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Gay Realtors band
together in Florida

Gay Realtors band
together in Florida

After reading about a secret society of high-end Realtors, another under-the-radar group of real estate industry professionals decided to tell their story publicly. The Sarasota, Fla.-based group is called GREEN, an acronym for the Gay Real Estate Executive Network. Its membership, all gay and lesbian, represents a half-dozen brokerages.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, a large group of "Greenies" gathered in a home near the Palmer Ranch section of Sarasota. Besides Realtors, there are mortgage brokers, contractors, home inspectors, painters, and even an architect. The two-year-old association describes itself as a "family-oriented" group of friends and colleagues who have banded together in a business network to better market real estate and related products.

They got the notion about taking their story to theSarasota Herald-Tribune from an article about the high-end Realtors that appeared in July. Some members of Sarasota's "Pinnacle" still refuse to acknowledge its existence, but the Greenies are much less guarded. The titular head is Donald Geikie, a Realtor with Michael Saunders & Co., who describes GREEN's goal as supporting one another in the quest to "sell more houses and make more money." At the meeting, Geikie serves as moderator and cheerleader.

Like most real estate professionals, members of GREEN are feeling the effects of the recent market slowdown and, on this particular rainy afternoon, absorbing sobering news that the local market has dropped by 11% in value and 50% in sales activity. "Now is not the time to lose heart. We don't want to get discouraged--don't give up," Geikie exhorts the group to a smattering of weak applause.

GREEN's members include well-known and influential area residents such as Felix Power, president of the Sarasota Association of Realtors; David Cromwell, president of the Venice Area Board of Realtors; and Matt Orr, a Michael Saunders & Co. executive who also serves as president of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce's Young Professionals Group.

All of the city's top real estate brokerages are represented, including not only Saunders but Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, Re/Max Properties, and Prudential Palms. Kathy Carbone and Bev Alter are "partners in real estate" at Saunders, where Carbone is a Realtor and Alter a broker associate. Their thoughts about the Greenies center on "strength in numbers, customer service, and camaraderie." The group provides "confidential access" to individuals with "sensitive understanding of the specific needs of our gay and lesbian clientele," says Carbone, a member of Saunders's "Ambassador's Circle."

"Applying for a mortgage as a same-sex or unmarried couple presents no special challenge for the applicants," said Michael Weintraub, a GREEN member and senior loan officer and licensed mortgage broker for ProStone Financial of Sarasota. The marital status of the couple has no bearing on the creditworthiness of the applicants or the likelihood that the loan will be approved, Weintraub said.

As with couples whose marriages are legally recognized by the state, the lender makes its credit decision based upon the credit score and income of each applicant, the down payment (if any), and the value of the property relative to the loan. The important difference is the manner in which title to the property is held and any additional agreement between the applicants.

Much of members' business is with gay clientele. Consider Andrea Rankin, who also is a mortgage broker through her business, Rankin Mortgage. About half her clientele is gay. She has closed about $9 million in loans so far this year and says she feels "blessed."

Mike Bruno, a Coldwell Banker agent, has sold about 800 homes during his 18 years in real estate, about half to gay customers. Bruno has "mentored dozens of new agents over the years," and serves at the Sarasota Association of Realtors.

Several straight couples said that they prefer working on real estate with a gay agent. Jerry and Nancy Garns lived in Sarasota for four years and are now living in South Carolina. "Having made the decision to sell our condominium town house in Sarasota, we specifically sought out a gay Realtor. Our reasoning was not complicated," the couple wrote in an e-mail. "We wanted as much exposure of our property as possible, and it occurred to us that increased exposure could be achieved as the result of the networking and advertising approaches of a Realtor who is prominent in the gay community as well as the community as a whole." (Stephen Frater, AP)

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