Returning the Pride

September 1, 1997

To see the NeighborWorks program in action and how real estate practitioners play an integral role in turning communities around, you can look at Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Services, Salisbury, Md.

Until the Salisbury NHS actively sought real estate practitioners as partners, local brokers and salespeople sent the group only prospects who had already exhausted other financing options--and only as a last resort.

But now practitioners are active participants in the Salisbury NHS and are leading the charge to get more people involved. In conjunction with the Coastal Board of REALTORS®, the Salisbury NHS is developing a training program to educate practitioners about the program, its neighborhood revitalization efforts, and its flexible financing assistance.

The classes will count as continuing education credit for practitioners, and the Salisbury NHS will place those who finish the program on a referral list for clients looking for a salesperson.

Asked whether the program could operate as well as it does without real estate practitioners, Debbie Campbell, executive director of the Salisbury NHS, says, "Absolutely not. We couldn't serve the neighborhood as well if we didn't have this kind of involvement. They bring expertise and a technical assistance that we just wouldn't have without them."

Kevin White, a salesperson with Cooper Stewart--Better Homes and Gardens, Salisbury, says he has sold about 10 properties through the Salisbury NHS and believes it's business he probably wouldn't have had without the program. And although he acknowledges that it may sound trite, he says, "It gives you a sense of pride that you're able to help someone realize the American Dream. You can also see a sense of pride returning to the neighborhoods where the Salisbury NHS has been working."

Dispelling Buyer Misconceptions

Nancy Stephenson, executive director of the Great Falls NHS, Great Falls, Mont., attributes the turnabout of a Great Falls neighborhood in part to the commitment of local practitioners. The Great Falls approach involves buying and renovating distressed properties. Rather than selling the properties itself, however, the NHS refers the properties to local practitioners to list.

Typically, listing brokers agree to forgo their portion of the commission, and the Great Falls NHS pays the commission of the salesperson who sells the property. Patty Trauner, a broker with RE/MAX of Great Falls, who sells two or three houses per year through the Great Falls NHS, says she has no qualms about giving up some of her commission to help the community and first-time buyers. In fact, she donates more than occasional commissions to the Great Falls NHS. She also donates money directly to the organization, volunteers her time there, and does fund-raising for the group.

"It's a win-win situation for practitioners," says Stephenson. “These buyers couldn't buy a house without the help of the NHS, so we've opened up a new market for practitioners. The rationale is that the banks are taking less money, the title companies are giving us a break, the gas company is donating lines, appliance companies are offering products at cost, and this is your [real estate practitioners] piece of the pie."

Stephenson estimates that the NHS got 82 families into homes last year and 330 since the inception of the program. "In a community of about 60,000, that's a fair chunk of real estate," she says.

It's not the only reason practitioners like the program. "The buyers the NHS turns out are familiar with what's expected. They're really more knowledgeable than many other buyers," says Bobbie Smedsrud, a broker associate with Dahlquist, REALTORS®, Great Falls, and an NHS board member. "What's happened in this neighborhood is such a visual thing and something everyone can see. And the reward of seeing what happens to families that get into these homes is just wonderful."

"Lots of people have a misconception that it's poor people, but they're all hardworking, with good credit ratings and steady jobs. They are very deserving. This isn’t a giveaway."

Elyse Umlauf-Garneau is a Chicago-based freelance writer and former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine.

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