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A look back at two decades in the real estate business.

Cindy Pelz has been executive officer for the Des Moines Area Association of REALTORS® (DMAAR) for nine years.

But her experience in the real estate industry stretches even further back. Pelz has been an employee of the Iowa Association of REALTORS®, the state organization which DMAAR belongs to, for 20 years, serving in a variety of roles.

In that time, she’s witnessed a lot of change in the industry, most particularly the impact of technology, Pelz says.

For nearly the last decade, she has managed DMAAR, which has experienced enormous growth in that time. Currently, the membership stands at more than 2,100 strong.

“It’s been an exciting career I didn’t know I would have,” Pelz says. “But I’m so thrilled to be in this position.”

What initiatives or programs is DMAAR currently working on?

Our big push is safety. Agents need to understand that they may be putting themselves in danger when they decide to show a vacant home to someone before taking precautions such as meeting them first in a public place and asking for identification.

Those are some components of a safety pledge we launched in July 2015 that we’re trying to revitalize. It’s a three-step approach to safety that involves optional pledges taken by local real estate companies and real estate agents to work toward safe showing and open house practices. There’s also an optional contract between a seller and the listing broker that allows their home be shown only to individuals who have been previously identified.

Many brokers have developed safety protocols, and we’re building upon those. We created four safety videos we showed to members this past spring, and are working on others aimed at educating the public.

I admit I was initially skeptical of the pledge because it was asking our members and brokers to drastically change the way they did business. But as the committee developed the program and members said that they wanted it, it totally turned me around. Let’s face it—there are agents who aren’t going to do this, and others who got on the bandwagon quickly. We still have a lot of teaching and learning to do, and we’re going to continue to push that. We want everyone to get on board and everyone to see the value of this, but that will take a little time.

I think, as an association, our biggest challenge is keeping up-to-date with technology so that we can best serve our members and so they can, in turn, best serve their clients. That includes offering various training, including on MLS (Multiple Listing Services), and providing agents with new tools.

For instance, a couple years ago we purchased a product called ShowingTime, which is an appointment scheduler. This enables you to go online and schedule a showing with just a few clicks. There’s also an option where the client can set up appointments. While this doesn’t deter agents from calling other agents to ask about a property, it is a great time-saving tool, which is critical in today’s fast-paced market.

In addition, DMAAR will be launching a new, more mobile-friendly website, probably in the next couple of months. It’s going to be a big-time facelift. Right now, the system we have and our site, dmaar.com, is pretty cumbersome.

We’re hoping to switch to different membership software next spring, allowing us to have a more robust database of member information, including individuals’ community involvement.

What work in the community has DMAAR recently been a part of?

We became a sponsor for the Central Campus Skilled Trades Academy. Nationally, the number of skilled trades workers is down. The building trades are what build homes, and by supporting the Academy, we’re helping support the real estate industry.

We applied for and received a grant of $16,500, which we presented to the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Water Trails and Greenways Plan, a shared vision for our rivers, creeks, and greenways. And we recently held our annual DMAAR charity golf outing, with all the profits going to Variety—the Children’s Charity.

What do you envision for DMAAR in the next several years?

We’ll likely see more growth in membership and potentially even territory. With that will come challenges, including serving the different needs of our rural and metro members. Technology will continue to advance. We have a couple products coming down the line from our national association that may change the way brokers input listings.

How has real estate changed in the time you’ve been in the business?

The biggest thing has definitely been technology, whether it’s taking classes online, contacting our members via mass email, or the evolving technology regarding MLS. In the past, a listing agent would bring you the listing book and you would look through it. Now, it’s all done via email that you access on your laptop, iPad, or cell phone.

The creation of core standards by our national association greatly impacted our whole state. Many of the smaller boards were unable to meet the new standards, which resulted in some consolidations. Here in Iowa, we went from 48 boards to 17 in 2015.

What accomplishments are you most proud of in your time with DMAAR?

There are a lot of things to be proud of, one of which is launching our safety pledge. The strong leadership we have in Des Moines is by far the best in the state. They are engaged, knowledgeable, and so supportive in every way.

