New Illinois Realtors president shares his 2018 plans

by Blake Boldt

Like a mathematician, film director or NFL quarterback, Matt Difanis, the 2018 president of Illinois Realtors, takes a tremendous amount of pride in determining a unique angle in order to find the best result.

“I approach my new role from a slightly different perspective,” he says.

Prior to this role with Illinois Realtors, Difanis had made a significant impact in the real estate industry on the local, state and national levels. He acted as president of the Champaign County Association of Realtors in 2012, chaired multiple committees for the Illinois Realtors, and served on the National Association of Realtors Social Media board. He is currently a member of the Business Issues Policy Committee and the NAR Board of Directors.

These experiences have given him an even greater ability to communicate the value of Realtors to the public at large. For today’s buyers and sellers, the confidence of having a trusted professional on their side remains invaluable, he says.

“In many cases, buyer clients will walk into a home and say to their Realtor that it doesn’t look anything like they saw on Zillow or some other website. Even with all the new technology available, there is still no substitute for in-person showings with a Realtor who can be a community or neighborhood expert and help them find the right home,” he says.

Difanis takes his quick ascent to the top of Illinois real estate in stride, and one of his primary goals is to help Realtors be equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in today’s dynamic industry.

“I know what it’s like to be the new guy, having only been involved with Illinois Realtors since 2011. That’s not really too long ago,” he says. “Recently, I was leading a state caucus, and I tried to be mindful when speaking to the audience, so I gave a quick orientation to first-time attendees and help them understand exactly what we do and how we could help them.”

Uncertainty on a national scale

Difanis expects for the housing market to hold steady in 2018, and expresses confidence in the ability of Chicagoland Realtors to adapt to new challenges and opportunities, citing the 2007-08 economic crisis as a time when their resilience was tested.

“Realtors are extraordinarily resourceful — they’re survivors, and they will shift to meet the needs of the market,” he says.

“In Chicago and the suburbs, we’re sensitive to overheated housing values, but don’t anticipate any major increases,” he adds.

Now that Congress has passed sweeping tax reform, the National Association of Realtors warns that the bill could have a negative effect on middle-class homeowners. Difanis acknowledges that Chicagoland could experience ramifications from its passage.

“There have been significant concerns throughout our industry about tax reform,” he says. “What we are choosing to focus on right now are the positives. In the original plan, there had not been key provisions such as mortgage interest deductibility, capital taxes deductibility and the 1031 tax-deferred exchange.

“The sad reality is that if there’s a significant impact in Illinois, it will be felt in Chicagoland. I have concerns about how tax reform will affect this area. If there’s a $10,000 cap on the mortgage interest deduction, many middle-class households will be affected.”

Difanis emphasizes the value of the Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC) and encourages Realtors to support the committee so that it can educate elected officials on tax reform and other relevant issues that affect the real estate industry.

“When I first became involved with the Illinois Realtors, I appreciated how well they put an emphasis on important matters such as advocacy and government affairs,” he says. “The tax reform battle underscores the need for RPAC investments and for our members to be engaged in the Realtor party. We have the ability to mobilize resources — with the credibility and the financial war chest — to continue making our advocacy efforts.”

Reaching a new audience

In his term as president, Difanis wants to offer greater opportunities to two groups in particular: the millennial and minority populations.

While millennial homeownership is at an all-time low — 31 percent — Difanis points to several housing surveys that reveal younger generations still believe in the typical American dream, including homeownership. And he understands the economic reality and the unique pressures felt by this population.

“Some millennials don’t quite have that confidence that they’re going to stay in one place, or they’re looking for the next career stepping stone. Homeownership may not be a priority for them yet,” he says. “Plus, they are facing significant student loan debt, and have lost out on a decade of wealth building as a result.”

Difanis hopes to build stronger connections with minority populations like some other industry associations. The Asian Real Estate Association of America, the National Association of Real Estate Professionals and the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) have experimented with alternative credit scoring models to accommodate some minority populations that don’t fit into the traditional credit models, Difanis says.

“In my speech at the NAR conference, I noted that with absolute uncertainty there will be a minority-majority in less than 20 years. Building partnerships with multicultural groups is essential to our success,” he says. “We are depriving ourselves by not performing outreach to these communities. Homeownership among African-Americans is barely registering as half of the homeownership among whites. These communities stand to be marginalized. NAREB has set a goal of having 2 million new African-American homeowners in the next five years.”

That focus on inclusion is a hallmark of his outreach to the Realtor community.

“The biggest thing I want to accomplish as president of Illinois Realtors is to encourage members of all backgrounds to step forward and have their voices heard,” he says. “Most of our members are based in the Chicago area, so it’s my goal to become a more familiar face here. I’ve forged many friendships and had compelling conversations in a short amount of time. I’m looking forward to the year ahead.”

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