacked out” the word Realtor on the 1,000 signs he had. As for the other 9,000 signs that had been already sent out, he said there was nothing he could do about them.

Furthermore, the mayor says that Aguiniga’s requests and hints that the National Association of Realtors may become legally involved is a political ploy to make sure he’s not re-elected.

Lingl backed up his assertion by pointing to a letter from a friend of his political opponent, John Linn.

“John met with [Aguiniga] the afternoon of [Oct. 4] and they coordinated the demonstration at the council meeting. They did this for one reason: to try to embarrass me,” he said. “Well, it didn’t work — they only [helped] promote the message that the Motorsports Park ‘may’ decrease property values.”

Aguiniga remains steady in her stance that the complaint is about ensuring that the opinions of a few agents don’t end up representing LVAOR — and to prevent buyers and sellers in the area from becoming skittish because of a simple prediction.

“Those are very important decisions in people’s lives,” she said of selling homes. “I would hate for people to sell or sell below market based on what’s being distributed out there. And then what if the project doesn’t go through, or if property values actually go up?”

NAR General Counsel’s Katie Johnson says the association receives complaints about the misuse of REALTOR trademarks from local and state associations and individual members on a daily basis, and they follow up on all of them. As for the LVAOR case, Johnson says they will contact Lingl to make sure he properly uses the REALTOR trademark.

marian@inman.com