Why do business people run for elected office? Do their backgrounds or experience make them more or less qualified to represent you? On the local level where it is sometimes a situation of whoever files for office gets the job, these important questions do not come up. But in cases where multiple candidates file for the same office, a closer examination of the candidates’ professional experience is warranted.
Some professions gravitate naturally to this call for service. Real estate brokers, and specifically Realtors, members of the National Association of Realtors who subscribe to NAR’s Code of Ethics, certainly fit that bill. It is very common to find a name recognized on real estate signs serving as mayor, alderman, trustee, assessor, state representative, or even as a member of Congress. Let’s take a closer look at why Realtors make naturally good public servants.
Ambassadors: Consider what most professional real estate agents do. They live in our communities and spend money in our stores, supporting our local economy. They are ambassadors to our towns telling prospective property owners about the wonderful things they enjoy about living here. They highlight all of the positives and help people make decisions about where to live and raise their families or perhaps where to locate their business. Often an agent is the first person they speak to about the positive points of a community. It would seem this is a natural role of a public servant as well – to promote their area.
Highly educated: Agents are licensed by the state regulatory department. After completing significant coursework and passing at least two exams a person may earn their real estate license. In addition, agents must complete mandatory continuing education every year to renew their license. They are tested and educated continuously on property rights, agency relationships, disclosure law, and more. These people are highly trained and are experts in real estate as evidenced by being licensed by the state. Applying the logic that deep business and community connections are important, then real estate agents fit right in along with lawyers, doctors, teachers, and small businesspeople who also make their communities better in every way.
Economic development: Commercial agents specifically work hard to bring business to an area. Businesses generate revenue through property taxes and sales taxes. They employ people to provide revenue to funnel back to local businesses like grocery stores and restaurants, providing an economic engine to communities. They help prospective tenants rent vacant space which is vital to local economies. Agents are knowledgeable about zoning laws and building codes and such. In fact, it might be this very knowledge about who is interested in the town that might cause some to claim a conflict of interest. As mentioned above, the Code of Ethics and on-going training prepares agents to know how and when to recues themselves from either voting on a topic or working with a client. A real estate agent might bring ideas on to how to best position an area to attract desired growth, be it residential, agricultural, commercial, industrial, or other. Isn’t that what is desired of our leaders?
The good of the whole: There seems to be a belief that just because one works in real estate automatically means he or she will vote a certain way on an issue. That isn’t necessarily so. The past has shown us that many agents who have gone into politics have first played a role in the local, state or even National Association of Realtors. This background has provided them a training ground, if you will, to learn to leave their hat at the door. In the case of local associations, volunteer Realtor committee members learn early on to proverbially leave their brokerage hat or salesperson hat outside the meeting room. That is, the decision they were being asked to vote on in committee may have impacted their personal position negatively but for the benefit of all was the right decision. Decisions like raising membership dues, for example, places a hardship on the individual making the decision, who also will have to pay the increased fee, but as the decision maker, they are trained to put the good of the whole above their own interests.
According to the National Association of Realtors, “Given their typical personality traits, perhaps it’s not surprising that Realtors make natural politicians; they’re people oriented, savvy negotiators, and care about the communities they live in. Most important, they have a unique understanding of the issues that affect the quality of life and economic vitality in their area.” (REALTOR AE Magazine, Fall 2011).
• Jim Haisler is chief executive officer of Heartland Realtor Organization, serving real estate professionals throughout northern Illinois.