Imagine if you were restricted from using “For Sale” signs to market properties or had to change your signs to match a new design code enforced by the city.
Or, what if your buyers had to tack on an additional $10,000 to the cost of a home they want to purchase due to a mandatory fire sprinkler ordinance on new construction?
These sorts of battles, large and small, go on every day in communities across the state and in Washington, D.C. Here’s a look at REALTOR® industry watchdogs who are fighting to make sure your businesses are protected.
Loretta Alonzo, CRB, GRI is broker-owner Century 21 Alonzo & Associates in La Grange Park and president of the 41,000-member Illinois Association of REALTORS®. She is an RPAC Major Investor and has been involved in the REALTOR® organization for over 30 years. Photo: Loretta at a Feb. 4 press conference with Gov. Quinn announcing a new foreclosure pilot program targeting several hard-hit communities in Cook County.
It’s nice to get a shout-out from the governor at a packed press conference. That’s exactly what IAR President Loretta Alonzo earned earlier this year when Gov. Pat Quinn invited the Illinois Association of REALTORS® to be a part of the announcement for the Building Blocks Pilot Program to address vacant and abandoned property in six Cook County towns hard-hit by foreclosures.
Recalls Alonzo: “(Gov. Quinn) got out of his car and looked up and said ‘Hi, Loretta. Look our REALTOR®
Loretta is here.’ There were mayors there from all of the towns, and he picked me out of the crowd.”
“I think it doesn’t matter if you are Republican or Democrat, we have doors open that we haven’t had in a long time,” Alonzo said. “It’s nice to know that we have a governor who is receptive to us, who listens to us. The more time I’m in front of him it reaffirms our association with him.”
The first time she met Quinn was at a Cook County event before the election and when IAR was backing fellow REALTOR® Bill Brady, the Republican candidate for governor. Once in office, REALTORS® helped sponsor Quinn’s inaugural and asked for regular meetings to discuss housing issues. The first meeting yielded the idea for the March 26 joint IAR Housing Conference with the governor to address foreclosures and homeownership programs.
Bob Floss, ABR, is broker-owner of Bob Floss & Son Realty in LaGrange and the first president of the Chicago Association of REALTORS® from a suburban real estate office. He was raised in a politically active family on Chicago’s southeast side and started in real estate in the 1970s.
The downtown Chicago high-rise condo conversion boom is an example Bob Floss likes to use when talking about the behind-the-scenes lobbying work done by the IAR local Governmental Affairs director (GAD) program.
“The average member does not understand what our GADs do … lobbying our local municipalities … they take it for granted that the zoning policy got changed on its own to benefit the residential real estate business,” says Floss of the extensive work of REALTORS® with the Chicago City Council on the condo conversion process.
Floss understands the importance of being a major donor supporter of the REALTORS® Political Action Committee (RPAC).
“I knew early on in the game that the only way you get next to a politician is with money,” says Floss. “We need to put people in office who will help REALTORS®. We don’t care if they are Republican or Democrat just as long as they are for REALTORS® so we can continue to make a living.”
He points out that, post-recession, lawmakers are looking to REALTORS® and our industry now more than ever because it’s become very clear that the housing market is a driving force for the economy.
Floss was recently appointed by Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle to Vice Chair of Cook County Works with the goal of creating 1,000 jobs in Cook County using federal workforce stimulus funding.
“If we don’t have jobs we aren’t selling anybody anything. We can’t even put them in an apartment. So that’s what it’s all about. Jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Stephen D. Myers is managing broker of Myers Commercial Real Estate in Springfield, specializing in commercial office management, leasing and brokerage as well as some retail and warehousing. He serves as Secretary/Treasurer of the Capital Area Association of REALTORS®.
There is no greater supporter of private property rights than a hog farmer.
This was the deciding argument used by Stephen Myers in 2002 when, as chair of the Capital Area Association of REALTORS® Governmental Affairs Committee, he and other committee members were deciding who to support with RPAC dollars for a 100th District seat substantially altered by redistricting. Rich Brauer, a long-time hog farmer, was running for a district held at the time by a long-time REALTOR® issue supporter who Myers and his real estate colleagues knew couldn’t win the seat as it was redrawn.
“(Rep. Brauer) has been a true friend to REALTORS®,” says Myers, who has served as an IAR State Legislative Contact (SLC) assigned to Rep. Bauer.
Myers believes being in the right place and saying the right thing can make all the difference for our industry, and that’s why he is involved in IAR political advocacy, even as a commercial REALTOR® who has never sold a home in his career. He likes to tell the story of traveling to the National Association of REALTORS® Midyear Meetings in Washington, D.C.
“I related to (then-) Congressman Phil Hare that after the tragedy of 2001, it was the real estate industry and most specifically the residential real estate market that brought America back by its bootstraps. I said the REALTORS® had the power to bring this country back to success,” recalls Myers. A result? The homebuyer tax credit.
“When you have conversations with individuals who have the power and authority to change public policy for the benefit of the whole of the economy, I think that’s an important thing.”
John C. Kmiecik, CRB, SFR, is broker-owner of Century 21 Kmiecik REALTORS® in Chicago and a champion of the REALTORS® Political Action Committee. He is a member of the RPAC Hall of Fame with lifetime contributions of $25,000 and recently was honored with IAR’s 2011 Political Involvement Award.
The lightbulb moment for REALTOR® John C. Kmiecik happened in 1996 after he finished a year as president of the Chicago Association of REALTORS®.
“Most of our work was political, involved with people in the city who could make or break the housing industry,” recalls Kmiecik who has since served as president of the Illinois Association of REALTORS® in 2004.
