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September/October 2008

A journal for real estate professionals published by the Virginia Association of REALTORS® •


ur rs o Y e s: om t t n ra cus g i 08 m est 0 Im t, b .2 x T ne EP







REALTOR® stats: the good news edition

When things slow down, we like to pore over the various stats sent to us by the good folks at NAR. In this case, it was the 2008 Member Profile for Virginia. And we found some good news in it. Virginia REALTORS® earn almost 25 percent more than the national average: 60,000


National median: $42,600

Virginia median: $53,200

Virginia brokerages sell more than the national average:


National median: 1.6 million

Virginia median: 1.9 million





Hard work pays off — the more hours you work, the more money you take home. Virginia REALTORS® who worked… • 25 hours per week earned an average of less than $10,000 per year • 32 hours per week earned between $10,000 and $25,000 per year • 40 hours per week earned between $25,000 and $100,000 per year • 45 hours per week earned between $100,000 and $150,000 per year • 50 hours per week earned more than $150,000 per year


0.5 10,000



You can check out the whole survey — good, bad, and ugly — at (NRDS login required).

Thousands of words

More photos in a listing mean more people look at it — a lot more. So says the results of a study by Point2 Technologies, which makes Web site software for real estate professionals. Adding just a single photo to a listing increased initial views, detailed views (i.e., they clicked for more information), and calls to the listing agent by about 20 percent each. (Quick math for ya: If a listing with no photos got 60 views, 40 detailed views, and 20 calls, adding just one photo would mean 72 views, 48 detailed views, and 24 calls.) That’s just one photo. Put in 15 photos and the numbers in those three categories jumped 40 percent. And having 21 or more photos pushes interest up between 60 and 80 percent. In other words, having 21 or more photos means triple the response of having a single shot. The study was based on more than 100,000 active listings in every U.S. state, every Canadian province, and several other countries. So there’s good data there — and good advice for REALTORS®. VOLUME 15 ● ISSUE 5



THIS JUST IN I’m OK, but everyone else is in trouble

The people who work in the housing market, it seems, are pessimistic about the economy…but not about their own businesses. That’s the result of a survey by Grant Thornton of developers, real estate investors, real estate owners, asset managers, and “professionals in the industrial, office and mixed-use

What’s the single most important issue facing the industry in the next year?

National economy


Earnings/operational results


Access to capital


Tenant relationships


Rising costs




real estate industry.” According to the survey, 57 percent of real estate executives “have a pessimistic outlook regarding the U.S. economy for the next year,” and 48 percent don’t think the real estate market is going to do well either. But ask these folks about their own companies and the glass Will unemployment rates in your market increase?

becomes half-full — or better. “Half of the respondents express an optimistic outlook for their own companies in the coming year, and only 12 percent had a pessimistic outlook,” according to Grant Thornton. Check the charts for more survey results. ●

69 percent think the unemployment rates in their market will increase. Three-fifths (61%) predict vacancy rates will rise in their market. 79 percent of respondents expect capitalization rates to increase nationally.



76 percent believe the capitalization rates will increase in their market. Half of respondents (51%) think interest rates will decrease.


SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2008 • Volume 15 Issue 5

PUBLISHED BY THE VIRGINIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® The Business Advocate for Virginia Real Estate Professionals Pat Jensen, ABR, CRB, CRS, GRI President

Virginia is chock full of immigrants — Americans and Americans-to-be who have moved here from Europe, Asia, Latin America, and even Canada. They have funny accents. They wear funny clothes. They have funny customs. They’re just different. Deal with it. Immigrants already make up more than 10 percent of Virginia’s population, and that number is growing every year. Yes, they’re different. But these folks want to live here, and they want to buy homes here. Ignore them at your peril.

John Powell, GRI, ABR, CRB, CRS President-Elect

16 Send in the immigrants (they’re already here)

Andrew Kantor Editor & Information Manager

Go beyond the whole “It’s good to learn about other cultures” thing. Here are some of the cold, hard facts about who the latest crop of Americans are — and it’s pretty obvious why you want to make them your clients.

18 Here comes the neighborhood Virginia REALTORS® are already smartening up and learning to work with foreign-born clients. Some offices already get a lot of their business from newcomers, and they’ve got the tips, tricks, and best practices down pat. Culture issues, legal issues, language issues — this is the definitive guide to everything that awaits you.

26 The two-minute guide to the Virginia Homeowners Alliance

Cindy Stackhouse, GRI Vice President Melanie Thompson, GRI Immediate Past President John Dickinson, CCIM, GRI Treasurer R. Scott Brunner, CAE Chief Executive Officer Lisa G. Noon, ABC, CAE Vice President, Marketing & Communications Ben Martin, CAE Director of Communications & New Media

For advertising information, Jeff Rhodes at (410) 584-1968 or email The mission of The Virginia Association of REALTORS® is to enhance its membership’s ability to achieve business success. Commonwealth magazine (ISSN#10681388) is published bi-monthly by the Virginia Association of REALTORS®, 10231 Telegraph Road, Glen Allen, VA 23059-4578; (804) 264-5033. Virginia Association of REALTORS® members pay annual dues with a one-year subscription included within their dues. Periodicals postage paid at the Glen Allen, VA post office and additional mailing offices. USPS Per. # 9604. Postmaster: Send address changes to: Commonwealth magazine, 10231 Telegraph Rd., Glen Allen, VA 23059-4578. Custom Publishing Services provided by Network Publications, Inc. Executive Plaza 1, Suite 900, 11350 McCormick Road Hunt Valley, MD 21031

VAR’s biggest initiative of the decade is also its most groundbreaking program ever. You need to know about it, you need to understand it, and you need to use it. Here’s what you need to know in four 30-second chunks.

DEPARTMENTS 1 This Just In – The latest news and tidbits from around Virginia 6 Legal Lines – Lem Marshall answers reader questions about the law 13 Sticky Situations – What’s the right thing to do? 30 RPAC Report – See who’s giving to Virginia’s second-largest PAC 34 Blogspotting – What’s the buzz in the REALTOR® blogosphere? 38 VAR Update – We’re your organization, and we’re hard at work 42 VAR Staff Directory – Who’s whom at VAR 44 The Last Word – Scott Brunner waxes philosophical…or something close Correction: In the July/August feature “First Time Charms,” we wrote that the Virginia Housing Development Authority’s FlexAlt and Step Rate loan programs “had been geared toward sub-prime borrowers.” In fact, VHDA has never offered sub-prime loans. We regret the error. 4

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2008 Your virtual café for real estate news, views, and issues. Read the perspectives of your fellow Virginia REALTORS®. Join the conversation at today.

Get it? Got it? Good!

In addition to the print version of Commonwealth, VAR publishes these electronic newsletters at regular intervals. Among them:

The online version of our print mag, published every month. If you’re not receiving these newsletters via e-mail from time to time, it may be that we don’t have your correct email address. Contact your local association of REALTORS® to enter your address in the database. Also, check the spam filter on your computer and authorize any email from

legal lines by Lem Marshall, VAR Special Counsel

Skirting the edge of the law IT’S TIME FOR our next installment of the quarterly legal brainteaser.


How do you do a quarterly feature in a publication that comes out six times a year?

A. I am the writer, and I can do whatever I want.

Legal low-balls?


i have had this question at least six times in the last month alone. a property realistically worth about $400,000 is placed in the Mls with an advertised price of $165,000. seller is flooded with offers at or above the asking price, all of which are greeted with, “no, thanks, but we hope you’ll try again at a higher price.” The property is in an area that has experienced some foreclosures and short sales, and the listing agent is apparently doing this to spark a bidding war. The listing agent has even told one selling agent the seller has no intention of accepting any offer at the asking price. is this practice legal? ethical? Does it change things if the listing agent notes, in the remarks, that seller reserves the right to reject any offer?

