Jamie Ridge knows local public policy decisions can have a big effect on home sales.
Ridge is president and CEO of the Suburban Realtors Alliance (SRA). The 11,000-member agency handles all of the local government affairs of three Realtor associations in the four Southeast Pennsylvania counties they operate in.
Effective January 2, a new Pennsylvania state law prevents municipalities from holding up home sales due to minor property maintenance violations. Good news, right?
But SRA’s market area has 238 municipalities, each with their own rules and regulations regarding home sales, including local property inspection ordinances.
“We’re really the only watchdogs,” Ridge told Inman in an interview. “When it comes to real estate transactions, the local associations really end up being the monitor of those ordinances. That’s our big job.”
SRA may well get some help with that job from the local MLS.
That would be the newest mega MLS in the nation, Bright MLS (Bright), which has launched a grant program that provides financial assistance to boost existing government affairs efforts at Bright’s 43 local shareholder associations, including the three associations that own SRA (Bucks County, Montgomery County and Suburban West). Bright has about 85,000 agent, broker and appraiser members in six states.
“The Bright MLS Local Government Affairs Program is designed to help associations expand their political influence on local government regulations, and ensure local public policy decisions that affect real estate are creating a healthy climate for housing, our industry and the real estate consumers we serve,” said Sharon Lukens, Bright’s director of design and communications, via email.
What about funding?
Lukens declined to disclose how much funding Bright will dedicate to the program. Local associations will have to apply for funds.
Applications should provide details of the specific program, the anticipated results, the amount of funding requested from Bright MLS, and how those funds will impact the association’s ability to hold the program, Lukens said.
“Associations will need to show that they are also contributing to these efforts themselves, as program funds are designed to augment existing government affairs efforts,” she added.
“Funds must be used to either employ dedicated government affairs staff, or for local lobbying and development activities, such as:
- Issue advocacy
- Monitoring, reviewing, and/or analyzing local legislation and/or regulations
- Coordinating calls-to-action and relaying feedback received
- Legislative forums and/or receptions.”
TREND had a similar program; MRIS did not
Political advocacy is a key function of Realtor associations. A portion of Realtor dues is specifically dedicated to political activities and many of the nation’s 1.2 million Realtors also voluntarily contribute to the Realtor political action committee (RPAC). Why is an MLS, whose revenue also comes from Realtor subscriptions, dipping its toe in this pool?
“We know that a large part of a local association of Realtors is legislative monitoring of public policy decisions affecting housing, and to advocate for the real estate professionals and the consumers they serve,” Lukens said.
“They study, evaluate, and disseminate information regarding local statutes, regulations, and taxation as it relates to real estate transactions specifically, and local real estate markets generally.
“We feel strongly about this part of their purpose, and want to provide additional support. We want to empower everyone to get more out of the MLS, and a strong government affairs program helps empower the associations in their current endeavors to educate Realtor members about the local market and in furtherance of public policy.”
She said it was “fairly common” for MLSs to assist Realtor associations with government affairs, but declined to offer examples of other such programs.
Before Mid-Atlantic MLSs MRIS and TREND merged to form Bright MLS, TREND had a similar government affairs program in place, though MRIS did not, according to Lukens.
When forming Bright, “everyone agreed that supporting local and regional government affairs programs would be incredibly important to our shared success,” she said.
‘Holding up home sales is not good for anybody’
Ridge had a similar answer to why MLSs should participate in government affairs: it benefits members of the MLS.
SRA has received funding from TREND’s government affairs program for about 10 years, he said. Because SRA is solely devoted to government affairs, the funds — typically about $80,000 per year — go into SRA’s general budget. As a result, SRA was able to build a database of municipal real estate regulations on its website, among other efforts.
SRA has also used the funds to monitor open public records policies to make county real estate records more accessible for the MLS, Ridge said.
“Really everything that we do benefits members of the MLS … because what we’re trying to do is make sure that local rules and regulations don’t become too burdensome,” he said.
SRA plans to apply to Bright’s program for funding to support a staff position to look at home inspection ordinances. The trade organization wouldn’t add another position — it already has a full-time staffer in mind — but the funds would “sustain” the position and allow the staffer to tack on a study of the ordinances’ compliance to their duties, Ridge said.
He doesn’t yet know how much funding SRA will request.
“When sales get held up by municipalities, it’s not good for anybody. It’s not only not good for the real estate industry, but not good for sellers and buyers or people that live in those neighborhoods,” Ridge said.
Support ‘beyond traditional MLS services’
According to Ryan Conrad, CEO of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR), Bright’s new program shows the MLS’s “commitment to supporting its stakeholder associations beyond traditional MLS services.”
“As it relates to political advocacy, NVAR’s core principle is simple: together we are stronger,” Conrad told Inman via email.
“It’s natural for associations and MLSs to align advocacy interests since we are both working to safeguard the industry, protect consumers, and create an economic environment conducive to transacting real estate.
“MRIS and TREND were known for their progressive approaches to delivering cutting edge programs, products and services to their subscribers. I’m pleased to see this philosophy amplified in the new Bright MLS. Its offer for government affairs support is a great example of its leadership’s progressive approach.”
NVAR has not yet identified a use case for the funding, but it will, Conrad said.
“Each year NVAR develops a legislative advocacy program aimed at protecting property rights, enhancing the professionalism of our members, and improving real estate market conditions at the state and local level,” he said.
“We have to be very strategic about the resources we put behind those efforts. The Bright MLS financial support will provide us greater latitude with how we allocate resources so we can have a greater impact.”