Realtors group imposes $50 fee

One of the most powerful interest groups in state politics wants extra cash from its members to continue fighting the land transfer tax and other issues.

The N.C. Association of Realtors started this month demanding one-time fees of at least $50 from each of its 43,000 members. And some members are pushing back.

Opponents argue that if they don't pay the assessment, which will increase to $70 if it's not paid before Sept. 30, they will lose access to a key database that helps members of the trade association buy and sell homes.

The association wants to “extort that money from us and push a political agenda, whether we support it or reject it,” said Carlton Brown of Raleigh, an association member who likes neither the transfer tax nor the assessment.

“Either you pay it or you lose your career.”

The payment, along with a permanent $25 dues increase approved last month by the association's governing board, should generate at least $3 million through 2009. New revenues will go to a special fund for advocating on real estate issues.

The higher dues are part of the association's larger goal to raise $10 million for advocacy by 2014.

“We certainly needed to make sure we had ongoing funds,” said Tim Kent, the association's executive director. “To get our message out to the public, it's an expensive proposition.”

It has largely been a successful proposition, particularly on the land transfer tax.

The Realtors failed last year to prevent the General Assembly from agreeing to allow counties, with local voter approval, to raise the transfer tax on land transactions from the current 0.2 percent of the land's value to 0.6 percent. The change would increase the transfer tax by $800 on a $200,000 home. Counties would keep the extra revenues.

But when that effort failed, the association shifted to opposing the tax in local elections.

So far, 20 local elections have been held in 19 counties since last fall. The tax was defeated in each election, many by wide margins.

Now the group's Issues Mobilization Fund is low on money — about $263,000 — after spending more than $1 million since fall 2007 to fight all 20 referenda. The fund funneled money to local Realtor groups and helped pay for television ads that labeled the idea as a “home tax” that would discourage home ownership.

The association says it also needs money to prepare for future issues such as ordinances preventing construction on mountain slopes and a tax on real estate services.

If association members refuse to pay the extra fees, they could be denied access to the Multiple Listing Service, a local database that allows Realtors to share information between potential buyers and sellers.

“With no MLS access,” Brown said, “you really can't buy or sell houses.”

Brown has a blog urging other Realtors to complain about the change. A majority of the more than 100 postings as of Tuesday opposed the mandatory increases.