A. To answer this question we first have to decide what the asking price in the MLS actually represents. Is it a representation that the seller will seriously entertain offers at the asking price? If you think the answer to that is yes, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this kind of listing may be a violation of Article 12, which requires REALTORS® to present a true picture in their advertising and representations. Just what is being represented here, if not that the seller will seriously consider offers at the stated price? Suppose the listing stated, “Window treatments and antique chandelier to convey” and the seller has no intention whatsoever of conveying them? Needless to say, many buyers are quite put off by this practice, once it becomes clear the information in the MLS was, well, not a true picture of the seller’s intent. Yes, I understand that sellers sometimes legitimately reject offers at or above the asking price, but that is typically when it becomes clear to the seller – who was acting in good faith – that the property was more appealing than he had anticipated. The difference here is that the seller – at the urging of the listing agent – is purposely pricing the house far below the market, or at least far below any 6

sePTeMBeR/OCTOBeR 2008

price he would seriously entertain. This seems to me to make a mockery of the MLS, putting in doubt one of the very underpinnings of the service – that it permits buyers to shop by price, and rely, within reason, on what is published in the service. My sense, from talking to REALTORS® about this practice, is that buyers really dislike this practice (including those who win the auction), and that it is having a pernicious effect on our reputation and on the reliability of our most precious asset: our credibility. And it matters not a jot that the seller “reserves the right to reject any offer.” Sellers have always had that right, no matter the amount offered. Adding an axiom to the listing comments does not sanitize an otherwise questionable practice. So, what do you think?

Legal doesn’t mean smart


in my discussions about loan fraud around the state lately, a frequent inquiry has to do with the nehemiah program. is it legal?

A. The Nehemiah program involves what is known as a “seller-funded down payment assistance” program whereby the seller makes a contribution to a charitable organization that then donates some or all of the down payment to the buyer.

it is clear beyond question that Nehemiah program loans place many participating buyers in serious financial jeopardy.” This program is federally authorized, but it is under attack for what seem to me to be good reasons. The first thing to note about the way these deals usually work is that the seller often increases the purchase price above the economic deal struck by the parties by the amount of the donation. This permits the buyer not only to come to the deal with no (or little) money down, but also to borrow based on an inflated purchase price. For these reasons, FHA has seen a dramatically higher default rate on these loans than on loans in which the www.VaRealTOR.COM

legal lines price is not inflated and the buyer has some skin in the game. In fact, FHA says the default rate is about double, and has asked Congress to permit HUD to ban these loans from their insured programs. Congress, yielding to political pressure, has refused to do so. I understand that HUD intends to go forward with new regulations banning Nehemiah and other seller-funded down payment assistance programs from eligibility for HUD/FHA participation. Such a change is overdue, in my opinion. Even if the programs are now legal, it is clear beyond question that they place many participating buyers in serious financial jeopardy. Buyer agents should counsel their buyers accordingly. After all, this is exactly the kind of thing that contributed so directly to the mess we’re now seeing in the housing market. I say, good riddance.

They can’t kick down the door, either


Do bail bondsmen have the right to demand that property managers allow them access to tenant’s apartments?

A. No. They should use legal process, and managers should not let them in without it. A sagacious man once remarked that he never, ever missed an alimony payment to his ex-wife, for fear that she might repossess him. Property managers should exercise that level of care in deciding who is given entry to their tenants’ homes.

Buyer agents must stop filling out the disclosure statement and lead paint disclosure for the seller.” Getting the lead out


A buyer agent fills out disclosure and lead paint forms and has the buyer sign and deliver the blank forms with the offer to purchase. The purchase agreement has a preprinted provision stating that the lead paint disclosure is attached to and made a part of the contract. The seller executes the contract, but never signs the lead paint form, and now maintains that there is no contract. Is there a contract?

A. Probably, with the buyer having the right to terminate for seller’s breach. But for heaven’s sake, buyer agents must stop filling out the disclosure statement and lead paint disclosure for the seller! In the first place, the buyer agent has no idea what the seller knows and must disclose, and she shouldn’t try to 


VAR Legal Hotline: (800) 755-8271 Is it risky? Quick! To the Hotline…

The VAR Legal Hotline is a free, members-only risk management tool that is among the top-rated services offered by the Virginia Association of REALTORS®. Through the Legal Hotline, you can receive timely legal information on the issues you confront day-in and day-out in your real estate practice. The VAR Legal Hotline has one major objective: to increase REALTOR® professionalism and decrease professional liability.

Guidelines for Legal Hotline calls: All principal or supervising brokers are eligible to use the Hotline. In addition, one other designated person from each office (for example, an associate broker or office manager) may register as designees of the principal broker.

Before you call: Please note that many of the routine questions the Hotline receives have previously been answered in Commonwealth articles; check the indexed Hotline archives at before calling.

How to sign up: Registration is easy. Complete the form found under the Member Services tab at You must register before you call the Hotline.

Hours of operation: Monday through Friday (except holidays) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

How to contact the Hotline:

By phone: (800) 755-8271 or (804) 264-5033. By e-mail:

Call handling process: When you call, please have your NRDS number ready, and include it with any e-mailed questions.


If you have questions about the Hotline, contact VAR at (800) 755-8271 or (804) 264-5033, or by e-mail at The VAR Legal Hotline should not replace your own legal counsel. No questions will be answered on matters that are unrelated to real estate, real estate brokerage, or pending arbitrations.

legal lines do the seller’s disclosing for him. Second, by having your buyer sign a blank disclosure, you’re opening him up to enormous liability. Finally, HUD will ding you $11,000 per incident if it ever audits you. This practice reminds me of something Yogi Berra once said. “I refuse to buy my kids an encyclopedia,” Yogi said. “They can walk to school like I did.” We all see the little bit of sense in it, but it’s still profoundly nonsensical.

Reading — and writing — the fine print


An owner/agent is selling an expensive piece of land. He receives an offer and counters, changing the settlement date (to a date certain) and contingency deadlines. The buyer’s agent notifies him that the counter has been accepted. When the signed contract is returned, the settlement date has in fact been changed from a date certain “or when buyer’s loan is ready.” Seller did not notice the change, and arrived at settlement on the appointed day only to learn that the buyer’s loan would not be ready until the following week, when he intended to close. In the meantime, he received a better offer

— $600,000 more. Does the seller have an enforceable contract with the first buyer?

A. I doubt it, because the counter was not accepted by the seller. But seller should consult counsel before acting to be sure nothing happened that could constitute acceptance (an e-mail or some other writing) or that might satisfy the statute of frauds. This is what comes of buyer agents being too clever by half. If you tell the other guy his counter has been accepted, and yet you have made changes to the counter, you’d best alert him to those changes, rather than trying to slip them by.

If you burn it, they will come


A seller owns a piece of land with a condemned derelict house worth nothing to a buyer. He has asked the local fire department for a year to burn the house down, something fire departments will often do to train new recruits in fighting house fires. When he gets no response, he lists the house, finds a buyer, and is proceeding to closing.

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10231 Telegraph Rd., Glen Allen, VA 23059 (800) 755-8271


legal lines But before closing, and without alerting the seller, the fire department burns the house down! The buyer is now demanding the house be rebuilt. What must the seller do?

A. The seller must retain counsel, because this one is too hot to handle. The buyer can’t demand the house be rebuilt (ever try to get a permit to build a house that doesn’t meet code?), but he might have the right to walk away. I’ve fried my brain over this one, but somehow I can’t see how buyer is damaged here; he seems, on the contrary, to have been spared considerable expense. On the other hand, seller could get burned under the doctrine of waste, and with a flamer like this buyer, you can’t be too careful. I’d hotfoot it to a good real estate attorney.

Auction exemptions?


A seller auctions off several properties in a subdivision with a property owners’ association. One buyer decides to terminate after receiving the POA packet. Are auctions/exempt from the Act?


