“Under All is the Land” – Preamble to the Realtor® Code of Ethics Steers Many Brokers

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I know that the importance of land is not lost on those who farm, ranch or keep horses. I realize that most people think a Realtor® simply buys and sells real property. What isn’t commonly known is that we are also often heavily involved in protecting private property rights.

I grew up in Alaska in a Realtor family, in a much different development and land use climate than we have here in Washington. After graduating college, I spent 15 years as a working cow horse trainer, and even then, I had no concept of the impact that legislation was having on the agricultural community with regards to land use. I had my head down and was putting my efforts into my trade.

When my life changed and I stepped back into the real estate world, I was introduced to the Realtor® organization. Not all real estate brokers are Realtors, and two of the most crucial differences between the types of real estate professionals is that Realtors have the overlay of our Code of Ethics and the impact of the RPAC (Realtor Political Action Committee). Perry Eskridge, our executive officer for the Whatcom County Association of Realtors is famous for saying, “If you’re in real estate, you’re in politics.”

I didn’t fully understand what that meant until we purchased our dream property in the spring of 2016—60 acres with a Mount Baker view. We scrimped and borrowed to pay cash for the two parcels (5 acres and 52 acres) and to do a boundary line adjustment (BLA) that created a building site on a lot size that was easier to finance (13 acres and 44 acres). Our intention was that after 45 days the BLA would take, we’d wrap the property up in a construction loan and be able to repay the cash we borrowed. Our building plans were complete, and what we thought was an acceptable wetland delineation was completed. I was about to get a short course in the broken county building permit system.

Naive as I was, I submitted the wetland delineation ahead of the completion of the BLA, to get a start on the building permit application. Code for the BLA only requires that both lots retain appropriate use and access points, which ours did. I eventually learned they were reviewing the wetland delineation (not required by code for the BLA) and that inappropriately held up the process.

Time passed and we weren’t getting any response from the county on why we didn’t have the BLA completed yet. We were ready to make application, pending new tax parcel numbers. Then completely out of the blue for us, the Hirst Decision was handed down and Whatcom County put a moratorium on properties relying on permit exempt wells. Because we had not been able to make application, we also did not have a vested position in the permit process. We couldn’t build. We couldn’t refinance. We had no idea what to do next.

I don’t know that I’ve ever before felt so helpless, so I did the only thing I could. I started seeking more information. I became heavily involved in the Realtor organization, serving in 2020 as our local president, and I now hold the position of government affairs chair. I am proud of the fact that we work hard to be considered stakeholders anywhere that there is a discussion surrounding housing and land use.

I tell this story because I wish I’d known then what others did—that private property rights in Washington State, and in this nation, are under relentless attack. Rural lifestyles and equestrian and agricultural activities are impacted most heavily through the backdoor legislation that surrounds land use. In a state such as Washington, with a Growth Management Act, thoughtless land use policy, overreach, and overregulation leaves rural lifestyle and agriculture in limbo.

I want to be clear that I don’t consider myself political, nor do I identify with any party. One of the reasons I feel comfortable about participating in Realtor efforts is that we truly are non-partisan. I am about as moderate as they come, but I firmly believe that these are issues that wash over everyone equally. The unintended consequences of well-intended legislation have long term, detrimental impacts on so many parts of our lives and communities that are important. I particularly hope that I can impress on anyone reading this how crucial local elections are and how great the impact of those positions on land use policy. It is imperative that we stand up and vote, support, and are in the conversation with candidates that understand the needs of our industry.

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