Wendy Cole is the managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Authenticity Is His Game
NAR President Vince Malta’s leadership vision is driven by a steadfast commitment to personal and professional integrity.
January - February
If you want to understand what makes leaders tick, get to know their passions. Vince Malta, CIPS, C2EX, 2020 president of the National Association of REALTORS® has many, including mechanical watches and head-turning sports cars. But apart from real estate and family, one pursuit supersedes all others. It’s baseball. And here’s the twist: Malta likes baseball in the way Stephen Hawking cared about outer space or Julia Child cared about French cuisine—that is to say deeply and expertly. His fervor extends beyond his lifelong love of his hometown San Francisco Giants. As a young adult in the late 1980s, Malta became fascinated with the history of the national pastime and then with a singular aspect of the game: prized Major League bats, Louisville Sluggers used by the likes of Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle. “It was very interesting to collect a piece of history,” he says in a low-key manner that belies the intensity of his interest.
After Malta had acquired a few precious wooden keepsakes, he made a troubling discovering: A bat he’d purchased—purportedly used in a game and signed by Jackie Robinson—had actually been manufactured 17 years after the Hall of Famer’s retirement from baseball and a year after Robinson’s death. “I started doing research,” he says. “There were a couple of experts who knew about baseball bats but were also selling them,” he said. “They wound up authenticating the very bats they were selling. In real estate, that’s called a conflict of interest.”
If Malta was going to invest in bats, he needed to educate himself. With his business partner John Taube, Malta scoured decades-old factory records supplied by Hillerich & Bradsby Co., the Kentucky manufacturer of Louisville Sluggers. Over time, Malta and Taube became the experts that collectors consulted to determine a bat’s authenticity and provenance. Malta has written a book and co-authored another that together serve as trusted guides for bat collectors around the world.
His Secret Sauce
For Malta, helping collectors ensure the authenticity of a bat is akin to serving the interests of his real estate clients and the 1.4 million members of NAR. In fact, he wants to make clear that his commitment to integrity and transparency started with real estate.
“People often ask me how my hobby influences my real estate business, but this question goes about it the wrong way. I apply my real estate knowledge and experience to the hobby,” he says.
Like the sale of baseball memorabilia, Malta says, “the practice of real estate was once the wild, wild west, before the advent of an organized industry and the Code of Ethics more than 100 years ago. We need to honor that history while navigating the association through changes that are enhancing—but also unsettling—our business,” he says.
With technologies and business models evolving faster than you can say “bitcoin,” and high-stakes issues like housing finance reform and the future of flood insurance playing out in Washington, NAR must play the long game, Malta says, by which he means that issues are rarely if ever resolved in a given president’s term. The recent release of new FHA condo rules, which should expand housing access, especially for first-time buyers, followed more than a decade of advocacy work on the part of NAR members, he says.
“People often ask me how my hobby influences my real estate business, but this question goes about it the wrong way. I apply my real estate knowledge and experience to the hobby.” —Vince Malta.
In the 366 days afforded him this leap year, Malta will employ a time-tested strategy: listening. He’s recognized by colleagues as someone who informs his views by absorbing what others around him think rather than instinctively pushing others to agree with him. “The power of listening is in working together to solve problems,” he says. And by working together, he doesn’t just mean within NAR or state and local REALTOR® associations. One of NAR’s strategic priorities in 2020 is to build stronger alliances with other housing industry groups, including affiliated organizations like the CCIM Institute, which serves commercial practitioners. The core work of an association—monitoring and advocating in the legislative and regulatory arena, helping members adapt to business and technology changes, and tracking the market forces affecting REALTORS® and their customers—is work best done in collaboration, he says. “The decisions we make affect people’s daily lives. We take that very seriously on the [NAR] leadership team and try to make sure that when we act, we act in the best interest of our members and ultimately the consumer.”
More than that, Malta says, “I want members to know we are there for them—but I also want them to know we need them.” For two years, NAR’s leadership team has used the phrase “Own It!” as a rallying cry to convey to NAR members a sense of empowerment and responsibility for the future of the industry. Individual resolve, combined with unity of purpose, Malta says, has been and always will be the underpinning of NAR’s and REALTORS®’ success.