A. Not now, but they will be soon. Under the Act as written, if the buyer receives the packet before contract (the case here), the buyer nonetheless has three days after contract ratification to terminate. There’s no reason I can think of for auctions not to be exempt from this provision, and VAR will likely propose a change to the Act in the next session of the General Assembly. But for now I’m afraid auctions are subject to this unfortunate outcome. l

Legal Lines is written by VAR Special Counsel Lem Marshall. Please note that answers to Legal Hotline questions are informational only. Consult your own legal counsel for legal advice. More Legal Hotline questions and answers are indexed at for your reference.


Another fine mess REALTORS®’ ACTIONS AREN’T only governed by the law; the Code of Ethics also makes clear what actions are acceptable and not. And, of course, there’s always the threat of a lawsuit in this most litigious of societies. Not every situation is clear-cut, so here’s a way to test your knowledge of the Code and general good practices.

Where’s the love? You take a prospective client to a home you know of that just went on the market. He expresses a little interest, but says he’s not sure if he’s ready to buy a house at all. A few weeks later, you discover that he has, in fact, purchased the home, but has used another agent to handle his side of the transaction. True or false: You are entitled to a commission on the property, because showing it to him is enough to prove “procuring cause,” that led to his purchasing the home. (Answer on page 14.)

Need-to-know In your capacity as property manager for a client’s apartment building, you receive a written offer to purchase the building from a local buyer. You tell the prospective buyer the building is not for sale. A few days later the prospective buyer meets your client, and tells her “I thought I made an attractive offer. What price would you take for it?” Your client is surprised because you hadn’t passed along to offer to her. Later, your client files a complaint against you with the local Board of REALTORS®, charging failure to represent and promote her interests. Her complaint specifies that you had been engaged as a property manager, she had at no time told you not to submit any offers to buy, and that in the absence of any discussion whatever on this point, she felt that you should have recognized a professional obligation to acquaint her with the buyer’s offer which, she stated in the complaint, was definitely attractive to her. At the hearing, you explained that, as the building was not for sale, when you told the buyer this fact you were giving accurate information and protecting your client’s interests. True or false: Your actions, while perhaps not the best business practice, did not violate the Code of Ethics. (Answer on page 14.) VOLUME 15 ● ISSUE 5

Full disclosures Once upon a time, a REALTOR® in Virginia — let’s call him Bob — was serving as the property manager of an apartment house. The building’s owner eventually retired and moved to Florida, and decided to get out of the real estate business and sell the apartment. Because of the distance involved — and to avoid back and forth faxes (and not interrupt the retirees’ golf game) — Bob agreed to complete and sign the propertycondition disclosure and other documents on behalf of the owner. Soon enough, the property was sold. But it wasn’t long before a problem appeared. It seems the apartment shared a driveway with the adjacent property, and (as Bob knew) there was an agreement between owners of those properties to share the driveway. Unfortunately, this fact was not mentioned in either that property-condition disclosure or in the MLS entry. Imagine the apartment’s new owner’s surprise when he got a letter from the owner of the building next door demanding payment for the use of the driveway. The shared-use agreement was with the old owner (Bob’s client), and wasn’t transferable. The new owner — the buyer — sued the seller, Bob, and his (the buyer’s) agent for failing to disclose the driveway-sharing agreement. Litigation followed (this is American, after all), and eventually Bob and his client, the original owner, agreed to pay for the use of the driveway for the next seven years. What should Bob the REALTOR® have done? For



WWW.VAREALTOR.COM Where’s the love? Are you entitled to a commission? No. No one action ensures that you’re entitled to compensation after a sale; procuring cause is a complex issue. Appendix II to Part 10 of the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual gives a basic definition of procuring cause as “the uninterrupted series of causal events which results in the successful transaction.” Neither showing the property nor having a buyer’s representation agreement with the purchaser automatically demonstrates procuring cause. Need to Know Did your actions violate the Code of Ethics? Yes; they would violate sections 6 and 8 of Article 1: “REALTORS® shall submit offers and counter-offers objectively and as quickly as possible” and “REALTORS® acting as agents or brokers of buyers/tenants shall submit to buyers/tenants all offers and counter-offers until acceptance….” Unless your client gives you specific instructions not to present offers for the building, you have an obligation to your client to make the offer known. The nature of our industry is changing. Non-traditional and limited service providers are more common, and it’s important that you and your client be absolutely clear about what you will and won’t do for him. Clear communication is critical. Be sure your client understands your responsibilities and his/her obligations, too. It might even help to produce a concise document in addition to the formal agreement listing those things in plain English. Remember, an educated client is the best client. If you are not limited service, you are full service. Know what the client expects.

Knowing the Code can protect — and improve — your reputation, not to mention keep you out of trouble. Take a few minutes to refresh yourself. Quiz your colleagues, bet a beer — whatever it takes.

Answers one, despite the distance, he should have obtained the proper signatures or initials on all the documents. That may have reduced his liability, and it may have reminded the seller about the driveway-sharing agreement. In this case, by acting as the seller’s agent and executing the documents, a jury would likely find that Bob was making firsthand representations about the property’s condition and thus bore the brunt of responsibility. ●

Many real estate errors & omissions claims can be avoided by simply exercising ordinary care and judgment. This includes not only good communication skills, but also the implementation of other risk reduction methods into your daily routine that will help you avoid the need to pay costly attorney fees and settlements. If you’re looking for E&O insurance, consider VAR’s Member Service Partner, Pearl Insurance: ●


Send in the Immigrants (They’re Already Here)

When you start to plan an immigration issue, you know you’re entering a minefield. It’s a touchy subject, and it’s one that has become, shall we say, just a bit over-politicized. As soon as we bring up the subject, conclusions are jumped to, hackles are raised, and hair triggers are prepared. Then there’s the whole prejudice issue. You’re not even supposed to talk about it, but it’s there, the elephant in the corner. It means choosing your words carefully to avoid sounding insensitive, but not too carefully, lest you imply that someone is oversensitive. Yep, a minefield. But let’s deal with reality. Immigrants are here: here to stay, earning money, paying taxes, buying food and

clothes…and needing places to live. Working with them — with all their strange customs, funny clothes, and hard-to-understand accents — is good business. Just think of them as people from California. Yes, we’re all more comfortable around folks who are like us — in terms of race, language, culture, income, education, even which team we root for. (Let’s face it, no one likes to be around Eagles fans.) Trying to pretend otherwise is silly. Get over it. Immigrants are going to buy homes. Someone is going to help them do it, learn something, and probably make some nice money in the process. Might as well be you. —Andrew Kantor, editor l

Fast facts about those people More than


of Virginians were born outside the U.S.

Compared to people born here, more immigrants have college degrees, especially if they’re from Africa, Asia, or Europe. 16 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2008

Virginia’s immigrants’ median age is

37.9 Sources

The University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, Demographics and Workforce section (except for REALTOR® data) 2008 National Association of REALTORS® Member Profile (REALTOR® data)

the toP ten “oLd countries” El Salvador • Mexico • the Philippines • Korea India • Vietnam • China • Bolivia • the United Kingdom • Guatemala • (Followed by Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Iran, and Pakistan) missing the boat: how manY of Your cLients were foreign nationaLs in 2007? More than 10 percent 8% of Va. REALTORS®

immigrants tend to cLuster Arlington, Fairfax, Louden, and Prince William counties have the most immigrants. Albermarle, henrico,

Fewer than 10 percent

26% of Va. REALTORS®


66% of Va. REALTORS®

Montgomery, Stafford, and Virginia Beach are close behind. Chesterfield, Frederick, newport news, Fauquier,

their median household incomes are higher than native-born americans’:

richmond, and Spotsylvania also have a lot. of these: 40% come from Asia and 36% come from Latin America.

