Milestones in Residential Real Estate: 1900-1999

We wanted to send the 20th century off with something a little more substantive than a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne.” So we've put together this time line of some of the key changes, decisions, and events that have affected residential real estate in the United States over the past century.

December 1, 1999


1900-75 percent of urban Americans live in rented apartments or flats.

ca. 1900-Prefab houses become popular in the United States after Sears, Roebuck begins featuring them in mail-order catalogs.

1905-The first ranch homes are built in California, probably in Pasadena. Bungalows, or ranch-style homes, gain popularity in the rest of the United States from 1905 to 1910, when a number of design books and articles on the style are published. By 1910, because of their affordability and popularity, bungalows become the ideal "all-American family house," according to The American Family Home, 1800-1960.

1908-The National Association of Real Estate Exchanges is founded with a mission “to unite the real estate men of America for the purpose of effectively exerting a combined influence upon matters affecting real estate interests.”

The Los Angeles City Council passes the "Residence District Ordinance," the first major land-use zoning law in the United States.


1913-The National Association of Real Estate Exchanges adopts the first Code of Ethics.

The current income tax system is established by Congress under the Revenue Act of 1913, which includes provisions for the home mortgage interest deduction.

1916-The National Association of Real Estate Exchanges changes its name to the National Association of Real Estate Boards.

The term REALTOR® is coined “to identify real estate agents who are members of the National Association of Real Estate Boards and subscribe to its strict Code of Ethics.”

In Brooklyn, N.Y., Sunset Park is established by Finnish immigrants. It’s now the oldest existing co-op in the United States.

New York City becomes the first U.S. city to adopt a comprehensive, citywide zoning law.

1917-In Buchanan v. Warley (1917), the U.S. Supreme Court begins to reverse the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896. The Buchanan ruling outlaws racial segregation ordinances, which set aside certain blocks where only African-Americans can live. (In Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court established the "separate but equal" doctrine for railway travel. The doctrine was soon adapted more broadly to race relations and was used by some real estate practitioners to justify steering homebuyers to certain neighborhoods.)

1919-The first real estate licensing law is enacted in Michigan. One of the earliest challenges to state licensing law comes in that same year in Riley v. Chambers. The California Supreme Court rules that a statute that prevents an individual from engaging in a business occupation because of his moral character or reputation is not an invasion of personal rights and is therefore legal.



1926-The University of Michigan grants the first master’s degree in real estate business administration.

In Village of Euclid, Ohio, v. Ambler Realty, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the right of a municipality to adopt a comprehensive zoning ordinance.


1934-The National Housing Act is enacted, creating the Federal Housing Administration. The mortgage insurance program included in FHA's mission spurs the creation of fixed-rate mortgages.

1938-The Federal National Mortgage Association—now Fannie Mae–is chartered by the federal government.


1947-An organization of mostly black real estate professionals, the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (the “Realtists”), is founded.

1948-The U.S. Supreme Court, in Shelley v. Kramer, decides that racially restrictive covenants aren’t legally enforceable. (The covenants became popular after racial zoning was outlawed in Buchanan v. Warley, 1917. They were attached to property deeds, dictating which racial or ethnic groups the property could or could not be sold to.)

1949-The term REALTOR® is approved as a registered trademark by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. The REALTOR® emblem is approved in 1950.

The first national real estate franchise, Gallery of Homes, is established.

Dale Rector founds Realty Executives in Phoenix, introducing the 100 percent commission concept.

Under the 1949 Housing Act, the federal government undertakes its landmark mission of providing "a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family."



Late 1950s-Condos begin appearing after developers bring the idea from Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico has imported the idea from Cuba).

1959-In one of the earliest agency disclosure cases, Hughes v. Robbins et. al., an Ohio court decides that a broker can operate in a dual agency capacity but only with the full disclosure and consent of all parties.


1960-Del Webb begins building the Sun City active adult retirement communities in Arizona.

1961-President Kennedy signs the Housing Act of 1961, which extends FHA mortgage insurance program to cover condos.

1966-The National Historic Preservation Act popularizes the idea of using historic preservation—rather than just new construction—as a means of providing housing. The act establishes the National Register of Historic Places and provides a grant and loan program for historic preservation projects.

1968-Discrimination in housing is outlawed under Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act.

The Long Island Board of REALTORS® makes the first (unsuccessful) attempt at a computerized MLS. In 1975 it becomes the first board to create a successful computerized MLS.


1970-The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp.—Freddie Mac—is chartered by Congress, creating the secondary market for conventional home loans.

U.S. Census Bureau reports that suburban population has outgrown the population of central cities.

Census records 60,000 condo units in the United States.

1973-The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau begin publishing the American Housing Survey, which is now the source of much of the nation’s statistical and demographic information on housing.

RE/MAX is founded in Denver. The company is widely credited for shifting the balance of power between salespeople and brokers by popularizing the 100 percent commission concept.

1974-The National Association of Real Estate Boards changes its name to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.

Congress passes the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, which regulates how real estate settlement services are provided and compensated.

Condos account for nearly 25 percent of new home sales.

