Q&A: Past and future real estate

When the housing market tumbled, Jim Liptak could have adopted a woe-is-me attitude.

As president of the California Association of Realtors in 2009, he witnessed housing values plummet, financing tighten and homeowners struggle to retain their properties.

Yet Liptak was optimistic and focused his energy on helping Realtors and consumers adapt to a changing marketplace.

This year, Liptak was instrumental in the association’s launch of the mortgage protection program. Through it, first-time homebuyers who lose their jobs because of layoffs are eligible to receive up to $1,500 a month for six months to help them make their mortgage payments.

Liptak, who says he’s excited about more first-time homebuyers jumping into the market, also worked to get an extension through April 2010 of the federal tax credit for first-time homebuyers.

A Realtor for nearly 30 years and past president of the Paso Robles Association of Realtors, Liptak, 56, is a real estate broker in Templeton with his wife, Sydney.

He recently talked to The Tribune about his tenure as president of the trade association, the challenges facing the industry and where the market goes from here. Q: How did you get started in the real estate business?

A: I worked in a camera store, and across the street from the store was a Premier Real Estate office in Redlands, Calif. The office manager would hire me to take photographs of their properties. This is 30-plus years ago, and I was taking photographs of a million-dollar property, and listening to the agent talk about the property. It dawned on me that he didn’t have a clue as to what he was talking about. But I was able to do the math quickly, and I decided to get my real estate license. We moved up here right after I got my license.

Q: How did you become involved with CAR?

A: I am my own boss because I don’t like people telling me what to do. I also wanted to be involved. You can do that on a local level, regional level or national level. I always wanted to be at the table, making decisions that will affect what your business is, and I guess I just felt like I had more to offer and more to give. I enjoy working with people and solving their problems.

Q: What have you accomplished during your tenure that you’re most proud of?

A: I would say probably helping to implement the launch of the statewide Multiple Listing Service. It will allow people to gather data from virtually any part of the state and allows Realtors to refer clients back and forth. It provides greater transparency to the transaction, and the software used in statewide MLS is state-of-the-art and unlike anything else out there.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge leading this organization during this time?

A: If you think about what has happened in this country in just the last year, it’s astonishing, and it has been challenging to say the least. We’ve had a wholesale restructuring of the home financing industry in the last year and that will continue.

We’re facing severe budget restrictions in the state, and that’s had an effect on the real estate industry. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are in receivership. Never in my wildest dreams would I think the landscape would look like it does.

The day I stepped in as president, I had many people tell me how horrible this must be. But I look at it the opposite way. I feel like I’ve won the lottery. If ever there was an opportunity for me to have an impact on the industry, it’s this year.

Q: How has this recession compared to previous ones?

A: It’s so widespread. It’s not just in California, but across the entire country. The other thing that is totally different is the information, and flow of information — the speed at which it’s disseminated. Obviously, the Internet is a tool that has both helped the situation and hurt the situation. There’s a lot of information out there for consumers, and it’s interesting to see what an appetite they have for it.

Q: How has it changed the industry and the way that Realtors do business?

A: Sometimes, I think the theme for this year should be less is more, and for this much of the year already, it should be nothing is easy. Financing isn’t easy, appraisal isn’t easy and managing buyer and seller expectations isn’t easy. But smart Realtors are adapting to the changing needs of the consumer and changes in the marketplace. Some brokers and some agents will choose not to compete and not to change, and they may not make it through. In order to grow, you’ve got to constantly change.

Q: Some people have said Realtors are to blame for the inflated housing market? How would you respond to that?

A: I remember talking about double-digit inflation and how inflated prices weren’t healthy. Realtors didn’t have a vested interest in seeing prices go up like they did. The real culprit was the incredible lax lending standards and the incredible amount of money available to consumers that fueled a buying spree of homes they couldn’t afford with loan products that weren’t real. Yes, Realtors were involved in the transaction, but not very many Realtors were involved in promoting loan products consumers were using.

Q: What’s your outlook for the industry statewide and in San Luis Obispo County?

A: The market is starting to stabilize. The biggest question I get asked is “Have we hit the bottom?” I don’t know. That also begs two questions: Is it a false bottom, and if we’ve hit bottom, how long are we going to drag along the bottom? I don’t have the answer. A lot depends on what happens in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento.

But long-term, real estate in California is a good investment. If you’re looking to flip something in a few years, that’s not a good strategy. If you’re looking at buying a home, you should look at staying in it a minimum of five years, and you’ll do fine in terms of appreciation and what the market does.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: Getting back to selling real estate a little more. I’ve been traveling the last several years, and I’ll still be involved at the state level. I see becoming more involved at the national level, and I’m excited about what my prospects are in the future. I love learning something new every day, and this business allows me to do that.