$62,000 $56,000 VOlUME 15 l ISSUE 5


Here Comes


Neighborhood By Rachel Bailey

Foreign-born people make up at least 10 percent of Virginia’s population. It’s time to focus on these immigrants as clients. International clients. Immigrants. Foreigners. New Americans. Green-card holders. You are already selling to them, right? If not, why not? Think it would be too complicated? Think there’s a language barrier and a culture barrier? Wondering if immigrants can get a mortgage? Don’t. One Northern Virginia agency, in fact, is doing a booming business that’s comprised of 90 percent foreign-born clients. But more about that in a moment. Instead, how’s this: If you want your business to grow, you need to work with immigrants. Period. They’re coming to the U.S. — and to Virginia — in droves. According to a recent study by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, one in 10 Virginians is foreign-born. In Northern Virginia, that statistic becomes one in five. And there are still a lot of people coming to Virginia from other countries. And “a lot” isn’t an exaggeration. It’s backed up by research from the University of Virginia and the U.S. Census Bureau. The University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service breaks it down in a July 2008 report: “Until 1970, one in every 100 Virginians was born outside the United States. In 2006, one in every 10 Virginians was foreign-born.” (For more facts and figures, see “Send in the Immigrants” on page 16.)

Know Nguyen to Say Nguyen These numbers are already having an impact; Angela Eliopoulos of the Global Owner Team at Long & Foster in Washington, D.C., said that 40 percent of her business volume “has an international Eliopoulos aspect in it.” And agents at Westgate Realty Group in Falls Church are selling homes to these new arrivals in droves. Managing broker Jo Anne Johnson estimates that 90 percent of Westgate Realty Group’s business is listing or selling with people not born in the United States.

Westgate’s Web site,, stands out immediately for its accessibility to foreign-born visitors. Eleven languages and Westgate Realty’s home page features flags from many flags adorn the home page, nations — an invitation making it easy to switch to immigrants. between languages with the click of a button. In fact, of about 150 agents in the Westgate Realty Group office, fewer than 20 were born in the U.S. Johnson (who was born here) has worked primarily with foreign-born agents and clients since the early 1980s, and her advice is sought by organizations such as the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA) and Dearborn Publishing’s Dearborn Real Estate Education imprint.

“Nguyen” is pronounced “n’WHEN” or “new-WHEN.” Fun Fact: It was the name of the last Vietnamese dynasty, which ended in 1945; many Vietnamese took the name as a show of loyalty. Her partner at Westgate, broker Vinh Nguyen, has more than 20 years of experience in real estate. The two have been in business together since 1984. Nguyen, in fact, is one of 39 people with that last name working at Westgate. “It’s the most common Vietnamese name there is,” Johnson explained. Isn’t that a filing nightmare? A simple solution: “We alphabetize by first name.” That kind of flexibility is necessary when working with immigrants, who, obviously, may come from cultures where things are done differently. You need to go a little further to help clients overcome the obstacles that any new culture — and legal system — presents. Communication goes a long way.

Volume 15 ● Issue 5SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2008 19

Culture clashes When it comes to working with people from other backgrounds, “a REALTOR® really has to pay attention,” said Christi Rhodes of RE/MAX First, The Decker Group in Virginia Beach. “If you are Rhodes dealing with someone from another culture, it’s important to find out how willing they are to negotiate – are they willing to negotiate at all?” She explained that some clients might be insulted more easily if an offer is modified after it’s submitted; Rhodes said it’s possible for someone to get insulted and back out of the deal. Rhodes is always aware of this kind of sensitivity. She tells the other REALTOR® to prepare their client for the offer, to not be insulted, and simply to counter the offer if that’s what they need to do. “REALTORS®,” she said, “just don’t communicate with each other enough.” Rhodes has worked with foreign-born clients since the beginning of her career. One of her first experiences was with an Indian client who was listing a home. “He had very particular tastes, clearly coming from his background,” Rhodes said. “Rich Indian rugs, not mainstream of what people thought of for décor.”

to what their needs are and take my tastes — what I like — out of it,” Rhodes said. “I look at everything kind of like an adventure.” Sometimes cultural issues rear their heads in other ways. Eliopoulos recalled an incident five years ago, when she was working with a professor from the Middle East who was buying a property in Washington, D.C. “He came to closing with a large brown bag full of dollars,” she said. “The attorney and all present were flabbergasted. I had to put the client in my car and go down the street to his bank to issue a cashier’s check.” The Americans weren’t the only ones taken by surprise. “The funny thing was the expression [my client’s] face: completely astonished that we were making such a big fuss over the most straight-forward way of transacting: in cash!” Sometimes, of course, there’s less at stake — at least in terms of the deal. Another time, Eliopoulos was working with the American Embassy in Saudi Arabia. “We were invited by a member of the royal family for tea. The ‘tea-boys’ kept refilling my cup during the visit and I kept drinking it while my stomach was exploding. Then luckily my colleague explained that I had to shake my cup left and right several times to indicate that I don’t need another serving!” Language isn’t always spoken.

‘You are damn and trash!’ was his way of saying ‘I am very angry’.

Bite the wax tadpole1

Rhodes’s agency had a hard time getting the home sold, and she recalled that it was challenging to help him understand why potential buyers didn’t respond well to the rich interior – there were fabrics on the walls and textiles in the interiors. Overall, the style was not what U.S. buyers were used to seeing. “There was a point where he was ready to drop his listing,” Rhodes said. “I would call the [potential buyer’s] REALTOR® and ask for feedback. I gave the seller that feedback and said the client loves the neighborhood and the yard and the exterior but said the inside wasn’t for them. They’d have to redecorate flooring and everything.” The seller was less than pleased with the feedback. “‘You are damn and trash!’” she recalled him saying. “That was his way of saying ‘I am very angry.’ He was ready to drop his listing and everything, and I said, ‘Wait wait wait, let’s call the agent!’” After speaking with the potential-buyer’s agent, they were able to get things back on track. “I try to just keep in mind that my job is to listen

Working with immigrants means, obviously, speaking the right language — or at least not speaking Realtorese. “A big problem for the foreign-born right now is that when they buy a foreclosed house or short sale, there’s an addendum, and it gets complicated,” Johnson said. Johnson said that in Northern Virginia there are whole companies that speak Spanish or Korean. These multilingual officers and representatives can be a great resource when explaining an addendum or other document to a client, Johnson said. “It’s not just reading English,” she explained. It’s also getting a client to understand it. Even when language doesn’t appear to be a barrier, Johnson encourages agents to give a copy of the contract to the client on the first day – a “buyer interview,” she called it. “Give them a copy and put a check on the things you want them to read and understand,” Johnson said. What may be a small thing to you, as someone who knows the ins and outs of American home buying, may confuse someone who’s new to the process. 1 Google it.


It helps a lot if you speak the same language. “Often we fall into our own Realtorese,” Johnson said. So be extra careful to make sure they understand in plain English. Go over each concept thoroughly until you’re certain your client has a clear understanding of what everything is. For example, the concept of “adequate title” has concerned several foreign-born buyers Johnson has worked with. (She explains to them that this isn’t a big deal because most third-party places pay for that insurance.) It’s just one issue that can crop up in an addendum that’s full of tiny print. She recounted another instance where she was working with a client who spoke English but was having a hard time understanding a few things like “contingency” and “convey.” (To be fair, even people born in the U.S. have trouble understanding some of this stuff.) Of course, everyday language isn’t always easy, either. As Eliopoulos put it, “Let’s not forget that successful communication requires more than words.” Rhodes recalled working with a Vietnamese couple; the husband wanted to buy some investment properties. “His wife didn’t speak any English at all, so it took more time,” Rhodes said. But she had a card up her sleeve: “My best friend growing up was Vietnamese, so I think I felt more comfortable because of that experience. It wasn’t so foreign to me.” “I took the extra time to listen, and ask more questions. I think he understood that I was just trying to make sure I understood – maybe because I kept repeating it over and over again.” Rhodes said she spent a lot of time saying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that – please repeat that, I’m just trying to make sure I understand so I can get the best deal for you.”

