Archive for February, 2008

Essential RPAC, for those who need to know (Read: YOU)

As tempted as I am to fire off a snappy (read: snippy) response to some of the misunderstandings contained in Frank LLosa’s recent post about RPAC, I’m reminded of Seth Godin’s admonition that miscommunication is almost always the fault of the communicator, not the recipient. So if Frank has his facts wrong about something VAR does…especially something so essential to his business as RPAC…it’s likely VAR’s fault for not communicating more thoroughly or frequently or clearly.

So, herewith, a primer on RPAC for them what want or need to know:

1. RPAC is the largest PAC in America. RPAC of Virginia is the biggest business PAC in Virginia. Big deal? Heck, yeah. When it comes to the funding of a Political Action Committee, size matters…at least it does to candidates and elected officials. The better funded your PAC, the more likely elected officials are to think twice before doing something that would negatively impact your real estate business, or more importantly your customers and clients. It’s the “carry a big stick” theory of politics, and it’s effective. That’s why we beg and plead with you to invest every year. Because it’s the only protection you’ve got against bad law and regulation. Sure, you can give individually to whomever you wish…but where’s the big stick? (And yes, that makes it all the more imperative that we consider and develop carefully our policy positions so that they’re about what’s good for Virginia, good for our communities, good for consumers…and not solely self serving).

2. RPAC of Virginia gives fairly evenly to Democrats and Republicans. National RPAC does, too. We’re not affiliated with a political party. We represent candidates who support private property rights and fair land use policies and housing opportunity and free enterprise. In the recent General Assembly election cycle here in Virginia, we supported more Republicans than Democrats…which makes sense, considering the Republicans were the party controlling both houses of the General Assembly at the time. With the Dems now in control in the Senate, I suspect it’ll be different next time around.

3. RPAC is governed by about 20 trustees who are REALTORS just like (most of) you. They run real estate businesses AND they’re active in state and local politics. So when funding decisions are made, do remember that they’re made by folks who do what you do for a living and understand the issues confronting your profession.

4. This is a biggy: RPAC funds can only be used for CANDIDATES. We’re prohibited by law from using it to lobby; we’re prohibited from using it in issues campaigns (say, to support or oppose a grantors tax increase). Lobbying and issues campaigns are funded with your dues dollars, not with RPAC funds. You invest in RPAC so that your association has funds to help elect candidates who support what’s best for your business and for homeownership in Virginia. That’s pretty much all that your RPAC money is used for. The vast majority of RPAC overhead costs — staff, recognition, brochures, etc — are paid for from your VAR dues dollars, not from the PAC.

5. Before the RPAC Trustees decide to support/endorse a candidate (which usually means we give them money or in-kind campaign support, but not always), we interview the candidates to determine which is best for your interests. We don’t pay attention to a candidate’s stand on social issues; instead, we ONLY look at his or her position on real estate issues. We almost always interview in races for an open seat. In races where an incumbent who has supported your issues is running, we’re less likely to interview; after all, such a candidate has a track record, and we can tell if he’s been for us or against us. On the other hand when an incumbent hasn’t supported us, we either stay out of the race, or we look for someone to challenge him/her in the election. Likewise, most local associations interview candidates before they make endorsements in local races.

6. Which reminds me: Of every dollar you invest in RPAC, 30 cents goes to NAR for use in federal (Congress and US Senate) races. The remaining 70 cents is used in Virginia for statewide and General Assembly races AND in local races (and the local portion is controlled by your local association, but their rules and process for candidate contributions are nearly identical to VAR’s)

7. There are serious limits to what National RPAC can give to Federal candidates (Congress and US Senate). I’ll spare you the gory details, but it totals $15,000 per candidate per election cycle. National RPAC does NOT get involved in the presidential race. In Virginia, however, there are no limits. Still, I think you’ll find the size of our contributions to be in line with those of other groups. There’s a limit, of course, to what the market will bear, and any contribution that seems larger than the market will put us in every newspaper in the state, and…let’s just say the coverage wont be flattering. You can find a record of all political contributions in Virginia at

8. Despite the conclusion one might draw from the National Home Builders Association’s recent decision to cease all funding of Congressional candidates until Congress does what the builders want, it’s not about buying votes. Sometimes I wish it was that easy, but I’m glad it’s not. What it’s about is electing thoughtful officials who’ll at least listen when we come to them with good, sound policy proposals. It’s an open door. But if we’re not fighting to elect that kind of candidate, there are plenty of other groups out there with different ideas from you who’ll fill the void with their brand of candidate, and you’ll be out in the cold. If we’re not engaged in political advocacy, we can’t effectively represent you. That’s what RPAC is for.

