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Governor signs association’s priority legislative bills

The 5,500-member strong Mississippi Association of Realtors (MAR) expressed gratitude when Gov. Haley Barbour recently signed two priority bills into law.

House Bill 1470 addressed the disclosure of non-material factors, and Senate Bill 2697 created a greater deterrent to the unlicensed practice of real estate in Mississippi.

“We feel very good about these bills achieving our goals,” said MAR president-elect Pam Beard, who chairs the association’s legislative and regulatory affairs advocacy group. “We want to thank all the legislators who helped us, especially Gov. Barbour for his leadership in making some fabulous appointments to the Mississippi Real Estate Commission and for his support of these bills. He’s been wonderful to come to us for our expertise and leadership.”

Rep. Greg Snowden (R-Meridian) sponsored the legislation that clarifies there is “no cause of action” against property owners and licensees for failure to disclose non-material conditions such as HIV/AIDs, the occurrence of certain felonies, suicide or natural death on a property or other information readily available to the public.

“Property owners must disclose a wide range of material factors — everything from foundation repairs to sewage systems — when they sell real estate,” said MAR CEO Scott Brunner. “But Mississippi law is rather murky regarding disclosure of factors that don’t physically impact the property. These non-material factors create a gray zone where property owners and real estate licensees struggle with what should or should not be disclosed. For example, should a property owner reveal such information as the health or welfare of a former occupant or criminal activity that occurred previously on the property? Some buyers may want to know these facts, but revealing this information could trigger privacy violations for which property owners and real estate licensed professionals could be liable.”

Beard said the new law would provide real estate agents “some clear-cut definition.”

Senate Business and Financial Institutions Committee chairman Nolan Mettetal (D-Sardis) ushered the proof-of-licensure legislation that takes effect July 1.

“We think the buck stops where the commission gets paid, and the new law sends a message that you must have a license and be knowledgeable about the rules in order to practice real estate in Mississippi,” said Beard.

The Senate removed language to increase fines for practicing real estate without a license and pursued instead proof of licensure in order to receive a commission check.

“We initially proposed increasing the fines, but if we had, it would’ve thrown the matter into a different court system and it might have complicated matters,” said Beard. “We realized the fine would not have deterred the unlicensed.”

Brunner said the legislation was needed because Mississippi consumers are increasingly becoming targets of unscrupulous salespersons who either do not hold a real estate license or who hold an out-of-state license but have not properly affiliated with a Mississippi real estate broker.

“State law requires anyone engaging in the practice of real estate to hold a Mississippi license,” he said. “If a salesperson holds a valid, current real estate broker’s license from another state, then Mississippi law requires the non-resident broker to enter a formal cooperative agreement with a Mississippi broker before engaging in the practice of real estate. The Mississippi broker then assumes full responsibility for the actions of the non-resident broker.”

Two unresolved legislative issues for MAR: full funding for the Mississippi Real Estate Commission (MREC) and the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA).

“Both agencies are facing serious budget cuts that will affect the quality of services these agencies can render,” said Brunner.

Several years ago, state lawmakers removed close to $1 million from the MREC, a self-funded agency, with no anticipation of replenishment, pointed out MAR president Nancy Lane.

“We’re a commission that pays its own way,” said Beard. “It’s a shame not to get to use our own funds when our license fees pay for that.”

The lack of fully funding the MREC limits the investigation of real estate matters and continuing education offerings, and not fully funding MDA creates a snowball effect, said Lane.

“Even though we’re realtors, our association is focused on doing things that are good for the state,” she said. “MDA is so instrumental in bringing in new industry, which brings in new housing opportunities, new retail and more. The bottom line is the entire picture is good for the state.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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