Percentage of Utah legislators receiving perfect scores from the Utah
Association of Realtors
Source: Utah Association of Realtors
Realtors have lost a few minor property-rights battles recently, over
bills requiring that sellers disclose whether a registered sex
offender lives nearby or whether their properties once housed meth
labs. A number of states also have found property-transfer taxes a
relatively painless way to raise money during recent budget crunches.
"That's certainly one of those hidden taxes that legislators don't
have to talk about too loudly," says Susan Dioury, of the Minnesota
Association of Realtors, "so that's an easy one to raise."
But Realtors are still mostly getting their way, whether in bills
that affect them directly or broader fights over growth restrictions
and other land-use policies. They are a strikingly coherent
organization, considering that theirs is a profession of small groups
of practitioners locked in constant competition with one another.
Most Realtor lobbying is handled by volunteer members and state
association staff, rather than hired contract lobbyists. They often
have prominent figures on staff, such as former bar association
presidents or ex-members of state real estate commissions. But even
when it comes time for the non-professionals to lobby, Realtors are
well-equipped to exploit the relationships they form with politicians
and regulators. They tend to be natural salesmen accustomed to
persuasion and negotiating transactions between third parties--very
good, Mansell says, at bringing parties together, whether it's buyers and sellers, or members of the legislature. "House or Senate," he
says, "it's a negotiating system."
Realtors in fact, often get much of the negotiating work out of the
way well before a policy idea reaches the legislative stage. In many
states, the crucial decisions are made by the real estate commission,
and you'd be hard-pressed to find a real estate commission in any
state that is not dominated by people who are active in the business.
In some states, the presence of real estate agents on the commission
is required by statute. Often, the individuals serving as
commissioners have been recommended to the governor by the state
Association of Realtors.
In a sense, Realtors are both the buyers and sellers when it comes to
formulating the policies that govern their profession. In Louisiana,
two of the three state commissioners also serve as members of the
state Realtors association's committee on legislation. Things aren't
always that cozy, but it's normal for commissioners to work hand in
glove with the Realtors' lobby in setting and proposing policy. And
once a bill is drafted by the state commission, it's seldom challenged
by legislators--or anyone else, since there's rarely an effective,
organized counterweight to the Realtors on issues concerning their
Occasionally, a seemingly compliant state commission throws the
industry an unexpected curve. The Idaho commission did that this year
when it refused to sign off on a minimum-services bill after hearing
from U.S. Department of Justice representatives that it might be a
restraint of trade. The commission asked the state Realtors
association if it could live with a version that would allow consumers
to waive the minimum-service requirements if they so desired. The
association said no, and so the bill was never introduced.
But that may not be the end of the story in Idaho. There is
speculation that the Idaho Association of Realtors will add a question
on minimum service legislation to the list of questions it asks
prospective commissioners when it comes time for new appointments--and
that those who fail to register enthusiasm for the concept are
unlikely to be chosen.
It may not happen, but the fact that many in Idaho expect it points
up that Realtors are in fact scrupulous about monitoring the people
who make decisions that affect their business--and try to have
friendly people making those decisions whenever possible. "When you
get too many in there, it can be a challenge from a PR standpoint,"
says Kyler, of his association's hefty representation in the Utah
legislature. "You don't want it to look like you're taking over the
body, and we're not."
For the Realtors' opponents, however, it sometimes does look like they've managed to take over, or at least certainly influence, every important legislature and regulating body. "It's an industry where rules are being set up and governed by its own biggest players," complains Pat Lashinsky, of the discount brokerage ZipRealty, which is based in Emeryville, California, just across the bay from San Francisco--a market where the median house price now tops $660,000.
With commissions on Bay Area home sales exceeding $40,000, Lashinsky
thinks that consumers will inevitably embrace different business models that can save them thousands of dollars.
But Realtors have proven themselves not just vigilant but adaptable
in answering every challenge to their way of doing business. To the
extent that they are able to preserve their advantages over the long
haul, they will have their friends in state government largely to
thank. "If they can't fix the specific prices, they can at least
control the terms on which their competitors are doing business," says
Hawker. "So far, the lobbying has been a pretty effective way of doing
Friends and Neighbors,
If you have read all five of the series you just have to be wondering what on earth are we doing allowing these people to manipulate our laws to protect their 6% commissions. I have introduced you to the three main lobbyists, their short biographies and experience and let you read from a nationally recognized "Governing Magazine" feature article. You have been exposed to what Mr. Mansell has to say and especially what the CEO and money man, Chris Kyle has to say.
My sources tell me that this group picks opportunities to put in place Real Estate Brokers and Developers who are avid members of the Utah Realtor Association. They pay about $35 a month dues which gets them a month periodical full of ethical violations and who got caught doing what and why, and sanctions on various members, which number some 10,000 members in Utah.
When they choose to run a candidate, they pay for everything. And of course provide legal assistance and basically run the entire campaign for their chosen lapdogs. Should the slightest indication a candidate might not be sympathetic to their "business interests" they pull the plug. And worse, they put up money against any candidate who will not play along.
They would definitely put big money up against me, for example, since I make no secret of my personal disdain for their ethics (or the lack thereof) and the way these "people" operate.
I am told this politcal group has more than a million dollars in their PAC war chest and they are not afraid to use it in an election year. So stand by.
But then all the money in the universe has no effect on the legitimate will of the people.
Jowers said, "When citizens get involved in a legislative campaign or an issue, they are always more powerful than a special interest." He added, "But that's true only if they are engaged. If not, then special interests are always there to fill the power vacuum."
And ya know what? Jowers was right.