Malta has made his own imprint on the Own It! theme, telling members gathered for NAR’s leadership summit in August and annual conference in November, “We need to Own Who We R.” The phrase is not only a statement about authenticity but also a nod to NAR’s multiplatform consumer advertising campaign, “That’s Who We R.” One of the campaign’s goals is to bring dimension to the iconic block R that has symbolized NAR membership for the past 47 years. The campaign launched last February and has served up more than 2 billion consumer impressions to date. “It has been tremendously successful, raising public awareness about REALTORS® as community champions while bolstering our members’ professional pride,” Malta says. That’s Who We R continues in 2020 with new creative assets focused on the expertise REALTORS® bring to the table.
Malta’s career in real estate has a deep familial foundation. He learned the business from his father Joe. As a teen, Malta supported Joe’s business, sorting multiple listing service cards (before the MLS was computerized or even printed in thick volumes), collecting rents from tenants, and sweeping hallways, he says. If his early exposure to real estate was an accident of birth, his father’s career arose from a literal accident. In the early 1960s, Joe Malta was a delivery driver for a cottage cheese company. One day, while he was driving his downtown route, a city bus cut him off, sending him into the front window of what is now Neiman Marcus’ department store in San Francisco’s Union Square.
Joe Malta, now 84, recalls waking up in his hospital room and thinking, “There’s got to be a better way to make a living.” Before long, he’d earned a real estate license, and after a few years as an agent at busy Skyline Realty, in 1969, he started Columbia Realty with “five partners, a card table, and a single telephone.” It grew to be a brokerage with 150 agents. Meanwhile, Joe was getting involved in the local REALTOR® association, helping to create the first multiple listing service in the Bay Area in the early 1970s.
In 1979, Joe founded Malta & Co. It remains a tight-knit family operation with Vince as CEO. Joe still comes to work most days, though these days he wryly refers to himself as the “head janitor.” Vince’s mom Elena was the brokerage secretary for more than two decades, and his sister Debra has long handled property and office management at the company. The unassuming office, tucked between a medical office and a florist on a busy street near the Presidio Park in San Francisco, has remained small and independent, even as the local market took off like a rocket. “We’re a small business with a big reach,” Vince Malta says. Multifamily investment property is a primary niche for the Maltas, who own and manage 15 buildings, both residential and commercial, with about 125 units in all.
“It’s amazing when your mom and dad stop being Mom and Dad, and they become your best friends.”—Vince Malta
The Malta family has mastered the art of working together effectively without letting business issues interfere with personal relationships. Their secret? An abiding respect for the roles and responsibilities of each family member. Vince Malta isn’t reticent about describing their close bond. “It’s amazing when your mom and dad stop being Mom and Dad, and they become your best friends,” he says.
Malta’s wife Julie is part of the real estate world, too. The two met in an aerobics class in 1988 and discovered their common professional interests. Julie worked in mortgage lending and focuses on the wholesale side now. They became fast friends, soon began dating, and married that same year. They’ve encouraged their sons Kevin, 27, Stephen, 25, and Andrew, 23, to follow their own passions. Kevin works for Google as a software engineer. Andrew has a similar role at Apple. And Stephen, whose work dovetails with real estate, is a community development consultant for the nonprofit Bay Area Council. Andrew says he admires his father’s ability to go deep into whatever subject he’s discussing, whether it’s San Francisco’s rent control laws, the Giants’ chances for a championship, or the pedigree of a baseball bat. “The ability to go from ‘I know nothing but I’m interested’ to ‘I know everything now on this topic,’ that’s something to model. I definitely look up to him.”
Moving at the Speed of Business
Malta’s analytical mind made him a natural for association leadership. He has testified before Congress on behalf of NAR and served as an appointed vice president to NAR presidents in 2010 and 2011. “I felt very much at home with my involvement with public policy from the start,” says Malta, who holds a bachelor’s and a law degree from the University of San Francisco and passed the California state bar exam in 1984. He served as San Francisco Association of REALTORS® president in 1993 and California Association of REALTORS® president in 2006.
Julie Malta says her husband’s tremendous work ethic is what carries him through challenging times. “Vince likes to underpromise and overdeliver.”
There’s no doubt among those who know Malta best that the association is in good hands.
