'Connect the Dots': Meet NAR's New President

Pat Vredevoogd Combs took the oath of office in November, becoming the 99th president of the country's largest trade association.

December 1, 2006

“Wow! I can’t believe I’m standing here as the head of the country’s largest trade organization. It boggles the mind,” said Pat Vredevoogd Combs, seconds after taking the oath of office on Nov. 9 from 2003 NAR President Cathy Whatley.

It’s just this modesty, combined with a keen work ethic and an ability to connect with people that will provide the hallmarks of Combs’ presidency. “Pat is so approachable and so responsive to the concerns of others,” Whatley said in her introduction.

Indeed, connectivity — between work and family, broker and client, and volunteer leadership and member — was the centerpiece of Combs’ inaugural. To demonstrate that connectivity, Combs asked all members of her company; all REALTORS® from the Michigan area; and finally all past NAR presidents at the national, state, and local levels to stand and be recognized. “These people provide the foundation on which we stand so that we can move forward,” said Combs.

From a patriotic medley sung by Renee Rietberg, daughter of the association executive at Combs’ local Grand Rapids REALTOR® Association to the presentation of new brass instruments to 10 local musicians who lost their own during Katrina, by the Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, and Grand Rapids Associations of REALTORS®, the evening overflowed with music, warmth, and a sense of family.

Combs has chosen “Connect the Dots” as the theme for her year in office. The theme, she says, embraces both the need for REALTORS® to reconnect to business basics in a normalizing market and to become more aware of and use the many tools NAR and state associations can provide.

“We have so many people nationwide doing wonderful things. I want NAR to get out in front and make sure that all our members know what’s available to help them succeed in their local markets,” she says.

A REALTOR® since 1971, Combs, ABR®, CRS®, GRI, PMN, still sells real estate every day and believes that this “on the street” knowledge will help her help members during her presidency.

“I understand the perspective of the average member because I’m doing exactly what they’re doing,” says the vice president of Coldwell Banker AJS-Schmidt in Grand Rapids, Mich. A Grand Rapids native, Combs characterizes her childhood as “the typical Ozzie and Harriet Nelson family” of the ‘50s.

An avid horseback rider since the age of 10, Combs’ original career goal was to become a livestock judge, and she entered Michigan State University in nearby East Lansing, Mich., with a declared major in animal husbandry.

But marriage intervened, and Combs ended up working as a secretary for a shopping center developer. (Her first husband, Bruce, died of cancer in 2000. She married Guy Combs this year.) Ever since her first job in real estate, she's been hooked. After finishing college with a sociology degree, she got her real estate license and started selling homes.

In 1980 Combs joined AJS Realty as a partner and broker-owner. The company merged in August with a Coldwell Banker branch.

“I’ve never seen anybody — man or woman — who handles situations better than she does,” says Harley Rouda Sr., founder of Real Living in Columbus, Ohio, and one of the last NAR presidents to come from the Midwest. Rouda, who was president of NAR in 1991, was one of many past NAR leaders who encouraged Combs to seek the top job.

“She’s a good thinker, always tells the truth, and if she says she’s going to do something, she does it," he says. "But possibly the most important thing is that she makes everyone feel happy when they’re around her.”

Combs has served NAR as national fundraising chair in 2003 and as regional vice president, Region VI, in 1997. She’s also headed the association’s Equal Opportunity, Education, and Public Policy committees. On a state level, Combs was president of the Michigan Association of REALTORS® in 1995 and of the Michigan Women’s Council of REALTORS® in 1986. She was voted Michigan REALTOR® of the Year in 2002.

Mariwyn Evans

Mariwyn Evans is a former REALTOR® Magazine writer and editor, covering both residential brokerage and commercial real estate topics.