But that time can be invaluable to a career, Cathy Whatley said at the Women’s Council of Realtors during its June meeting. She has been involved with WCR since 1980.
“It always gave me insight and information that helped me better assist my clients,” Whatley, owner of Buck & Buck Inc. Realtors, said a few days later.
Whatley, who has been a Realtor since she was 19, has become one of the most distinguished members of the local trade associations. She was board president of the Jacksonville Association of Realtors (now NEFAR) in 1990, president of the Florida Association of Realtors in 1996 and president of the National Association of Realtors in 2003.
In the beginning though, she was just a young agent trying to better understand the business.
Once, a couple she represented as a listing agent wanted to know how capital gains tax would affect them. Whatley knew through her association membership that Congress was in the process of changing laws which, up to that point, only gave a one-time exemption to sellers 55 and older.
“Your client looks to the real estate professional to bring them knowledge and expertise,” Whatley said. “I found my association involvement elevated my game.”
It was even more the case after she became a leader.
“It’s one thing to hear the information. It’s an entirely different level of insight you have if you’ve been involved in debating the issues. … I could tell people why changes had been made,” she said.
And Whatley was at ground zero during some of real estate’s most historic issues, like affordable housing.
In the early 2000s, the market was heating up. Sellers could receive 20 calls within two hours of listing a property. Prices were rising.
“People had to live so far away from where they worked,” Whatley said.
As NAR president, Whatley worked through local and state associations to find ways to partner with cities and employers. They held housing summits and created employer-assisted housing programs.
During her tenure, Whatley testified before Congress, and once took 25 of the largest real estate company owners to meet with the Federal Reserve Board and Chairman Alan Greenspan.
The NAR post gave Whatley exposure to international real estate. The NAR has bilateral partnerships with more than 70 countries. Her travels to some of those countries allowed her to learn about real estate practices overseas.
Going to Russia 11 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall was memorable. “They were only in their first decade of learning about private property rights,” she said.
Whatley hadn’t imagined when she was younger she would one day become president of the national association. But, involvement at the state level seemed within reach from an early time.
A third-generation Realtor, Whatley’s company was founded by her grandfather in 1907.
As a child, Whatley traveled with her parents across the state when her father, Jim Buck, in 1962 led the Florida Association of Realtors.
Since she grew up in real estate (she typed contracts for her dad for a summer job as a teen), becoming a Realtor was a natural fit. Also, it gave her a flexible way to work while raising three children.
Becoming a leader in an industry where most leadership posts had gone to men was unsurprising to her. Perhaps, she said, it was because of her father’s involvement in the business.
“I never thought that I was disadvantaged because I was young or because I was a woman,” she said. “… I never felt like there was the inability to move forward because of anyone but myself.”
Being president of NAR, she said, was more a matter of timing than ambition. She believed she had something to offer for the influential group.
“It comes from getting to know people and having them feel comfortable that you’re going to be the spokesperson for one million people,” she said.
Thirty-four years is a long time to be a member of any organization.