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Informing girls of career choices in commercial real estate.

Jennifer Schumann knew in high school she wanted to be an attorney.

She went on to become a litigator, practicing for a few years, before eventually discovering a passion for real estate law. She likely would have focused more on her current specialty had she learned about it when she was younger, she says.

“I enjoyed real estate law more than I enjoyed litigation,” says Schumann, who joined Hubbell Realty Company in August as corporate counsel.

She wants young women to be informed about their career choices. So this spring, Schumann led a four-week session for middle-school girls, showing them the opportunities available in commercial real estate.

“The first year went really well,” Schumann says. “I thought the girls were engaged and found it very interesting. We were pleased to hear the young girls’ invitation to come back.”

Why did being a lawyer appeal to you?

One reason that I was attracted to the law is that you learn about many interesting and diverse topics. For me, that has ranged from learning how to convert a co-op to a condominium to analyzing the Federal Communications Commission regulations and from ensuring compliance with the Fair Housing Guidelines to negotiating cloud server contracts. Law is a never ending education.

Describe your career path.

I grew up in a small town in Kentucky. My father, an attorney and farmer, and my mom, a school librarian, were supportive of my choice to major in political science as an avenue for attending law school. While I was fortunate to have their support, I was still unaware of the variety of jobs out there. When I was offered a full scholarship to be part of a political leadership program, I gladly accepted my path at the University of Louisville. Following college, I went to Michigan State University for law school where I was honored to be the class president. Giving the commencement speech is still probably one of my biggest achievements. After graduation, I moved to Chicago and practiced law for almost seven years in private practice. There, I met my husband, a native Iowan, and nearly two years ago I moved to Iowa for his job.

When I moved, I joined the Commercial Real Estate for Women (CREW) Iowa chapter; the same organization I was involved with in Chicago. Borrowing on a program that I volunteered with there, I wanted our CREW Iowa chapter to start a program where we worked with young girls teaching them about careers in commercial real estate.

Describe how you made that happen.

When I tossed the idea of the program to the CREW Iowa chapter, the Board was supportive from the beginning. One of the biggest challenges we faced was creating the structure of the program in a relatively short timeframe. Voicing this concern, I was connected with Community Youth Concepts, an organization started here in Des Moines, who has after-school girl programs. They invited us to incorporate our program into their year-long program. Giving us four weeks—one day per week—we were able to build an interactive and educational program for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade girls at Urbandale Middle School.

The program launched in March with about twenty girls participating, which allowed our twelve volunteers to have a lot of one-on-one time with each girl. The volunteers ranged from commercial real estate brokers, developers, operations and investment analysts, commercial property managers, vice president of a bank, and an engineer.

The first week included career introductions and an interactive “Jeopardy!” game consisting of commercial real estate terms and definitions. The money the girls won was used in Week Two for the development of a 3D model park.

The girls were divided into groups where they chose who would be the attorney, broker, developer, lender, and architect. We presented three parcel choices in the Des Moines metro area that the groups could purchase. Using their newly learned negotiation skills and the money they won each group purchased land for their park.

I thought one of the most educational parts of the program was to teach about budgets, which each group was expected to prepare. It was refreshing to hear the girls constantly checking their budget during development. One of the girls said she could live with a dirt trail when she learned the cost of concrete!

On Week Three, the girls built their model parks using materials donated by RDG Planning & Design. At the end of class, each group collectively presented their parks to the class, discussing their feature selections.

For the last session, we went to Walker Johnston Park, where the City of Urbandale Parks and Recreation director, Jan Herke, gave a presentation. Supportive of educating and developing the skills of young women, she spoke about her career journey, ending with a tour of the park.

How would a program like this have helped you when you were younger?

It would have been invaluable. The girls we taught may not completely understand the real estate world just yet, but I’m proud we were able to give them a glimpse into it. Hopefully, it is an experience they won’t forget.

Will there be future sessions?

