Realtors Fight to Keep out bankers.(BUSINESS)

Article excerpt

Byline: Chris Baker, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

More than 7,000 real-estate agents have come to Washington this week to plot a strategy to keep banks out of their business.

Rules pending before the Federal Reserve Board and the Treasury Department would allow banks to offer the same services that real-estate firms now do, such as brokering home sales.

Legislation is pending in Congress to block those proposed rules.

"We see this as nothing less than a sea change in the way houses are bought and sold in this country," said Stephen K. Cook, spokesman for the National Association of Realtors, the industry's main trade group, which is lobbying against the proposal to allow banks into the real-estate business.

The issue is dominating the association's midyear legislative meeting in Washington. Between 7,000 and 8,000 of the group's members are in town this week, primarily to lobby Congress, Mr. Cook said.

At least 1,000 of the association's members will go to Capitol Hill today to meet with lawmakers.

The battle has been joined at a time when residential real estate is booming, despite a weak economy. A survey by the National Association of Business Economists this week found that two-thirds of economists credit the resilient housing market for reducing the severity of the recession.

Realtors say that banks would have an unfair advantage in the real-estate industry because they have special access to discount loans from the Federal Reserve and can raise low-cost, federally insured deposits.

Bankers say the proposal would make banks more competitive, pointing out that many real-estate firms already offer mortgage lending, title insurance and property insurance services. Often, real-estate firms do this through affiliated companies or subsidiaries.

"It's no secret that many realty firms are offering traditional financial services, and many agents and bankers are already working together in the first place," said Catherine Pulley, spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association, the banking industry's main trade group. …