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FEATURE: 25 Most Influential People in Real Estate

December 1, 2003

FEATURE: 25 Most Influential People in Real Estate

The word influence embodies many meanings. Authority. Prestige. Power. Moral force. All those words and more apply to our 2003 list of the 25 most influential people in real estate. The men and one woman profiled here have been catalysts for change: challenging traditional business models, defining fundamental market shifts, and embracing the diversity and technological promise of the new millennium. Before developing our list, we gathered nominations through our Web site, and directly from select brokers, association executives, and industry watchers. We whittled down the 200 nominees to the group you see here—people whose leadership has had a profound effect on NAR members and the wider real estate community.—The editors

Ronald J. Peltier

President and CEO, HomeServices of America Inc., Edina, Minn.

Local connections. National presence. That's the thinking behind the growth of HomeServices, a company that entered the scene in 1999 and quickly established itself as the nation's second largest real estate brokerage and largest provider of settlement services. HomeServices closed more than 150,000 transactions in 2002 and expects to close more than 180,000 this year through its 16 brands in 16 states. The man behind the plan, Ron Peltier, has been described as a quiet visionary, one the industry consistently turns to for leadership. He's currently chairman of the RELO network and an NAR director and is a founder and director of the Realty Alliance. He'll continue to expand the HomeServices footprint by looking for brokerages that share his vision of providing customer solutions to enhance the homeownership experience.

Gary Keller

Founder and chairman, Keller Williams Realty International, Austin, Texas

The company that Gary Keller founded with partner Joe Williams in 1983 has registered average annual gains since 1996 of more than 40 percent in associate numbers, earned commissions, and profit-sharing. Today, more than 20,000 sales associates in the United States and Canada operate under the Keller Williams banner. This June, Keller was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for Austin and Central Texas. Keller's model: Make salespeople partners in the brokerage's success. They share in the management—and the profits. That interdependent model is now showing up in other companies' business plans. In 2002 he released a book with Dave Jenks and Jay Papasan, "The Millionaire Real Estate Agent: It's Not About the Money" (Rellek Publishing).

P. Wesley Foster Jr.

Founder and president, Long & Foster Real Estate, Fairfax, Va.

In 1996, before there was an NRT (see "Robert Becker" below), Wes Foster wrote a commentary piece for REALTOR® Magazine. His position: that consolidation would shore up brokerage profits, create a more professional sales force, and strengthen the industry. Since then, he has aggressively fostered that vision—and done so in a way that makes him among the most admired executives in the business. He runs the largest regional independent company in the country, with more than 11,500 sales associates operating in the District of Columbia and seven mid-Atlantic states. Foster, one of the pioneers of one-stop-shopping, recently introduced a program to connect new homeowners to services such as utilities, cable and satellite television, and high-speed Internet access. His combined companies had $33 billion in sales in 2002.

Rick O'Neil

President, Help-U-Sell, Syosset, N.Y.

Don't call it a discount brokerage. Help-U-Sell is a full-service operation that typically charges consumers less than its competitors charge, says Rick O'Neil. The secret is unbundling services. Help-U-Sell was the first to take the concept national. The company, which was founded by Don Taylor in 1976, experienced slack growth in the 1980s and most of the 1990s but has grown 450 percent since O'Neil, formerly an executive with Century 21, took the helm in 1999. Today, the company has 489 offices. The goal: 1,800 offices by 2008. In the past, traditional brokerages looked at Help-U-Sell as "ruining things for them," O'Neil says. Now many companies are developing strategies to compete head-to-head with the fee-for-service model.

Robert Becker

President and CEO, NRT Inc., Parsippany, N.J.

In more than 900 real estate offices around the country, 52,000 brokers and sales associates call Bob Becker the big cheese. Becker, formerly an executive with Coldwell Banker, has headed NRT, a Cendant-owned brokerage-holding company, since its founding in 1997. The company's steady diet of acquisitions—nearly 250 in six years—has enabled NRT to stay comfortably in the No. 1 spot among brokerages. In that time, NRT has successfully positioned itself as a full-service real estate company. Watch for continued growth through both acquisitions and startups.

