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Washington Realtors Spend Big in Olympia

Guess what group is the #3 lobbiest in Olympia so far this year (by dollars spent)? If you guessed “the real estate industry” (primarily the Washington Association of Realtors), you are correct. Since January, they have spent 1.85 million dollars to convince your legislature to do… well, I’m not sure what they want them to do.

Lobbyists have plied politicians with nearly $2 million of wining, dining and contributions so far this year. They also fattened their own wallets with $21.8 million in pay and expense money for their efforts to influence state policies and spending.

The top spending categories in Washington were much the same as they were in past years, with the real estate and development sector moving up to third-highest spender, compared with eighth-highest last year.

I guess they have a lot of money to burn. So what exactly are they trying to accomplish? Let’s ask a Realtor.

Sam Pace, a Realtor and legislative steering committee member for the Washington Association of Realtors, said that was no accident.

“Here’s the deal. We’ve got education, health care and the Puget Sound Initiative as top-of-mind, front-of-radar-screen issues of the Legislature,” he said. “We needed to get the housing affordability crisis higher on the legislators’ radar screen.”

Okay, so they racheted up their spending to go from 8th-biggest spender to 3rd so they could complain about a “crisis” that they helped create. Great, then what?

Pace said that because housing prices have skyrocketed, only about 2 percent of the homes on the market in King County are affordable to families who are making the median income or less.

“In January there were a total of nine city homes that were available in Seattle that were affordable to a family making the median wage or less,” Pace said.

I’m still missing the part where spending 1.85 million dollars was necessary. You would have to be pretty willfully ignorant not to know that homes have become ridiculously unaffordable in Seattle. What are they really trying to accomplish down there?

The association spent $1.3 million on an ad campaign to raise public awareness as well as its own profile in Olympia. [That is a reference to It’s a Priority.]

Pace said it worked.

“We made real progress in helping to elevate the level of debate and the understanding that housing is an issue and there’s something we can do something about for working families,” he said.

I’m not really that much of a political junkie, so I’m having a hard time translating phrases like “elevate the debate” and “the understanding that housing is an issue” into anything meaningful. Seriously, what exactly are they working toward with all that money? Were any specific bills proposed? Have they suggested any alleged solutions to the “crisis”?

I want to hear what specific actions the Washington Realtors would like the legislature to take that they think will somehow magically make housing more affordable. In my experience, government “solutions” to problems like these usually involve pouring money into the demand side of the equation, with subsidies, grants, and loan programs. How they expect to help home buying to become affordable by increasing demand for it is beyond me.

The only government intervention that I can think of that wouldn’t make the problem worse would be to decrease demand by enforcing stricter lending standards. But I’ll bet that isn’t what the Washington Realtors have in mind as they “elevate the debate.” Anyone want to take me up on that wager?

(Chris McGann, Seattle P-I, 07.01.2007)

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About The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market. Tim also hosts the weekly improv comedy sci-fi podcast Dispatches from the Multiverse.

17 comments:

  1. 1
    deejayoh says:

    I don’t get how the same organization that is the cheerleader for “real estate is a great investment” and “it only goes up” is in Olympia spending money telling the legislature about an “affordability crisis”.

    I’m sure they can spell hypocritical, but I’m not sure they know what it means

  2. 2
    Denny Retrograde says:

    The “It’s a Priority” hokum is just a hail mary to gut the GMA. They say removing GMA controls will create more land to develop, thus lowering prices…everywhere!

  3. 3
    david losh says:

    Thank you once again for a very timely post.
    The Board of Realtors is the lackey (sp?) of the Master Builders Association. We, in the trades, call them the Masturbators (sp?) Association. These are your college guys who need to squeeeeeze every dollar out of every housing unit they build.
    They want legislation to build cheaper, faster, housing units. Housing units are those tiki tacky town houses that are now sitting on prime Real Estate around the country. Municipalities can rubber stamp these projects without thought and generate tax dollars they can use to hire more rubber stampers to generate more tax dollars. The Legislator (sp?) has to be loving that.
    Second, the Mastubators need to free up more land to build condos and town houses on. The federal government has put restrictions on wet lands, streams, forests, and farm land. Maybe the farm land is a county and state thing but the Masturbators need it. We need more condos and town houses because the Masturbators are not making enough money fast enough to generate the tax dollars for the city, state, and county.
    The Masturbators are contributing to a trade off in destroying wetlands, stream, forests, and farm land by “Building Green.” They are building Green to give the commie, pinko, tree hugging bastards something to think about. They’re using less trees by building with fewer structural studs and using the press board glued laminate, press board beams to be covered by the glued together pressed board sheathing. Any way the are using less lumber, more plastic and strapping everything together with metal bands for that earthquake thing. To be clear, because when we are talking about the Masturbators it’s important to be clear, they are using less materials, to build faster, to create those housing units for bigger profits so the legislators can generate more tax dollars.
    In a nut shell that’s why the Board of Realtors is paying those Realtor dues to our government officials. After all, every housing unit is a Real Estate commission.
    Remember, they are building Green!!!

  4. 4
    TJ_98370 says:

    Could the WAR be lobbying state government with regards to land use issues, or is that controlled by county government?

  5. 5
    Ken says:

    They want the government to build cheap housing that they can sell. :)

  6. 6
    rose-colored-coolaid says:

    “Could the WAR be lobbying state government with regards to land use issues, or is that controlled by county government?”

    “There is no fighting in the WAR room.” Dr. Strangelove.

    Coincidently, it would be nice to join the Washington Association of Realitards just to actually use that quote in context for once.

