In the early 1990s Moab had an outbreak of the bubonic plague. That’s the one that’s also known as the Black Death, which wiped out a third of Europe before the Dark Ages. The fleas that live on rats and mice carry the plague.
Rodents were living in abandoned cars and trucks that littered people’s yards. To get rid of the vector of transmission, and avoid another outbreak, the Grand/San Juan Association of Realtors helped to organize a ‘Clean up Grand County’ campaign.
“We had big community support. We raised $15,000 in donations from citizens in two or three months,” said Joe Kingsley, the owner of several local businesses, and the three-time president of the association that he helped to found some 40 years ago. “We were able to collect and dispose of over 500 cars in less than nine months.”
Luckily, and due to a very dedicated doctor, no one died in that outbreak, and there hasn’t been one since.
Back in the early 1970s all of the realtors in Grand County had to work under the Utah Division of Real Estate.
“They were very anti-real estate agent,” Kingsley said of the division. “They aren’t today, but back then they were so bad that we decided to build our own association so we didn’t have to deal with them.”
So Kingsley got together with a few other realtors in Moab and started the Grand/San Juan Association of Realtors to provide the ethical and administrative framework for realtors in the area.
One of the biggest projects has been to create a centralized source for all of the real estate listings in the area.
“When I first started, you had to go to every office in town if you wanted to see what was for sale,” said Susan Shrewsbury, the current president of the association.
The multiple listing service started as a big three-ring binder that all of the real estate association’s members had access to. Over the years it has grown into a rather streamlined computer database called Paragon, which allows you to search using all kinds of different parameters, such as zoning, what the property includes and the length of time that the property has been on the market.
“It’s the only spot that I would go to find information on houses, because I know that it’s accurate,” said Lynda Diem, a realtor and association member who moved to Moab from Idaho in 2009.
A huge part of what the association does is to protect the rights of realtors and property owners at a state and national. They do this through the statewide umbrella of the Utah Association of Realtors Housing Opportunity Fund (UARHOF). And apparently the UARHOF has quite a bit of clout.
“We are the largest, most powerful lobby in the state of Utah,” Kingsley said. “Even bigger than the Mormon church.”
UARHOF fights bills in the legislature like the transfer tax (a tax on buying and selling a home) and to keep improvements on a property done by the property owner tax deductible.
On a local level, the association works to give back to the community by doing things like painting a house for an elderly or disabled homeowner each year, and through individual volunteering.
“There are about 60 realtors in Moab and two-thirds are giving back in some capacity,” said Diem, who mentors at the high school and tutors at the elementary school.
In the future, the now-president Shrewsbury sees the Grand/San Juan Association of Realtors becoming more proactive in the local political arena, such as working to represent the interests of realtors and property owners on issues like zoning.
“Without organizations like these, property owning would be less an honor and more of an expense,” Kingsley said.