“Every one of our priorities changed when COVID-19 hit,” said Dave Walsh, president-elect of the California Association of Realtors, during the group’s WomanUP! virtual conference.

It has been a year of surprises for all, and that’s certainly held true for the California Association of Realtors (C.A.R.), which operates in a state that has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Jeanne Radsick

C.A.R. President Jeanne Radsick, President-Elect Dave Walsh, Treasurer Jennifer Branchini and Chief Executive Officer Joel Singer discussed with moderator Leslie Appleton-Young what the association had planned going into 2020, and how those plans quickly transformed during a panel at the WomanUP! virtual conference on Tuesday.

“I was worried about membership numbers,” Radsick admitted.

Due to the virtual transformation nearly all events have taken on this year, however, C.A.R. has seen significant increases in membership participation.

“We’ve had so many more people who have attended absolutely everything that we’ve done because they can,” Radsick said.

Walsh noted that housing legislation was also to be a key focus for the year.

Dave Walsh

“[With] the lack of inventory, we had to get really focused on legislation this year,” Walsh said. “Our initiative was on the ballot. It was going to be a very political year. And every one of our priorities got changed when, quite frankly, COVID-19 hit.”

“Certainly the housing supply was a huge issue, and affordability,” Branchini added, noting that earlier this year, she when spoke at a press conference about a housing bill that would allow for more housing built in California, and it was met with a group of protesters. “It was quite eye-opening and got me into a mindset to prepare for where we are right now.”

Joel Singer

“When the virus hit, all of us had clear warning signs,” Singer said. “[That] made it clear that this was going to be really, really bad. We recognized from day one that this was going to be an important time in residential real estate. Our real goal was to create the most functioning market that we could.”

Something all of the C.A.R. officers touched on was how much shifting business to virtual has allowed them to feel more connected as an association because of the ease with which they can meet now.

“We’ve been able to touch more of our members because [business is] remote,” Radsick said. “We’ve been able to move forward to learn more ways of interaction, and it’s the opportunity that makes me excited.”

Jennifer Branchini

“The ability for us to meet in a very convenient, easy way [has allowed us to] meet whenever we need to,” Branchini said, specifically in regards to C.A.R.’s strategic planning committee, which has ramped up its work for strengthening fair housing policies even more so in light of the recent resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement.

“[I’m] grateful that we were already going down the road with some of these issues that have really risen so far above where we could have ever imagined with regards to fair housing,” Branchini added.

She said one of the committee’s goals this year has been to increase homeownership rates across all demographics, but especially Black and Hispanic households — a goal that will be backed by aggressive programs to help achieve this in the months to come.

If Singer could go back in time, he said he would have tried to prepare better for the event of a calamity, but also noted that, “that’s something that the state and federal government needs to think a lot about.”

He said that C.A.R. did execute a “disaster playbook” that it’s had in place for 10 or 15 years, but many agents have still had to “battle with things” throughout the course of the pandemic.

Singer also pointed out how the pandemic has hit more vulnerable populations harder, and expressed hope for local and national leaders to learn a lesson from living through this time.

“The disease has not impacted our population in the way you’d have thought,” Singer said. “[It’s been] along economic and racial lines more than anything else. But it’s not equal. People who can afford homes, are moving.”

“I hope we all become more proactive coming out of this,” he added.

Branchini concluded, “There’s this great opening for change to be created.”

Email Lillian Dickerson

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