MAR President’s Report | “The Evolution of the 21st Century REALTOR®”

REALTOR® sophistication today is at an alltime high. Admittedly, the changing face of business and the wave of technological change breaking on us bring their share of challenges. But, being a REALTOR® comes with unique opportunities to delve into our communities, meet families, and learn about new businesses and organizations in town.

But our postwar forebears did not have it so good. Real estate was a bit of a rough and tumble business in the fifties. Business agreements were often informal. Agency was where you usually went to make your travel arrangements.

“It was an occupation that retirees went into, and usually men,” according to Harry Griffith, 82, who went into the business in 1955, right after Michigan State awarded him his M.A. in real estate. Griffith Realty, which he founded, is still operating in Brighton, Michigan.

The much-heralded Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (1977) was a turning point for the real estate business in Michigan — and the way in which it was practiced. The bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Mel Larsen, recalls that Rep. Daisy Elliott from Detroit needed a Republican to join her in sponsoring the bill, thus providing the necessary bipartisan support for passage. “Redlining” was rife in the seventies and neither the Civil Rights Commission nor the ensuing creation of the Department of Civil Rights had the teeth to deal with it.

“Those civil rights discussions we had in the seventies were awfully contentious,” said Larsen, a former high school principal and coach. “But passage of our Civil Rights Act was the right thing to do.” It built upon provisions of Michigan’s 1963 Constitution and, with the amendments that followed, afforded protection against discrimination to broad classes of Michigan citizens.

Some members of our REALTOR® community were slow to embrace the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, but REALTOR® leadership recognized that something had to be done. Rather than engage in the legislated approach of enforcement and fines, the Association weighed how to broadly educate its membership on civil rights and fair housing.

Paul Scott, 1983 president of the Association, recalls how Dick O’Neal, our association executive through 1985, negotiated with members of the legislature to win approval of a program of mandatory continuing education. But in 1984, the framework for the program of continuing education we know today became mandatory.

“We’ve come a long way from those days fifty years ago,” says Scott, citing some of the highly-publicized cases of the day in which REALTORS® were charged by State regulators for violations of civil rights law.

Today the environment has changed dramatically. REALTORS® are bound by the National Association of REALTORS’ Code of Ethics, which was first adopted in 1913. And in Michigan, licensees have been being “educated” for twenty-eight years. The coursework is subject to pre-approval by the State and it requires eighteen hours of “con-ed” study every three years, with an annual requirement of two hours of legal education.

So the times continue to change; today’s REALTOR® is cut from different cloth. Brokerage responsibilities now cross state lines and international borders. The active involvement of our membership is driving REALTORS® to serve at all levels of government, forged in their professionalism by meeting the changing demands of our business. You can easily find examples of this in the corridors of the State legislature and Congress. State Representative Margaret O’Brien (R –Portage) served in a volunteer capacity at both the Greater Kalamazoo and Michigan Association of REALTORS® before being elected to her (Kalamazoo) County Commission and then the Michigan House of Representatives in 2010. “As a real estate agent, we are taught to put our client’s interest above our own, to never let personalities negatively impact negotiations and to find common ground when possible,” says Representative O’Brien. If you’ve met her, you might add relentless energy and predisposition for closing the deal to be amongst her identifiably REALTOR® qualities.

Congressman Bill Huizenga’s (R- Holland) experience as a REALTOR® continues to play a significant role in his service to the people in Michigan’s 2nd District. Both polished and thoughtful, his knowledge of real estate financing made him an ideal bill sponsor for H.R. 4323, the Consumer Mortgage Choice Act. Among, of course, many other and more general legislative accomplishments, Congressman Huizenga put forward his NAR supported legislation to increase competition and expand consumer choice for mortgage lending and settlement service providers.

“Growing up in and around the brokerage business, I have always tried to emulate the best qualities of the industry and the professionalism and integrity it requires. Being a REALTOR® taught me the value of earning the confidence and respect of both my clients and colleagues and how crucial it truly is. Today, Washington suffers from a trust deficit, and relationship building is a must. With the challenges that lie ahead for the nation, the skills I developed as a REALTOR® are more important today than any other time in my professional career.”

The real estate profession has come a long way; we have both standards and role models today. We can take pride in our ever-improving service to our communities and the people we represent. As time moves us forward, let’s never miss an opportunity to distinguish ourselves in that light.