Get into politics or get out of business! That has been a fund-raising mantra for years at the California Association of Realtors®(CAR). When educated on the issues, most people get it. The business of real estate – for both agents and principals – is heavily affected by what goes on in national, state, and local legislative chambers, and by what happens at the ballot box.
There are different kinds of issues at the different political levels. Nationally, Realtors®find themselves primarily concerned with issues related to taxation, the mortgage market, and federal housing programs. This year, the National Association of Realtors®(NAR) is preparing for involvement in some far-reaching legislative debates concerning both mortgage interest deductions and the futures of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
Within the states Realtors®are liable to find themselves dealing with all sorts of issues regarding the ways in which individual states regulate the conduct of the real estate business (agency law, licensing, broker responsibilities, etc.), the transfer of private property, and the never-ending attempts to regulate the manner in which people can use and enjoy their property.
Locally, Realtors®find themselves needing to deal with local ordinances governing their conduct of business (sign laws, business licenses, local inspection requirements, etc.) and, especially, with local land-use decisions.
A lot of dollars are involved in all this. They are directed toward campaigns, legislative actions, and ballot box issues. In general, the Realtor®political spending is narrowly targeted. The national, state, and local associations are interested in real-estate-related issues, and that’s it. As associations, they have no axes to grind about foreign policy or military spending. They want to know where a candidate stands with respect to private property issues, or the regulation of real estate licensees, not what their position is on abortion or same-sex marriage.
The result of this focus is that the support of Realtor®organizations tends to be quite bi-partisan. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, NAR was the fourth largest contributor to federal candidates and political parties from 1989 to 2010. The amount was $38.7 million. 49% went to Democrats. That is pretty evenly distributed.
In an organization of more than one million members it is not surprising that there are disagreements about where the dollars go. This especially shows up with respect to candidates. Differences are usually focused on non-real estate related issues. In any event, when such differences arise, the most realistic attitude to take is to acknowledge that, at some point, the will of the majority or the elected representatives must prevail. Generally, this is not a problem. Until we get to local political issues.
Now, let me acknowledge that I am not reporting on the results of rigorous social scientific research here. My observations are simply based on 30+ years experience in, first, a relatively small association of Realtors®(about 500) and, more recently, a large association (as a result of mergers) with a population around 12,000. What I see is this:
Many, many Realtors®do not want to get involved, and don’t want their names associated with, positions on local political issues. This certainly isn’t true of all Realtors®, because, conversely, many Realtors®are visibly involved as planning commissioners, city council persons, mayors, etc. But the vast majority – who certainly may have opinions – tend to be pretty quiet about local issues. This is especially curious because, by virtue of their profession, they should be especially well-informed on such matters.
I don’t think that many of us have to reach very far to find an explanation for this. Namely, lots of Realtors®are reluctant to voice their opinions because they fear they might aggravate someone who is a current or potential client.
Is that a smart strategy? Maybe, maybe not. There’s something to be said for taking a stand, for letting people know who you are and what you think. That can build strong loyalties and lasting relationships. It can also, of course, be offensive to some, creating an opposite effect.
Who knows what’s best? Whatever makes you comfortable, I suppose.