DC Speaks: A Real Estate Group Takes Bankers' Side

Article excerpt

Bankers concerned that the National Association of Realtors might be winning the war to keep financial services companies out of real estate brokerage have been cheered by the arrival of an unexpected ally -- the Realty Alliance, a rival real estate trade group.

And oh, what an ally it is.

Richard Christopher, the alliance's chairman, considers the NAR's promotion of a bill to bar banks from offering brokerage services illogical, counterproductive, and a waste of time and political capital.

"We find it hypocritical and fundamentally wrong to ask that national bank subsidiaries be barred from real estate brokerage activity, while real estate brokerages operate mortgage banking, insurance, and title insurance businesses," he recently wrote in a letter to NAR president Martin Edwards Jr. "We believe, in fact, that consumers would benefit from the influx of capital that may result from nationally chartered banks entering this arena."

In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Christopher continued his offensive and argued that the NAR is making a big deal of a relatively minor issue.

"There are a lot bigger issues that the national association should be addressing, frankly," said Mr. Christopher, who is also the chief executive officer of Patterson-Schwartz & Associates Inc., a real estate company in Wilmington, Del.

As the NAR bill continues to gain momentum on Capitol Hill, his words are music to bankers' ears. Financial services lobbyists are using the Realty Alliance's dissenting position as ammunition against the bill, which so far has 187 sponsors in the House and eight in the Senate.

The Realty Alliance represents 62,000 real estate professionals from 45 firms, including Long and Foster and Prudential Northwest Properties. Mr. Christopher said all of its members also belong to the NAR and the vast majority oppose the NAR's efforts to block banks from their business.

(The Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Board have proposed -- but not yet finalized -- a regulation that would grant banks the power to broker real estate. …