That’s enough for now. Three last things:

> You’ll find a really cool member-produced video about RPAC on VAR’s website. It’s short, it’s current, and it’s worth your time.

> Here’s a list of 2007 VAR legislative successes, powered by VAR’s first rate lobbying team and your support, but undergirded by the “big stick” that is RPAC. Do note how many of the issues we’re invlved in aren’t only about us, about REALTORS®; rather, they’re about better communities and moving Virginia forward.

> Lastly…I do apologize for being so pedantic. I understand that politics can be an unpleasant and divisive business. But to those REALTORS® who would recoil from it and refer to RPAC as something nasty and say that politics is distasteful and REALTORS should have no part of it, I say this: When they declare that ditch on your investment property a wetland, and they put a tax on your commissions, and they decide to fund the bulk of transportation infrastructure on the backs of homebuyers and sellers, and implement all manner of regulation that negatively impacts your bottom line, you’re going to want to say “Where was RPAC?” And I’ll have to bite my tongue to keep from replying, “Where were YOU?”

Overwhelmed would be an understatement. We have well over 2200 clicks to the nominating form for the Blog Brawl. The deadline to submit your nomination was FORMERLY an hour from now. We’ve extended the deadline until Sunday night at 11:59 p.m. EST to give a few more people the opportunity to nominate their favorite blogs for the tournament. Just a few reminders:

  • You CAN nominate your own blog.
  • You CAN nominate multiple blogs.
  • You CAN nominate the same blog(s) multiple times.
  • The tournament is NOT for individual blog posts, but for the whole blog.
  • Only REALTOR blogs are eligible.
  • Follow this link to submit your nomination.
  • The deadline is Sunday, March 2 at 11:59 p.m. EST.

RPAC: REALTOR® Voice or Political Bribery? (NVRPAC too)

Bringing backroom discussions to the forefront appears to be part of the mission for , so I thank them for this opportunity!

Back to the post… I’m torn.

Give to NVRPAC and Virginia RPAC or not?

I’d like to discuss my understanding of what NVRPAC is (I could be wrong and I’m looking to your comments to correct me), and my dilemma on whether to contribute (which is not tax deductible).

NV/RPAC stands for Northern Virginia REALTOR® Political Action Committee. Their slogan is “Your bi-partisan voice in politics.” What else? I don’t know. A search for them brings up only 3 pages (here is one). They don’t own and they don’t have an interactive blog giving us updates on what they are doing. It has been run by Mary Beth Coya, the Vice President of Public & Government Affairs for many years.

I still don’t get it. To me it seems like “Give us money, don’t ask why, but we will push the REALTOR agenda. Thanks for the $200,000, now we can give that to candidates so they will listen to us.”

Is giving money to candidates a necessary evil?

So here is where the dilemma starts.

  1. I frequently disagree with the REALTOR agenda. For example, recently a transportation bill, which would raise taxes (backed by NVRPAC), was shot down as being unconstitutional. If my political belief is that government is too big, and we need less taxes, how do I justify giving them $100 to back something I am against?
  2. I also disagree with the message the REALTOR® associations put out, like the “It’s a great time to buy or sell a home” campaign. Yet two years later we are flooded with Short Sales and foreclosures.
  3. And here is the big picture issue that I have… Where exactly does the money go?The weblink above says, “Contributions go to candidates who are supportive of private property rights and who are sensitive to the REALTOR® point-of-view on key issues.”

Is it to help candidates win, or is it to buy a voice?

Do we give even $1 to a candidate that is ahead 30% in the polls? If so, it doesn’t seem like we are helping him win, instead it seems like we are buying the right to be heard.

One can easily say, “That is how it works in DC, either play ball or lose.”

But I am fundamentally against a Congressperson accepting $100,000 from a special interest group, that they are expected to regulate.

Yes we want our voices heard, but why do we have to give them $100,000 for that right? It seems more like a bribe. (Update 3-3-08: See comments for clarification on this number. Most donations are much smaller, but they have been as high as $50,000 for one candidate in one year and over $80,000 for a few candidates over a few years)

Maybe that is the process in DC, but what if you oppose the process?

So this is my personal debate. I’d love to see your opinion. And if you still want to donate, here is a link to contribute to NVRPAC online. Actually they only accept contributions by mail or fax or check. Cutting edge!

