Terrie Suit is about a month into her new job as CEO of the Virginia Association of Realtors, the state branch of a national trade organization and the largest trade group in the state.
The 49-year-old Tidewater Community College and Old Dominion University alumna has spent roughly the past 30 years in the private and public sectors, most recently serving as Virginia's first secretary of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security.
She began her real estate career in the mid-1980s and spent most of it in mortgage lending until 2008. She was also a Virginia Beach state delegate from 2000 until 2008 and now lives in Stafford County with her husband, a retired Navy veteran.
ON GETTING INTO REAL ESTATE
I had gone through a model home and I thought it was really neat. I didn't know anything about real estate sales, but I went through the home and talked to a real estate agent and it just kind of lit a fire underneath me. So I called up a builder and asked if I could work for him at one of his new-home construction sites, if they needed someone to be a receptionist or a hostess. And he said, "Yeah, we do." This was back when interest rates were 18 percent and not a lot of real estate was selling. But I loved it; I loved the idea of being able to own property. When my husband and I got married, he asked me if I wanted to buy an engagement ring or a house. And he had (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) eligibility and used money that would otherwise go to our engagement ring for our closing costs. So, I didn't get an engagement ring. I still don't have an engagement ring, but I've got a house. I was about 24 at the time.
ON BEING A REALTOR
I got into real estate when I was 18 and went to work for a builder when I was in California. I got my real estate license after that and was a member of the South Bay (Calif.) Association of Realtors.
Not everybody with a real estate license is a Realtor. To be a Realtor you have to be a member of the National Association of Realtors. We have an additional set of ethics and professional standards that our members subscribe to and an adjudication process for any noncompliance with those ethical and professional standard requirements.
I became a Realtor when I was about 19 or 20, and worked in real estate and eventually moved into mortgage lending - residential real estate finance - and then moved out here to Virginia and continued my career in the mortgage finance arena up until I left that in 2008.
ON STATE DELEGATE ACCOMPLISHMENTS
In the early 2000s, I worked hard with State Sen. Phil Mims at the time to develop the Fair Housing Commission. We already have a Virginia Real Estate Board, but we didn't have a fair housing board in Virginia separate from the Real Estate Board.
The Fair Housing Commission enforces the fair housing laws. So if there are any discriminatory practices or any disparate impacts when it comes to housing, the Fair Housing Commission reviews those and determines whether the commonwealth of Virginia should seek action against a potential violator of the fair housing laws.
You have a lot of practitioners involved in fair housing issues that were not licensed real estate agents. So to the extent that you might have a homeowners association or someone involved in rental properties that was not a licensed real estate agent - they were dealing in their own rental properties or working directly for multifamily corporations - any time you had someone that was not a real estate licensee, we felt we needed a separate board to hear and address their cases.
ON HER ROLE
The president and leadership team, in conjunction with the board of directors, develop the goals, objectives and overarching mission. And it's the job of the chief executive and the professional staff to put together an actual plan, strategy and structure that will accomplish those goals.
The primary goal of the Virginia Association of Realtors is to be the business advocate for real estate professionals. So our biggest objectives are to ensure that the environment is conducive to doing real estate business, that our members have the kinds of tools that are necessary and that governmental policies don't infringe on being able to doing business. And the very big piece of our core mission is to protect private property rights.
And, of course, we want to ensure that there's a healthy real estate market, which means a healthy economy.
The most important thing is to protect the integrity of the real estate industry and the real estate market. We have just come out of a recession that had a very large focus in the real estate area. So we want to ensure that our members have the tools they need to operate at the highest levels of professionalism and protect the interests of property owners, property buyers and sellers as we enter back into a recovering real estate market.
So we're looking at things like education and the quality of education for our professionals. We're looking at the quality of the economy overall. It's very important for people buying and selling homes to have jobs available to them. Healthy jobs and a healthy economy equal a healthy real estate market. And we want to ensure that the real estate market is an open, accessible market.
ON HOUSING MARKET IN VIRGINIA
Overall, the market's coming back. Interest rates are still extremely low. We're off our lowest points, but considering the long-term trends in real estate, the interest rates are very good, very healthy, and we've got buyers and sellers actively trading in the market. So we feel good. It's good time for folks to be looking at making their next purchase.
It's a seller's market in some areas. Not across the entire state, but in some areas and some price ranges, there are more competitive markets right now. Those are going to be your hotter urban environments.
But we're watching the government shutdown very closely. That shutdown can have a chilling effect on the real estate market as we watch the potential financial impact and consumer behavior when they're concerned about the long-term outlook for their jobs. It's very concerning to see both sequestration and the government shutdown. We need a fix for that. We really need our leaders in Washington, D.C., to come together and resolve this problem as soon as possible.
Virginia is weathering it pretty well, but Virginia is one of those states that are slated to have a larger impact than most states. That impact won't be felt immediately, but as a ripple effect.
ON SEA LEVEL RISE
Sea level rise impacts us several ways. Obviously it directly impacts the condition of properties. It impacts flood insurance rates and where flood insurance is required. That in turn impacts the ability for folks to afford and manage the cost of property. Because when flood insurance is required, now of course they have a much higher monthly payment. So what we are doing is working with our national association on a federal initiative. We have members from the Virginia association that serve on the policy advisory groups to the national association to provide input on the federal policies.
From the flood insurance standpoint, there are some concerns about insurance rates going up significantly depending on FEMA remapping and other factors happening at the federal level. That's one area. We're also monitoring what the commonwealth is doing with regard to flood mitigation. The more local communities take steps to mitigate flood impacts, the less increases we'll see in flood insurance rates.
There are certain things local communities can do and subscribe to really help them find better, more optimal flood insurance rates. Currently the commonwealth of Virginia has a panel called the Secure Commonwealth Panel, and under it is a subpanel specifically working on flood and water rise issues. They are working on identifying some of these various things localities can do to help mitigate the impact of flooding. There are flood mitigation grants and loans that can be given directly to property owners if their localities have met certain requirements.
We are trying to identify those things as well and make sure that our Realtors have information about them and encourage their local governments to subscribe to some of these activities. This is all right now in the research and development process and these are new issues that have been rising since we've seen flood insurance rates increase.