WisBusiness: Some real estate agents complain Walker policies hurting sales

Citing lost clients and recent deals that have fallen through, some Wisconsin real estate professionals say Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill will hinder the recovery of their struggling industry.

The pay cuts and potential job losses faced by state, local government and school workers are sure to dampen house-hunting and loan approvals for a group long considered solid prospects by mortgage lenders, said JoAnn Kane of Stark Company Realtors in Madison.

She was among dozens of real estate professionals who marched around the Capitol Saturday in protest of Walker’s actions. It was their second protest there within a month.

“I just lost three buyers in one week,” said Kane. “I don’t think this was an anticipated result of this, but it is affecting the entire economy.”

The state Wisconsin Realtors Association supported Walker in the election, but is not taking a position on the budget repair bill and collective bargaining. Some other real estate professionals say Walker’s efforts will help the business climate in the long run.

But others are making noise, contending Walker’s policies are hurting sales.

A newly created Facebook page, Realtors in Support of Public Employees, has topped 580 members, who’ve been trading stories of skittish buyers and angry clients who link the state’s real estate industry with Walker. At least two other similar Facebook groups have formed.

“The market has been fragile, but it was recovering — up to now,” said Michelle Yoo, who started the Facebook page with Jeannie Doyle, her colleague at Restaino & Associates Realtors of Madison. In an interview Friday, Yoo said, “I’m here at a buyers’ representative training class. Everyone I talk to is worried, even if they support Walker.”

“The working class is our bread and butter,” said Doyle. “Buyers will be afraid to do anything now.”

Doyle and others want the Wisconsin Realtors Association, which strongly supported Walker’s campaign, to rescind its support for him.

William Malkasian, WRA president, confirmed that some of the organization’s 13,000 members have called or e-mailed the WRA to question its support of Walker. “Our response to them is that we have a legitimate process that our board of directors uses to endorse candidates and that we have (taken) no position on the budget adjustment bill nor on collective bargaining,” he said.

At the same time, Malkasian said, “I don’t think there’s any question that the uncertainty, the fear, the loss of potential employment could have an impact on a selective market, no different than the elimination of the GM plant in Janesville, the elimination of Consolidated Paper in Wisconsin Rapids or the elimination of the AMC plant in Kenosha.”

Yoo and others say they can’t quit the WRA, because membership is the only way to access the Multiple Listing Service, a basic tool of doing business, she said. It also gives agents use of the trademarked “Realtor” designation. But members can opt out of the organization’s $35 annual political action fee.

Mike Ruzicka, president of the Greater Milwaukee Association of Realtors, a WRA affiliate, said Friday that only one member has called to complain about Walker’s actions.

“I have heard — in Madison, especially, where there’s a high concentration of public employees — that several people there put their purchases on hold or in some ways scaled it back…because apparently the budget’s going to cut several thousand jobs from the state as well,” he said.

But Ruzicka said so far, the Walker administration “has been really wonderful to work with” in terms of expressing support for rural land issues and other matters crucial to the state’s real estate industry.

Not all real estate professionals are pessimistic about losing sales.

Ken Olander, a real estate agent with Century 21 in Janesville, says state budget cuts can’t do much more to hurt the market in his area, where thousands of private sector jobs have vanished. “Home prices are already so distressed,” he said.

Mike Manske of Re/Max Realty 100 in Brookfield is optimistic that Walker’s budget will help Wisconsin’s business climate. “There were about 1,500 people going to lose their jobs. They’re not going to lose their jobs now in Wisconsin, thank you to Walker,” said Manske. “You can’t lose a sale unless somebody lost a job.”

Scott Freimuth of NorWisRealty.com in Rhinelander acknowledged that he, too, had buyers who were looking at properties change their minds since the collective bargaining measure was passed. But he’s taking a wait-and-see approach as to whether that will be a trend.

And he’s trying to stay neutral politically. “Both sides are right and both sides are wrong,” he said.

— By Kay Nolan

For WisBusiness.com

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