The hope is that this post will INCREASE contributions if that is what the REALTOR wants. I’d rather them contribute because they understand and accept the process, and not because they are told to, or are offered a raffle or a trip to Jamaica.

And here is a video on Youtube from Virginia’s RPAC.

I look forward to the discussion. I hope we all agree that discussing this is the best way to understanding it.

- Written by Frank Borges LL0SA- Broker

Update 3-3-08: P.S. The comments are better than the post. Don’t miss them!

Recap of second VAR strategic planning work group meeting

generations X and Y

The second session of the VAR Strategic Planning work group proved to be quite a provocative and eye-opening one. The purpose of this session was to get members’ feedback regarding what and how VAR is doing currently and what VAR could do in the future. Basically, it was a report card and a customer comments form wrapped up into one.

Wednesday’s part of the session focused on a survey of innovative ideas from other REALTOR® associations. We chatted with associations from Texas, California, Massachusetts and Florida. Though some of the things covered (such as “Second Life“) may have been a bit ahead of their time or not applicable to us here in Virginia, the exercise helped open our minds to being innovative, creative and forward-thinking during today’s meeting.

Today’s meeting involved discussions with various focus groups in order to better understand how VAR is perceived by its members including local boards. The three focus groups consisted of:

  • Top Producers
  • Local Association Executives
  • Gen X/Gen Y’ers

Here’s an overview of what each group had to say:

Top Producers saw very little value in VAR outside of providing an incredibly strong voice for its members on the legislative side of things and promoting the Code Of Ethics. In fact, one member, who has been in the business 36 years, didn’t even know where VAR was located. They also expressed that there was a need for better communication between VAR and its members.

Local Association Executives (AEs) expressed their desire for VAR to “partner” with them and offered their advice on how to do so. This included working together on things such as course offerings, speaking engagements, advertising campaigns, decisions that affect them directly on a local level, etc. They also mentioned a need to improve lines of communication in both directions.

Gen X/Gen Y’ers stated their desire to be involved on a local as well as state level despite feeling as though they “weren’t always invited”. They offered advice on how VAR could better engage its’ members (“young” and “old”) including using online tools to promote offline and in-person interaction among members. They also offered their thoughts on everything from The Code Is Good Business campaign to the Commonwealth Magazine.

Though there may have been some differences in the needs of each focus group, there were definitely two common ones expressed by all three. Those were:

  • Improving communication between VAR and members
  • Engaging members more and in a better fashion

These seem to recurring themes so we may be on to something…

This session definitely opened our eyes and allowed us to better understand what VAR needs to be focused on in the near term as well as long term in order to best serve its’ members.

***I’m sure that I speak on behalf of everyone on the work group when I say thank you to everyone in the focus groups for taking the time out of their day to come to Richmond and be brutally honest and candid with us. What you have to say and think is what we need to know in order to put the best strategic plan together we can.

top producers

Don’t pick and drive…

I read today that rhinotillexis is on the decline, and that’s a good thing.

The term means “picking one’s nose with one’s fingers.” In an article by Jim Shahin in the February 15, 2008 issue of American Way, a Harvard study reveals that rhinotillexis is down 70% from the year before. The decline is attributed to the fact that cameras are everywhere and people are becoming more cautious about the activity for fear of showing up on YouTube and grossing out their friends.

So for you REALTORS® out there, here’s this friendly warning:  Please don’t pick and drive, especially with clients in the car or around cameras. You never know who’s watching. (Chalk this up to more helpful advice from your association.)

Virginia REALTOR® Frank Borges LLosa did some digging into the Northern Virginia short sale market and made a startling discovery: Only five percent of short sales actually close. Frank’s post was picked up by Business Week’s Hot Property blog.

Another VAR member, Jeff Royce, remarked to me that he is seeing average home prices come back to earth in many Northern Virginia localities because of short sales and foreclosure sales, but with so few short sales actually going to closing, he questions whether or not the bank really has any intention of selling.

Is this isolated to Northern Virginia, or is it more widespread? What are you seeing?

…Ramble? Rum-blog? Ruminate? I’ll knock out the tag line later.

<<UPDATE: Nominations extended until 11:59 p.m. on SUNDAY, March 2>>

I’ve had this idea running through my head ever since VARbuzz was little more than just a twinkle in my eye. I’m very excited to announce a battle royale for all the real estate blogs in the universe: The First Annual VARbuzz Real Estate Blog Brawl.