Resources to remember When preparing to deal with clients from other cultures, probably the single best reference to have is Terri

Besides a satisfied client, Rhodes admitted there was another benefit to that relationship. “His wife makes outstanding Vietnamese spring rolls,” she said. “She knows that that’s my weakness, so that’s what she makes for me when I visit,” Rhodes said. “That’s how she and I communicated — with food.”

Don’t hesitate to call Another piece of advice from Johnson: Make sure your client has someone to call if they have any questions – and make sure your client is asking questions. Don’t leave them at the mercy of the world. “They have to do what the lender says; you have to explain that if you have any questions, call me. We’re not talking about just reading English,” Johnson said. You’ve got to make it crystal clear to the client that if he doesn’t do what the lender says (and yes, that includes not buying a new car), they could end up defaulting on the loan. You might need to be more certain than usual that you’re being clear on this point, Johnson said. “I had a foreign-born client — I wasn’t the agent, I was the manager. On the day of settlement, I got a call saying he has to have another ten or twelve thousand dollars,” Johnson said. “And I said, ‘Why?’ Because he bought a car and his credit went down. And I called him and said, ‘Why’d you do that?’ And he said the people at the car place told him it wouldn’t go on this credit.” “You should have called me. You can’t just go out and buy things like that – it means you’ll default on the loan,” Johnson said she told him. Johnson reiterated how important it is to have that initial interview with the buyer. Take the time to go through the paperwork. Johnson

• The Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS® offers several international programs, including some for Hispanic, Korean, Middle Eastern and Vietnamese REALTORS® Link: • The Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA) can be a good source of information for REALTORS®, depending on your clientele. Link:

Morrison’s and Wayne A. Conaway’s Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands.

• The National Association of Realtors® has other programs and partnerships that may be of interest to you, depending on your specialty or focus. Link: l

Volume 15 ● Issue 5SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2008 21

suggests that a thorough buyer interview can help agent and buyer avoid misunderstandings later in the process. The agent should explain what each section covers and what it doesn’t, and, of course, explain the difference between what is a walk-through item and what isn’t; explain what “default” means. Is this extra work? To be sure. But it’s also something that gets easier as you grow more comfortable with it. With thousands of people coming to Virginia from overseas every year, it’s a market opportunity that you don’t want to miss — and one you can even get ahead of. NAR and local associations both offer courses for working with international clients. The CIPS (Certified International Property Specialist) program teaches REALTORS® to provide good service to the growing international clientele within their own local markets by focusing on culture, exchange rates, investment trends, and legal issues. Angela Eliopoulos recommends three courses for Virginia REALTORS®: • “At Home with Diversity” addresses topics of multiple cultures, fair housing and business planning in a full-day certification course. • “Expand Your Market” counts as a CIPS elective, offers CE credits, and provides all basic information on how to start off in the international real estate arena including how to market your local listings to the world. • The Transnational Referral Certification (TRC) prepares real estate professionals for making and receiving compensated referrals using the transnational referral system developed by ICREA (International Consortium of Real Estate Associations). Link:

Quick tips • Foreigner? Immigrant? Outsider? International client? Johnson said she uses the term “foreign born” with her clients because it’s an all-inclusive term. It covers any individual who was not born in the United States, whether they are a citizen of this country or of some other country. • According to Johnson, U.S.-born homebuyers have no financial options that foreign-born homebuyers would not have. If a client has a Social Security number or a green card and can verify income, legal issues should not present a problem. • Get foreign-born buyers pre-qualified by a lender — preferably one that has its own money, so you don’t have to broker the loan. ● 22 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2008

The long arm of the law You’ll have some different bumps in the road when working with foreign clients than you would with American-born ones, especially if the immigrants aren’t yet citizens. We asked Angela Eliopoulos what kinds of complications you can expect. What kinds of legal issues and complications have you experienced? The main problem is the different practices of the real estate profession around the world. For example, lack of local Multiple Listing Systems (MLS) in Europe, forces sellers to list their properties with many agencies at the same time. Also, in certain countries, both the buyer and the seller pay a fee to their respective agent. What kinds of hurdles do you anticipate and deal with on a regular basis? For clients who come through our Web site, we first have to determine whether they are “legitimate” or not; this might take some time. However, the process is much easier when we sit in a meeting with a prospective buyer or seller; in this case we first take him/her through our orientation training — a PowerPoint presentation — before we proceed. Do legal issues ever prevent or complicate the home purchase? Each case is different and the needs of each client demand careful consideration. An example is the requirement that the buyer has to do the transfer of funds to a U.S. bank — by wire — at least three months prior to closing. Are citizenship issues ever a problem? Certain nationalities are not allowed to purchase real estate in the U.S. Also, depending on the type of visa buyers hold, they might have a limitation on the permitted number of days they can stay within the country each year. Do foreign-born homebuyers have other requirements that American-born homebuyers don’t? In general, foreign buyers have to come up with a larger down payment in order to qualify for a loan unless they have been in the country for at least two years and have a good credit history and stable income. ●


Don’t get lost in translation When you think of the obstacles facing REALTORS working with immigrants, the 800-pound gorilla is language. If a client doesn’t understand what you’re telling him — and what the contracts say — you and he could be looking at a world of hurt if misunderstandings turn into legal snafus. Consider this: In more than a quarter of Virginia households, no one over age 13 speaks English very well. (That’s according to the Demographics and Workforce section of UVa’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.) Calling that a hurdle is like calling World War II “a bit of a tiff.” The obvious solution: Translators (who work with the written word) and interpreters (who handle spoken conversation). But be careful, says Matthew Swain, marketing administrator for LLE – Language Services. (LLE is a VAR Member Service Partner, which is why we asked for his input.) Want to spend a lot of money? Hire Swain an interpreter to join you when you sit down with clients. It might not be so expensive if you’re looking for someone who speaks Canadian1 and have a week or two notice. But if you need a Tagalog speaker right now, expect to shell out the big bucks. A better alternative, according to Swain, is telephone ®


interpretation. At $1.55 per minute, it costs less than the in-person option, and “It’s perfect for conference calls, sales calls, qualifying interviews, and closings.” That won’t work when the legal documents come out, though. That’s when you’ll need a translator. Want a bad idea? Hire a college student or “this guy a friend knows” to do your translation for you. It’s one thing if you’re trying to woo the cute Brazilian barista at Starbucks with a couple of Portuguese phrases, but when you’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of dollars — and your livelihood — you really don’t want to mess around. Want a worse idea? Use translation software or a Web site. For example, if you ask Promt software (“Translation Technology That Works!”) how to say, “Nice pants” in Portuguese, you’ll get “Você tem a calcinha muito bonita.” Unfortunately, you would be telling that barista, “You have very pretty panties.” Close, but no cigar. Yes, working with people with whom you don’t share a common tongue isn’t always easy and isn’t always fun (except, perhaps, if it involves that barista). But most of the time it’s smart. It’s a chance to tap into a new client base, to increase referrals, and, of course, to add to that ever-present bottom line. —Andrew Kantor l 1

To add an “eh” to the end of each sentence.

The two-minute guide to the

Virginia Homeowners Alliance This is important. Take two minutes to understand the Virginia Homeowners Alliance. It’s a major VAR initiative launching this month, and its goal is to increase the influence of REALTORS® in the realm of public policy.

30 seconds: What it is The Virginia Homeowners Alliance is a free service provided by REALTORS® to homeowners (and future homeowners) that offers insight and information on a wide variety of topics. We believe that REALTORS® are in the perfect position to engage homeowners and serve as a trusted, reliable source of information on most things related to home ownership, from maintenance tips to the political issues affecting their communities. In exchange, we hope to get them more involved in shaping public policy in their neighborhoods, because REALTOR® and homeowner concerns are often the same: building strong communities, keeping taxes low and making it easier to buy and sell homes in Virginia. We give them practical information, and they lend us their voice. Everyone wins. 26 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2008

30 seconds: What’s in it for you We want to get all of Virginia’s REALTORS® on board, and we think you’ll be glad you came. Here’s why. 1. It’s an incredible tool for keeping in touch with current and past clients. What do you think they’d prefer, another refrigerator magnet or recipe, or timely, useful information about a proposed new regulation or tax increase in their neighborhood? 2. Adding those homeowner voices to our own means we can better advocate for policies in the state and local legislatures — and that makes it easier for you to buy and sell homes. 3. It’s a great way to build your career. It can help you get to know the legislators on the state, local, and national levels whose votes can affect your livelihood. And those better connections and more experience are things that will pay you back over and over. 4. You’re giving your clients access to a great (and free) resource for insight and information on a wide variety of topics, ranging from home maintenance tips to the political issues affecting their communities. It’s a great long-term investment.