We’re planning on forming a committee specifically for this program. There has been discussion of it being an annual program and possibly extending it to high school girls in the area.

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Architects: Creating greater awareness of their invaluable expertise.

Matt Ostanik always wanted to be an architect. “I remember I loved to draw as a kid, and I loved playing with Legos, of course, building things in the sandbox—all those early warning signs that you may have a future in architecture or something related to that,” Ostanik says.

Ostanik left his native Illinois, lured by the architecture program at Iowa State University. He graduated in 2001 and decided to stay in Iowa, and has since launched several businesses. He is also the 2017 president of the American Institute of Architects, Iowa Chapter (AIA Iowa).

What’s your professional experience?

After college, I worked at an architecture firm in West Des Moines. I got my license as an architect, and had a great learning experience at that firm. About five years after school, I left the firm to focus on a software company that I had started named Submittal Exchange.

It was a software product that architects, contractors, and facility owners used to manage submittals and other documents during the construction process on projects. I went from being an architect to focusing on growing a software business for architects and contractors, and I spent the next seven years growing it.

By 2014, Submittal Exchange had been acquired and I to moved on to start a couple of other new businesses. Today, I have a software company for marketing and sales software called FunnelWise. I also own a firm called Charrette Venture Group that invests in and provides business and strategic services to small and growing architecture firms across the country.

What goals do you want to accomplish as AIA Iowa president?

Part of our continuous goal with AIA Iowa is to better communicate the value of architecture and our members, and the advantages we bring to our clients. We want others to understand the impact of good design and sustainable practices, developing livable communities, and how all those things benefit the public good.

We’re doing a number of things to accomplish that. We have an annual fall convention that continues to grow and attract a lot of participation from architects, as well as other affiliated groups. We wrapped up Architecture Month in April, holding communication activities statewide. Something we launched last year that has been very popular is a People’s Choice Award, with people across the state voting for winners of architectural awards.

We are also focusing on our advocacy efforts at the state level. Something we were intent on addressing this year was the statute of repose, which is a period of time for which architects and contractors are liable for issues that occur in projects they build. Prior to this year, Iowa had the longest statute of repose in the country—15 years for commercial construction.

We were fortunate to work with Master Builders of Iowa and other groups to get legislation passed this year that now puts Iowa more in the middle of the pack for how they manage those liabilities. Now, the statute of repose for commercial construction is eight years. This makes Iowa a much more reasonable state for builders and designers of any kind to practice.

What are some of the most pressing challenges facing architects today?

I think architects need to do more to assert our own relevance and establish our place in the process. I think it’s very important for us as an organization to talk about that more. Architects aren’t always the best about talking about themselves sometimes. We can certainly do better about talking about our piece of the puzzle and how we contribute.

One example is in regard to design build. While it can be a good type of project delivery when done properly, some variations remove the architect’s role as a direct advocate for the building owner.

Our job is to look out for the best interest of our clients, particularly when they’re public clients, to make sure the public is getting the best value for their money and the best high-quality, long-term design for buildings that may be around for hundreds of years. For this reason and others, delivery methods like Construction Manager At Risk are a better fit because they provide collaboration like design-build but keep the architect as an advocate for the owner.

Also, architecture is a very entrepreneurial profession. But internally, we do not talk enough about that. That’s a personal interest of mine—helping architects become better entrepreneurs and more successful at growing their businesses.

How can these be addressed?

It goes back to working with our members to better communicate with people outside the profession about what we do and why these issues are important.

AIA Iowa has an initiative called the Citizen Architect Program. We get members to engage in their local communities, having them serve on city councils, sitting on planning and zoning boards, and participating in other governmental efforts. Many of our members are already doing this, but we’re looking for more to do so.

It’s about having architects bring their expertise to the table to help non-architects benefit from our skill set as well. That’s something very important that we’re looking at continuing to grow. I myself serve on my local planning and zoning committee, and previously sat on the board of adjustment.

Tell us about your personal life.

I’m married, have a daughter, and we live in Dallas Center. My wife and I met at Iowa State, and are big fans and good supporters of Iowa State athletics.

