Although Naja Morris didn’t go to Purdue University with the intent to become a REALTOR®, she has found numerous ways to use her political science degree to help protect the rights of property owners.
The broker for @properties in Chicagoland area has helped clients work with local government and learned about local issues and procedures through the government affairs committee for the Mainstreet Organization of REALTORS® (MORe) and outreach from Illinois REALTORS®. She’s the state legislative contact for state Rep. Andre Thapedi of Chicago, and one of her mentors, Local Government Affairs Director Tom Joseph, has been impressed with the way Morris operates.
“Naja is a very bright and understanding broker, and she gets the big picture of local government,” says Joseph. “She understands how local and state bodies can intrude on real estate and housing issues. During the last several years, I have seen her reach out to her legislator and speak effectively about complex topics. She has gained confidence through our local outreach and by participating in Capitol Conference.”
How real estate became her career
Morris had just graduated from Purdue University, Lafayette when her aunt encouraged her to get her real estate license. She wasn’t immediately convinced but thanks to encouragement from her husband, she passed the test on her second attempt, more than a year after her initial pursuit. Soon thereafter she went full time, joined MORe and became involved with the MORe Young Professionals Network (YPN). About four years ago, she asked a few YPN colleagues to go with her to an Illinois REALTORS® Capitol Conference and an annual tradition began.
Morris and her husband became landlords. She continued to work on her business, and as she discovered that many potential clients needed financing through the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), she learned more about ways to help them. She attended meetings of the Southwest Suburban Chicago Caucus and, “The first time I saw legislators in person, talking about subjects that directly affected my clients, I was hooked.” She learned about rent control, municipal inspection fees and a variety of other subjects that affected home buyers and sellers in her area. She begged for a chance to become a state legislative contact if an opportunity occurred.
Today, she serves on the Mainstreet Board of Directors and is one of 177 state legislative contacts for Illinois REALTORS®. She says Thapedi, who is a partner in a law firm and managing broker for Shore REALTY, LLC, is very responsive when she contacts him.
What has she learned?
“The No. 1 thing I’ve learned is that politicians are not bad people,” says Morris. “They must learn a lot about a number of complex subjects in a short amount of time and then make decisions. They bring different levels of experience to the table, and as real estate experts, we can help them understand how proposals could benefit or harm property owners. Sometimes we discover that well-intentioned ideas have unintended consequences.
“But it is our job to be the voice of the buyers and the sellers,” she says.
In one community, a zoning issue took six months to resolve, but Morris says she persevered for a client because of good advice from Joseph. “If it hadn’t been for him, I might have told my client we couldn’t make it happen,” she says. “Tom has taught me what procedures are standard and which ones raise a red flag.”
Morris says she appreciates the way Joseph facilitates meetings between REALTORS® and legislators, and his knowledge of who to contact for government services in each municipality. “If several weeks have gone by and we’re waiting for a building inspection, I can call Tom and he knows who to contact to get it done.”
“I can’t think of a more appropriate example of a REALTOR®,” says Joseph. “She brings great charisma and style to the table.”
The Illinois REALTORS® state legislative contacts program matches members with 59 state senators and 118 state representatives. It is modeled after the NAR Federal Political Coordinators program, which matches REALTORS® with U.S. senators and members of the U.S. House of Representatives. To read previous stories on participants in the state program, go here.