As you may have heard, in the month of March, there’s a little college basketball tournament. It’s the inspiration for the Blog Brawl. A single-elimination winner-take-all competition. A fight-to-the-death blog battle where VARbuzz readers determine the winner. Here’s how the Blog Brawl will work:

Today begins the call for competitors. At the bottom of this blog post, you’ll find a single-field form. Simply enter the URL of the REALTOR® blog you’d like to nominate for the Blog Brawl. You can nominate as many REALTOR® blogs as you want, as many times as you want. You can nominate your own or others’ blogs. Multi-author blogs are permitted to join the brawl, provided that a majority of its authors are REALTORS®. VARbuzz may exclude blogs from the brawl at its sole discretion. We’ll take the top 64, 32, or 16 nominees and seed the Blog Brawl bracket in the same manner that the NCAA seeds its tournament bracket. As the Blog Brawl sponsor, VARbuzz will not participate.

Throughout March, we’ll hold up to six rounds of voting to determine who moves on to the next round, who goes home weeping, and ultimately the winner. Being as this is the Blog Brawl, there are no rules. Competitors can use whatever means at their disposal to drive up their vote.

So, get to it. Nominate all of your favorite real estate blogs as many times as you want by Friday, February 29th at 11:59 p.m. EST. Once you successfully complete the form, you’ll be redirected to the VARbuzz First Time Here page.

brokertoolkitWell, we knew it was good, we just didn’t expect this overwhelming response!

After just a few months of availability, VAR’s Broker Tool Kit has crossed a significant milestone: 2000 downloads. VAR’s Broker Tool Kit is a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about starting a real estate brokerage in Virginia. Even if you’ve managed a brokerage for years, you’ll want to keep this resource handy for the times you run up against situations you’ve never encountered. Developed collaboratively by VAR staff attorneys and the Virginia Manager’s Council, this convenient desk reference is free for all VAR members.

Another popular VAR resource making the rounds these days is our 10 Things you should know about today’s Virginia real estate markets. It’s title isn’t concise, but this colorful, engaging piece covers 10 important things to keep in mind about today’s housing market in just a few words. You, your agents, and clients will find facts and figures to put the current housing market into context in a way that acknowledges the flattening market. We encourage you to download a high-quality full-color PDF of this piece, print it, and share it at your next sales meeting and client appointment.

Other pages at getting lots of traffic recently are the Standard Forms area, our Rookie REALTORS® section, and the REALTOR® Institute page.

Are you taking advantage of us? When it comes to the products and services we aim to provide to REALTORS®, we wish you would! Be sure you get your money’s worth from your investment in VAR by using the benefits we work hard to provide.

VARbuzz readers say the housing market is looking up

Last week we ran an unofficial poll of VARbuzz readers to determine if they believe the housing market is starting to turn upwards after leveling off in previous months. Here are the results of the poll.

To what extent do you agree with this statement? My market is showing signs of improvement as of the end of January 2008.

  • Strongly Disagree: 16 percent
  • Somewhat Disagree: 8 percent
  • Neutral: 4 percent
  • Somewhat Agree: 36 percent
  • Strongly Agree: 36 percent

With 72 percent of respondents stating that they strongly or somewhat agree with the statement, these results indicate that VARbuzz readers are slightly more optimistic about the housing market’s outlook than those who replied to the Real Trends survey, in which only 63 percent strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement.

If you have any anecdotal evidence from the field to support or refute these numbers, please leave a comment.

Ignore The Headlines!

I’m so thrilled to see something positive about buying a house in the mainstream media! Scott Brunner mentioned the article briefly in his recent post but I really think this deserves some additional exposure.

On page 54 of the the February 25th edition of Time Magazine there is an excellent article encouraging buyers to purchase now while the interest rates are so good.  They actually show an example of how much more house you can buy now (at a higher price and a lower interest rate) versus waiting until prices drop 10 percent (and presuming the interest rates rise).

I went out and bought the magazine for those clients that embrace the written on paper word more than the online approach.  I would encourage you to let your fellow agents know about this and make it part of your added value arsenal of information.

I’m heading to Richmond Wednesday and Thursday to meet with our Strategic Planning work group. It is an exciting process, this week we are bringing in a group of Gen X and Gen Y Agents and a focus group of Top Producers from across the state.  We really are making an effort to listen to what our members are saying as we plan for the future.  I’ll share some of this process with you when we finish this coming session.

For know, keep your eyes and ears open for trends heading our way or issues that we need to know to make VAR the best… Together we can do this!