30 seconds: What we want from you

30 seconds: Prizes and incentives

We don’t want your money. We want your voice. We want you to tell your clients about the Virginia Homeowners Alliance and get them to sign up (it’s free) at Then they’ll be able to get truckloads of information on maintaining and improving their biggest investment, and on which local issues are affecting them, whether they knew it or not. That’s it. To help you get the word out, we’ve developed materials that you’ll be able to give your clients. And yes, they’re free. We have handouts and other “snail mail,” plus email templates that you only have to drop your signature onto. We have logos for your Web site, and we have a lot more planned. Look for it all in the coming weeks.

How about a Caribbean vacation? Really. Everyone loves incentives, and here’s yours (we call it REALTOR® Rewards): For every five homeowners you sign up, you’ll be entered into a quarterly drawing for all kinds of stuff, from free gasoline and Starbucks gift cards to a few Nintendo Wiis and a couple of iPods here and there. There are also plane tickets, and, of course, one grand prize: a Caribbean vacation for two. Details will be coming soon. The Virginia Homeowners Alliance is one of VAR’s biggest undertakings in the past decade. We’re committed to the long term success of this project, and we hope to bring you — and your clients — on board. There’s a lot for all of us to gain. ●

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2008 RPAC Report


As of July 21, 2008, the following REALTORS® and local associations have joined RPAC of Virginia as Major Investors. For more information on the value of RPAC and how your investment works to protect your business, contact Meredith Cox at or (804) 264-5033. Or, if you want to get invested today, please visit

Linda Belcher-Brown Coldwell Banker Residential Manassas

William Chorey Chorey & Associates Realty Suffolk

Dennis Cronk Poe & Cronk Real Estate Group Roanoke

Joseph Funkhouser, II Coldwell Banker Funkhouser Harrisonburg

Dorcas Helfant-Browning Coldwell Banker Professional Virginia Beach

Steve Hoover MKB, REALTORS® Roanoke

Thomas Jefferson, III* Joyner Fine Properties Richmond

Tom Jewell Carter Braxton Real Estate Co. Leesburg

John McEnearney McEnearney Associates, Inc. Alexandria

Stanley Palivoda Century 21 Battlefield - Tappahannock Dahlgren

Tom Stevens* Coldwell Banker Residential Vienna

Melanie Thompson Century 21 AdVenture Realty Fredericksburg

GOLDEN R ASSOCIATION ($5,000) Dulles Area Association of REALTORS®, Leesburg Fredericksburg Area Association of REALTORS®, Fredericksburg Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS®, Fairfax Richmond Association of REALTORS®, Richmond Roanoke Valley Association of REALTORS®, Roanoke

*Hall of Famers have contributed a cumulative amount of at least $25,000 to RPAC.

Jack Torza Long & Foster REALTORS® Mechanicsville


Commission Express Commission Express Woodbridge


CRYSTAL R ASSOCIATION ($2,500) Harrisonburg-Rockingham Association of REALTORS®, Harrisonburg

Angela Dougherty William E. Wood & Associates Williamsburg

Patricia Jensen Real Estate III - North Charlottesville

Keith Kreuer Exit Elite Realty Midlothian

Michael Minnery Re/Max Allegiance Woodbridge

Todd Rogers Hometown Realty Mechanicsville

STERLING R INVESTORS ($1,000–$2,499)

Deborah Baisden Prudential Decker Realty Virginia Beach

Jerry Bartlett Jobin Realty Springfield

Mary Ann Bendinelli Weichert REALTORS® Manassas

Charles Bengel Re/Max Allegiance Alexandria

Patricia Billheimer Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc. Sterling

Karen Bohlke Re/Max Select Hampton

R. Scott Brunner Virginia Association of REALTORS® Glen Allen

Charles Burnette Burnette & Company, Inc. Blacksburg

David Charron MRIS Rockville, MD

Florence Chittenden Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc. Nokesville

Billy Coons Realty Executives Virginia Beach

Julie Crist GSH Real Estate Hampton

Beth Dalton Coldwell Banker Townside Blacksburg

Tommy DeWitt DeWitt Real Estate & Auction Lynchburg

John Dickinson Hall Associates Inc. Union Hall

Mary Dykstra RE/MAX Valley REALTORS® Roanoke

Angela Eliopoulos Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc. McLean

Sandee Ferebee GSH Real Estate Virginia Beach

Claire Forcier-Rowe Coldwell Banker Elite Fredericksburg

Karen Gaskins Rose & Womble Realty Chesapeake

Katy Gilliam Coldwell Banker Traditions Williamsburg

Volume 15 ● Issue 5


2008 RPAC Report

STERLING R INVESTORS ($1,000–$2,499)

Millie Green Re/Max Commonwealth Richmond

Rita Huggins-Halstead Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc. Sterling

Luis Lama Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc. Alexandria

Lynn Grimsley RE/MAX Peninsula Newport News

Kit Hale MKB, REALTORS® Roanoke

Margaret Handley M.C. Handley, Ltd. McLean

Eugene Hobart Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc. Haymarket

Amy Hudson Long & Foster Christiansburg/Blacksburg Blacksburg

Betty Jasmund Coldwell Banker Elite Stafford

Jo Anne Johnson Westgate Realty Group, Inc. Falls Church

Lilian Jorgenson Long & Foster Real Estate Vienna

Andy Mason Mason-Davis Company, Inc. Onancock

G. Edmond “Ned” Massie, IV Grant Massie Land Company Richmond

Susan Mekenney Re/Max Allegiance Fairfax

Kayvan Mehrbakhsh Sperry Van Ness Vienna

John Meyer Re/Max Allegiance Alexandria

Tom Meyer Condo 1, Inc. Falls Church

Vinh Nguyen Westgate Realty Group, Inc. Fairfax

Kathy Nunnally Re/Max Valley REALTORS® Roanoke

Tom Innes Donn Irby Re/Max Commonwealth Rose & Womble Realty Richmond Chesapeake

Barbara Jean LeFon Rivah Realty LLC Montross

STERLING R ASSOCIATION ($1,000–$2,499) Greater Augusta Association of REALTORS®, Staunton Lynchburg Association of REALTORS®, Lynchburg New River Valley Association of REALTORS®, Christiansburg Virginia Peninsula Association of REALTORS®, Hampton Williamsburg Area Association of REALTORS®, Williamsburg


STERLING R INVESTORS ($1,000–$2,499)

Lee Odems Buyer’s Advantage Real Estate Woodbridge

Forrest Odend’hal Long & Foster Real Estate Manassas

Gwen Pangle Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc. Sterling

Gail Penman Century 21 Team Real Estate Stafford

John Powell Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc. Colonial Heights

Jane Quill Re/Max Presidential Fairfax

Peter Rickert Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Alexandria

Gene Sampson Jobin Realty Fairfax

Dee Spraker Keller Williams Realty Dumfries

Trudy Severa Long & Foster Real Estate Reston

Cindy Stackhouse Century 21 Stackhouse & Associates Dumfries

Wes Stearns Mo Wilson Properties, Inc. Woodbridge

Suzy Stone Century 21 AdVenture Realty Fredericksburg

Thomas “Mack” Strickland, Jr. Strickland Realty Chester

Patricia Szego ERA - Elite Group REALTORS® Haymarket

Christine Todd Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS® Fairfax

Kevin Turner Century 21 All Service-Bedford Bedford

Drake Van de Castle Envirian of Charlottesville Charlottesville

Glenda von Dameck Long & Foster Christiansburg Christiansburg

Volume 15 ● Issue 5

Robert Waring GSH Real Estate Virginia Beach

Karen Wilkinson First Horizon Home Loans Woodbridge

Contributions are not deductible for income tax purposes. Contributions to RPAC are voluntary and are used for political purposes. The amount suggested is merely a guideline and you may contribute more or less than the suggested amount. You may refuse to contribute without reprisal and the National Association of Realtors® or any of its state associations or local boards will not favor or disfavor any member because of the amount contributed. 70% of each contribution is used by your state PAC to support state and local political candidates. Until your state PAC reaches its RPAC goal 30% is sent to National RPAC to support federal candidates and is charger against your limits.