J. Lennox Scott, CRB

Chairman and CEO, John L. Scott Real Estate, Seattle

Since 1976, when he took over the company his grandfather had started in 1931, Lennox Scott has shunned the concept of business as usual. Scott has taken his company from 15 Seattle offices to 120 offices in three states, all the while staying strongly connected to his community. In 1990, he became one of the first regional brand owners to sell franchises. His company jumped early into the Internet fray, posting its entire inventory with photos in 1995. And when the Pacific Northwest became the first region to post the MLS online, he was a driving force behind the decision. Scott's 2002 book, "Next Generation Real Estate" (Dageforde Publishing), established his position as a technology leader and his philosophy of helping associates reach beyond sales goals to build life plans. His goals? Scott's running for NAR treasurer and moving to expand the brokerage into California and other Western states.

Dale Rector

Founder, Realty Executives, Phoenix

It's been nearly 40 years since Dale Rector's brainstorm, the one that changed the salesperson-broker dynamic forever: Since real estate salespeople are independent contractors, top producers shouldn't be forced to pay big commission splits, essentially subsidizing those who aren't producing. Rector changed the status quo in 1965 when he founded Realty Executives, the first brokerage in which salespeople kept 100 percent of their commission and shared equally in office expenses. Many fought the concept on the grounds that it turned other brokerages into rookie training grounds. But the 100 percent concept has stood the test of time, driving up splits industrywide. Realty Executives spawned real estate giant RE/MAX (Dave Liniger briefly worked for Rector) and has now become a powerhouse in its own right, with 12,000 associates operating in 587 offices in nine countries. The 83-year-old founder is still active on the company's board and still sells real estate.

Dave Liniger, ABR®, CRB

Co-founder and chairman, RE/MAX International Inc., Greenwood Village, Colo.

Risk taker. Convention breaker. Mover and shaker. That's Dave Liniger. The race-car driving, hot-air-ballooning Liniger is also a tenacious competitor in business. He's credited with taking the 100-percent commission concept global, giving a generation of real estate salespeople a new, more entrepreneurial way to look at their business. RE/MAX—which Liniger founded with his wife Gail in 1973—now has 85,000 associates operating in 4,500 offices in 44 countries. Within five years, he expects to surpass 100,000 associates. Liniger has fostered a competitive culture, one that often puts RE/MAX associates at the leading edge in such areas as technology adoption or specialty education. These days, however, the man who fought a tireless battle to win acceptance for his business model, is focusing much of his attention on philanthropy. There's RE/MAX's official cause, Children's Miracle Network, but lesser known is the $20 million the Linigers have helped raise for various causes through their Sanctuary Golf Course in Denver.

Saul Klein, e-pro, GRI

Co-founder, Real Estate Electronic Publishing Co., DBA InternetCrusade, San Diego

When NAR's e-pro Internet certification was mired in development difficulties under the original course provider, InternetCrusade came in like a modern-day cavalry. Today, through the work of Saul Klein and his partners Mike Barnett and John Reilly, more than 7,500 REALTORS® and association executives have become certified

e-pros. Klein, who's also a certified financial planner, has taught a variety of subjects—from agency to personal finance. But over the past 12 years, the former San Diego association president has traveled more than 1 million miles speaking on technology. Meanwhile, he has built some of the most vibrant online communities in real estate, with about 40,000 people communicating daily through InternetCrusade's RealTalk, AETalk, and e-PROTalk e-mail lists.

Peter Linneman

Albert Sussman Professor of Real Estate, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; principal, Linneman Associates, Philadelphia

Peter Linneman stands out as a rare bridge between the technical rigors of academia and the practical applications of business. From the classroom to the boardroom, he's regarded as a straight-shooter who can explain the relationship between the economy, capital markets, and real estate markets to any audience. Linneman was a pioneer in the growth of real estate as an academic discipline, leading the creation of Wharton's undergraduate and MBA real estate programs. He also was the driving force behind Wharton's Samuel Zell-Robert Lurie Real Estate Center. His quarterly publication, The Linneman Letter, has become must-read research for commercial real estate executives. His consulting firm, Linneman Associates, has consulted on real estate investment strategy for the likes of Sam Zell's Equity Office Properties, Lubert-Adler Investments, and Germany's Paramount Group.

