When Chris Polychron speaks to his fellow members of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), he sometimes turns his back to the audience and holds up a mirror in front of him. This is Polychron’s way of letting the membership know that he is one of them. And standing shoulder to shoulder with REALTORS® across the country is exactly how Polychron intends to approach his presidency—fighting for the betterment of all members, himself included. In this exclusive interview, Polychron—an executive broker at 1st Choice Realty in Hot Springs, Ark., and a REALTOR® for 27 years—discusses what’s most important to the current and future state of real estate and how he intends to ‘run full speed’ for REALTORS® and the consumers they serve.
Maria Patterson: For starters, Chris, what are your feelings as you prepare to step into the NAR President’s role?
Chris Polychron: I’m very, very excited. I threw my hat in the ring in late 2007. Since then, there’s been all this build-up to this moment, and all of a sudden, you realize it’s here. When I gave my speech at NAR’s Leadership Summit in August, it hit me: The time is now. I was so excited when I hit that stage. The first lines in my speech were, “I’m honored, yet humbled, to be the 2015 NAR President,” and I literally got very emotional when I says those words in rehearsal. My speeches are more like conversations. I start out by telling members all about me—I give them a synopsis of what they’re getting. I remind them that I am one of them and I am still very much a practitioner.
MP: Why is the call to Association service—at every level—important to you as a real estate professional?
CP: I’ve always been a “joiner” and have given a lot of myself through service. Whether it’s through a club, the Chamber of Commerce, or fundraisers in my community, I’ve always given back on a local level. I’ve always viewed serving my local market and helping to build communities as part of being a REALTOR®— we don’t just sell real estate.
As I got more involved and started volunteering a lot for NAR, and got involved as the RPAC (REALTORS® Political Action Committee) fundraising chair, I really began to enjoy interacting with members all over the country. I feel like that’s one of my strengths. I’m an easy person to get to know and I hope that characteristic of mine is beneficial as we move forward as an Association. I will run at full speed to help brokers and all REALTORS® succeed.
MP: What are some of your personal goals for your tenure as president?
CP: One of my goals as president is to help further distinguish the difference in the minds of consumers between a REALTOR® and a non-member real estate agent, and to help improve the understanding of that important distinction by the general public. I use every opportunity I can, including talking to the public on all the airplane trips I’ve been taking lately. I hope in the future we can establish a huge difference and a standard. But this has to come from the members themselves. We have to vote whether we want to move forward with not only strengthening our Code of Ethics, but perhaps adding a Code of Excellence as well. I don’t want it coming from the top down, but from the bottom up. I want the members to tell us what they want.
MP: How would you describe the current state of the real estate market? How far have we progressed in terms of a real estate recovery?
CP: I might answer that differently if I lived in California or Florida, but in Arkansas, we never had the huge downturn. Nationally, I think everyone would agree that our market is better. I am cautiously optimistic. We’re seeing a little downturn right now, caused by a number of factors, the primary reason being overly tight credit requirements to secure a mortgage from financial institutions. We are meeting with Mel Watt (director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency) and Bill Emerson, CEO of Quicken Loans, to talk about this very subject. One of the jobs of the NAR President is to try and get those agencies and big banks to cooperate more—so we are working with them to consider adjusting their credit scoring calculations for loans and get more aggressive in terms of lending.
I firmly believe that in 2015, we will see steadily building equity, and that’s what we want. Four to five percent would be a wonderful increase each year so people can build equity, which, in turn, builds their financial strength. I think we’re on the right path. Interest rates are still low—they have gone up some, but they’re still awfully good. And even if they go up another point or two, they’d still be good.
MP: What do you foresee as your/the industry’s biggest challenges in 2015?
CP: REALTORS® have to stand up for consumers as their advocate and remain their trusted source and the first point of contact with the consumer. We are in a fierce battle for that right now with the portals of the world. Online data can’t replace the local market knowledge the REALTOR® provides, or their expertise during a closing—that just can’t be replaced with a computer. I see that as a huge challenge.
The consumer wants data—any information they can get—and they don’t always know if it’s accurate. We have to get to a point where the consumer is seeking out our data from trusted sources like realtor.com® and our new .REALTOR top-level domains.
How do we make that happen? We’re talking about creating a “REALTOR® Bill of Rights” so that the listing agent and broker would be prominently identified on the first page of any report citing housing data with a hyperlink. That way we ensure they get credit for accumulating accurate data. We ought to help members and MLSs protect their listing data and make sure the portals don’t modify or alter that data, and that the word REALTOR® is prominently displayed in connection with listing data provided by our members.
MP: What are your thoughts on News Corp’s recent acquisition of Move, Inc.?
CP: This is a great ownership change. News Corp has the wherewithal to compete with any Wall Street Company. They own the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, MarketWatch—they know what they’re doing and they want to be No. 1 in everything they do. Now they want to be part of the REALTOR® family. In the past, you might agree that general news favored Wall Street over the real estate industry. But I think the future is now in real estate. All of a sudden, real estate may be on the same pedestal as Wall Street.
MP: What legislative issues are of biggest concern to brokers and their REALTORS®?
CP: There are three issues we want to get passed during the lame duck session of Congress this year. First is the Mortgage Choice Act that passed the U.S. House of Representatives. This importantly redefines a provision in the Ability-to-Repay rules that limits mortgage fees and points to three percent (3 percent) in order for home loans to be considered Qualified Mortgages (QM). Next is the Mortgage Debt Forgiveness Tax Relief Act, which penalizes a person who does a short sale and then gets taxed on so-called phantom income. I feel like we can get that done. The other is the renewal of TRIA (Terrorism Risk Insurance Act). Because TRIA has a government guarantee, the rates are more affordable. It’s important to our members who practice commercial real estate that we get that done as well. I think we can feel confident that all three of those will be done within 2014.
MP: Where will you and the NAR leadership team focus your efforts in 2015?
CP: I’m a big team guy. My team will meet in Hot Springs, Ark., the week after I’m installed as president at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo in New Orleans. Some of what we will spend our efforts on next year hasn’t even come out yet. We must remain the first point of contact with consumers. On the legislative front, tax reform and reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be on the table. We will also look at MLS issues. We don’t control the MLS, but we’re a family. I hope to bring the two sides together—the big brokers and the MLSs—for the benefit of the member. Our differences aren’t great, and hopefully, we can mediate a good resolve for all.
MP: Currently, what are the biggest obstacles prospective homebuyers are facing, in particular, first-time homebuyers, and what can be done to overcome these obstacles?
CP: The biggest obstacle prospective homebuyers are facing right now is wage growth. The highest wage earners in America are in the upper 10 percent, and they are gaining by leaps and bounds, but middle and lower class wages are not increasing. There is stagnant wage growth, lingering problems with unemployment and tight credit conditions. First-time homebuyers are historically a huge part of the market—40 percent. We have to address their needs one way or another. The first-time homebuyer is one of the biggest keys. We also need more inventory and more new homes. We have to lower credit requirements to help encourage first-timehomebuyers and all homebuyers. I’m looking forward to the work ahead in 2015.
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