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New Real Estate commissioner: building a ‘better market’

Judy Lowe talked her way into her first job in real estate in 1979. The homemaker convinced the owner of a Tucson real estate company she could help him develop his business and took a job at the front desk. It wasn’t long before she was in charge of business operations.

She had discovered a calling that, 30 years later, would have her overseeing real estate business across the state.

“Being commissioner will be an adventure with a lot of purpose … to make the changes within the real estate industry that are needed right now, and to enhance the protection of the public,” says Lowe, who was named commissioner of the Arizona Department of Real Estate by Gov. Jan Brewer on May 14.

After Lowe started answering phones for Shadron Realty in Tucson, she quickly moved to a position as bookkeeper and eventually became the firm’s business manager.

“Real estate is an evolving, educational experience,” says Lowe. “You just move from one door opening to the next. You just learn as you go.”

After spending some time in California, she returned to Arizona in 1983 and began her employment as a real estate secretary for Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate. She became part-owner of the company, then known as Coldwell Banker Success Realty, in 1992, and helped oversee some massive changes there, changes that affected the company and the Arizona real estate industry at large.

She helped Coldwell become the first company in Arizona to implement the Seller’s Property Disclosure form, as well as other consumer-protections. After much success, Lowe became a self-employed broker in January 2009.

Lowe says she had been approached in the past to “throw her hat in the ring,” and quickly accepted the offer to serve as Real Estate commissioner. She says it is, however, temporarily postponing her “ride in to the sunset” of retirement with her husband.

During her first two months on the job, Lowe reduced the department’s employee count to 44 from about 50 and replaced the department’s automated call-answering service with live people. She also intends to implement better education programs for real estate licensees and the public, and to address the challenges the state faces in all corners of the real estate market.

One challenge the department is addressing is property-management fraud. In order to combat the fraud, the department implemented a new electronic audit-review process. Rather than going out and auditing any particular real estate firm, the electronic process requires all brokers engaging in property-management accounting to submit proper documentation to be stored on a computer. The department then conducts “educational” audits on the documents they have stored within their own office, and when a violation or “red flag” appears, auditors can go out to the offices of those being audited and conduct a thorough “violational” audit.

Lowe says the electronic streamlining of the auditing process saves both time and resources, and is absolutely necessary given the current condition of the state budget.

Although a reduced budget could be restricting, Lowe says she is a strong supporter of Brewer’s proposed budget and is optimistic about the department’s prospects.

“We’ll accept the budget as it’s given to us,” says Lowe. “We’ll streamline our internal processes. We’ll develop a new technology platform that will allow us to live with whatever budget constraints are given to us, whether they’re what we have right now or if they’re tighter in the future.”

Overall, the new commissioner’s goals include increasing the ability of buyers to qualify for loans, slowing short-selling and foreclosures to help keep values up, and shrinking the massive inventory of unsold homes. Lobbyists associated with the department are pushing for legislation to open up to every buyer a $8,000 tax credit, which right now is reserved for first-time buyers.

Although the challenges have been many, and certain problems still remain, Lowe has a brighter outlook for the real estate market.

“We’re getting through this,” she says. “I believe that in Arizona, we’re past the worst of it. We are going to begin tipping upward to a better market.”

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