As the real estate community of Puerto Rico still assesses the damage of homes post Maria, a number of the island’s 600 Realtors and around 7,000 agents are thinking about temporarily leaving for the U.S. mainland or other places.

  • A number of Puerto Rican real estate agents may be forced to leave the island and work on the mainland in the coming weeks.

As the real estate community of Puerto Rico still assesses the damage of homes post Maria, a number of the island’s 600 Realtors and around 7,000 agents are thinking about temporarily leaving for the U.S. mainland or other places.

Eduardo Santos, President, Puerto Rico Association of Realtors

“Many of our agents are talking to other associations and asking about their markets,” said Eduardo Santos, president of the Puerto Rico Association of Realtors (PRAR). “We know of several agents who have lost their entire homes.”

Santos further said that many of the older buildings in San Juan, the capital of this tropical U.S. territory and its most populous city, were more damaged than outward appearances indicated.

Orbe Soto, Keller Williams regional operating principal leader in Puerto Rico, said a couple of his agents had gone to the mainland already, in one case due to property loss. Soto thought they might stay permanently.

An appeal to mainland brokers from PRAR

But the agents still on the island aren’t trying to keep anyone there.

“As an association, we would be happy to receive information of brokers on the mainland, interested in hiring Puerto Rican agents, even if temporarily,” Santos noted, saying that Puerto Rican agents could contribute much to U.S. markets.

Orbe Soto, Keller Williams regional operating principal leader, Puerto Rico

“I would say Puerto Rican agents are some of the best at marketing, particularly in social media,” he said, citing PRAR’s education program as another asset.

Bilingual Puerto Rican agents, adept with the MLS system, are also used to dealing with mainland American and international clients. The island has seen a lot of interest from Chinese buyers recently, Santos said.

Some agents already have licenses in parts of the U.S., but most don’t.

Temporary reciprocal licensing for PR agents?

Ivan Zavala, CEO of Reality Realty

Still, Puerto Rican real estate leaders hope that U.S. state regulators will take steps to enable the agents leaving the island to start work immediately on the mainland.

“There aren’t any reciprocal arrangements currently, but giving a moratorium on any real estate license (for an agent) from Puerto Rico would be very helpful for one or two years,” Santos said, suggesting such agents take courses to get acquainted with local markets.

Ivan Zavala, CEO of Reality Realty and a member of the group Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, predicted Puerto Rican agents could leave the island in the hundreds, and he thinks it would be “a win-win” for those states allowing bilingual agents in, particularly Florida, Texas, New York and California.

“The Hispanic community is the fastest and largest minority group in the nation; it would be an added value to that consumer,” Zavala said.

Neil Garfinkel, broker counsel for the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), said that instituting a temporary reciprocal agreement for Puerto Rican agents would be a decision for New York’s Department of State.

Garfinkel noted that while he didn’t speak for the state, a “flood” of Puerto Rican agents might move the department to be flexible or provide some options.

Florida watches with supportive interest

Bill Martin, CEO, Florida Association of Realtors

Florida, meanwhile, with its strong relationship and proximity to the U.S. territory, is the most likely to receive the greatest influx of agents from Puerto Rico.

CEO of the Florida Association of Realtors Bill Martin said Florida Governor Rick Scott could look at offering the real estate test without pre-licensing: “He could waive it; there are any number of options.”

“We are very proud of the Puerto Rico membership we have here,” Martin added.

Martin said he expects a continued increase in the Puerto Rican population in Florida with or without the help of Hurricane Maria.

But he sympathized with those fleeing the storm damage: “I can’t imagine the gut-wrenching position that people are faced with when they are having to say, ‘I will leave my city and my family,'” Martin said.

Email Gill South.

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