Proposal to double Vermont real estate fees surprises some agents, brokers

Published: 5/4/2019 10:29:12 PM
Modified: 5/4/2019 10:29:10 PM

MONTPELIER — The state’s Office of Professional Regulation wants to sharply increase licensing fees for real estate salespeople and brokers.

Under HB 527, license application fees for salespeople and brokers would go from $50 to $100. Biannual renewals would increase from $200 to $240. Real estate firms would see new application fees rise from $50 to $200 and biannual renewals from $200 to $400. The bill has passed the Vermont House of Representatives and is now being considered in the Senate Finance Committee.

To the surprise of some members, the Montpelier-based Vermont Association of Realtors, which lobbies on behalf of its broker and agent members, did not oppose the fee increases.

Asked for details, the association’s new president, Stephanie Corey, responded with a written statement on Wednesday saying the fee hikes put real estate licensing on par with the fees for other professions in Vermont.

“The real estate industry has not seen an increase in fees in over five years,” Corey said. “While no one ever relishes fee increases, the Vermont Association of Realtors understands and accepts that fee increases are necessary in order for OPR to operate within a balanced budget while expanding and improving services to our Realtor members.”

Some VAR members were less understanding, saying that they hadn’t received adequate warning — or any warning — that fee increases were in the offing, and that Corey did not seem to be speaking for the board.

“I think that licensees across the state would oppose that,” said Betty McEnaney, a broker in the Ludlow and Chester area who attends most Real Estate Commission meetings. “I’m surprised at her comment. That was not a consensus statement by the board of directors as far as I’ve heard.”

David Raphael, the former chair of the Real Estate Commission, said the commission first heard about the proposed fee increases in February.

“It impacts firms and people,” said Raphael, who was removed from the commission by the OPR in March.

On the fees, McEnaney said Corey’s statement caught her by surprise.

“I would say the communication between the association and the members is maybe not as good as it should be,” McEnaney said. “I don’t even think that the board of directors knew about that position (on the fees). It was just odd.”

Meanwhile, the VAR’s former president, Debra Jensen, stepped down April 23. Jensen declined to say why she left the association, but said she supports the fee increases.

“Do I necessarily want to pay for them? No,” said Jensen. “But in order for me to be licensed in the state of Vermont, I’ll pay the fee.”

Lauren Hibbert, director of the OPR, said she talked with the Real Estate Commission about the fees on Feb. 28. The OPR regulates 48 professions, 32 of which operate under the adviser model, and Hibbert said the proposed real estate fees are in line with those of other professions regulated under the advisory model.

“I have also have spoken with the Real Estate Association about it, and it has been in the Legislature for quite some time,” Hibbert said of the fee proposal on Wednesday.

Hibbert said it costs the Secretary of State’s Office $310,000 a year to regulate the real estate profession, including staff salaries at OPR, office space, IT services, and the cost of investigating and prosecuting real estate cases. With 2,714 active licensees, that’s $114 per person per year, she said. Right now, the fees bring in about $220,000 every year, or $81 per person.

“The Real Estate Commission budget was in jeopardy,” she said. “They needed to raise funds. It’s my responsibility to make sure they are fiscally healthy.”

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