WASHINGTON — When President Donald Trump walked on stage at the National Association of Realtors’ midyear conference Friday afternoon, he was figuratively enveloped in the warm, enthusiastic embrace of 2,000 real estate agents and brokers.
“I feel like home,” he told the cheering crowd as it gave him the first of at least 11 standing ovations throughout the hour-long speech at the Realtors Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo (colloquially known as NAR Midyear).
“I’m always looking at the real estate, I don’t know, I’ll never get it out of my blood. It’s in our blood, right?”
Trump, who gained some notoriety in the industry before his election when he compared real estate brokers to “bloodsuckers,” had long been a broker himself before ascending to the United States’ highest office. He is no longer licensed in New York.
Trump began his speech by thanking various members of the NAR leadership team “for everything you do to support Realtors around the country. I guess that includes me,” he said, prompting laughter from attendees.
“I took a little sabbatical for, uh, eight years,” he said, to wild cheering from the crowd at the reference to his possible re-election.
The speech was a chance for the president to work his charm in a friendly room. He elicited applause when he referred to low unemployment figures, opportunity zones, lower tariffs, tax cuts, fewer regulations and a rising middle class and blue-collar workers.
Meanwhile, attendees chuckled when he made fun of California’s high-speed train project and called some of those running against him for the presidency “stone-cold crazy.”
Throughout his speech, Trump took the opportunity to praise Realtors repeatedly, even as he sometimes alluded to lower-performing members of the profession.
“I’m honored to be here with the hardworking men and women who help millions of families live the American Dream. It’s so true. The incredible members of the National Association of Realtors,” he said.
Later, he compared a “good broker” to a “great surgeon” and noted that a property can sit on the market if listed by one broker, but fare differently in the hands of a “genius.”
“You have to remember those people. Those are great people. You have to reward them properly,” he said of good brokers.
“You are really truly fantastically talented people. There are some probably in this room that don’t have such great talent. You know who I am. You know who they are.” Attendees laughed.
The only time the president drew a negative reaction was when he joked that he was famous for trying to only pay brokers a 1 percent commission, which drew boos from the audience.
“Don’t worry, nobody accepted it,” he said, making the crowd laugh.
“But I tried like hell … I’d get it down to 4 or 5 percent.”
After the speech, most seemed pleased with the president’s performance and identified with him as a real estate business person.
“I thought it was amazing,” said Diane McAdams of eXp Realty in Wethersfield, Connecticut.
“We’re Realtors and he’s in the business of listing and selling properties himself and I thought he spoke to us. I thought it was very educational and enlightening.”
Rob Levine, broker-owner and president of the Greater Hartford Association of Realtors said of the speech, “Of course we enjoyed it.”
“[What] I thought was most important is how many jobs there are in the country now because people need good jobs to be able to buy homes,” he added.
“That wasn’t always the case in the past, so you look at how low unemployment is and how many job openings there are.
“When you kick-start the economy through job creation, that’s when you see people buying homes and we need more of that, especially in Connecticut. So that’s what we hope to see more and more of.”
Collin Flynn, a Realtor from McKinney, Texas, thought the speech was “awesome.”
“Trump had a lot of energy. He was just very blunt, as he is, and bullish on the market and how well the economy’s doing,” Flynn said.
“He got the whole crowd up on their feet throughout the whole speech. He spoke to us for an hour, so it was really special for me.”
Asked what Trump talked about that applies to his market, Flynn mentioned “opportunity zones,” a federal program created by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that offers tax incentives for long-term investments in new businesses in low-income communities nationwide.
“Industry and job creation in areas of town that have been run down and don’t have an economy currently. There’s case studies of money going into those areas and providing jobs and funding and things in those areas,” Flynn said.
Krishna Malyala, co-founder and CEO of real estate tech firm TLCengine, agreed that opportunity zones could have a “huge” positive impact on communities.
“Because if you’re getting a 100 percent tax-free gain, it’s like you’re owning your own home. And that actually provides opportunity for businesses to do the same and so then it ensures that businesses invest in that community and stay there for 10 years,” Malyala said.
“As [Trump] said, it’s going to bring a lot of money into those communities, but we have to find a balance of what those community needs are,” he added, noting a need for affordable housing, mixed-use buildings, public transit, and grocery store availability.
“[The opportunity zone program] actually could bring lots of jobs. It could revitalize those communities and bring amazing businesses,” he said.
On the other hand, Malyala felt a negative impact from another part of tax reform: the chopping of state and local tax (SALT) tax deductions.
“The one [issue] I will disagree on is that middle income [people] did get hit because I personally saw my taxes go up in New Jersey and I don’t really own that big of a house,” he said.
“Just because the prices of a house are so high in California and New Jersey and other states, the SALT did a huge impact. I think we need to look at everything holistically in terms of tax policies.”
Moreover, Malyala said that “some regulations are good” and noted that the CFPB had been created after the financial crisis to protect against predatory lending.
“We need to take a look at nuanced policy on both sides to make sure it’s fair for everyone. We still have to actually protect consumers and not having those regulations in place is what worries me,” Malyala said.
“We can’t go backwards. We have such a great, amazing equality in America and we can’t go back to redlining. We have to always continue moving forward and have those opportunities for everyone, including all races, in any which way.”
“We have to make sure that people truly understand that equal opportunity extends not only to us Realtors but to everyone,” Malyala said.
“It’s our country’s responsibility to make sure we provide equal opportunities for homeownership and not put out there that if I’m a private person I can sit there and say, ‘Oh I don’t have to sell to that other person.'”
Michael Feldman of William Raveis Real Estate in Stamford, Connecticut, liked that Trump listed everything he had done to help the economy, “which in turn helps real estate.”
“For the most part in the country, real estate is moving. We still have a lack of inventory, but when you take regulations off of small banks, community banks, which possibly the administration before us didn’t do, they were hurting, now they’re thriving,” Feldman said.
“You loosen up the money, people can buy homes and that’s what it’s all about.”
He also seemed happy that Trump is in real estate.
“I’ve always felt that now that we have a real estate guy in the White House — he sells real estate, he leases real estate, he builds real estate and develops — he’s got a mindset. It’s like he was coming home,” Feldman said.
“We’re all likeminded. We’re not left, we’re not right, when we come here, we’re the Realtor Party,” he added, referring to NAR’s political advocacy arm.
Melissa Hailey, a Realtor from Plano, Texas, said she was more impressed by Trump’s speech than she thought she was going to be.
“He’s kind of a loose cannon. How do you know what to expect when it could be anything? I was pleasantly surprised,” she said.
“After seeing him, I think he’s smarter than I thought he was.”