A Conversation with John Dunn

Face-to-face interaction a big focus of new trade group president.

John Dunn is the new 2016 president of the Des Moines Area Association of REALTORS®, a growing organization with more than 2,000 real estate agents in central Iowa. He shared his thoughts on the current real estate market and his goals for the year, one of which is encouraging real estate agents to connect with each other in person more often.

Tell us about your background.

After high school, I joined the U.S. Army, serving in the 82nd Airborne Division and special operations for five years. I then received my bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Iowa in 1992. My first job was as a bank examiner with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which I did for about 2½ years. From there I moved into the private sector, doing a lot of correspondent lending.

Then, I had a bit of entrepreneurial spirit. I had been considering real estate quite a bit, and finally pulled the trigger and did it. I began working as a realtor in 2001, eventually moving my way up to become managing broker for the Valley West Office of Iowa Realty, the company’s largest office in Iowa. I got involved with the Des Moines Area Association of REALTORS®, sitting on their board and serving in various executive officer positions before being elected as president.

What would you like to accomplish during your term?

I have three focuses this year. The first is revisiting the history of the National Association of REALTORS®. This year, we celebrate 100 years of the realtor brand, which includes a comprehensive code of ethics by which all realtors abide. It’s made up of 17 articles, which contain 88 standard practices. It really guides us, and it’s what separates us and makes us who we are in our profession. We’ll be highlighting different aspects of our code throughout the year.

Second, I’m a very strong proponent of education. I think the best investment anyone can make is in themselves. This year, we hope to provide agents with a wider variety of opportunities to grow professionally and build their businesses—from events with different types of speakers to subsidizing the cost for some educational courses.

I, myself, continue to search for diverse learning opportunities. I received my MBA from the University of Iowa through their executive program. It was a great environment to learn in. I also attended two negotiation classes at Harvard University, and wow, what a different way to learn. I just encourage real estate agents to seek out other ways to learn, outside of what we as an association and industry can offer.

Lastly, one of my big projects is “DMAAR Connections,” where we’re using social media as a vehicle to promote more face-to-face interaction among real estate agents. There are some definite benefits to technology today, such as offering us the quick convenience of completing entire business transactions from a computer or phone. But on the flip side, we lose that face-to-face contact, which is the foundation of problem solving.

Through DMAAR Connections, we’ll be able to meet through charitable, professional, and social venues outside of our normal channels. This will enable us to connect, talk, and build that foundation of trust, which is critical as we collaborate on various deals. Without trust, it gets really, really tough to maximize our clients’ value.

One thing we have planned is to help with Meals from the Heartland. We’re also looking at outings to Jasper Winery and an Iowa Cubs game. And for those who are runners, there’s a group of realtors training for Dam to Dam together.

Can you describe the current real estate market in the Des Moines area?

It’s very healthy right now, and I think that correlates to our strong economy. We have low unemployment, a great school system, low crime rate, and infrastructure that enables you to be anywhere in the metro in 20 minutes. Downtown Des Moines has totally been revitalized. Millennials are moving here. It truly is a great place.

Some believe it’s a seller’s market right now, which is true, in some segments. But in others, it’s a buyer’s market. For instance, there’s a two-year supply of homes listed today for more than $1 million. Also, it’s an outstanding time for someone who wants to move up into the $350,000 to $450,000 range, with lots of good new construction and great options in that price point combined with a low interest rate environment.

What real estate trends are you seeing in the Des Moines area?

New construction today is being challenged a bit by the development cost of lots. Years ago, you could buy a lot for $30,000 to $60,000. Now, it’s hard to get one for $75,000. That’s impacted the average new construction price, which is $340,000 today, up from $322,000 last year. So the resale market will probably do well for awhile as we move toward an equilibrium between new construction and resale homes.

It’s a really great market in central Iowa, and not just in the western suburbs. Altoona, Pleasant Hill, Grimes, Norwalk, Downtown Des Moines, the East Village, Indianola—they’re all doing well and growing.

What is the biggest challenge facing the industry today?

For consumers and real estate agents, there’s a lot of third party advertising on the national level, particularly online, that’s problematic for real estate. Consumers can be confused by websites they think are offering legitimate real estate information; in fact, those sites are trying to sell them other products or services. Realtors are knowledgeable professionals who can help make sense of the copious amounts of information involved in a real estate transaction, figure out what’s germane to your situation, and guide you through the process.

Tell us a little more about you.

I live in West Des Moines with my wife of 31 years, Deborah, who is also my high school sweetheart. Our two sons, Jackson and Nolan, are both in college. In our free time, Deborah and I like to travel. I’m also a big foodie, and like to cook a lot and enjoy going to good restaurants.