Baltimore-area Realtors to sharpen skills at convention opening Wednesday 135 exhibitors, 14 seminars set


Its motto is "Arrive at 8 a.m. sharp. Leave at 5:45 sharper."

The Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors' seventh annual convention takes place Wednesday, and this year, more than ever, the board is emphasizing education, says Mary Ellen Joyner, an agent with O'Conor, Piper & Flynn and vice chairwoman of the convention.

More than 1,500 real estate professionals are expected to attend the meeting at the Baltimore Convention Center, as well as 135 exhibitors.

"It's really an opportunity for Realtors to find out what's current in their field," says Lois Mark, the board's education director. The event will feature 14 seminars ranging from equal housing to antitrust law.

"The knowledge that's required on the part of the real estate practitioner is far higher than it was five years ago, and the public is far more demanding in terms of the information they want," says Arthur Davis III, the new president of the Maryland Association of Realtors.

For example, as of Jan. 1, home sellers in Maryland will be required to disclose defects in their properties -- anything from a leaky basement to a problem roof -- to prospective buyers. In response to a law passed this year by the General Assembly, the Maryland Real Estate Commission is drafting seller disclosure forms.

Another key issue, known as "buyer agency," involves the growing trend on the part of homebuyers to use agents who are legally bound to represent them, not the seller, in a transaction, Mr. Davis said.

Most buyers use agents who, working closely with the buyers, nevertheless are bound to represent the interests of the seller.

Nancy Hubble, who will be installed as president of the local Realtors group at the convention, said the Baltimore-area real estate industry is seeking state legislation to allow agents to act as "dual agents," representing both buyer and seller in a transaction.

"What we would like to see is limited 'dual agency' with full disclosure to both the buyer and seller in a transaction," says Ms. Hubble, a principal at W. H. C. Wilson & Co., a Roland Park real estate firm.

Another critical issue to be discussed is Maryland's high closing costs, Ms. Hubble says.

"The problem is that because the city, county and state are so strapped for money, they're probably not going to lower transfer taxes or other fees this year," she says.

Even so, leaders of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors are hopeful that Maryland jurisdictions will help reduce the closing-cost burden by allowing property buyers to prepay half a year's taxes at the settlement table, instead of a full year.

Michael Dunn, senior loan officer at the North American pTC Mortgage Co. in Columbia, will help lead a seminar about avoiding high closing costs.

"The main thing I'm going to talk about is how to get cash-poor buyers into a home. That's the biggest problem for first-time buyers. They qualify for the loan but don't have the cash," Mr. Dunn says.

New mortgage programs are being developed that allow either seller or the lender to make cash contributions to help buyers come up with enough money at closing, he notes. Such lending programs are especially important to the buyers of property valued under $100,000, he says.

In addition to its basic educational seminars, the convention will feature Roger Reitzel, a California real estate educator who uses humor to instruct agents on how to improve their sales techniques.

Mr. Reitzel says he will discuss how to handle incoming phone calls.

"The industry itself spends a tremendous amount of money getting the phone to ring." But the calls are often mishandled, he says. Too often, real estate agents fail to ask potential buyers who call the sorts of questions that lead them to become clients, he stresses.

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