If you bought or sold a house in central Illinois over the past 100 years, you have the Peoria Area Association of REALTORS to thank for making the transaction a smooth one. “PAAR organizes and allows [area] Realtors to work as a cohesive unit,” explains Marilyn Kohn, a Peoria RE/MAX broker who’s been in the business since 1983. “I work with real estate agents across the country. We’re lucky to have the association that we do here.”
A Hub for the Industry
The PAAR office at 7307 N. Willowlake Court provides many functions, serving as the information center, help desk, trainer and arbiter for the 700 Realtors and 125 affiliate members involved in real estate transactions across central Illinois. Jeff Kolbus, president of RE/MAX Traders Unlimited, calls PAAR “the backbone of the industry, providing the structure that allows competitors to work together.”
Another service PAAR provides is the Multiple Listings Service, an online directory for central Illinois’ real estate market. It’s a marked change from the MLS book that Dewey Wilkins prepared himself after starting Traders Realty in 1938. That compact binder, showcasing homes for sale that year, is among the items kept in the Traders archives, Kolbus notes.
Bill Embry, a Mackinaw-based Realtor who served as PAAR president in 2000 and again in 2010, says the association’s role in helping associate members, such as financial offices and construction firms, is also very important. “Most people don’t realize it, but the association is also the biggest advocate for personal property rights.”
Embry cites the two biggest changes in the real estate business since he entered in 1977 as the rise of technology and defining who the agent represents. “In the past, we always worked for the seller,” he explains. “Now we have clearer lines of responsibility such as the buyer’s agent.”
Kohn can also attest to the difference technology has made in her business. “I had one of the first radio phones in the area back in the 1980s,” she says, referring to the earliest cellphones. “Maybe 15 people had them at the time. You pressed the button for a line; if it was in use, you went to the next one. The cost was over $2,000!”
“I remember the first fax machine. We would watch contracts go in, and later they would come out with a signature,” laughs Kohn, who stirred the local real estate community in the 1990s when she developed the first website devoted to local home sales. “People were upset because I had listings on there. I remember running billboards with the line, ‘For a house, shop with your mouse.’”
While technology has advanced rapidly in recent years, some aspects of the business remain the same. “Realtors are competitive over listings and agents, but we all support the community,” says Kolbus. “We all have the same goal in mind.”
Tackling the Pandemic
Perhaps no other year in the association’s century-long history has been as challenging as 2020, when PAAR CEO Reginia Tuttle faced a situation like no other. “When the pandemic hit, Realtors very quickly landed on their feet. I was wowed by the resiliency of our membership,” says Tuttle, who guided the effort that allowed home sales to continue under extremely trying circumstances. In fact, many Realtors have had a record year in production.
PAAR President Jason Catton, owner of Realty Executives Acclaimed in Peoria Heights, also credits the association membership for their performance in 2020, while having the foresight to adopt new practices in recent years. “The pandemic is new territory to us all. Fortunately, technology has provided us many resources,” he explains. “Digital signatures have been in use for years and played a great role in local transactions this year. Virtual open houses via live streaming and private virtual showings were not uncommon before the pandemic, but saw a higher adoption rate this year.
“Some criteria for buyers have changed as well,” he continues. “Flex space in a home, for example, is in more demand, whether for homeschooling or a home office. Homes with pools were also in higher demand this year.”
After 100 years, PAAR remains an integral part of the area real estate scene, Catton adds. “Our association provides a secure lockbox system that ensures security while sending notifications to Realtors with access logs. We provide statistics so that members can take the temperature of the market at any time. We also provide continuing education required by the state. Most importantly, we provide rules—not only the Realtor Code of Ethics, but association rules that ensure that we, as professionals, work on a level playing field.” PM
For more information, visit paarealtors.com.