“My business opened in 1981 and until 1996 I gave the bare minimum to RPAC. Then, as Chicago’s president, I was able to meet and greet officials and they gave us the time to hear our issues, they welcomed us, and I realized that I needed to increase my RPAC contributions to make a difference,” says Kmiecik.” Time and money matter for politicians and RPAC is our political insurance, our business insurance.
“Today the economy is not great, but my company is still viable and I am not in the financial position I was five to seven years ago. I still make the RPAC President’s Circle which is an investment of $2,000. I always give my first $500 every year in honor of my Congressman Dan Lipinski. I am able to provide him direct funds and he knows that too.”
“The big picture is that we promote and protect private property rights. Every single day every REALTOR® is charged with that as they work with their clients,” says Kmiecik.
Zeke Morris of Keller Williams Realty C.C.G. in Chicago is a long-time advocate and community activist. He is President Elect of the Chicago Association and chairs the local Advocacy Government Affairs Committee as well as serving on the state Public Policy and Government Affairs Member Involvement Group.
Re-establishing home values in Chicago neighborhoods is the mission of REALTOR® Zeke Morris.
He was involved in the city of Chicago’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program or NSP (See November 2009 Illinois REALTOR®, a program aimed at rebuilding Chicago communities hard-hit by foreclosure. Today he’s concentrating on faith-based work with churches and banks to help them provide affordable housing to reinvigorate underserved neighborhoods.
He is a State Legislative Contact for the Illinois Association of REALTORS® working with three state senators and three representatives. It’s a big task. Recently he’s been a mentor to other REALTORS® encouraging them to step into important roles helping to build relationships with Illinois lawmakers so when issues affecting real estate start percolating, they can make that phone call or visit that will take care of the problem.
“One of our biggest successes with our state legislators was House Bill 4050,” recalls Morris about the Illinois Predatory Lending Database Pilot Program. It was signed into law in 2006 and established a screening and credit counseling program for mortgage borrowers in 10 southwest Chicago zip codes. Illinois REALTORS® and many in the real estate and lending industries came out in force to communicate that the program was overly burdensome for potential homebuyers.
He adds: “Once they understood we were on the same page, legislators loosened up their concerns and saw there were laws already on the books to address what we are trying to do.”
Jenni Beck, GRI, e-pro, is managing broker-owner of Current Realty in Alton, a company she started in 2008. She is a State Legislative Contact for the Illinois Association of REALTORS® and last year served as chair of the Greater Gateway Association of REALTORS® Board of Directors.
“What I am learning is it’s important to get to know (my legislators) on a personal level, so they know my name and they know my face; they take me seriously so that they want to help us because they are our friend,” says Beck, who is a regular at city council meetings bringing the REALTOR® perspective to the table.
About the first Capitol Conference in Springfield she says: “Once I got there and saw the number of REALTORS® who came to fight for us I was amazed at that and about the issues they were fighting that affected me and my business.”
Another lesson for Beck: even issues that don’t directly affect your market are important to advocate for because some day the issue may make its way to your town if it’s not stopped beforehand.
“In nearby cities of Troy and Edwardsville, a brick ordinance was introduced requiring costly full brick around the home in some new construction,” says Beck as an example. “That was not my area, it was not my fight or something I was involved with, but it all funnels down. When the bigger cities do it the little cities see it as a way to make money too. “
Jim and Karen Barbagallo of Gambino REALTORS® in Rockford are real estate partners, husband and wife, and as chairs of the RPAC Committee for the last 12 years they have helped raise $336,000 for the REALTOR® PAC.
Something’s in the water in Rockford. There are a whole lot of REALTORS® who hold political office there including multiple city council positions, the county board and forest preserve district. Confides REALTOR® Jim Barbagallo, it was all part of the plan. What better way to get the REALTOR® issues on the agenda and protected.
“In Rockford, REALTORS® are affecting public policy personally with their time and financially with their money,” says Jim. “They support candidates who are pro-business and become candidates themselves.”
Voting out home rule is a major accomplishment for Rockford private property owners.
“Residents and REALTORS® said this isn’t right,” Jim recalled of the fight to remove the city of Rockford’s home rule authority that had been on the books since 1970. “The people overturned it because it taxed people to death. Real estate taxes went through the roof, to 12 percent. Money was needed and they took advantage of it.”
REALTORS® also helped push through road and school referendums that needed to be done and they were major supporters of the campaign to land an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University campus (and more jobs) for the Rockford area.
Says Karen: “It is a challenge. We need to get candidates elected who care about our city and counties. If we don’t have quality schools and roads, no one will sell real estate.”
Keith Hancock, ABR, CRC, RIS is a broker with RE/MAX Villager in Glenview. He has been a long-time watchdog for local government issues across 17 cities and villages for his local board, serving more than 24 years on the North Shore-Barrington Association of REALTORS® Governmental Affairs Committee.
It frustrates Keith Hancock that so many REALTORS® do not understand the fights that only a slice of the total membership is fighting for the whole. Only about 20 percent of the IAR membership gives to RPAC.
“The way we get the legislators’ attention is through RPAC,” says Hancock. “Once they get to know us as a core group, we can call them and they know us and consider us professionals and experts on the area and how everybody is doing, homeowners and the buyers.”
Transfer taxes are a common battle in his area.
“Some of the abuse of powers of local government comes in the form of affecting the cost of a home sale,” says Hancock. “When local officials are not aware of the impact of their decisions, we make them aware. Some are obstinate. We haven’t sued anybody but we do have that as a possibility.”
Says Hancock: “It’s very unfortunate that we have to continuously stay on top of their agendas in order to protect our livelihood.”
By Ann Londrigan | Director of Association Outreach & Marketing
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