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Passion, Presence and Power

(from left) Secretary Pat Fitzgerald, President-elect Chuck Bonfiglio, President Nancy Riley, and Treasurer Wendell Davis
With an eye toward educating members about the importance of the political process and a renewed commitment to training, FAR’s 2007 leaders are on a mission for excellence.

It’s a new day in Tallahassee with Gov. Charlie Crist taking over the helm, but the commitment to Florida’s Realtors® hasn’t changed. The Florida Association of Realtors® (FAR) wants to emphasize that a continued presence in our state capital is vital to the growth and success of Florida’s Realtors. “Charlie Crist will ensure our Realtor message is consistent and carried on,” says 2007 President Nancy Riley, who is a broker with Coldwell Banker Residential in St. Petersburg. “We’re building our foundation for a stronger political presence in Tallahassee and in Washington, D.C.,” she says.

This is especially vital today, when consumers and real estate professionals are fighting unavailable and exorbitant property insurance and sky-high property taxes. “We need to finally decide who is going to take on catastrophe insurance,” says President-elect Chuck Bonfiglio, broker-owner of Century 21 AAA Realty Inc. with eight offices. Secretary Pat Fitzgerald, broker-owner of Coastal Properties in Jupiter, agrees: “If we don’t do something now, our market won’t catch up.”

Increased education and a grass-roots effort to encourage Realtors to participate in the process is the cornerstone of the 2007 leadership team strategy. “By making voter registration more accessible, by placing registration materials in Realtor’s offices, we can encourage people to get involved,” says Wendell Davis, treasurer and regional vice president of Watson Realty Corp. in Jacksonville.

Florida Realtor magazine spoke with FAR’s 2007 leadership team to get insight into the challenges sales associates and brokers face as well as the solutions they hope FAR can offer. Here’s what they had to say.

Florida Realtor®: What are your priorities in the coming year?

Riley: Many of my priorities are legislative, like the insurance and property tax crisis we’re facing and helping the new Governor [Charlie Crist] and legislators become informed on our issues.

When I ran for office [the Florida legislature], I had so many great opportunities to get to know legislators and lobbyists. Those relationships will serve as an open door to teach them the issues close to the hearts of Realtors.

In addition, I would like to make sure we go back to basics and educate our members on the importance of being involved in politics. We have many new members whom we need to educate on our need for strength at the polls.

Basic things, such as encouraging Realtors to register to vote, declare a party [so they can vote in the primary] and get to know their elected officials, are at the core of protecting our business.

I also plan to implement monthly online communication with the directors and local Board presidents so they can make educated decisions on issues that will be presented for a vote. In this age of technology, it’s silly not to take advantage of it.

I’ve also started working with St. Petersburg College to create a bachelor’s program in real estate management as part of their College of Technology and Management. This would also be an online program so members from all over the state would be able to participate at their convenience. We can evolve to a higher standard.

One thing I’ve learned—if I can do three big things and do them well, then I have a successful year.

Bonfiglio: My priorities in the coming year will be to meet as many people as possible to find out from them what FAR can do [to help them] handle the challenges ahead. I also plan to learn everything I can so I can be the best possible president in 2008.

One of the issues I have a passion for is [helping get people out] of apathy. In an organization of more than 160,000 members we had only six people running for three officers’ positions. What can [FAR do to reach] out to members? We need to invite people to get involved in the Association.

Davis: I agree that legislative participation is key. We need to get as many people to participate in the process as possible. In my region, I was instrumental in starting the Move to Vote campaign. We worked with the supervisor of elections to promote to the public the need to vote. We also placed registration materials in each Realtor’s office with the idea that people moving to the area will need to transfer their voter registrations.

Fitzgerald: My first priority is to be an asset and support to the leadership team. We will work together, and because of that, we’ll come out with great programs.

I think we need to set our members’ needs very high. We need to continue to offer them products and services that will help them be more successful in any market.

We must be aware of helping members know what FAR has to offer. I think that we need to get down to grass roots to achieve this.

Florida Realtor: What are some public policy issues facing Florida’s Realtors this year?

Riley: We’ve got to get insurance and property tax issues under control. Not only is it vital to our industry, but the economy of Florida is dependent on a robust real estate market.

FAR currently has members appointed to the Governor’s insurance and tax committee so we’re educating the legislative branch on how the issues affect us. Who better to talk about property insurance and property taxes than real estate professionals?

It’s important that government look to us for expertise when dealing with valuation and insurance, property taxes and all the problems that (good or bad) affordability will bring to us.

Bonfiglio: The two huge public policy issues are insurance and taxes. We need to finally decide who is going to take on catastrophe insurance. It’s been, and continues to be, a political football punted back and forth. At the state level, we have to get our legislators moving in the right direction. Taxes need to be addressed as well. Portability [of the Homestead Exemption] would help as long as it is done on a limited basis and certainly on a local county option.

Florida Realtor:
What business challenges do Florida’s Realtors face this year?

Riley: I believe the Department of Justice (DOJ) fight to open up our Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to the public is going to happen. NAR has fought the battle and has been able to hold it off for several years, but the courts keep ruling against us. FAR needs to make sure there is an alternative solution so that our members can continue to do their business, while being assured that the staples of cooperation and compensation remain.

FAR is working, through its wholly owned subsidiary Real Estate Industry Solutions, on expanding the MLS Advantage program to make it more robust and enhance it so it can be that alternative.

Buyers are looking for a more complete online experience to preview homes and neighborhoods.

Bonfiglio:
Profitability is probably the biggest challenge facing Florida Realtors this year. Brokers must assist sales associates with their three goals of horizontal growth (growing their company by recruiting more sales associates), vertical integration (adding ancillary profit centers such as mortgage and title) and technology. We can assist them by providing free items such as Transaction Desk and providing help with exit strategies and with mergers and acquisitions.

Davis: We’re still figuring those things out. Will the old model continue to work, or do you need to change your business model? In a changing market, so many questions must be answered.

Our goal is to work with brokers across the state to answer those questions so we can provide them with the tools they need if they are to be profitable.

Fitzgerald:
I think that the market has changed dramatically. We’ve been besieged with negative press, and it’s up to us to provide good news. It isn’t doom and gloom like the media are portraying. Headlines are misleading, so I think we need to try to get the good news out.

We also have to work at lowering the cost of insurance and property taxes because those issues affect all homeowners.

From profitability to grassroots legislative efforts, the 2007 leadership team hopes to provide the tools Florida’s Realtors need to thrive. “All of us [the leadership team] sell real estate,” says Riley. “We’re just like everyone else, so we’re keenly aware of what’s going on in the marketplace.”

She adds, “We’ve got a strong foundation built by past leadership teams. If we can put up just one sturdy wall and leave it there for the next president to add to, then we’ll be doing our job well.”