Advocacy, community and the REALTOR® next door

by Debbie Pawlowicz

There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be a REALTOR®. It’s sometimes assumed that our jobs are strictly transactional interactions with homebuyers and homesellers. What people might not know is that REALTORS® often spend significant time working to better their neighborhoods through advocacy, community building and volunteerism.

Not only do we intimately know the cities and towns they work in, we speak to the residents on a day-to-day basis and recognize the wants and needs of each area. If you’re a REALTOR® yourself, you’ve probably done a lot of this firsthand. If you haven’t, or you’re interested in getting more involved, your REALTOR® association is a great place to start looking into opportunities. At Mainstreet, advocacy, community work and volunteering are all central to what it means to be a REALTOR®.

Policy is centered in the work REALTORS® do

During the pandemic, one of Mainstreet Organization of REALTORS®’ biggest successes was working with our state association to persuade Illinois that REALTORS® were essential workers. When offices shut down and schools closed, many individuals and families reassessed what they needed from a home. As people shifted to working and learning from home, they needed REALTORS® that they could trust to buy new properties safely and quickly. If we hadn’t worked with the government to ensure we could do our job, who knows how individuals and families would have navigated the homebuying and homeselling process, or if these critical services would have ground to a halt?

Beyond this COVID-specific goal, our policy work has three focal points. Taxes, fair and affordable housing, and improving the process of the transfer of property are central to our association’s advocacy work. These are also the ones that are most important to homebuyers and homesellers — we simply serve as their ambassador. From rent control to the inspection process, there are critically important policies we must act on to support homeowners and keep property, and the purchasing of property, affordable.

I’ve noticed that the biggest way communities change is through relationships. REALTORS® are often well-connected and can be a resource to the decision-makers because we know the needs of a community. We fight to be the voice of reason when speaking to elected officials, and we’ll continue to advocate for homeowners.

Community development is critical to our work

One of the things I’ve realized in my town is that community members take notice of REALTORS® if they uplift the community. I’ve seen community members come out and thank Mainstreet members for their work on projects — whether that’s putting in a playground or a landscaped parkway. When we build those kinds of connections and trust, it promotes REALTOR® relevance and shows that we have the best intentions of those we serve in mind.

Mainstreet’s Community Outreach Grants have given out $215,000 to 25 municipalities over the last two years. REALTORS® from communities throughout the Chicago suburbs apply for our grants when they identify a local project that they think could use investment. From building Little Libraries to planting 100 trees across the Chicagoland area last year, making communities a welcoming place for residents is just as important as helping them find homes.

One recent instance of this was a Mundelein REALTOR®, Luis Fuentes, who applied for the NAR Mainstreet Community Outreach Grant. Mainstreet and NAR gave $40,000 to help build a soccer field, a walking trail, benches and a garden in a previously vacant church lot. The day of the ribbon-cutting was one of the coldest days of 2021. And yet, countless community members came out to celebrate a new beacon of the neighborhood. It’s stories like these that make me proud to be a REALTOR®.

Volunteering is considered the status quo

NAR reported that 77% of broker-owners volunteered on a monthly basis for a median of 10 hours, followed by 66% of members at-large for a median of eight hours. This compares to just 6.1% of Americans volunteering on a regular basis!

This comes as no surprise to me. I’ve witnessed firsthand how invested REALTORS® are in giving back to their communities and building relationships along the way. This is because we want to improve the quality of life for those we serve — whether that’s inside or outside a property.

If you’re a new REALTOR® reading this, I hope I’ve inspired you to find new ways to participate in building stronger communities. The truth is, if you’re in this profession, you’re probably already doing a great job.

Debbie Pawlowicz, a principal broker and founder of DPG Real Estate, is the Mainstreet Organization of REALTORS® Board of Directors President-Elect.

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