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February 2004
Not for Sale: Charlotte Regional Realtors Association
By Chris Jensen

      There are real estate agents, and there are real estate agents. Only those who belong

to the Charlotte Regional Realtor® Association (CRRA) or another Realtor® organization

can call themselves Realtors®. What sets them apart from other real estate agents?

     Realtor® is a service mark used for a real estate agent affiliated with the National Association of Realtors®. Realtors® are quick to point out that they subscribe to a strict code of ethics that is enforced by a panel of their peers. The code ensures that the public is being served by a reputable agent, and it provides both Realtors® and the public with a way to file complaints. The bottom line is that Realtors® provide a high level of protection for the public during transactions that involve the biggest investment of the buyer or seller’s life.

     “Like lawyers and doctors, Realtors® have a code of ethics,” says Anne Marie Howard, CEO and general counsel for CRRA. “Every local association is bound to enforce the National Association of Realtors® Code of Ethics. We have a two-step process. First we have a grievance committee of Realtor® members who operate as a grand jury, and then we have a professional standards hearing committee.

     “Any member of the public can file a complaint, and any Realtor® can file a complaint against another Realtor®. This is what Realtors® have to offer the public. If the buyer or seller is using a real estate agent (not a Realtor®) and has a complaint, the only recourse is with the state real estate commission; whereas, we offer an initial opportunity for recourse. Working with a Realtor® offers the public more protection.”

 

Real Benefits for Members

The mission of CRRA is to provide members with resources and services to conduct an ethical, professional, successful and profitable business. And they must be doing something right, because the organization’s membership has doubled in the past four years, and tripled in the past six. Today, CRRA has more than 5,100 members and more than 6,000 subscribers to the Carolina Multiple Listing Service, Inc.

     One of many member benefits is the Charlotte-based Mingle School of Real Estate, the official school of the CRRA. Started by Vane Mingle, the school was bought by CRRA in the early 1990s. Many members take advantage of the class offerings throughout the year. In fact, during 2003 there were students in Mingle classrooms 290 out of 365 days. Last year, more than 7,670 students attended sales, broker, appraisal and continuing education classes.

     Recently the Mingle School of Real Estate started offering classes at an off-site location, Cowan’s Ford Country Club in Stanley, near Lake Norman.

     Another popular member benefit is The Realtor® Store, which operates as a retail store located at association headquarters and also online at www.realtorstore.com. Members receive a discount on the more than 400 items offered.

 

Real Politics

Like any good trade association, CRRA monitors developments in industry-related politics and speaks out on behalf of members about issues of importance to Realtors®.

     The Realtor® Political Action Committee, a nonpartisan political action committee, actively supports candidates whose views are consistent with those of the real estate industry.

     The Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition (REBIC) is the government affairs arm of the area’s Realtors® and homebuilders. As such, REBIC staff are actively involved in a wide range of public issues, from commercial vehicle parking ordinances to advising school systems about the location of future schools, and from urban street design guidelines to general development policies. In surrounding counties, including upstate South Carolina, REBIC is actively involved in additional issues, such as: well and septic policies, sign ordinances, bypass issues with environmental implications, amended real estate laws, and tax issues.

     As it happens, Howard  worked for REBIC – which is located on the floor above CRRA’s headquarters – from 1995 to 2000. She joined CRRA in August 2000 as legal counsel, and within a few months added the CEO title and responsibilities.

 

Training Real Leaders

CRRA started a Leadership Development Program about five years ago that Howard says is beginning to bear fruit as program graduates start to populate the various CRRA committees that can feed into the director positions over time. The idea to formalize a program to identify and train future industry and association leaders came out of a strategic planning program.

     Last year the eight-session program graduated 11 Realtors® representing 10 real estate firms. Every year when the association honors its “Rookie of the Year,” the rookie is awarded a scholarship to the Leadership Development Program, which has been donated by the William H. Barnhardt Family Trust. A small firm scholarship also is offered.

 

This Year’s President –A Real Pro

As with most trade organizations, the CRRA elects new officers and additional board members every year. This year’s president, David Barnhardt, was originally licensed in 1987 earning the prestigious “Rookie of the Year” award by CRRA, and joined the board of directors in 1997.

