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A 35-year veteran of the real estate business, Gary Thomas—broker/owner of Evergreen Realty in Villa Park, Calif.—has experienced the ups and downs of the industry and thrived through many a market. Throughout it all, Thomas has held steadfast to the belief that being involved in leadership at the local, state and/or national level is essential—not just to his own success but to the success of the industry as a whole. As the 2013 President of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), Thomas plans to take his contributions to a whole new level, working to make the “Voice of Real Estate” heard on both Capitol Hill and on Main Street, USA, too.

Maria Patterson: When and why did you first become involved in real estate at the association level?
Gary Thomas:
I first got involved in the industry at the association level back in the mid-’80s. Quite simply, I was asked by an officer of a local association to get involved. Sometimes, if you’re not asked, you don’t step up to the plate.

MP: Why is it important for REALTORS® to get more involved at the association level? What difference can they make?
GT: I think that becoming involved is the only way REALTORS® can effectively make a difference and help shape the future of our industry. If you don’t participate at some association level, then you have to live with whatever others decide on your behalf.

MP: What’s your take on the general state of the real estate industry as we close out 2012?
GT: The industry is in recovery mode and we’ve seen at least the beginning of the recovery in most markets. This is a very hopeful time, as most of us see good signs of the market moving in the right direction. I don’t think we’ll see the craziness we saw in the boom years, although we’re already seeing reports that many areas have turned into sellers’ markets.

MP: In your opinion, what were some of the most significant influences on the real estate market this year?
GT: The biggest influence in the market so far this year is buyers getting off the fence and starting to buy. That, combined with stable, low interest rates, has helped the recovery. Also, I believe we’ve hit a real bottom this year and most markets are starting to see prices rise as well as the number of transactions, which has resulted in lower inventories.

MP: Are we beginning to see any loosening of mortgage lending standards?
GT: No. There is still no easing of lending criteria.

MP: As you step into the president’s role at NAR, what will your top priorities be during your term in office?
GT: The first priority always is to listen to our members and continue to give them the best possible value for their dues dollars. Second, we will continue working toward a solution on major issues in this economy, and navigating the political landscape we’ll have in 2013.

MP: What will be the industry’s biggest opportunity in the year ahead?
GT: Our biggest opportunity lies in our ability to engage the consumer with all that REALTORS® do on their behalf. NAR has launched a concerted plan to really reach out to the consumer to let them know we are the “Voice of Real Estate” and that we’re trying to protect their rights.

MP: How does NAR plan to continue its efforts to reach out directly to consumers? Why is it important to do so?
GT: Since we are the “Voice of Real Estate,” it’s important to engage the consumer in order to make them aware of the issues that affect them. We have to engage consumers to demonstrate our role in preserving homeownership. From television ads to direct emails to to our radio show, NAR will employ a variety of communication channels to reach consumers to help pave the way for the industry’s recovery.

MP: In your opinion, how can REALTORS® best connect with today’s consumers? What must be done differently today than five or six years ago?
GT: In today’s world, REALTORS® really have to be technologically proficient and need to step into the social media arena. They have to get involved, stay connected, respond instantly and anticipate what their clients’ needs are. We are in a consulting era, rather than a pure sales era. It’s really consultative selling—from listing the property to answering all of a client’s questions to guiding them through the maze of the transaction. The members who have evolved and integrated technology are in the best position to attract buyers and sellers.

MP: Do you believe the American Dream of homeownership is alive and well, despite the tough times homeowners, sellers and buyers have experienced?
GT: As we know, in five out of the last seven downturns, housing has led the way out. We know how important the real estate industry is to the economy. In all the surveys we and others have done, we’ve seen that the desire for homeownership is still very high. We have to get back to a reasonable core marketplace. Then our industry and country can move forward at a more rapid pace.

Working Hard for the Greater Good

NAR President-Elect Gary Thomas, a REALTOR® in Orange County, Calif., is a second generation real estate professional who brings a rich history of association experience to his new post. As broker/owner of Evergreen Realty in Villa Park, Calif., Thomas has been in the business for more than 35 years and has served the industry in countless roles.

At the national level, Thomas served as the NAR 2011 first vice president and the 2009 vice president and liaison to Government Affairs. In 2004, he served as regional vice president for Region XIII, covering California, Hawaii and Guam. He has served on NAR’s Board of Directors since 1995. In that time, he has chaired numerous committees, including Federal Taxation, Research, Commercial Real Estate Research, the State Leadership Forum and Business Issues. He also served on several Presidential Advisory Groups like the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, Housing Opportunities Advisory Board, Insurance Task Force, Smart Growth, the MLS of the Future and Gateway.

In 2001, Thomas served as president of the California Association of REALTORS® and has sat on its Board of Directors since 1985. In 2004, he chaired CAR’s Nominating Committee as well as the Executive Committee in 2001, Regional Chairs in 2000 and Strategic Planning and Finance from 1998-1999. He has chaired several taskforces, including the MLS Taskforce from 2005-2008 and the Lock Box Task Force from 2002-2003. He served as chairman of the board of Real Estate Business Services, a subsidiary of CAR from 2006-2008. His state peers named him “REALTOR® of the Year” in 2001.