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COVID-19 Response, Housing Equality and Affordability, Community Development Top the List

In a media call this week during the National Association of REALTORS®’ (NAR) 2020 REALTORS® Conference & Expo, newly installed NAR President Charlie Oppler shared NAR’s top priorities for 2021, namely housing equality, affordability and community development. Oppler, CEO of Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty in Northern New Jersey, also outlined the association’s advocacy efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic as well the current state of the real estate market and looking ahead to the new year.

In its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Oppler said REALTOR® advocacy “has been nothing short of extraordinary.”

“NAR’s Federal Advocacy team has been working closely with Congress and the Administration to ensure the interests of REALTORS®, their families, consumers and the entire real estate industry are protected in any federal action in response to COVID-19,” he said.

Among NAR’s stated accomplishments were making sure independent contractors and those on commission-based income were eligible for SBA loans, unemployment assistance, and paid sick and family leave.

“This was the first time ever that independent contractors were eligible for stimulus funds,” he said. “We urged Congress to take quick action to appropriate more funds for the Paycheck Protection Program and EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loans) Programs.”

For consumers, Oppler said NAR “stood up for the mortgage forbearance measures” that allowed borrowers of government-backed mortgages to request up to 360 days of payment forbearance.

Oppler also noted NAR continues to advocate for additional relief, such as support for the American Dream Down Payment Act, a bipartisan-sponsored bill that would allow states to offer first-time buyers a savings account, which comes with a tax benefit as they save up to 20 percent for a down payment.

“What we’re seeing, just like what we saw with the 529 and savings for education, there are a lot of first-time homebuyers looking to get into the marketplace…and certainly this will allow us to champion their efforts through some additional tax savings as they go to buy their first property,” Oppler said. “We’ve done some analysis through our federal tax groups that we collaborate with and they’re all looking at this as a positive program.”

He said NAR also met with the White House as recently as last week to address the need for additional funding for rental and unemployment assistance, after the executive order to halt evictions came through at the end of the year.

“The eviction moratorium kicks the can down the road,” Oppler said. “It won’t cover months of unpaid rent after the moratorium expires. Without rent or government assistance, property owners face default. That puts the entire housing sector at risk. Keep in mind that many investment properties, almost 80 percent, are owned by mom-and-pop owners, and not large landlords.”

The Housing Market
Laying out an overview of the housing market, Oppler stated a positive outlook now and looking ahead to 2021.

“Overall, the real estate market has picked up significantly after dropping off at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak,” Oppler said. “Almost counterintuitively, most housing markets in the country have seen plenty of buyers, multiple offers and homes selling over asking price.”

He noted existing-home sales in September marked the fourth consecutive month of positive sales gains, and a 21 percent jump over September of 2019.

“Properties remained on the market for 21 days in September—that’s an all-time low,” Oppler said. “And there are still plenty of buyers in the pipeline ready to enter the market for various reasons. So, we’ll see further sales gains for the remainder of the year, with mortgage rates hovering around 3 percent and a continued job recovery.”

He predicted mortgage rates will not likely go up soon, a benefit to first-time buyers.

“Home sales in 2020 could actually finish higher than they did in 2019,” he added. “In addition, 2021 existing-home sales could reach almost 5.86 million, and interest rates are expected to remain around 3.2 percent.”

NAR’s Strategic Priorities for 2021
Two top priorities for NAR going into the new year include expanding housing equality and affordability and driving community development, Oppler stated.

On housing equality and affordability, Oppler noted, “it’s imperative that REALTORS® lead on this issue.”

“We’ll build on our Fair Housing ACT Plan (Accountability, Culture Change and Training),” he said. “This will help our members provide equal opportunity to all homebuyers. It will enable more people to build wealth through homeownership. It will help us foster diverse and inclusive communities, and most importantly, it will attract a diverse, inclusive, next generation of practitioners.”

Just this week, Oppler issued an apology to the industry for past policies that contributed to racial inequality.

“What REALTORS® did was an outrage to our morals and our ideals,” he stated. “It was a betrayal of our commitment to fairness and equality,” said Oppler. “I’m here today, as the president of the National Association of REALTORS®, to say we were wrong.”

Oppler expanded on this topic with RISMedia: “If we look at our history, and being honest with ourselves, some of the housing discrimination that exists today can be traced back to 50 years ago with the Fair Housing Act and exclusion and everything that we were complicit in. But looking forward, we know that education is the most important aspect of what we can do, and to be accountable.

“So we’re starting a couple of initiatives. Almost two years ago, NAR hired Bryan Greene as our director of Fair Housing Policy and he worked with HUD for 25-plus years, to help guide us in this area. In addition, this year we’re working on a mentorship program and an internship program in underserved and minority communities, so that we can go and work to tell people what the real estate industry is—that it’s just not sales.

“It can be mortgages and financing; it can be housing maintenance; it can be marketing and accounting. It can be so many different aspects of the real estate business, and we feel if we reach out into the community to work with existing organizations as well as our local and state associations, that we’ll be able to increase the participation from more minority groups and help them learn more about the business so that they can build generational wealth and move the ball forward.”

Oppler also addressed a question about members who disagree with the NAR Board of Directors recent approval of a new personal conduct policy that addresses discrimination, as having “overwhelming support” from the industry.

“I’d welcome the opportunity to speak to those individuals in the REALTOR® family that have an issue with this,” he said. “Since this took place last Friday, I’ve not gotten one negative call. I’m in a state with 55,000 members in the state of New Jersey, or from around the country. To the contrary, I’ve gotten many messages that said it’s about time we take it a step further.”

Finally, addressing another of the association’s strategic priorities for 2021—community development—Oppler said NAR will continue to work to elect REALTOR® advocates to local, state and federal government.

“To help REALTORS® drive economic development, affordability and innovative community design, NAR will work to continue to elect REALTOR® champions to local government as well as Congress, both in the House and Senate—and generate opportunity for our commercial members by bringing together practitioners, investors, developers and community leaders,” he said. “We will continue to advocate for real estate as an essential service during times of crisis and as a leader in economic recovery. Almost 20 percent of GDP is housing related. And we will encourage collaboration between residential and commercial real estate organizations, including NAR’s affiliated institutes, societies and councils.”

Stay tuned to RISMedia for continuing coverage of NAR’s 2020 REALTORS® Conference Expo.

Beth McGuire is RISMedia’s online managing editor. Email her your real estate story ideas to beth@rismedia.com.