Hardly anyone appears to be against the major changes proposed for the District's real estate licensing laws. In fact, several speakers at last week's City Council hearings asked why it has taken 18 years to make them.
"I recognized some of the phrases we proposed in 1962 when I was on the Real Estate Commission," said William S. Harps, now president of the American Institute of Real Estate Appraisers. "We asked for many of the same things that are in here . . . I guess they just went into somebody's drawer."
Harps was one of two dozen speakers, who represented most of the organized realty groups in Washington. The city has 10,000 licensed real estate agents and brokers.
The revised regulations most speakers had come to suppport will be the first changes since 1939, if the City Council passes them. The current regulations are among the most "antiquated," out-dated" regulations in the country," speakers told the council's committee on public services and consumer affairs.
The proposed regulations would create minimum qualifications for real estate agents and brokers, requiring them to be high school graduates and to have completed the same training courses now required of their counterparts in Virginia, Maryland and most other states. This also would make District agents eligible to practice in other states under reciprocity agreements that now exclude the District.
The current city law requires only that agents and brokers be able to read and write English.
"One of the most significant features of this legislation," Real Estate Commission member Rudolph Taylor told the hearing, "is the establishment of the real estate guaranty and education fund. This would replace the existing bonding system for brokers and sales persons."
The $1,000-$2,500 bonds provide little compensation for injured consumers and their annual costs of $20-$50 are hard on those in the business, Charles R. Wolfe, president of the National Association of Real Estate License Law Officials told the hearing. Some 26 states now have guaranty funds, Wolfe said. Maryland, where Wolfe serves on the real estate commission, has a $1.3 million fund to compensate victims of illegal real estate transactions.
Another feature that appears to have won almost universal support is elimination of the present grace period, which allows salespersons to practice before they have passed the real estate licensing examination.
There was disagreement over several sections of the proposal legislation.
The new bill requires licensure of real estate appraisers and property managers, a change favored by the present Real Estate Commission but opposed by many appraisers and realty firms that manage residential and business properties.
The jobs of many property managers simply "don't require the expertise and training of brokers and salesmen" and they shouldn't be licensed, said Carolyn Lewis, director of legislative affairs for the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington.
Harps, president of the appraisers association, said licensing of appraisers in the country is coming -- "18 states already have licensing" -- but said the proposed legislation is unclear about how it affects appraisers.
Concern also was expressed over granting the Real Estate Commission the power to suspend licenses for up to 90 days without a hearing, in cases where the agency believed a broker's or salesperson's activities constituted a clear and present danger to the public.
That "may be disadvantageous both to the community and the industry," said James r. Ingham Jr., a former presient of the Washington Board of Realtors. Other speakers suggested it might be unconstitutinal to deprive a person of his livelihood without a hearing.
Council member Hilda Mason said she was concerned both about suspensions without hearings and about the present long delays before hearings of the Real Estate Commission. The commission has a backlog of 38 cases involving complaints against brokers and salespersons. Commission members told the council hearing it usually takes about a year to hear a complaint.
Some changes in the five-member real estate commission also are proposed, including making the chairman an appointee of the mayor. Consumer groups have urged that one member be an officially designated consumer advocate.
The council's hearing record is open for comment on the proposed changes until Oct. 3. Council members said several revisions in the legislation are expected to be made before the full council votes on it later this fall.