The day was sparkling, an uplifting break from the gray and rain of the rest of the week. Viewed from the second floor dining room at Chelo’s Waterfront in Cowesett, Warwick Neck was a dark green ribbon against the bright blue of Greenwich Bay. In the foreground, like stallions in their stalls, sailboats and powerboats lined the docks. The scene didn’t escape Ron Phipps, who described himself as “a Rhode Islander by separation.”
Phipps grew up an “Army brat,” relocating from one place to another. More recently, he has crisscrossed this country and traveled throughout the world as president of the National Association of Realtors. He is the first Rhode Islander to lead the association of 1 million realtors.
Phipps was the featured speaker at the luncheon Thursday, hosted by DeFelice Realtors and organized by David DeFelice. DeFelice wanted to honor Phipps for his service to the industry and to gain Phipps’ his perspective on where we are today. The audience was more than 80 realtors and people in the construction business.
Phipps took in the view of the bay. It is a reason he loves Rhode Island. Another reason is the distinct seasons, which gave him his metaphor.
“This has been a very long winter for us … we can choose to be spectators or we can engage the process,” he said.
Evidently he doesn’t see that happening enough.
“Today,” he continued, “we spend a lot of time looking down and this is a time to look up.”
Phipps said his national role has convinced him of the importance of private property ownership and the impact it has on our lives. Looking at the world, he concludes that in areas of greatest strife, property ownership, as it works in this country, doesn’t exist. There are no predictable sources of financing, title insurance, or legal system of record keeping in those places.
“There are many advantages for society,” he said of home ownership.
He put the average net worth of a family owning a home at $160,000, whereas that of one that rents at $4,600. The recession hasn’t been kind, however. Home ownership that was as high as 69 percent has slid to 60 percent.
But Phipps feels spring in the air, but there are issues.
“We’re back,” he said. “There are sustainable home ownerships.”
He called purchasing a home a marathon, and then corrected himself. “It’s more of a triathlon.”
He noted that someone could finance a car costing tens of thousands of dollars and drive away from a dealership in 90 minutes, yet it frequently takes 60 days to get a home mortgage.
“It’s half the job of every real estate transaction,” he said.
Despite his endorsement of home ownership, Phipps said, “Everyone needs shelter, but not everyone should own.”
Richard Godfrey, executive director of the Rhode Island Housing Authority, who preceded Phipps, found a silver lining in current conditions, although he said, “We have a problem in Rhode island. There’s not a lot you can do with 11 percent unemployment.” At a median price of $125,000, however, he said, “The numbers far favor home ownership.”
And referring to those who forecast 10 years of tough times when the country slid into recession in 2007, Godfrey concluded we’re half way up from the bottom.
But, he added, “We need to fix the housing financing system.”
The assessment had Phipps nodding, especially when Godfrey cited Edward DeMarco, acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, adding, “We need someone who has the political will to fix it.” Godfrey concluded, “We’re in a vacuum. The system [of financing] is really broken.”
Speaking of the Rhode Island Housing Authority, which he said has a $2 billion loan portfolio, “We’ll do whatever it takes to make a loan.” And, he said, “The good news is that most people are paying their loans … I’m very high on the future of Rhode Island.”
He called for voter approval of Question 7 on the election ballot, to provide $25 million for affordable housing. He said the bond would leverage another $150 million in grants for the construction and renovation of housing.
“We need to invest in our neighborhoods … we want to build strong communities,” he said.
Phipps echoed the message.
“What drives us,” he said, speaking of realtors, “is the universal family and the importance of home ownership … we’re in the business of home.”