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The state's historic Old Capitol Building provided the perfect backdrop to the first-ever Rally for Homeownership, part of Great American Realtor Days, April 9 & 10, 2013. Members of the Florida A & M Army and Navy ROTC Rattler Battalion presented the colors. Great American Realtor Days is a two-day annual event. Realtors from around Florida traveled to Tallahassee to meet with their elected officials about legislation concerning affordable housing, property insurance, property taxes and business and regulatory issues that affect Floridians and visitors. 2013 Florida Realtors President Dean Asher welcomed Realtors to Great American Realtor Days and the Rally for Homeownership. Realtors from around the state converged en masse on the Florida Capitol Courtyard for Florida Realtors' first-ever "Rally for Homeownership". Realtors paid tribute to the U.S. military and donated a remodeled, mortgage-free home to a wounded Florida veteran and his family. Red, white and blue signs told legislators that real estate remains the No. 1 economic generator in the state. Every additional 1,000 home sales adds nearly 500 jobs to the economy, and every home purchase pumps $60,000 into the economy. The Florida Realtors 2013 Leadership Team posed in front of the Rally For Homeownership car at Great American Realtor Days. Realtors met with state legislators and public policy makers to address concerns and issues that affect property owners, aspiring homeowners and real estate investors. Realtors donned t-shirts featuring their symbol of excellence and commitment to property rights -- the Realtor "R." Realtors gathered in the Florida Capitol Courtyard for Florida Realtors' first-ever "Rally for Homeownership." As a group, Realtors highlighted the link between Florida's housing market rebound and the accompanying boost in economic performance. The Liberty Voices is a world famous, eight-part a cappella group that provided a musical tribute to the brave men and women who defend our homes, our country and our American way of life. Our tribute to the U.S. Military included the Armed Forces Medley by the renowned a cappella group, The Liberty Voices. Florida Rep. Matt Hudson, a real estate broker from Naples (right), and John Sebree, Florida Realtors Senior Vice President of Public Policy, rallied Realtors on key legislative issues. Retired Army Sgt. Michael Burke and his family made their way to the podium for a homecoming like none other. Burke was wounded in Baghdad, Iraq in 2005. Florida Realtors surprised attendees at the first-ever "Rally for Homeownership" in Tallahassee by donating a remodeled, mortgage-free home in Port St. Lucie to a wounded Florida veteran. 2013 Florida Realtors President Dean Asher (right) presented Sgt. Burke with the keys to his new home. Florida Realtors partnered with the Military Warriors Support Foundation and Chase Bank for the home give-away. Sgt. Michael Burke and his family, joined by a representative of Chase Bank (back, left), which donated a mortgage-free home for the Burkes, enjoyed a video of "welcome home" messages from the Port St. Lucie community. Andrea Dellinger (right) represented the Military Warrior Support Foundation. Sgt. Michael Burke thanked Chase Bank and Florida Realtors for his new home, made possible by a program offered by the Military Warriors Support Foundation. Established in 2007, the foundation awards mortgage-free homes to wounded heroes injured during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Santa Rosa Realtor Jan Hooks led a cheer during the Rally for Homeownership, part of Great American Realtor Days. Sen. Joe Negron, whose district includes Port St. Lucie, introduced Sgt. Burke, his wife, Nichole, and children, Bryce and Layla, in the Senate gallery. The wounded warrior received two standing ovations from members of the Florida Senate. With the state's historic Old Capitol Building looming in the background, retired Army Sgt. Michael Burke, recipient of the distinguished Purple Heart for his service in Iraq, received the keys to a newly remodeled home in Port St. Lucie. The Old Capitol was completed in 1845, just prior to Florida's entry into the Union as the 27th state. The Rally for Homeownership was part of Great American Realtor Days, a two-day annual event during which Realtors from around Florida travel to Tallahassee to meet with their elected officials about real estate-related legislation and business issues. Realtors Bette McGilvray, Marco Island, and Bob Hewes, Naples, discuss a foreclosure reform bill with sponsor Rep. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples). Rep. Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) stepped away from his duties as House Speaker to meet with Realtors from the Tampa-Pasco County area. Fort Lauderdale Realtors Bonnie Metviner (left) and Chuck Bonfiglio, Jr., reviewed the talking points prior to meeting with Sen. Jeremy Ring (D-Margate), who represents Florida's District 29. Sen. Jeremy Ring (D-Margate) (far left) listened closely as members of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Realtors discussed legislation to prevent squatters from entering homes under the claim of adverse possession. On a different note, Sen. Ring sponsored a Realtor-supported bill to cut down on the cost of paper and mailings by giving property owners the option to receive yearly tax notices via email. Florida Realtors' Key Contact Program promotes high-quality contact with individual legislators on legislation of interest to the real estate industry. Fort Myers Realtor Liz Paul (right) is the Key Contact to Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Fort Myers), who also serves as the Senate Majority Leader. Realtor Key Contacts provided legislators with an eye-catching brochure outlining core issues and talking points, and housing data for the lawmaker's local market. Commercial Realtor Heidi Tuttle-Beisner explained the merits of phasing out the current sales tax on commercial leases in a meeting with House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel). Florida is the only state that imposes such a tax, which puts Florida businesses at a competitive disadvantage with neighboring states and online retails. Though the legislation didn't pass this session, the Speaker pledged to address this and other sales tax issues next year. St. Petersburg Realtor Tom Shelly provided Rep. Ed Hooper (R-Clearwater) (left) a market analysis of his Florida House District prepared by Florida Realtors' Industry & Data Analysis department. Close to 200 Realtors attended the Leadership Breakfast on the 22nd Floor of the State Capitol. Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam and other Cabinet members addressed the exclusive group of members. Attorney General Pam Bondi had a reason to smile at the Leadership Breakfast. Legislators had just voted to allocate $200 million of the large mortgage settlement Bondi negotiated with major lenders to housing programs. This includes $60 million for rental assistance and $40 million to refurbish existing homes for low-income families, and assistance with down payments and lease purchases. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater worked as a community banker for more than 25 years, giving him unique insights into issues of deep interest to Realtors: banking, insurance, taxes and regulations. Nearly 1,000 Realtors grabbed a seat at the Taste of Florida Block Party on Adams Street. The annual food and networking fest follows the first day of legislator meetings at the Capitol during Great American Realtor Days. All roads lead to the annual Taste of Florida Block Party. Fresh Florida seafood entrees and Southern specialties, along with desserts and drinks were on the menu. All work and no play? No way. Realtors made a beeline to Adams Street after daylong meetings with legislators on April 9. The evening block party is a perfect time to unwind after navigating around the 22-story Capitol. We were there, were you? Photo opportunities are everywhere when the entire street is closed down for Realtors to gather as advocates for homeownership and private property rights. April 9 also was Seersucker Day in Tallahassee, where Realtors wore the traditional fabric and sported patriotic boaters. Florida Realtors® PAC passed out the patriotic hats at The Taste of Florida Block Party. You bet there was dancing in the streets. The Taste of Florida Block Party on Adams Street brings out the fun side of Realtors who know how to let loose after working hard all day discussing property insurance, business regulations and other real estate issues with legislators. You never know who will turn up at the Taste of Florida Block Party. But you can be sure they're there to have fun and be seen with more than 1,000 politically attuned Realtors from around the state.

Photo credits:
Colin Hackley, http://www.colinhackley.com
Melina Vastola, http://www.melinasphotography.com