AREC Director Andrea Alford on the Changing Real Estate Market

AREC Director Andrea Alford on the Changing Real Estate Market
Alford is a 2020 graduate of the FBI Little Rock Citizens Academy and is also active with the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials. (Karen E. Segrave)

A Cabot native, Alford has worked for the state Real Estate Commission since December 2008. She holds the national Certified Public Manager and Arkansas Governmental Manager designations. She is a CPM instructor for the Arkansas Public Administration Consortium at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Alford attended what is now Williams Baptist University in Walnut Ridge before graduating from UA Little Rock with a Bachelor of Arts in music and an emphasis in vocal performance.

Briefly, what is the role of the Arkansas Real Estate Commission?

The Real Estate Commission oversees the licensing and brokerage activities of real estate salespeople, brokers and real estate education providers across the state, in addition to administering the timeshare registration program. Our mission and focus are to protect the public interest. The AREC envisions a marketplace in which real estate licensees are inherently capable and ethical, such that consumers can utilize their services with confidence and trust, and we actively seek to maintain a regulatory function of partnership and collaboration with all our stakeholders. 

What is the current state of the real estate industry in terms of people seeking licenses? Have rising interest rates affected the number of people entering the field?

We have certainly seen the market’s impact on our license application numbers. In the years immediately after the recession, we were averaging around 100 new license applications each month. By 2018, that number doubled. In 2021 and 2022, we averaged more than 260 new applications per month, and we currently have more people licensed than we have had since the 1990s. All of that to say, the rising interest rates don’t appear to have had much of a chilling effect on new applications just yet, especially as those rates are now showing some decline in response to recent activity in the financial markets. 

How has the real estate industry navigated COVID-19, during and after? What has changed?

One of the advantages real estate professionals had going into the pandemic was their established ability to work remotely. Most agents are quite accustomed to working from wherever they can, whenever they can. Still, the industry responded swiftly by leveraging existing tech with emerging solutions to adapt and serve their clients amid the pandemic. Naturally, we are finding what so many other industries have found: There are solutions that work well and should be carried on, pandemic or not, and there are solutions that were excellent emergency measures only and not feasible long-term solutions. Most real estate agents find that they can provide the highest level of service and representation to their clients when they are able to meet with their clients in person, and I know so many agents who are glad and grateful to be back to doing just that.

What are the most common complaints received about real estate agents?

Property condition, property inspection and property repair complaints currently top the list and have for several years now. During a sellers’ market, it’s not uncommon for buyers to waive inspections, ask for no repairs or forgo a survey in order to get to closing as quickly and smoothly as possible. After all, the buyers know how hard they fought to have their offer accepted, and they are well aware there is a queue of ready and willing buyers waiting to take their place. As the market progressed into 2020 and beyond, we saw even more buyers approaching inspections and surveys with this mindset, and I believe we will continue to see the impacts on our consumer complaints over the next several years.

What's the top issue that your commission is dealing with now?

Highly competitive market conditions can certainly mean an uptick in complaints, along with the emergence of creative selling strategies, some of which can prove risky for consumers. Every day, we are looking for new ways of providing consumers and licensees alike with the resources they need. Learning to adapt quickly in an ever-changing industry is a key part of that process. Public protection is our mission, no matter what, and the AREC is always striving to fulfill that mission with excellence and efficiency. 

How have real estate websites like Zillow and others affected the industry?

On a basic level, I think sites like Zillow have helped demystify parts of the buying and selling processes, which in turn leads to making those processes more accessible, especially when it comes to first-time consumers. And while sites like Zillow have been very effective in aggregating data across various sources, I think one thing we are all learning is that when it comes to the real estate transaction itself, there is simply no substitute for your boots-on-the-ground local experts.

What attracted you to this field?

Around 20 years ago, I attended real estate school, and by the end of the course, I knew that I didn’t want to become an agent. However, I absolutely loved learning about the legal and regulatory side of the profession. Little did I know that five years later, I would be given the opportunity to work for the Real Estate Commission. My grandfather was a pastor, my mother and my grandmother are both nurses, my stepfather chose a second career in nursing after his retirement, and my sisters all serve the community in various ways through their work and home lives. So, for me, a career in public service didn’t seem like that much of a leap. I still remember one of the questions my mentor and former AREC Executive Director Gary Isom asked during my job interview in 2008. He said, “A career in state government can sometimes lack the glamor of a private sector position. Why do you want to work in public service?” My answer is the same now as it was then, with a twist: I consider it both a privilege and an honor to serve the citizens of the state of Arkansas, and the fact that I am able to serve our citizens in partnership with the real estate industry is the icing on the cake. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take cake over glamor any day.