“Vince is a super guy for this position,” says Walt Baczkowski, CEO of the San Francisco Association of REALTORS®. Baczkowski notes Malta’s intellect, capacity to remain calm under pressure, and ability to connect with others. “He remembers that one little thing that really can make somebody’s day just by saying it. He always wants to leave everybody with a positive experience if he can.”
Alan Canas, founder of the Bay Area’s InSync Real Estate, teams with Malta frequently for residential sales. He attests to the work ethic and collegiality of the association’s new president. “When Vince looks out for his clients, it’s always with a passion to make sure they’re taken care of,” he says. “Vince is always striving to learn more, and he wants to share what he learns with me and with clients. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Malta’s answer to why he wants to be president is characteristically humble. “People can achieve so much more by working together than as individuals; I want the opportunity to be part of that.”
Pushing back on the common notion that people aspire to national leadership “to give back to the industry that’s been so good to me,” Malta has a different perspective: “Being president is going to be difficult for me in the sense that I enjoy working behind the scenes and I don’t need the accolades. I really just want to work with a great group of people.” In the 2020 Leadership Team, he has a group that’s diverse in experiences and backgrounds but that shares the gifts of intelligent, compassionate leadership, he says. No substitute for living with integrity.
As his baseball bat passion bears out, Malta has the orderly, methodical mind to see gargantuan tasks through to completion. He’s the rare leader who’s skilled at both identifying big-picture challenges and working over the details.
“We need to do everything we can to help members keep up with a changing industry,” he says, “and I’m confident we’ll do that because the human role our members play in their communities and in working with their clients is indispensable.”
Keeping that message front and center starts with reinforcing the value of the REALTOR® brand. That’s the work not just of NAR’s leadership or it’s national ad campaign but of every REALTOR®.
As in the bat authentication business, Malta says, there is no substitute for personal and professional integrity.
“It’s not enough to just tell people you are a REALTOR®,” he says. “You have to prove to them what that means every day by showing them what you do and who you are.”
Vince Malta on NAR’s Strategic Priorities for 2020
1. Retaining REALTORS®’ role as the best source of property information for consumers.
“REALTORS® are the makers of the market. Our listings become data and that data powers the MLS and all those who rely on its accuracy. The system wouldn’t be as good as it is without us.”
2. Driving community development.
“If REALTORS® aren’t the drivers of change in the public policy arena, who will be? Who will be on the front lines challenging rent control, growth control, and burgeoning taxes on services?”
3. Collaborating for positive impacts on housing equality and affordability.
“Most Americans still view homeownership as part of the American dream, and we have an important role in advocating on their behalf to ensure that it is a national priority not just for the lucky few but for all who understand the responsibility of ownership and who strive for it.”
4. Enhancing the value of membership.
“With personalized programs like the Commitment to Excellence, we’re heightening the REALTOR® value proposition by helping members provide the best possible service to consumers and to one another.”
C2EX is a benefit of membership that includes a self-assessment tool and a personalized path toward proficiency in various elements of professionalism.
The association is also bringing value to members through technology: REALTORS® Property Resource is a member benefit that provides comprehensive data, analytics, and client-friendly reports on residential and commercial properties across the country. In addition, NAR operates a strategic investment group, Second Century Ventures, that has invested capital in 15 companies. SCV also operates the Reach technology accelerator, which offers mentoring and exposure to dozens of startups.
“NAR is leveraging these tech partnerships to stay ahead of disruption,” Malta says, “and so we can stay focused on making REALTORS® more successful and profitable.”
Vince Malta, C2EX, CIPS, San Francisco
Charlie Oppler, AHWD, C2EX, Franklin Lakes, N.J.
First Vice President
Leslie Rouda Smith, ABR, AHWD, e-PRO, CIPS, CRB, CRS, PMN, Plano, Texas
John Flor, ABR, C2EX, CRS, e-PRO, GRI, RSPS, Chetek, Wis.
Immediate Past President
John Smaby, C2EX, CRS, GRI, Edina, Minn.
Vice President of Advocacy
Christine Hansen, C2EX, GRI, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Vice President of Association Affairs
Mabél Guzmán, AHWD, Chicago
Chief Executive Officer
Bob Goldberg, e-PRO, Chicago
Updated: January 20, 2021