“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going to heaven, we were all going direct the other way”.
If you didn’t recognize that as the opening to Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, you would think that a writer was poetically describing the recent history of the housing industry. The meltdown centered on real estate was so great and the crash of our economy so large that the government decided to rescue the banking industry, Wall Street, and later the automobile industry. But in no large measure did they rescue the American home owner.
But a group did come to the rescue and that group has the right to use the title REALTOR®. In no small way have Oklahoma REALTORS® helped create a recovery that even the most optimistic of economist thought would happen. We cannot take all the credit, but without us, it would not put us where we are today. Tonight we want to celebrate this best of times and pay tribute to those who gave so much more here in Oklahoma.
There are so many to thank that I don’t have the time, but we do need to mention many who did exceptional work. First we have stabilized our membership at around 8350. This is not as many as we would like, but we have stemmed the tide of losses from 2008. We still have work to do especially getting Millennials to join our ranks, but we will get that done. And to those 8350, we say thank you for setting all-time sales records in so many places and boosting the Oklahoma economy. Let’s keep working hard to end the year on a high note.
On November 1, the years of work on Broker Relationships will see the new law take effect, one that we will embrace and the public will understand and trust. In education, we are working to reduce continuing education classes to one-hour minimums, and consolidating a 3-hour refresher course for those who qualify from the standard 9 core subjects so you can use 6 hours to better your expertise. More work is being done to improve our educational system as well as more business classes online at OAR. The Government Affairs Committee thanks you for your work on this and the hard work monitoring more than 100 bills per year that affect our industry. My special thanks goes to OAR Vice President of Government Affairs Matt Robison. Coming into the OAR family, you had to replace Charla, which is a little like being the next coach after Bear Bryant, but you did not flinch, hesitate or become intimidated. Instead you led with your experience and dedication to excellence and we thank you.
Audit and Finance Committee, as I have said before, you have a tough job and make extremely difficult decisions trying to deal with the money we have and the needs of the membership. You go where angels fear to tread.
Thank you to our housing foundation that had a difficult year with the May tornadoes and helped the communities and our REALTOR® family. Your praises should be sung.
In the Public Awareness Committee, you made a great choice in Saxum, our public relations firm. We have started on a massive campaign to not only create awareness about housing issues and benefits, we have also—with their help—begun to establish ourselves as the Oklahoma voice of real estate through traditional and electronic media. Now, work has begun to rebrand us in a way that is recognizable as a force for doing what’s right and make clear our value to those we serve.
To all other committee chairs, members and of course our Directors, thank you for your outstanding commitment to service. Let us also not forget the numerous task forces assembled this year for education, leadership, contract issues, abandoned and neglected property, and more. You did great work. This is the best of times.
I would be remiss if I did not honor our Leadership Team. As president, I have a role and responsibilities, but never without this incredible team could I get anything done on my own. It should give you confidence that next year Mary, then Kacy, then Chuck, then Pete will put their unique signatures on OAR with new leadership teams. And the best of times also means we have great leaders waiting in the wings.
But yearly transitions cannot work without a sense of continuity. That constant is given to us by the most incredible staff. It has been my pleasure to work with and led so well by Lisa Noon. These folks are the engine that makes this association go.
But the worst of times still could be before us, and we cannot relax or take a minute’s break in defending the right and privilege of property ownership. At this moment, there are elected officials and PAC forces that have before Congress the elimination of the MID, the end of the capital gains exclusion for home sales, the end of the 1031 tax deferred exchange. Many would like to see Fannie and Freddie completely gone with no government backstop for loans—a complete move to the private sector that would raise rates 3% without the backstop and cripple our recovery. Some continue to blame the American property owner and not those who cynically manipulated mortgages into a false asset class. Their solution is to eliminate low and no down payment mortgages, calling them a moral hazard and ignoring the fact that zero-down VA loans currently have the lowest default rate. Maybe they should focus on the fact banks are doing their due diligence again. And maybe they should look at statistics that show we are down more than 750,000 owner-occupant households and up more than 2.1 million rental households since 2007.
Please stay out of our way and let us finish this recovery. On state and local levels we are fighting many battles about transfer taxes, limiting the size of home deductions, and taxing commissions. Last year I spoke of a battle won when the banks tried to take over our industry, but how this enemy spawned the many sons and daughters that represent the many battles we are now fighting. Well in one year it looks like they have given birth to grandsons and granddaughters.
How do we fight on so many fronts and come out victorious? The obvious answer always seems more money to RPAC and more of us answering the associations’ calls to action. I don’t disagree, but I think to win this battle, we need to go deeper than that. It is not just money; it is not just clicking on a button to send a message. It is more like the 1960’s Pogo cartoon statement, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Victory starts with us, and that will happen when our membership not only understands how all the industry parts work together but also when more of us take pride in being apart of a grand tradition. This grand tradition goes back 100 years when the Code of Ethics was created to tell the world we hold ourselves to a higher standard. This grand tradition goes back to the 19th Century when New York real estate practitioners formed the first board knowing the power of working together for the public’s benefit.
This grand tradition more importantly goes back to the origin of this country when in the Declaration of Independence, it says, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among these life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The significance for us in those words starts with a previous draft Jefferson wrote where it said life, liberty, and the pursuit of property. Jefferson did not change the meaning, he expanded it, because for these young Americans, property ownership free of the crown was happiness. And that was an individual right that affected how we feel about ourselves. It was a right they were willing to fight for.
When this conference is over and we go back to our communities, tell all those in our business we are in a serious fight, and a unity of purpose and pride is our starting point. This is a fight we should win. It is one we can win. And together, it is one we will win for those we serve.
Thank you for letting me do my part this year as your president.