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RISMEDIA, October 22, 2010—At one time or another, everyone has found themselves in situations where they have regretted wishing for something because of a bad outcome. But what would you wish for if you were given a magic wand today and you could have one wish to improve the real estate industry? In this month’s Power Broker Roundtable, industry experts John Smaby, Gary Scott, Robert Bailey, Merle Whitehead and Sherry Chris take the opportunity to discuss what they would do to improve the industry for both consumers and real estate professionals.

Steve Brown,
Special Liaison for Large Firm Relations, NAR

John Smaby,
Broker/Manager. Edina Realty, Edina, Minnesota
Gary Scott, President, Long & Foster Real Estate, Chantilly, Washington
Robert Bailey, Broker/Co-owner, Bailey Properties, Inc., Santa Cruz, California
Merle Whitehead, President,/CEO, Realty USA, Buffalo, New York
Sherry Chris, CEO, Better Homes and Garden Real Estate, Parsippany, New Jersey

Steve Brown: Somebody smart once said, “Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it”—and certainly there have been times when people have regretted wishing for something that turned out badly. Still, most of us, at one time or another, have said, “If I only had it my way…” So today, we’ve invited a panel of industry experts to ask them a whimsical question: If you had a magic wand, what one thing would you wish for to improve the real estate industry? It may seem simple, but remember, you only have one wish. So think carefully. What one thing would you do to improve the industry for both consumers and real estate professionals? John, you’re a pretty innovative guy. Why don’t we start with you?

John Smaby: It surely is an interesting question—and I think my answer would have something to do with professional designations. Why don’t real estate agents need a specialized degree, like a doctorate or a master’s in real estate? It would increase credibility in the public eye, and it would thin our agent ranks by getting rid of the uncommitted and less qualified. So I think that’s my wish; between NAR and the public education system, I’d make a professional degree necessary for every agent. NAR is in the implementation stages of developing an accredited, degree-granting real estate program, so this wish may be closer to the truth soon.

Steve Brown: You’re right John. This emanated from a Presidential Advisory Group on Professionalism charged with recommending ways to ensure the REALTOR® mark is perceived as an assurance of experience, competency and professional service. Emphasis is on applied business fundamentals and skills Realtors use every day. NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® Leadership is committed to developing an international opportunity to build something different and unique that is rigorous, innovative, academic, credible and of the highest standards.

Gary Scott: Good idea, John. I’d go a step further by setting up more higher standards to enter into the field. Consumers deserve the same kind of predictable experience in real estate as they have with accountants and lawyers and financial planners. That can only happen if we tighten up the licensing requirements so that only the most knowledgeable and professional people get to practice the trade.

Robert Bailey: Well, it’s great to raise the bar and it’s probably a good thing to upgrade the business model, as it were. But we all have desks to fill and overhead to pay. If we’re going to wish, what I’d like to see is a true Yin-Yang effect—a balance of realities and consequences. The best prepared agents would get the lion’s share of business, so the least prepared would just naturally drop off.

Steve Brown: Interesting that we’re focusing on increasing professionalism. That says a lot for you as leaders—wanting the best person to win, so consumers get the best representation. What else are we wishing for? The sky’s the limit. Here’s your chance to make a difference.

Merle Whitehead: Well, I for one would wish for something I’ve been talking up recently whenever I get the chance—and that’s mortgage portability. I think it would have significant value for move-up buyers, especially a few years down the line when mortgage rates are higher. The fact is, more buyers would in fact move up if they could take their low rates with them—which translates, of course, to more business overall.

Steve Brown: Interesting. Would you extend the concept to assumability?

Merle Whitehead: Not necessarily—for the moment, anyway. But portability—which, by the way, is already in place very successfully in Canada—would be great. People get hung up on pricing strategies, but the fact is, lenders could offer rate options—say, an extra quarter percent on the loan to ensure your rate will stay with you when you move.

Steve Brown: I like it. Sherry, what’s your wish?

Sherry Chris: I guess I’m thinking about how the industry has already shifted…consumers being more in control and the role of agents rapidly changing. Consumers don’t necessarily need us anymore for basic property information. They get much of that online. I think my wish would be to spend less on our brick and mortar trappings and put those dollars into technology that would give the role of the agent new impact.

Steve Brown: And how would you do that—if you got your wish?

Sherry Chris: Well, for one thing, consumers today, especially the younger ones, are looking for lifestyle as much as properties…a condo at the beach, say, versus a penthouse in the city. If I’m blue-skying it, I say let’s give agents the technology that could rate communities, take lifestyle into account, and help consumers in their decision-making in new and more meaningful ways.

Steve Brown: I hear you – and I have to say, I like the creativity we’re hearing here today. If I were the Genie, I can tell you this: your wishes would be granted. Keep the ideas coming, because Sherry is right. The dynamic has shifted mightily. With our good ideas and the strength of National Association Of Realtors, we should be able to do more than wish. If we work together, we can absolutely take the industry to the next level.