Sue Vasquez has been a real estate agent in Osceola County for 15 years. She came to Tallahassee this week with a message for the Florida Legislature.
“To listen to us. Listen to us,” Vasquez said. “The things that are important to us as Realtors are also important to the community, to the home buyers, to the homeowners — preserving our property rights.”
About 800 agents from across Florida made the journey to Tallahassee this week for Great American Realtor Days at the state Capitol. It’s an opportunity for the realtors to meet their legislators and discuss the issues important to their profession.
After a full day of lobbying legislators, they gathered for a block party Wednesday night near the state Capitol to socialize and reflect on the achievements of the day.
“It’s been amazing,” said Melinda Vasquez of Destin. “It’s really interesting to me to see how all of this works. We got to meet with our representatives and our senator. I really do think things like this do make a difference.”
Chip Armstrong is a real estate agent from Palm Beach Gardens. He’s a veteran of the Realtors’ annual lobbying effort in Tallahassee. He’s found the event to be productive.
“There’s nothing like getting in front of somebody and talking face to face,” Armstrong said. “I mean in my business a lot of people do business on the Internet, but I know I can get somebody’s business if I can get in front of them for five minutes. There’s nothing like face to face.”
Florida Realtors head into the new legislative session with four top priorities they are asking state lawmakers to address..
“Every session, Florida Realtors stands ready to support homeownership initiatives and defend the private property rights of Floridians throughout the state,” says 2018 Florida Realtors President Christine Hansen, of Fort Lauderdale. “This Session is no different.”
Among those priorities is the reform of the assignment of benefits process (AOB). AOB was intended to help streamline the repair process to damaged homes by allowing contractors to directly deal with insurers. But, some contractors, especially roofers and water remediation companies, have abused the process by inflating prices.
The cases usually end up with the contractors filing lawsuits and the insurers settling out of court, with the legal costs of the case being passed on to all policyholders.
“In just 10 years we have seen 405 AOB cases balloon to 28,000, and the average AOB insurance claim is 50 percent more than non-AOB claims,” says Florida Realtors Public Policy Committee Vice Chair Tim Weisheyer.
The Realtors association is also calling on state lawmakers for another reduction in the business rent tax. The Legislature cut the sales on rent to 5.8 percent, but the realtors would like it reduced further. They say small businesses make up almost 99 percent of all Florida employers and are disproportionately impacted by the tax.
Florida Realtors are also pressing for legislation to protect homeowners who chose to use online platforms to rent their property as vacation rentals. Local communities have been enacting ordinances requiring inspections and fees for those property owners designed to discourage such rentals.
“Unfortunately, local governments see vacation rentals as a disruption to the community and are trying to discourage the practice by infringing on people’s property rights,” said 2018 Florida Realtors President-Elect Eric Sain. “We are urging the Legislature to step in and prevent property rights from being undermined.”
The Realtors are also calling on the Legislature to do more to increase affordable housing in the state. The National Association of Realtors ranks Florida as the sixth least affordable housing market in the nation. The realtors say if the state wants to encourage more people to come to Florida and build its economy, the state housing trust funds need to be directed to as many programs as possible to help people buy homes.