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Advocacy, volunteerism, safety are top priorities for new president.

In January, Linda Westergaard was sworn in as the 2017 president of the Des Moines Area Association of REALTORS®.

Westergaard oversees the group’s 2,000 members. She has been a Realtor® for nearly two decades and is an agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices First Realty.

Can you Describe your goals for the association this year?

Advocacy is very important me. One of my goals is I’ve asked our members to reach out and get involved. There are so many different ways agents can do this—from spending time at their neighborhood school to participating on a committee in our association.

I think that we are so fortunate to be able to serve our clients as Realtors®, and the market is very good right now. I believe that we have a responsibility to serve and give back to our community.

Within our association, we have lots of committees that Realtors® can get involved with. For example, we have a golf committee that raises money for charity and a women’s group that works on a Habitat for Humanity build.

Something else very important to me is supporting home ownership and neighborhoods, and the Realtor® association is the largest advocacy group in the country working to endorse both. We have a Realtor® Party action committee and I’ve asked every member to get involved. It’s very important that we know what’s happening at the city, county, state, and national levels.

We have a brand new legislative initiative that we’ve started called “Home Ownership: Good for families, good for neighborhoods, and it’s good for Iowa.” It is a first-time homebuyer savings program where individuals and family members can put $2,000 annually into a savings account for a first-time home purchase in Iowa. The contributions are deductible from state taxes. (For more information about the Home Ownership program, see our story!)

We’re asking all of our Realtor® friends to contact their legislators and tell them we want this legislation passed. People can learn more about the program at IowaFirstHome.com.

Why the push for advocacy?

We are so fortunate that people use us to buy and sell homes everyday. But we are sometimes quiet about all the positive things we do in our communities. There are many of us who have always been involved in our communities, through politics or neighborhood groups or other volunteer work. This year, we need to promote what we do and let the public know all of the good things that Realtors® are doing. We have many members new to the real estate business. We not only want to stress to them how important it is to work in our communities but also show them.

What else will you be focusing on?

Safety is one of our top goals this year. We had a tragic situation several years ago when a Realtor® was murdered at an open house. It’s important for both new and experienced agents to always be mindful of things they can do to keep themselves safe. We ask members to sign a Safety Pledge and we will be offering Continuing Education classes regarding safety throughout the year.

What are some of the most significant challenges facing real estate?

Technology is constantly changing the way we do business. We just have to stay on top of it and help our members use the latest technology tools to better serve our clients. Other challenges include uncertainty in interest rates and the economy, and other factors that impact consumer confidence.

One hurdle we are currently facing is the scarcity of development land. There is a strong demand for new homes, but a shortage of places to build those new homes. We need to work with developers and communities to address this issue.

What are the hot trends this year?

Urban living is becoming more popular. We see that with all the construction going on downtown. People want to come back and live in Des Moines, they want to be a part of the core city. People also want to be near trails and be able to walk to work. We’re able to offer them that because we have a fabulous trail system in place.

Tell us about your activities outside of real estate.

I have the great privilege of representing Northeast Des Moines—Ward 2—on the Des Moines City Council. As a Realtor®, I know the city and know what’s going on in the city, so it’s an easy transition. The city council and Realtors® are working to make our neighborhoods better. We just want to make it a great place to live, work, and play.

I also sit on the boards of Rebuilding Together Greater Des Moines—a volunteer organization that rehabilitates homes of low-income homeowners—and the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.

I was there when my own neighborhood association, the Douglas Acres Neighborhood Association, started 20 years ago. I founded Northeast Neighbors and Friends, a coalition of neighborhoods on the northeast side, and I have been involved with them for many years.

Tell us about your personal life.

My husband, Neal, is also my real estate partner. We have been married for nearly 45 years and have lived in the same home we bought nearly 40 years ago. We are very fortunate that our two daughters and both of our grandchildren also live in Des Moines. As for hobbies: Right now, I’m focused on working. I hope I can play later.

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