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Final after contractTom Salomone has seen a lot in his 40-plus years in the real estate industry…lots of markets, lots of trends, lots of regulations. But the one factor that has remained constant throughout is the power of the relationship. Already off to a productive start, Salomone is committed to affecting positive change during his 2016 term as president of the National Association of REALTORS®. In this exclusive interview, the current president-elect and broker/owner of Florida’s Real Estate II, Inc. shares his game plan for the year ahead and his thoughts on what it takes to make it in real estate.

Maria Patterson: Tom, you’ve been involved in the local, state and national REALTOR® associations for many years. As a busy, successful REALTOR® and broker/owner, why did you feel the need to also get involved in the bigger picture?
Salamone_TomTom Salomone:
I got my real estate license the summer between high school and college. I graduated high school on a Sunday, and the next day, my dad enrolled me in real estate school. I says, ‘But dad, I’m going to college,’ and he says, ‘then I suggest you pass your test on the first try.’ My attitude has never changed from when I first got into the business. Everything I’ve ever done in my life, I’ve done because I thought I could make a positive difference. Whether at the national or local level, if I think I can make a positive difference, I throw my name in the hat. And it’s the same as the 2016 president of NAR—I feel I can make a positive difference for members and consumers.

MP: In your opinion, what have been some of the most significant changes to the real estate business over the course of your career?
For me, it’s watching the business models change over time and what, unfortunately, has come along with that is a lack of agent supervision. That’s why NAR always needs to be involved in education and professionalism. Obviously, the other huge change over my 40 years has been the emergence of technology. You need to embrace technology and deal with the different business models if you want to be successful in the business.

MP: What do you think is the current state of the national real estate market? What are your predictions for housing and real property ownership in 2016?
It seems that the market is improving across the country, although there are still pockets that are struggling. For example, I practice in Florida where we’re still dealing with short sales and foreclosures. But overall, I see the market improving slowly. There are some months where we drop back and some months where we pick up. I think the most positive sign right now is the pick-up in housing starts and new construction. Hopefully, this means developers and builders are finding it easier to get financing to start projects. Plus, residential and commercial real estate are tied in together—if there’s new construction happening, it often means new businesses are opening in the area as well.

MP: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges for today’s REALTORS®? Conversely, where do the biggest opportunities lie?
The market is incredibly competitive for agents and they need to be extremely knowledgeable and embrace technology. One of the challenges in today’s world is to be able to blend technology and the personal touch. In many cases, technology has taken the personal contact out of our lives and affects relationships. In as much as technology has overwhelmed the world, I think as human beings, we still like to be handled with a personal touch. This same challenge also presents the greatest opportunity. The agents who can blend the mastering of technology while still maintaining personal contact with the client and customer have an advantage. People need to understand that you care about them and will sit with them and walk them through the transaction. This is where the REALTOR®’ s professionalism is going to shine.

MP: How can REALTORS® maintain this ‘personal touch’ with clients?
One of the mistakes we sometimes make is trying to find the “real estate” answer. Before you worry about what the real estate answer is, think about the answer as a human being. How can I be the best agent, the best broker? You have to be educated and knowledgeable, and you have to put caring about other human beings first. Treat others the way you want to be treated.

MP: What are your thoughts upon assuming the role of NAR president for 2016?
I feel really good about the association and the direction we’re going in. There are a lot of good things happening every year and the next team that comes in should build upon those successes.

We have two initiatives I recently announced for 2016. First, I’ve always felt like we needed more members to participate at the association level. So we’re going to launch a year-long, countrywide phone bank and organize member-to-member phone calls. We’re going to call upon REALTORS® who are active in the Association to sit down and make 10 calls to people they know. Of course, we’d love people to invest in RPAC, but we also want to explain to them all the things they may not know NAR provides for them. The goal is to increase the percentage of REALTORS® participating in RPAC and also get more people involved in the process. We’ve already had 28 states and 253 local boards sign on to support this initiative.

Second, we’re joining forces with Boys & Girls Clubs of America. We all see the things some kids are going through, and as I’ve moved up the ladder in the Association, I’ve continually heard about the need to make sure future generations have the opportunity to enjoy the American Dream of homeownership. So I’ve put my concern for children and the future of our industry and of our country together and decided to do something about it. I thought, “You know what, since I’m going to be president of the largest trade association in the world, it’s a great opportunity to leverage this leadership role and do something really big that we’ve never been involved with before.”

Our relationship with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America will kick off in December, and REALTORS® across the country will have an opportunity to get engaged. Both of our organizations are important to the community and we can help each other. The response around the country has been incredible. We’ve already seen monetary donations, but the time element and the volunteerism are also really important. We want REALTORS® to go into clubs and volunteer with the children. It goes back to the importance of personal touch—we need to show the world that REALTORS® do a lot more than list and sell property. They really care about their communities and about the next generation.

MP: What are REALTORS® currently most concerned about in terms of legislation/regulations and why?
We’re watching a laundry list of issues in Washington. Tax issues are always watched closely, particularly in an election year like 2016, when we are watching what the candidates stand for. Tax reform doesn’t have a specific bill being considered, which means we have to remain vigilant against possible attacks on the mortgage interest deduction, 1031 exchanges and a host of other real estate-related tax policies. On the regulatory side, working with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help guide and direct the implementation of the “Know Before You Owe” regulations is an ongoing effort.

MP: What do you see happening with interest rates and how might that impact the market in 2016?
I’m not an economist, but the consensus seems to be that when rates rise, it’s going to be a gradual change and won’t have a huge impact on the market. It’s interesting that the Federal Reserve did not raise rates recently (at press time). It shows that they’re still concerned about the economy and housing. What’s more important are the banks’ lending requirements. NAR will continue to work to make sure that overly stringent lending criteria do not needlessly impede the market.

MP: What are the biggest concerns of real estate consumers right now and how can REALTORS® best address these concerns?
Due to the way the media tends to frame things, I think for the first time ever, there’s a question about the value of homeownership. People are wondering if homeownership is the right way to go or if renting is a better option. As REALTORS®, it is our job to educate the public on the benefits of homeownership; it is still the best long-term investment, and so many positive things come with it. Statistics show that people who own their own homes have a lower divorce rate, their kids get better grades, and they are more involved in their communities.

MP: What are some of the most valuable programs NAR currently has/will be rolling out that benefit REALTORS® and help them be more successful?
The educational opportunities at NAR are incredible. Under the REALTOR® Party umbrella, there are numerous training and education programs available online and at associations across the country that make REALTORS® more successful in their communities. We also have incredible benefits through our REALTOR Benefits® Program—over 700,000 members took advantage of at least one of NAR’s 30 industry leading partner offers, whether it was for help renting or buying a car, getting insurance coverage for themselves, their home and automobiles or their business, or using e-signature and overnight shipping services to close transactions quickly and efficiently. The opportunities are limitless and that’s part of the association at all levels—
local, state and national.

MP: What would you like people to know about REALTORS®?
I would like the public to know that REALTORS® are great, outgoing people who get up every day to go out and help consumers reach whatever their goals may be. They’re problem solvers. They’re good, honest people trying to help other human beings. At the same time, they’re involved in their communities, coaching on the ball field or volunteering at the hospital. They’re helping people, and at the same time, building better communities. One of my goals is for the public to understand that REALTORS® are integral parts of our communities.

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