This month, Charlie Oppler, COO of New Jersey-based Prominent Properties Sotheby’s Intl. Realty, will be inaugurated as the 2021 president of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). While the ceremonies will be virtual, the challenges Oppler will face in the year ahead are very tangible—as are the opportunities. Here, he tells us what’s in store for 2021, and why being an active broker of a leading, 15-office firm gives him a unique advantage in the president’s role.
Maria Patterson: Charlie, you’ve had a long career in real estate. Tell us a little about how you first got into the business.
Charlie Oppler: Next year will be my 40th year in real estate. I graduated college in 1980 and went to work for the March of Dimes. Our chapter created a fundraising event, and I met and recruited Joe Murphy (Murphy Realty Better Homes and Gardens) and Dick Schlott (Schlott, REALTORS®) to give their time and money to a sports awards dinner. They both told me, “You’d be great in real estate,” so I got my real estate license in 1981 and sold for three years for Murphy BH&G. In 1984, I took a job with Dick as an assistant manager, and in 1985, I was managing the third-largest division of close to 100 offices for him at 26 years old.
MP: What do you consider to be some of your biggest milestones?
CO: From a recognition standpoint, being local president in 1996 of the Eastern Bergen County Board of REALTORS®, and in 2004, the president of the New Jersey REALTORS®. Then I would have to say getting to meet so many people on a national level was beyond what I expected in this business. One of the greatest milestones in my career, however, is that despite all the volunteer efforts at NAR, along with running a company, I still saw 125 out of 128 of my youngest son’s high school basketball games. In my way of thinking, milestones are not about my career—they’re about my family. Being able to celebrate the successes of my kids and grandchildren with my wife Geri is really the greatest reward.
MP: Tell us why your association involvement over the years has been important to you, and what it will add to your role as president.
CO: When I first got involved locally, it was a chance to meet the real professionals in the business. When we started our company—Classic Realty with my partner Randy (Lyn Ketive)—in 1992, I knew I had to be more involved and visible to grow the company. Now, there are more challenges on a national level, but the responsibility and commitment is the same as it was in ’92. As NAR president, you’re part of a team. The title changes, but you’re still collaborating and making decisions as a group. And as a practitioner in the real estate business, it is critical to understand the issues, whether it’s legal, MLS policy, legislative or just day-to-day operational topics.
MP: What were some of the most important actions NAR took to help REALTORS® sustain business during the pandemic?
CO: The four key things as I saw them were:
1. Our lobbying and advocacy team made sure that real estate was declared essential.
2. We created a website so brokers and REALTORS® could get as much information about COVID relief as possible.
3. We were able to meet with association executives and key people around the country more regularly because it didn’t involve travel, and we continued to operate as normal. We held our Budget and Finance meetings as scheduled. We had our Midyear Legislative meetings, our elections and our Board of Directors meeting virtually.
4. We put the Right Tools, Right Now program into play. As members were spending time at home, they were able to get designation courses, certification courses and other programs from NAR at cost or for free. That’s a value of more than $21 million. And more than 300,000 members have partaken in one way, shape or form.
MP: How did you advocate for members and homeowners during this time?
CO: In terms of advocacy, for the first time ever, independent contractors were eligible for SBA loans, unemployment, and paid sick and family leave. For consumers, we worked on mortgage forbearance measures. We also offered the telehealth program—31,000 members received health services at a reduced rate.
Last week (at press time), we met with the White House. There’s a moratorium on evictions, and 80 percent of investment companies are owned by mom-and-pops, not the big mega landlord. We’ve asked the White House to keep in mind that there are people who own buildings who will need assistance if they’re not getting rent.
MP: Overall, the real estate business has picked up significantly. What do you believe lies ahead for the market as a whole?
CO: We have plenty of buyers, we have multiple offers, homes selling over asking price and three straight months of incredible gains. I think there are even more buyers in the pipeline. I have to think that interest rates will still sit around 3 percent, which helps first-time homebuyers. So I’m bullish. I think 2021 can be another strong year because of the pipeline.
MP: What will be your priorities as NAR President next year?
CO: We’ve got to ensure that REALTORS® are the consumer’s best source of information. We also have to support every policy and program to facilitate property listings, data sharing and open markets. The more we use MLS systems, the more we use a cooperative and collaborative environment, the more it’s going to benefit the consumer. It ensures fair housing.
Another priority for me will be to expand housing equality and affordability. We’re already working on that with the fair housing plan we adopted long before the current social injustice issues, ACT: Accountability, Culture Change and Training. We want to help our members provide equal opportunity for all homebuyers, which enables people to build wealth. We want to help foster diverse, inclusive communities. And we’re going to put programs together to help attract a diverse, inclusive next generation of REALTORS®.
Additionally, we must continue to be leaders in giving back to our communities. Take the REALTOR® Relief Foundation—we’ve given out over $32 million in the last 19 years to help with mortgage assistance and rent payments, and families of REALTORS® who have suffered because of fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and flooding. Honoring the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, we’re going to have our first REALTOR® Relief Foundation Telethon. It falls back on everyone to support one and other.
MP: How might NAR’s priorities change based on the outcome of the presidential election?
CO: We’ll continue to champion the same issues we always have. We’re going to press on tax incentives for homeownership, tax benefits for investment like the 1031 tax-free exchange, GSE reform, responsible regulation of mortgage finance…all the things we’ve always done, irrespective of who the winner is.
MP: How has the process of buying and selling a home perhaps changed permanently?
CO: Consumer expectations continue to be more focused on better photos, better videos and more efficiency. I do think you’re going to see more remote services, whether it’s e-signature or online notarization, which NAR is pushing for in all 50 states. Realtor.com® just added a new tool to listings to help consumers better understand flood risk in an area. We know that things need to be streamlined even more to make sure our companies and associations stay leaders.
We worked with a research firm to find out if, during the pandemic, buyers and sellers were relying on a real estate professional. We found out that working with a REALTOR® is much more important to them than it was before. We want to make sure people take notice that we are leaders in our communities.
For more information, please visit www.nar.realtor.
Maria Patterson is RISMedia’s executive editor. Email her your real estate news ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.