Stan Rosscolor>

Chairman of the Board and Senior Fellow, University of Southern California Lusk Center for Real Estate color> , Los Angeles

Leader. Teacher. Strategist. Mensch. Behold the many hats of Stan Ross, the former vice chair of Ernst & Young and managing partner of the E&Y Kenneth Leventhal Real Estate Group. Ross is acknowledged as the architect of creative REIT and sale/leaseback structures and has represented the biggest players in the industry, including Donald Trump. Since joining the Lusk Center in 1999, he has helped it become a leading-edge forum on current real estate issues. A member of the accounting industry's Auditing Standards Board in the early 1970s, Ross was called upon by William Seidman to sit on the task force that planned the formation of the Resolution Trust Corp. Ross and his wife Marilyn have endowed the annual Urban Land Institute/Stan Ross Real Estate Trends Conference and recently funded a Lusk Centercolor> initiative to expand nationwide an intensive program that teaches real estate development to minorities.

W. Michael Long

CEO, Inc., Westlake Village, Calif.

In January 2002, amid stories of earnings restatements and executive departures, Homestore announced the appointment of Mike Long, former chief executive of Healtheon Corp., as its new CEO. REALTORS® were understandably wary. Homestore—operator of, the crown jewel of Internet real estate—was the company that was supposed to keep the "lions" at bay; instead it was becoming mired in financial difficulties and poor leadership. At the time, Homestore chairman Joe Hanauer declared Long a "remarkable fit." Indeed Long has been, mending fences, restoring credibility, solidifying the company's financial position, and refocusing the company on its core constituency—the real estate community.

Jay R. Lucas, CCIM

President, Harry B. Lucas Co., Carrollton, Texas; president and CEO, Site To Do Business Inc.

In 1998, Jay Lucas and then CCIM President Allen M. Feltman, CCIM, hatched a plan: Take information that commercial practitioners typically have to pay for on a subscription basis and make it available online as a benefit of membership. The CCIM Institute Site To Do Business, launched in October 1999, now attracts 2,000 users per day, providing members with resources such as aerial images, custom demographic reports, advanced mapping, and Flash animation. Next up: an anti-spam/anti-virus program and a multifunction PDA. Also, the site's tools will soon be made available to non-members for a per-use fee.

Norm Flynn, CIPS, CRE®

Principal, Norman D. Flynn Associates Inc., Madison, Wis.; chairman, International Real Property Foundation; 1990 NAR president

It has been 13 years since Norm Flynn presided over NAR, yet he didn't just quietly resume his commercial practice in Wisconsin. Instead, he has used his visionary leadership to play a significant role in opening international markets to REALTORS® and U.S. franchises. Since the 1992 founding of the Eastern European Real Property Foundation (now the IRPF), Flynn has been an important strategic adviser to practitioners and governments in countries such as Poland, Russia, and, most recently, Armenia and Georgia. In 1999, Flynn chaired an international task force to explore the value of creating a reliable platform for transnational referrals; that group paved the way for the founding of the International Consortium of Real Estate Associations.

Cathy Whatley CRS®, GRI

2003 President, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®; broker-owner, Buck and Buck Inc., Jacksonville, Fla.

Cathy Whatley earned a national profile in the early days of Internet commerce—showing real estate brokers and associations around the country why they should pay attention to this big amorphous thing called the Web. She came into the NAR presidency facing a number of contentious issues, including protests by large brokers over NAR's push to keep large national banking conglomerates out of real estate and pressure to regulate Internet real estate. Under her leadership, NAR has stayed its ground on the banks issue and passed a working VOW policy. Most of all, Whatley has been a president of the people: Her recognition of individuals who've furthered housing opportunity in their community, through the REALTOR® Hometown Hero program, strengthened the association's visibility and credibility in the affordable housing arena.

Bob Hale

President and CEO, Houston Association of REALTORS®

Bob Hale is widely regarded as a visionary and a leader who puts his members' business needs first. If Hale were a politician, what a record he'd have to run on: In the past six years, he's made the premier Web portal for Houston real estate with 200 million hits per month, offered free Web sites to every member, revamped HAR's governance structure to ensure a more representative board, increased HAR's member base by 7,200 through mergers with three suburban boards, and lowered local association dues five years running. Oh, yeah: And he's used data licensing income to pay his member brokers a $280,000 rebate. He's hailed for his open-minded embrace of new business models, his advocacy of national policy priorities, and his laser focus on member profitability.

William Malkasian, CAE

President, Wisconsin REALTORS® Association, Madison, Wis.

