September 10, 2017

Realtors® step up for Harvey's victims and good public policy


Hurricane Harvey established itself as a historical weather disaster, and the toll is still unfolding. On a more positive side, the same can be said for relief efforts. And the Realtor® community has stepped up on multiple fronts. They're part of a greater American heroism narrative – the people who unselfishly volunteer their time and money to help mute the effects of natural disasters.

2017 NETAR President


The Realtor® Relief Foundation (RRF) is a prime example. When a major disaster strikes, the Foundation has one goal: to help families that have endured the unimaginable loss. It was there for Nashville flood victims and more recently the Gatlinburg wildfires victims. Currently, it is coordinating efforts for relief in Gulf Coast cities and in the greater Houston area. RRF is unique because it doesn't use contributions to defray administrative or other costs. Instead, 100% of all contributions go to disaster relief.  Donations can be made at 

Another major effort that Harvey brought to the forefront is the efforts for the renewal and reforms of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). It expires on Sept. 30 and Realtors® are working closely with federal regulators and members of Congress to clear the way for the private market to take hold and improve both access and affordability for consumers. The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) also works with other groups like the National Homebuilders' Association and the National Mortgage Bankers' Association to protect property rights and the real estate economy.

NAR President William E. Brown, thinks the failure to renew NFIP would deal significant damage to current policy-holding property owners, as well as threaten property sales and the broader housing market.

"When the NFIP expired in 2010, over 1,300 home sales were disrupted every day as a result. That's over 40,000 every month. Flood insurance is required for a mortgage in the 100-year floodplain, but without access to the NFIP, buyers simply couldn't get a mortgage or vital protection from the No. 1 cause of loss of property and life: flooding.

"This problem affects far more than coastal communities, and prospective homeowners aren't the only ones at risk. Policyholders in over 22,000 communities across the country depend on the NFIP to protect homes and businesses from torrential rain, swollen rivers and lakes, snowmelt, failing infrastructure, as well as storm surges and hurricanes. When that lifeline is cut off, the NFIP can't issue new policies or renew existing residential or commercial policies that expire.

"The NFIP isn't perfect, and reforms are needed. We will continue working closely with everyone involved to achieve those reforms," he said in a recent article on the issue.

Of course, there is opposition to renewal and the program itself.  One that is getting a lot of attention came in a USA Today op-ed piece written by James Bovard, author of "Public Policy Hooligan" and a member of USA Today's Board of Contributors.

An example he uses to drive home his "Dear Texas, how many times do we have to rebuild the same house? (You're next Florida)" message is the case of one Houston home that "NFIP has paid to rebuild 16 times in 18 years – almost a million dollars to perpetually restore a house worth less than $120,000."

Such cases are an example of needed reforms like better food maps  – not a reason to let NFIP expire.

A current National Association of Realtors® (NAR) lobbying effort for renewal addressed that this way.

"Comprehensive reform needs to make critical improvements to the NFIP including increased funds for mitigation activities, caps on overall premium increases, improved claim, and mapping processes, as well as removing hurdles for more private market participation in the flood insurance market. Collectively these improvements will benefit both homeowners and taxpayers. 

"Over 5 million homeowners in 22,000 communities around the country rely on the NFIP to provide flood insurance. Without NFIP coverage home sales, in areas where flood insurance is required, will be delayed or even canceled. The National Association of REALTORS estimates that past lapses of the program have effected as many as 40,000 transactions a month nationally."

It's comforting to know that while the political and policy aspects play out relief efforts by both the public and private sectors are ongoing in epic proportions. It balances the political rhetoric. And for the Realtor® community that has and continues to step up with donations and volunteer time, it's an affirmation that Realtors® are always at the forefront of community involvement.

Eric Kistner is the 2017 president of the Northeast Tennessee Association of Realtors®. The real estate education and trade group is the voice for real estate in the Tri-Cities and has over 1,200 local Realtor® members and over 100 affiliates.