For the first time in 16 years, the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors (MAAR) has a new CEO. Bill Wald took the helm at the association, the state's largest professional association for real estate agents, on Sept. 1. After a nearly yearlong national search, Wald was recruited from the American Association of Diabetes Educators, where he was vice president of corporate relations and development. Previously, he was CEO of the Chicago-based Association of Real Estate License Law Officials (ARELLO), which works with domestic and international compliance officials who regulate the real estate industry. Wald was also senior director for business, professional development and standards for the Chicago Association of Realtors, where he helped establish the Center for Realtors Professional Development and the Business Development Department, which focused on increasing non-dues revenue and developing corporate partnerships. Here's what Wald had to say about the Twin Cities and his new role after a month on the job:
Q: You've been involved with association management and nonprofits for more than 23 years. What do you know about the real estate business?
A: I've been a broker since 2009, when I started at the Chicago Area Association of Realtors. I had to become a managing broker; it was part of my job.
Q: Were you active in the market?
A: I didn't do it full-time. I worked mainly with buyers. I worked for a boutique brokerage, so my clients were either people we knew, or firemen and policemen and a lot of veterans.
Q: What's your connection to the military?
A: I come from a military family, so I submitted a proposal to the National Association of Realtors for the "Heroes Welcome Home" program. It educates Realtors on the physical and mental disabilities that the men and women are incurring in Iraq and Afghanistan. I wanted to put curriculum together to educate Realtors so they could know what they had gone through or if they have any special needs. The survival rate with this war is the highest it's ever been, so you have a lot more people coming back with higher rates of injury. It still exists.
Q: What was appealing about the MAAR job?
A: MAAR has an excellent reputation on a national level. After the recruiter called, I did my homework and I was impressed. And I'm still impressed. Frankly, the other thing that sold me on this is what the MAAR foundation does and the way they give back to the community. I'm a cause person, and to see the causes they support, I believe in that. And you got to believe in where you work.
Q: Based on first impressions, anything unique about the housing market in the Twin Cities compared with downtown Chicago?
A: The low unemployment rate, and that has everything to do with housing — it's phenomenal. The inventory here is so low and is dropping, leading to multiple offers. That competitiveness is not as visual or as common [in Chicago] as it is here.
Q: Is that why you're now a renter?
A: The Twin Cities is so much more competitive than the Chicago market. In Chicago, I could have found a home within 30 days and closed on it. Here, it's so competitive you really have to take time to buy a home.
Q: Anything else that was unique about it?
A: The metro area is so spread out. The properties here are not so dense, so you don't have houses on top of houses the way you do in suburban Chicago, so you're getting more house for the dollar. It was also interesting to see that property taxes here are about even with suburban Chicago. Nothing can compare to the taxes in downtown Chicago.
Q: Will property taxes become a legislative issue for you?
A: I don't know. I haven't had the time to dive into that issue as much as I want to. It's basically an observation.
Q: There's been occasional speculation that there could be a consolidation between MAAR and the St. Paul Area Association of Realtors (SPAAR), is that something you'd endorse?
A: No. I don't have enough info to endorse something like that and if it's not broken, why try to fix it? I don't think St. Paul is interested in that and I'd leave that kind of decision up to the boards. In my short time here, and knowing what SPAAR does and what MAAR does, I don't think it's necessary at this time.
Q: What are your short-term priorities for MAAR?
A: To watch and listen. There's already a budget in place for 2016. I'll do some new public relations for the association. I think some of the most important things are education resources, maintaining our public policy stances and giving support to the staff. They've been without a leader for a long time. You can't be a bull in a china shop and want to change the world.