BlOgSPOTTing by Andrew Kantor

Feeling the pulse of the real estate blogging community Legal minefields IS YOUR BLOG a lawsuit magnet? That’s the question Marcie Geffner asked in her blog on Inman News. It’s a good question. Bloggers have felt immune from the legal entanglements that the mainstream media sometimes finds itself in — after all, they’re just guys with Web sites, right? Wrong. “Blogging is long overdue for a few good lawsuits,” Geffner writes. “Bloggers may be guilty of libel, defamation, copyright infringement, invasion of privacy and a number of other crimes.” And, she goes on, “Realty brokers and agents are already subject to a long list of potential liability claims that involve such issues as agency disclosures, antitrust, appraisals, buyer representation, breach of fiduciary duty, commission disputes, confidential information, dual agency, kickbacks, minimum-service agreements, misrepresentation, privacy, procuring cause and property defects, among others.” (We assume she stopped to catch her breath while reciting that list.) Shortcut:

CREST team tracks bloggers Real estate blogging is still in its infancy, but thanks to the folks at the Center for Real Estate and Social Technologies (CREST, led by VAR’s own Ben Martin), we’re starting to get a better picture of it. CREST’s goal is to be “the definitive research and education resource for social technologies in the real estate business,” and one way it’s doing that is by surveying those real estate bloggers. Its first survey, conducted in May, revealed that patience pays off — the older the blog, the more people post comments. Some other findings: • Almost half of real estate bloggers use WordPress as their blogging platform. (Almost a quarter use the ActiveRain service instead.) • Real estate blogging is fairly new. The median start date for realty blogs is August 1, 2007, and bloggers made a median of 12 posts to their blogs in May 2008; they received a median of 7 total comments that month. 34 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2008

The buzz at

If for some reason you aren’t checking in at VARbuzz regularly, here’s some of what you missed: ••••• “My hope is that hundreds of thousands of REALTORS® turn in the towel during this bust. That will allow the true professionals to clean up an industry that has lost the trust of the consumer.” ••••• “While it’s easy to say that the housing bill is ‘great for America’ or ‘a long-term disaster,’ the reality is that, in any legislation this complex (600 pages!), there’s good and bad. And trying to predict its long-term effect on a monster economy like ours is all but impossible.” ••••• “If you are reading this, you are part of the four percent of the agents that understand technology (and probably connected to me on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and so on … we flock together). But you have to realize that it’s truly about mastering how to make technology connect with real people.” ••••• “Who hasn’t complained about that window of time the cable company gives you so you can wait at home, and then they don’t show? Why is it okay for certain industries to seemingly ignore scheduling, and Joe Public seems okay with that?” ••••• Not to mention “What are Virginia REALTORS® reading?” and speculation on what would happen if Roanoke was nuked….


blogspotting • When it comes to having conversations, the blogging tool makes a difference. ActiveRain and WordPress users got more than the average number of comments, while Blogger and Moveable Type users got fewer. • The older the blog, the more comments it gets. • The average number of comments per post for all respondents was 3.42. The older the blog, the higher the average comments per post. •Blogs started in 2005 received an average of 7.3 comments per post in May 2008. • Blogs started in 2006 received an average of 4.1 comments per post in May 2008. • Blogs started in 2007 received an average of 3.5 comments per post in May 2008. • Blogs started in 2008 received an average of 1.3 comments per post in May 2008. 79% of respondents reported receiving fewer than 50 total comments in May 2008. Shortcut: l





The older the blog, the more comments it's likely to get. Here are the average number of comments per post CREST found.

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Year blog begun


What’s VAR up to these days? Plenty. Just the VAR FAQs IF YOU GOT this issue of Commonwealth in the mail you saw something extra: the 2008-09 VAR Member Guidebook. It’s a brand new publication, and it’s a quick way of checking out all the benefits you get for being a VAR member. (Of course, if you can’t find the information in it or at, you can reach us at or (800) 755-8271 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

REALTORS® fail the Code test What’s the opening line of the REALTOR® Code of Ethics? That was the question we put out to readers on VARbuzz as one or our Quick Polls. There were four choices: • “We hold our clients’ trust.” • “Under all is the land.” • “Our duty is to those who hire us.” • “We the REALTORS®...” The correct answer is “Under all is the land.” Only We hold our clients’ trust. 23 out of 43 got it right. Under all is the land. Sounds like it’s time for a We the REALTORS ... quick review of the Code. Our duty is to those who hire us.


8 9

23 ®

The Code: Straight Talk, the Code in plain English:

VAR applauds passage of housing bill By now you know that the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 was passed by Congress and signed into law. VAR’s official position: thumbs up. “The passage of The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 by the House of Representatives will help stabilize Virginia’s housing market and slow the rising rate of foreclosures,” according to the official statement. 38 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2008

The bill provides for a $7,500 tax credit for first-time home buyers through June 2009. (Note that it’s a full tax credit, not just a tax deduction, and it has to be repaid over 15 years.) It also hopes to modernize the Federal Housing Administration to make FHA-backed mortgages more available, and to help families refinance their existing mortgages so they can keep their homes.

Knock a chunk out of your healthcare bills A new and potentially valuable member service partner has join VAR’s ranks. Just like you get discounts at hotels if you’re a AAA member, you get a better deal with our MSPs for being a REALTOR®. Our newest partner is TASC, which administers a tax-free “health reimbursement agreement” plan that’s similar to a flexible-spending account. Flexible spending accounts are great things. You put money into the account before Uncle Sam takes his cut, then you can use it for all your medical expenses. And we’re not just talking about co-pays and prescriptions. Band-Aids, contact lens solution, cough drops, eyeglasses, aspirin — it’s all allowable. Even better, with TASC’s plan — which requires you to “hire” your spouse, a simple process that TASC helps you do — you can also take your medical expenses as business deductions. So say you’re in the 28 percent tax bracket. This means you can effectively save 28 percent on any of these purchases off the bat, then take them as business deductions. But you have to be part of an approved plan, and that’s where TASC comes in. You’re dealing with the IRS, so you really don’t want to make a mistake, and as an independent contractor you can bet the T-men are looking closely at that kind of stuff. So TASC handles everything. It does the paperwork, manages your account, and even issues you a Visa debit card that makes the whole process paperless and easy. Use it at CVS, Walgreens, Kroger (wherever you get your Band-Aids) as well as your doctor’s office to pay for any medical “stuff.” There’s more to it than that, of course, and the folks at TASC will be happy to explain it to you. Check out the details at www.VAREAlTOR.COM

Free gas…for them when you’re at VAR’s Convention & Expo this September 25-28 at the Baltimore Marriott waterfront, if you happen to run into Nancy Bittman (long & Foster, Glen Allen), Brian Block (Re/Max Allegiance, Alexandria), Erica Sharkey (Century 21 Gold Key, Roanoke), or Kathy Markwood (Roy wheeler Realty Co., Charlottesville), you can give them an extra glare. They each scored a $25 gas card by sending in the correctlycompleted crossword puzzle that we told you about in the July issue of Commonwealth. ●






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ooo&N9@ge]gof]jk9ddaYf[]&[ge VOlUME 15 ● ISSUE 5


The Virginia Association of REALTORS速 thanks the following sponsors for their support of the 2008 Convention & Expo and for their contribution to the real estate industry in Virginia. Their continued support makes possible the programs and events available to all members. Support the companies that support your business!