  7. 7
    explorer says:

    From the comments and what I have seen, WAR’s idea of sustainability is positively 1984ish. Use less, sell more, rebuild in 5 years or less when things fall apart –they fought off mandatory home warranties with some of that lobbying money, as well as the sneaky deal to kill the condo conversion bill at the 11th hour.

    Wash, rinse, repeat….

  8. 8
    wreckingbull says:

    Explorer hit the nail on the head.

    The end goal of the WAR is keep sales volume high. Without sales volume, they go broke. Build cheap and often, keep that 6% racket going…

  9. 9
    Eric Arrrrr says:

    “Affordability crisis,” “housing bubble.” Tomayto, tomahto.

    The present situation can resolve itself through price correction, or through the introduction of additional purchasing power into the market. The only difference between an “affordability crisis” and a “housing bubble” is in how each term respectively implies a different resolution to the problem.

    If you want to understand what the building industry is doing in Olympia, look for things that will put more purchasing power in the hands of buyers. A few wild guesses at what might be in store:

    – Increased eligibility of buyers to qualify for housing subsidies
    – Increased eligibility of certain classes of properties to be purchased with housing subsidies
    – Government-backed loans for purchasers
    – Tax breaks for borrowers and/or homeowners

    etc., etc., etc

  10. 10
    Alan says:

    Remember, they are building Green!!!

    I thought that meant they were building with fresh lumber that has not been given time to dry. That way after the house is built all of the joints shift and water gets trapped within insulated walls as the lumber dries out.

  11. 11
    Bri in Seattle says:

    Translation as someone said in an earlier post = remove the GMA, thus resulting in subdivisions from the Sound to Snoqualmie Pass and all the way to Burlington with no land left untouched.
    My opinion of the GMA is to make it like Vancouver BC’s where cities cannot petition a board to expand it because they gave permits out to fill it all up with poorly planned SFH developments. Make it a permanent border where nothing resembling an urban area can be built ever.

  12. 12
    mr beeth says:

    I hate when those crappy developers say “building green!”. It’s like “all natural” was in the 70’s and 80’s, it means nothing. As a licensed architect and LEED accredited professional, I know a little something about how to correctly build things. Actual green building means sometimes deciding NOT to build, maybe reusing a building. Anyway really doing it is not some hippy tree hugger crap, it’s about responsible use of land, materials and energy to build something of quality.
    Sorry, that was a little off topic but that’s a hot button for me.

  13. 13
    softwarengineer says:

    ITS TIME THE KING COUNTY COUNCIL (SNOHOMISH & PIERCE TOO) WERE MADE UP OF MEMBERS FROM THE EAST PORTIONS; WHERE EXCESS GROWTH IS PLANNED

    I’ll name a couple roads and I bet all you bloggers can relate pragmatically to the facts. 128TH in Everett (to I-5), Kent Kangley in Kent/Covington (to I-5 and 167). 128TH is an excellent example, but 164TH isn’t much better for the same reason; the Snohomish Council Buffoons keep adding OVERPOPULATION housing developments in east county cul-de-sacs that have TOTALLY PLUGGED UP the freeway access. It sometimes takes an hour just to go 5 miles down 128TH to get to the I-5 parking lot. Kent Kangley is the same way [not as bad, but getting there fast], but I’d add James St and 212th too.

    The King County Council members MOSTLY live in older Seattle or Bellevue, areas that can’t add the OVERPOPULATION new developments they approve and the roads are city blocks zoned with multiple accesses to freeway; NOT ONE OR TWO FRIGGIN ROADS FOR A MILLION CARS TO JAM ON TO. Kent Kangley was built for a few farms, not another Seattle.

    On the East Coast this type of new housing development authorization in the Seattle area is TOTALLY ILLEGAL. You can’t add new housing developments without building YOUR OWN ROAD TO THE FREEWAY!!!!

    But our King County Council Buffoons all want OPEN BORDER POPULATION for the east county. We’re biggotted if we disagree with them.

  14. 14
    rose-colored-coolaid says:

    Better yet, let’s copy the ancient Romans. When they determined a location was ideal for building a city, they would evaluate its resources. How much water was available, how much arable land, etc. Then they built a wall encompassing the size of city that could be supported. Then they built the city itself. Of course, in those days a wall worked because you didn’t want to be caught outside the wall if a war started.

    I am normally against laws that restrict the rights of private citizens, but I think laws that reasonably prevented sprawl would be worth it. Maybe a minimum lot size of 10 acres outside of ‘city limits’, with massively reduced ability to expand city limits or build new cities.

  15. 15
    redmondjp says:

    rose-colored-coolaid said:

    “I am normally against laws that restrict the rights of private citizens, but I think laws that reasonably prevented sprawl would be worth it. Maybe a minimum lot size of 10 acres outside of ‘city limits’, with massively reduced ability to expand city limits or build new cities.”

    That’s exactly what we have now, and it’s called the GMA. That’s why the WAR and MBA want to gut it.

  16. 16
    Demersus says:

    I just did a quick calculation of my monthly bills vs. my monthly salary. I live alone; rent a 1-bd duplex w/ garage in West Seattle. Including a child support payment, a few credit accounts and utilities, all of my bills are paid using less than 38% of my gross income. And I earn a bit less than median for a single male in the 35 to 45 age range.

  17. 17
    Jane Davis says:

    As a real estate agent, I have always belonged to a company that does not pay extra for for its agents to be “REALTORS”. It’s all or nothing–you can’t be the only agent in an office who chooses not to join. I think it’s $500/yr but you do get a really nice ‘R’ to pin on your lapel. Sorry, but I think it’s a total rip off. Many agents toe the party line and say we have to pay for it since they are like our “union”. No thank you.
    About 60% of real estate agents rent! That’s from a non scientific poll done by a title person I know. This is a great site.

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