1975-In Southern Burlington Council, NAACP v. Township of Mount Laurel (aka Mount Laurel I), the New Jersey Supreme Court rules that a municipality cannot ignore the housing needs of its region by using zoning laws to prevent the building of low-income housing.

1978-Existing-home sales hit a record high of 3.986 million units sold. The record stands until 1996.

Variable-rate mortgages, the predecessor to today's adjustable-rate mortgages, are introduced by a savings & loan association in California.


Early 1980s-Gated communities begin to gain popularity in the United States. The idea has been around since at least 1870, when the streets in some St. Louis neighborhoods were closed off and made private.

1980-Census shows more than 2 million condo units in the United States.

1982-The Federal Home Loan Bank Board adopts the adjustable rate mortgage as its alternative mortgage instrument of choice.

Coldwell Banker, the oldest of the current franchise organizations (founded in 1906), begins franchising

1983-Federal Trade Commission (FTC) releases its report The Residential Real Estate Brokerage Industry, which indicates that, in cooperative transactions, 72 percent of potential homebuyers think that the real estate practitioner who’s working with them is working for them.

In Southern Burlington Council, NAACP v. Township of Mount Laurel (aka Mount Laurel II), the New Jersey Supreme Count rules that residential developments must set aside funds to help provide affordable housing in the community.

1984-California Court of Appeals decides in Easton v. Strassburger that a real estate broker has the duty to inspect a property listed for sale for defects and disclose those defects to prospective purchasers.

1985-California becomes the first state to pass a seller property condition disclosure law. More than 25 other states eventually follow suit.

1986-The Tax Reform Act of 1986 makes it easier for taxpayers to deduct capital gains from the sale of real estate from their income taxes.

1987-California and Hawaii enact some of the first agency disclosure laws. At least 47 states now require some form of agency disclosure.

In Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court concludes that the Commission can’t require property owners to provide public access to beaches (an easement) in return for private property permit approvals.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in First English Evangelical Church v. County of Los Angeles, decides that the temporary, as opposed to permanent, taking of property without compensation is unconstitutional.


1991-Recession officially ends in March, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research Inc., signaling the return of commercial and residential real estate.

The oldest cohousing project in the United States—Davis, Calif.'s Muir Commons—opens.

The ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Thompson v. Dekalb County Board of REALTORS® that the exclusive right of NAR members to use the MLS is harmful to other businesses opens up MLS use to nonmembers in that jurisdiction.

1992-Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Commission is an important recent land-use decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court adopts a new takings rule requiring compensation for the deprivation of all economically beneficial uses, even though the regulation may be legitimately advantageous for the state.

1994-Property listings begin to become publicly available on the Internet.

U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Dolan v. City of Tigard establishes the "rough proportionality" test for determining whether government regulation of land is so intrusive as to constitute a taking.

1995–96-Hospitality Franchise Systems (now Cendant Corp.) acquires Century 21, Coldwell Banker, and ERA, starting what some refer to as the "consolidation craze." HFS acquires Century 21 on Aug. 1, 1995, for an estimated $200 million; ERA on Feb. 12, 1996, for about $46 million; and Coldwell Banker on May 31, 1996, for more than $640 million. The dates are those of the completion of the acquisitions, not the dates of the announcements of agreements to acquire.

1996-In March, lead-based paint disclosure requirement regulations are issued jointly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The regulations require sellers and property owners of pre-1978 homes to disclose potential hazards to prospective buyers and tenants.

In May, the Megan's Law is signed by President Clinton. Modeled after a two-year-old New Jersey statute, the federal law requires sex offenders to register a current address with a designated state law enforcement agency and makes the dissemination of this information mandatory to preserve the safety of children in any given community.

Nearly 4.2 million homes are sold, an existing-home sales record.

Single licensing is adopted in Colorado.

1997-REALTOR.COM rises from the ashes of the REALTORS® Information Network, a failed attempt to launch a proprietary network that would be the platform for the electronic real estate transaction. REALTORS® lost nearly $17 million on RIN but today hold a stake in (operator of REALTOR.COM) that’s worth more than $200 million.

4.38 million existing homes are sold, breaking the 1996 record.

1998-Microsoft's HomeAdvisor Web site is launched.

4.97 million existing homes are sold, breaking the 1997 record.

1999-In January, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announces largest housing discrimination settlement ever. Columbia National Inc., a mortgage lender with offices in 28 states, agrees to make more than $6 billion in home mortgages available to minorities over five years.

In August, makes an initial public offering that generates $140 million. The stock price opens at about $22 per share and is trading at 53-7/8 by Nov. 18. operates REALTOR.COM, NAR's official Web site, as well as other top real estate sites, including,,, and

The National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals is founded.

Homeownership reaches 67 percent of households nationwide, and projections show that home sales will be well over 5 million, another record.

Notice: The information on this page may not be current. The archive is a collection of content previously published on one or more NAR web properties. Archive pages are not updated and may no longer be accurate. Users must independently verify the accuracy and currency of the information found here. The National Association of REALTORS® disclaims all liability for any loss or injury resulting from the use of the information or data found on this page.