In his 25 years leading the Wisconsin association, Bill Malkasian has been a role model for how the REALTOR® organization can work effectively with state and local governments. His legislative savvy has given him a high profile in Madison. He was appointed by the governor to a 1994 state task force dealing with communications infrastructure and a 1998 blue-ribbon panel on jobs in the 21st century. WRA's land-use program, On Common Ground, has become the model NAR adopted in its effort to help REALTORS® around the country become involved in local land-use decisions. In 2001, Malkasian received the William R. Magel Award of Excellence, given by NAR for outstanding association management. He has since taken his expertise in association management global, traveling to Armenia and Georgia.

Martin Edwards Jr., CCIM, CIPS

Partner, Colliers Wilkinson & Snowden, Memphis, Tenn.; 2002 NAR president

For three years Martin Edwards has been the industry's lead spokesperson on Capitol Hill in the push to keep financial conglomerates out of real estate. Result: For the past two fiscal years, Congress has blocked funding for a U.S. Treasury proposal that would give the banks an entrée into the business—and the push is on to block funding again in 2004. Edwards, a commercial practitioner who's been in real estate 35 years, has also worked tirelessly on passage of the NAR-backed Community Choice in Real Estate bill, which would stop the Treasury gambit once and for all.

Gary Acosta

Ronald L. Branch, GRI

John Yen Wong, CRB

Acosta is 2003–2004 chair, National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals and president, SDF Realty, San Diego. Branch is 2003–2005 president, National Association of Real Estate Brokers and broker-owner, RLB Realty Group Inc., Chicago. Wong is 2003–2004 chair, Asian Real Estate Association of America; 2004 president, Council of Real Estate Brokerage Managers; broker, Prudential California Realty, San Francisco

According to the most recent U.S. Census data, about 30 percent of the population belongs to a racial or ethnic minority group. But a soon-to-be-released study from NAR shows that only 10 percent of NAR members are minorities. Even as the association works to fix that imbalance, there's a growing momentum toward self-empowerment among real estate professionals who work with minority groups. That movement is embodied in the leadership and vision of Gary Acosta, Ron Branch, and John Yen Wong. Acosta founded the fast-growing National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals in 1999. Branch recently stepped into the top spot of the 56-year-old National Association of Real Estate Brokers, a group of mostly African American and other minority practitioners. Wong—who is also active in NAR and president of one of its affiliate groups, the CRBCouncil—recently helped form the Asian Real Estate Association of America. Individually and collectively, Acosta, Branch, and Wong are engaged in a dual effort to draw more minorities into the profession and close the percentage gap between white and minority homeowners. In partnership with NAR, their efforts helped launch the HOPE Awards (, which provide $10,000 grants biannually to individuals and organizations that have successfully expanded homeownership opportunities for minorities.

Franklin D. Raines

Chairman and CEO, Fannie Mae, Washington, D.C.

What do you get when you cross a faltering economy with the lowest interest rates in 40 years? The greatest refinancing and home sales boom ever. That's thanks in large part to secondary mortgage market giant Fannie Mae and its unflappable chief executive, Franklin Raines. The company's product and technology innovation has given millions of American households ready access to low-cost mortgages. Raines was vice chairman of Fannie Mae for five years before being named director of the federal Office of Management and Budget; the Rhodes scholar and former investment banker was the only director to ever balance the federal budget. When he returned to Fannie in 1999, Raines wasted no time expanding the company's commitment to affordable housing. Recently, he's successfully managed legislative efforts to strengthen the company's regulatory oversight after accounting trouble's at Fannie's younger cousin, Freddie Mac.

Mel Martinez

Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Washington, D.C.

Mel Martinez has a passion for expanding homeownership. So it's no surprise that in his three years at HUD, he has partnered with the real estate industry on a number of efforts, including National Homeownership Month in June and the recent NAR-sponsored Housing Opportunity Summit. Martinez has also breathed life into longtime efforts to streamline the homebuying process by reforming the 1974 Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act. The real estate brokerage community wasn't thrilled with Martinez's first crack at reform, which created a clear, if unintended, advantage for lenders to become the leading packagers of settlement services. In congressional testimony this spring, NAR advocated a two-package option that would allow packaging of settlement services independent of the loan. What will be Martinez's next act? Potentially a run for political office in his home state of Florida, say some Republican leaders.