     Barnhardt, broker-in-charge and sales manager for First Charlotte Properties, is the third generation of his family to make his living in real estate in Charlotte. His grandfather was the William of the William H. Barnhardt Family Trust, and his mother is Catherine Browning, who also works at First Charlotte Properties. His mother served CRRA as president in 1992 and was named Realtor® of the Year, the association’s highest honor, in 1996. Even Barnhardt’s wife, Sharon, is in the business as a Realtor® with Helen Adams Realty.

 

Real Impact of the Internet

According to Barnhardt, the National Association of Realtors® indicates that close to 70 percent of people buying a house today search for a home on the Internet before calling a real estate agent. Once the real estate professional is involved, the listing information can be interpreted, and the buyer can benefit from the Realtor®’s education and experience.

     Howard agrees. “There definitely has been a significant increase in use of the Internet to find a home,” she says. “But then the buyer turns to a Realtor® to complete the transaction. Buying or selling a home is still a very complex, emotional process.”

            Barnhardt is quick to add that the purchase of a home often is the biggest investment a person will ever make. The buyer (or seller) needs a professional to promote and protect his or her interests.

     “It is the duty of the agent to discover and disclose material facts to the buyer or seller, and that is not the duty of the Internet,” he says. “Then the Realtor® often makes recommendations with regard to the inspection, repairs, appraisal, mortgage loan, closing attorney – all of the details that help the transaction to go smoothly. And every single transaction is different.”

     Another important duty of the real estate firm is to account for the earnest money (deposit). A Realtor® is highly regulated by law with regard to how the money is handled.

     The Internet has also had a major effect on one of the Realtor®’s most-often-used tools: the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Last August, CRRA transitioned from a DOS-based MLS system to an Internet-based MLS system. CRRA pushed 5,000 MLS subscribers through the two and a half hour training session in two months. How did they get the agents to come in for training?

     Simple – “We wouldn’t give them a password to access the system until they completed the training,” says Howard.

     Barnhardt observed that CRRA’s database conversion was probably our smoothest ever and one of the best in the country. “It’s because the selection committee and staff all did their homework,” he says.

     And there is at least one more Internet issue on the horizon: the security of the MLS system.

     Realtors® spend a great deal of time collecting, compiling and reporting data that goes into the MLS. The information must be accurate, and it must be secure. Realtors® are legally responsible for the accuracy of this information.

     “If it isn’t accurate,” Barnhardt says, “then it is worthless. We’ll be looking closely at licensing our data, which will help us stop unauthorized people from using it. If the data is licensed, it gives us legal standing to pursue these people, who are operating throughout the country. As part of this, we’ll consider putting security measures in place that won’t affect the integrity of the information but helps us track unauthorized use.”

 

Me? Buy a house? Get real!

Concerned about the lack of affordable housing options in the Charlotte region, CRRA created the Housing Opportunity Foundation, with a mission to provide support and funding on a charitable or educational basis for housing opportunities for all. Here are the Foundation’s top two goals:

1. Give away at least one house every year, starting this year

2. Have at least $1 million in an endowed fund by 2013

     CRRA has joined forces with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership to offer an educational opportunity to people who have never bought a home, or think that they can’t buy a home. In June of this year, the Foundation will give away a brand-new home. To be eligible to win, entrants have to complete an educational series about home buying.

     “It’s not just giving away a house,” says Barnhardt. “It’s educating buyers who are in a lottery to win the house. Only one person can win, but lots of buyers can become educated and ready to buy. And that’s a tremendous value for the whole community.”

 

Real Impact of Community Service

As incoming president, Barnhardt had the opportunity to develop a theme for the association for 2004. His choice: Licensed to Serve.

     “It’s all about serving the community,” he says. “As Realtors® we draw so much from the community, and we need to give back. If every CRRA member volunteered just one hour each week, that would add up to about 5,000 hours of community service each week. That’s 260,000 hours, or 10,833 days a year. Can you imagine the impact we can make?”

     He encourages all CRRA members to get involved in whatever they are passionate about – church, school, Habitat for Humanity, neighborhood groups, arts or cultural organizations, anything that will benefit their communities.

     Barnhardt already believes that the Charlotte region is the best place in the world to live and work, but he believes that together, members of Charlotte Regional Realtors® Association can make it even better.

 

Chris Jensen is a Gastonia-based freelance writer and public relations counselor.
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