VAR 2008 LEADERSHIP TEAM Pat Jensen, ABR, CBR, CRS, GRI President Real Estate III - North Charlottesville (434) 817-9200 John Powell, GRI, ABR, CRB, CRS President-Elect Long and Foster Real Estate Colonial Heights (804) 520-5600 Cindy Stackhouse, GRI Vice President Century 21 Stackhouse and Associates Prince William (703) 580-0880 John Dickinson Treasurer Hall Associates, Inc. Roanoke (540) 982-0011 Melanie Thompson, GRI Immediate Past President Century 21 AdVenture Realty Fredericksburg (540) 898-2900 R. Scott Brunner, CAE Chief Executive Officer (804) 264-5033 VAR MEMBER SERVICE PARTNERS Advanced Access Internet Marketing & Website Development Bank of America WorldPoints Credit Card DNCSolution, Do-Not-Call Solutions Security Code SC1795VR FBR Direct, Financial Planning Services Liberty Mutual Home, Auto & Renters Insurance LLE Language Services Telephone Interpretation & Document Translation Promotion Code VARM08 Office Depot Office Supplies & Copying Outstaffing, Staffing & Payroll Pearl Insurance E&O, Medical, Life, Dental Insurance TASC/BizPlan Medical Expense Tax Benefits T-Mobile, Wireless Service VAR Wireless Center (Coming soon) Wireless Plans & Hardware VAR Health (Coming soon) Limited medical plans, 401(k) & more Zipform, Electronic Forms Solutions

VAR Staff Directory EXECUTIVE R. Scott Brunner, CAE Chief Executive Officer (804) 264-5033 • Strategic Direction • Governance (including Leadership Team, Policy Board and Delegate Body) • Virginia REALTOR® Leadership Academy (VLA) • NAR Activities • Member Outreach Anne B. Taylor Executive Assistant • Governing Documents • Policy Board, Delegate Body, NAR Director & VLA Logistics • Leadership Team Support • Travel Planning ADMINISTRATION Debbie Talley, CPA Vice President for Administration • Financial Management & Budgeting • Local Association Liaison • Investment Management Committee • Facility Management • Special Projects Gini Bonnell Office Manager Accounting/Member Records Ann Kelly Controller • Accounting • Budgeting • Financial Records and Reporting Kim Martin Member Records Specialist • Membership Records (NRDS) • Receivables Mike Shepherd Information Systems Manager • Technology Systems • Website Management Meghana Bhatia Accounting Specialist • Accounts Payable • Accounts Receivable MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS Lisa G. Noon, ABC, CAE Vice President for Marketing & Communications • Media Relations • Communication/Marketing Strategy • Virginia Home Sales Report • ‘The Code is Good Business’ Program • Research

Ben Martin, CAE Director of Communications & New Media • Member Outreach • Social Media • Publications • Information Management Advocacy Group Jovan Hackley Marketing Manager • Marketing Communication • Publications Amanda Arwood Sales Manager • Sponsorship Opportunities • Affiliate Memberships • Trade Expo Management • Member Service Partners Andrew Kantor Editor & Information Manager • Publications • Web content Career Development Tracey R. Floridia, CMP Director Professional Development • Conference Management • Education Program Development • Professional Development Advocacy Group • Instructor Training Lili Paulk Professional Development Manager • Education Program Management • Continuing & Post-License Education • In-house Systems Trainer • Conference Services Glenda Puryear Conferences Specialist • Graduate, REALTOR® Institute (GRI) Administration • Conference Services Amy Hafer Professional Development Specialist • Education Program Implementation Member Services Carole Umbel, RCE Director of Member Services • Membership Policies (Rules and Regulations) • Specialty Education • Special Interest Group Liason • Membership Services and Recognition

Lynne Wherry Specialties Manager • Specialty Affiliate Records & Dues • Special Interest Group Liason • Specialty Education and Event Management Scottie Bosworth Professional Standards & Member Policy Manager • Professional Standards Education & Administration • NAR Member Policy • VAR Standard Forms Logistics • VREEF Trustee Liason LAW & POLICY John Broadway Vice President/Law & Policy • Public Policy Development and Outreach • General Counsel • Broker Relations • Regulatory Relations • Coalition Building Martin Johnson Director of Government Relations/Chief Lobbyist • Legislative Representation / Lobbying • Political Strategy • Public Policy Advocacy Group • RPAC Trustees Lawrence “Lem” E. Marshall Special Counsel • Legal Hotline, Principal • Risk Management Education • Virginia Real Estate Board Liaison Meredith Cox Political Communications Manager • RPAC Fundraising and Administration • Public Policy Communications • Federal Political Coordinator Program Blake Hegeman Associate Counsel • Policy Analysis • Local Issues Resources & Management • Legal Hotline, Secondary • Risk Management Advocacy Group • Standard Forms Working Group

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Human, after all

My father may be out of step, but he’s real MY FATHER TALKS to strangers. I don’t mean a polite “Good morning,” friendly “How are you?” or gratuitous “I like your shoes.” I mean the kind of familiar exchange that begins with a kind word to a stranger and frequently leads eventually to commiserating about one’s ailments and trying to figure out if our grandmommas were distant cousins somewhere in the dim, interconnected past. I was reminded of Pop’s strange affection for humanity recently when, on my visit back home to Birmingham, he accompanied me to the sporting goods store. As I headed off in search of workout gloves, Pop strikes up a conversation with the greeter, a red-vested senior citizen wearing thick, unstylish eyeglasses and a mesh, Bass Pro ballcap. “I’ll bet it’s tough on your knees standing up here all day,” Pop says, smiling, and the man agrees. By the time I return, they’ve compared blood pressure medications, handicapped the Presidential election, and moved on to a philosophical discussion of the merits of two-cycle engines. In a random stranger, Pop can make a friend for life. He once carried on a 15-minute telephone conversation with a lady caller who, come to find out, had actually dialed the wrong number. There’s no doubt he likes to talk, but I suspect there’s more to it than that. “Why do you do that?” I ask him, with an edge in my voice that leaves no doubt I find such behavior aberrant and, well, embarrassing. 44 SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2008

“Do what?” he replies, oblivious to my small-mindedness and in search of someone new to chat up. This is the same man who believes Barack Obama to be a closet Muslim extremist, and don’t confuse him with the facts. Yet in a culture of self-interest and superficiality — one that values youth and beauty and fame and tells us that other people are merely tools for getting what we want — my father is out of step in other, more substantive ways, too. He values people – random people. It’s as if he sees conversation with strangers as a duty, a form of Christian (his preferred belief system) charity; as if he suspects a good word and a few moments’ attention might just help the greeter at the sporting goods store be less ornery with his wife when he gets home that evening. And if he makes a friend, all the better. Can you imagine? The older and busier I get, the more I can’t. And that distresses me. In the fast-paced professional life I live, I wonder if I haven’t trained myself to believe there’s no time for

small-talk anymore, little time for conversation without motive. All discussions must be strategic: something must be accomplished. Even chatting with the members has an ulterior motive: keeping you in the loop, keeping you satisfied, doing my politics. What’s lost in that transaction – aside from relationships of any depth – is the capacity to be authentic. It’s the difference between a cardboardcutout persona and being known as a real, compassionate person. Watching Pop honor a simple, everyday fellow human being with a few words of conversation on a rainy afternoon a few weeks ago in Alabama, I remembered something I risk losing: the ability to be genuine – to be human, after all. I’m going to work on that … and maybe learn a bit about two-cycle engines, too. ● Scott Brunner is VAR’s chief executive officer. Email him at


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