As Champaign-area REALTOR® Matt Difanis, ABR, CIPS, GRI, seeks a two-year term on the Illinois REALTORS® Board of Directors starting in 2020, he says he relishes the many ways he can help consumers, colleagues and the industry.
The co-owner of RE/MAX Realty Associates in Champaign said he takes particular pride in reaching out to partner organizations and encouraging members of color to become more involved in Illinois REALTORS® activities. He served as the 2018 state association president the same year that the 50th anniversary of the Federal Fair Housing Act was celebrated.
“I was certainly not the first to be involved with trade groups who represent historically underrepresented constituencies within our membership,” said Difanis, who reached out to multiple organizations prior to his inauguration. “But the Dearborn REALTISTS® were a special case. After I had some early – and very positive – exposure to the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP) and the Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA), I wanted to find a way to make inroads with the REALTISTS®.”
Difanis is one of nine REALTORS® slated to join the board of directors at the Fall Business Meetings, Sept. 17-19 at the Chicago Marriott in Naperville. He is featured in a series of articles on slated board candidates.
Reaching out to colleagues
Difanis used his aptitude for photography to document numerous events held by the Dearborn REALTISTS®, AREAA, NAHREP and the Women’s Council of REALTORS® (WCR) Chicago. He’s attended golf outings, monthly membership meetings, holiday parties, galas and wealth-building events. He’s studied the history of the organizations and used social media to explain why the events are important to the organizations and to their members.
Key to creating relationships with the REALTISTS®, he says, were early conversations with Dearborn REALTIST® President Courtney Q. Jones and National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) President Ron Branch. Difanis became a dues-paying member for the organization and pledged his support for the organization’s mission of advancing black home ownership and the interests of black real estate professionals.
Since the fall of 2017, six non-white members have joined the Illinois REALTORS® Board of Directors, and the addition of Gaspar Flores Jr. in September will make seven. “I’m proud that more members of color are at the table, sharing their voices, perspectives and experiences,” said Difanis.
Difanis’ passion for inclusion is similar to his passion for learning. He began taking real estate pre-licensing coursework during his last semester of undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He worked full-time as a REALTOR® while attending law school there and chose to remain in the industry after earning a Juris Doctor degree.
“Why did I become a REALTOR®? I got married at age 20 and I purchased my first home around my 21st birthday,” he says. “Going through the process, and feeling clueless about it, motivated me to start studying real estate.
“I stay in this business, even after completing law school, because I enjoy the variety and endless challenges,” he says. “I love being able to work through a mind-numbingly complex situation for a client who couldn’t have made it through without professional assistance.”
Advocating for and helping the industry
Over the years, Difanis has served on many state association task forces, working groups and committees, including the Illinois REALTOR® Bicentennial Task Force, the Ombudsman Committee and the Statewide Independent Expenditure Committee. The experiences have helped him appreciate the many ways associations help members, he says.
Difanis served on the task forces that created the Illinois REALTORS® successful Ethics Citation Program and Ombudsman program. He’s traveled the state serving on ethics and arbitration panels for Illinois REALTORS®. After serving as a member on the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) Professional Standards Committee for a couple of years, he was named 2019 Vice Chair of NAR’s second largest committee and will serve as its 2020 Chair next year.
He is a Golden “R” Major Investor in the REALTORS® Political Action Committee (RPAC), a member of NAR’s President’s Circle and its Board of Directors. He is the State Legislative Contact for State Sen. Scott Bennett of Champaign.
On the local level, Difanis served as 2012 president of the Champaign County Association of REALTORS® and was its 2013 REALTOR® of the Year.
(This is the second in the series of stories about slated candidates for the Illinois REALTORS® Board of Directors. Read the first on Chicago REALTOR® Christopher Pezza.)