Frederik Heller, our manager of Library and Archives here at NAR is an invaluable resource for answers about just about every historical aspect of the real estate business. I’m happy to say Mr. Heller has contributed a fascinating article about the REALTORS® Land Institute and I’ll be posting it here at The Source in a mini-series. Here’s the second and last installment of “70 Years Of The REALTORS® Land Institute — Plus 24 More”. Check out the first piece here.– WG
In the years following World War I, demand for farmland was high, and values of farmland were on the rise. As interest in farm property increased and more brokers began to market themselves as farmland specialists, organizations for farm brokers began to form in Ohio, Minnesota, Missouri, and other states. By the end of the decade, farm brokers were ready to set themselves apart and establish their own national organization.
In 1920, the National Association of REALTORS® was preparing to meet in Kansas City in June for their annual convention. A farm broker from Kansas City, Wilbur J. Mansfield, met with the leaders of the NAR to present the farm brokers’ ideas. The National Association was intrigued and approved a special session focused on farm real estate issues to take place at the Kansas City convention.
Mansfield took it upon himself to send out invitations to nearly 7,000 farm & land brokers throughout the country, telling them to meet in Kansas City to explore the possibility of creating a national farm brokers’ organization. Several hundred farm brokers responded and travelled to the convention.
At the Kansas City meeting, the assembled farm brokers spelled out exactly what it was that made farm brokerage different from residential brokerage, or “lot sales”, as the farm brokers called it. C. E. Southwick, secretary of the Minnesota farm brokers’ association, explained the difference this way: “The responsibility of the farm land dealer was even greater than that of the city dealer. The latter sold a man a home but the farm dealer sold, not only a home but also a business.”
The secretary of the Ohio group also put in his opinion, saying that farm brokerage is much more involved: “When selling farm property, it involves the complete investment usually of all our prospect’s money, a move among strangers, severing of family ties and they very often have to barter their future for many, many years to complete their obligation, or purchase…”
The farm brokers argued that they were ethically obligated to increase their knowledge of their business and provide the best possible levels of service to their clients, and believed that the best way to do that was through a national organization focused on the needs of farm property specialists.
From that 1920 meeting came RLI’s ancestor, of sorts: The Farm Lands Division of the National Association of Real Estate Boards, effectively making farm and land brokerage the first recognized professional specialty in the real estate industry. The Farm Land Division was in place and fully active within a couple of years. It was considered such a success that the National Association soon decided to take the idea to the next level, creating similar divisions for other new real estate specialties, including appraisers, property managers, industrial brokers, home builders, and others.
Within a few decades, NAR’s specialty divisions evolved into independent organizations: the Appraisal Division is now the Appraisal Institute, the property managers division became the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), the Industrial Division is now the Society of Industrial & Office REALTORS® (SIOR), and so on. Many of the real estate specialties and related services we see today, along with the national organizations that serve and represent them, might not be there were it not for the groundwork laid by the land professionals in 1920.
But despite its influence and initial success, the National Association’s Farm Lands Division didn’t have the same happy ending as the other specialty divisions. By 1925, the Farm Division had over 1100 members, representing almost every state, but after 1925, membership began to take a nosedive. Part of the reason for that was a new policy from NAR, which required that all REALTORS® be members of their local real estate boards; many of the Farm Division’s members operated in rural areas outside the jurisdiction of local real estate boards, and this policy change, instituted in 1923, effectively disqualified them as members. Another reason for the Farm Division’s decline, of course, was economic. Decreasing farmland values, the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression all conspired to drive many farm & land brokers out of the business entirely. The Farm Lands Division pulled just about every trick it could come up with to recruit new members, but no matter what they did, their membership kept going down instead of up. By 1940, the Division had only 9 members left, and the National Association finally made the decision to shut it down.
Even though the Farm & Land Division’s story had taken a wrong turn, the ideas and concepts that started it were still strong. Farm brokerage was now an established specialty in the real estate world, and farm brokers had already experienced some of the advantages of a national organization, and they just were not ready to give it all up.
So it was only three years later that the farm brokers decided to do it all again, and they would create a stronger organization this second time around. And it all came together in almost the same way as it did in 1920. The United States was once again involved in a world war, and the demand for farm property was again on the rise. A few successful state organizations of farm brokers were in operation, most notably in Michigan, which was run by a broker from Flint named George L. Domm. Just as Wilbur Mansfield did in 1920, George Domm almost single-handedly took it upon himself to gather farm brokers from around the country to convince NAR to support their efforts in building a new national organization for farm brokers.
He showed the NAR leadership what he had done with his Michigan farm brokers organization, and how those successes could be applied nationally. The National Association was again intrigued by the possibilities, and set aside time to discuss farmland issues at its 1943 annual convention in Cleveland. Farm property specialists gathered there and passed a resolution demanding that a new national organization be formed to serve their needs.
NAR responded in January 1944 with the formation of the Agricultural Institute, installing George Domm as its first president. The Agricultural Institute went through many name changes over the years before becoming the REALTORS® Land Institute in 1985.
In his welcoming remarks at the recent RLI Land Conference in Charleston, SC, Trident Association of REALTORS® CEO Wil Riley pointed to RLI’s adaptability in serving the ever-changing needs of its members over the years. That adaptability is one of the keys to how the Institute has evolved since 1944, and an element that might have been missing in 1920. The achievements of Wilbur Mansfield and George Domm and all of the men and women who have joined RLI over the years have built a strong, resilient, and truly member-driven organization.