Of Politics and Profit: R. Layne Morrill Named 1998 NAR President

Bottom-Line Issues Top His Agenda

December 1, 1997

Profitability. It’s the central issue facing the real estate industry today, says R. Layne Morrill, CRB, 1998 president of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

Morrill, a 37-year veteran of the REALTOR® organization and many of its key leadership positions, was inaugurated last month at the REALTORS® Annual Convention & Trade Exposition in New Orleans.

He reaches the top of the national association’s leadership ladder at a time when the real estate industry is weathering great change and challenges. Consider the industry's astonishing rate of mergers and acquisitions of late, its struggles to marshal the benefits of technology to help keep real estate practitioners central to the transaction, and its efforts to diversify into businesses related to homebuying and homeownership, such as title insurance and home warranties.

Those trends have at their core a quest by companies, brokers, and sales associates to maintain and increase their profitability, says Morrill, president of Shepherd of the Hills, REALTORS®, in Kimberling City, Mo. His company has two offices (the second in Branson, Mo.) and a staff of six, including his wife, Brenda.

“I don’t think any of the changes happening in the industry today are inherently good or bad,” says Morrill. “They're all part of an evolution driven by the need to remain profitable.”

Setting the 1998 Agenda

So, it’s on issues of profitability--for brokers and sales associates, large companies and small--that Morrill intends to focus his presidency and the national association in the coming year.

Legislative and political issues will be at the top of his priority list, he says, followed closely by issues of technology and how to use it to help keep the REALTOR® central to the real estate transaction. Also important to Morrill is improving the national association’s responsiveness to the needs of its members.

NAR’s role, says Morrill, is “to be the force that represents all our members legislatively and legally and that provides for the protection and furtherance of the industry and of the principles of private property rights.”

Morrill's focus on legislative issues demonstrates his willingness to walk the talk of responsiveness to members. REALTORS® consistently rate legislative advocacy at or near the top of the list of services they value most from their association, according to membership surveys.

“What occurs on a legislative and political level, from the local city council up through the federal government, has such an impact on how we do business and on whether we do business. One of the reasons I wanted to be NAR president was so that I could see us increase our legislative and political activities,” says Morrill, who in 1988 chaired the national REALTORS® Political Action Committee. Under his leadership, RPAC raised more than $2.6 million, an all-time fund-raising record for RPAC in a single year.

Focusing In on Key Issues

In particular, Morrill wants to see NAR continue its lead role in advancing reform of the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, which governs the payment of referral fees among settlement service providers in a real estate transaction and includes rules that have hampered widespread development of one-stop shopping.

“Being able to offer one-stop shopping is very important to many of our members,” says Morrill. “First, it’s what the consumer wants. Second, it will allow companies to add funding outside the commission dollar and thereforeincrease profitability. They'll be able to offer additional services and be fairly compensated for those services.”

Recently, NARstepped up its campaign for a congressional overhaul of RESPA, joining with a coalition of real estate settlement providers and consumer groups to draft a proposed new RESPA for the 21st century. The coalition's proposal will be presented to Congress at the end of this year, with action expected sometime in 1998.

Another issue high on Morrill's agenda is protecting private property rights. “We must constantly be watchful on this issue. And we need to take every opportunity to support property owners’ rights to receive compensation for government takings of their land,” he says.

There's also the issue of technology and the Internet, and how the industry can best position itself to take advantage of the many online opportunities. “One of the most important issues facing NAR today is what we as an association do about emerging technologies and how they affect the industry,” says Morrill. “Should NAR be a leader for the industry in the technology area? It’s a key question we have to answer, and soon.”

Morrill's Missouri Roots Are Deep and Colorful

KIMBERLING CITY, Mo.--Born and raised in Missouri on a 400-acre cattle farm, R. Layne Morrill has deep roots here.

His great-grandfather was the first Morrill to build a home in the area--a one-room log cabin. And the company's second office, at the top of a hill along Route 76 in Branson, was originally atwo-room cabin his grandfather called home. Today the expanded building still sits surrounded by rolling horse pastures owned by Morrill.

Morrill's father started the real estate company--Shepherd of the Hills, REALTORS®--in the 1950s with a small office in nearby Reed Springs. Today Morrill is involved in residential, land, and commercial sales and leasing, as well as development.

“There's a great story behind the company name,” he says, standing behind his desk in what is now the company's main office in Kimberling City. “In 1893 my great-grandfather, Levi, homesteaded right near Reed Springs. He set up a post office and a country store, all in one little building. The post office was just 4 feet square,” he says, pointing to a painting of the log cabin that hangs to the left behind his desk. To the right of the painting hangs the original land deed, and next to that, a painting of Morrill's great-grandfather, a husky man with kind eyes and a full mane of white hair and whiskers.

“Many years later, Howard Bell Wright wrote a book, Shepherd of the Hills, published in 1907, and my great-grandfather wasa main character in it, Uncle Ike. He was a philosopher type and ran the local post office and country store, just as my great-grandfather had. So my father, when he started the real estate company, decided to name it after the book,” says Morrill, who has a first-edition copy of Shepherd of the Hills in his study at home.

Today, on the main road between Reed Springs and Kimberling City, is a billboard that reads “When you're ready for the Ozarks--Shepherd of the Hills.” The road curves through the Ozark Mountains and becomes the quarter-mile-long main street of Kimberling City before sloping down and across gigantic Table Rock Lake,man-made, with jagged, fingerlike outcrops that form 867 miles of shoreline. Morrill’s main office--the storefront he opened when he joined the company in the early 1960s--sits at the center of downtown Kimberling City, a string of shops and businesses, much of which was developed and is still owned by Morrill.

“Y'know, we’ve had our slogan since the 1960s, and to this day people walk in and actually say, ‘OK, I'm ready for the Ozarks,’ ” Morrill says, laughing.

Vital Statistics

Name: Robert Layne Morrill
Age: 58
Education: B.A. in history and political science, Drury College, Springfield, Mo., 1961; one year of law school, University of Missouri, 1962
Describes himself as: Understanding, thoughtful, friendly
Family: Wife, Brenda (married 23 years), two daughters, one son, four grandchildren
Key positions held in REALTOR® organization: 1996, NAR First Vice President; 1994, NAR Committee Liaison for Government and Political Relations; 1992, Chairman, NAR Strategic Planning Committee; 1990, Chairman, NAR Government Affairs Coordinating Committee; 1988, Chairman, national REALTORS® Political Action Committee, NAR Regional Vice President; 1974, President, Missouri Association of REALTORS®
Hobbies: Powerboating, reading, cooking

Pamela Geurds Kabati is the former publisher of REALTOR® Magazine and senior vice president of communications for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

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