Don Harris

Founder, Nehemiah Corp. of California and International Housing Solutions; president, Franklin Tanner Group LLC, consultants, Sacramento,Calif.

Housing experts agree: Homeownership is the best means of wealth creation. But it took the vision of a minister's son to create a new approach to helping "have-nots" become homeowners. In 1994, Don Harris started Nehemiah—a program much copied in the ensuing years—to provide downpayment grants to cash-poor buyers. Harris has left Nehemiah, but his personal mission remains true. He now assists International Housing Solutions, which he founded in 1999, to operate downpayment assistance programs and provide housing solutions in third-world counties. IHS's GiftFunder system is being used by seven state REALTOR® associations and other organizations to administer downpayment assistance programs that not only put more buyers into homes but also fund other important affordability initiatives. Meanwhile, IHS has broken ground on its first development in Chiapas, Mexico.

Nicolas P. Retsinas

Director, Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, Cambridge, Mass.

He's no longer in government, but the former assistant secretary of housing at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development still helps set the nation's housing agenda from his perch atop Harvard's Joint Center. The center's annual "The State of the Nation's Housing" report is widely regarded as an authoritative source by housing researchers, industry analysts, and policy makers. Even before coming to Harvard in 1998, Nic Retsinas was a key driver on the issue he's most passionate about: bringing adequate housing and homeownership opportunities to the nation's most needy citizens. Currently, for example, he chairs the Low Income Investment Fund, which provides affordable capital to low-income neighborhoods; serves on the board of trustees for the National Housing Endowment, the National Association of Home Builders' philanthropic arm; and sits on the executive committee for Habitat for Humanity International.


Who else has made a mark on the real estate industry?
These nine individuals and pairs are people we think deserve a nod.

Blanche Evans

The Realty Times editor is unique in real estate journalism, acting as both an advocate for and conscience of the industry. Her analysis of issues is exhaustive: Homestore finances, VOWs, the pitfalls of dual agency—she tackles it all.

Alan Greenspan

The four-term Fed chairman, who commentator George Will has called "the fourth branch of government," has sustained the greatest homebuying boom ever with his unswerving focus on keeping inflation in check through periodic, modest interest rate cuts.

Greg Hobbs & Don Herder

The dynamic advertising duo from Newport Beach, Calif., raised the bar on personal marketing in the real estate industry with their campaigns that transform salespeople into trusted brands.

Mary Lemare-Pomin & Lyle Martin

What Help-U-Sell started, Lemare-Pomin and Martin have fueled with their fast-growing fee-for-service company, Assist-2-Sell. They started with one office in Reno, Nev., and now have nearly 300 franchises operating in 45 states and Canada.

John Brian Losh

The broker-owner of Ewing & Clark in Seattle has developed an international network of 400-plus luxury real estate brokers, literally the Who's Who in Luxury Real Estate. His has been praised by The Wall Street Journal and selected as a "Best of the Web" by Forbes magazine for four consecutive years.

Terry McDermott

NAR's executive vice president and CEO took the helm six years ago with a promise to run the association like a business. The former publishing executive has added millions of dollars in new programming without once raising member dues. Meanwhile, membership continues to soar—it's up by more than 200,000 since 1997.

Peter A. Pfeiffer

Pfeiffer's Austin, Texas, architectural firm, Barley & Pfeiffer Architects, is nationally recognized for its use of green building materials and designs. Pfeiffer has received many awards for his more than 20 years of work to mainstream green building methods. In March of this year, the National Association of Home Builders Research Center named him Green Advocate of the Year.

Barb Schwarz

Schwarz pioneered the now-hot concept of staging listings to make them more appealing to buyers. She now offers a staging accreditation course. Her fan list is long, but she has also earned critics with her attempts to force other house stylists—her preferred generic term—to pay her for use of the term staging. For the record, she holds a trademark for a staging video, but her efforts to trademark the term staging were rejected by the U.S. Trademark Office in 2002.

Dean Saunders ALC

The broker-owner of Saunders R.E. LLC, in Lakeland, Fla., is a pioneer in the use of conservation easements. A former Florida state legislator, Saunders authored the bill that created the first Florida state agency to purchase conservation easements from landowners. Before holding elected office, Saunders was agricultural liaison to U.S. Senator Lawton Chiles and Director of External Affairs during Chiles' term as governor of Florida.