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Jax Daily Record Monday, Jan. 15, 201804:05 PM EST

Palatka Realtor to lead NEFAR

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Ben Bates Jr. prompted Putnam County group to the association nearly 20 years ago. This year, he’s the president.
by: Caren Burmeister Contributing Writer

About two decades ago, Palatka Realtor Ben Bates Jr. persuaded the Putnam County Association of Realtors to join the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors.

In 2018, he will serve as president of NEFAR, leading the organization through a year of challenges that include continued low inventory, higher interest rates and the as-yet-unknown impact of the new federal tax law on real estate sales.

Bates, 72, is president of Coldwell Banker Commercial in Palatka, with four decades of experience in the real estate industry. On Jan. 18, he will be sworn in as NEFAR president. 

The association includes more than 8,000 members who represent all or part of Duval, St. Johns, Clay, Nassau, Baker and Putnam counties. 

“I consider it a very big honor to have been chosen by my peers at NEFAR,” Bates said of his election as president. 

Bates previously served as president of the Putnam County Association of Realtors. He has also served on NEFAR’s board of directors and chaired its budget and finance committee.

In addition to leading his real estate firm, Bates is president of Bates Hewett & Floyd Risk and Insurance and he owns a share of two auto dealerships in Starke and Palatka.

That makes for a busy schedule, but Bates said he does not need much sleep.

“I just enjoy the challenges and opportunities that life brings,” he said. 

The theme for Bates’ tenure at the helm of NEFAR is “Moving Forward Together,” with an emphasis on accountability, fairness and transparency to its members and the public.

He brings not only experience in real estate, but also in economic development. As chairman of the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce’s economic development arm, he has been involved in expanding jobs and the county’s tax base, efforts that have led to multimillion-dollar investments from Georgia-Pacific and Seminole Electric.

Tax changes and inventory

Bates identified NEFAR’s greatest challenges in 2018 as continued low inventory and the impact of the new federal tax law on local Realtors.

The National Association of Realtors lobbied successfully to preserve capital gains rules on home sales. The new bill also provides a pass-through deduction, a tax savings that favors corporations and commercial real estate investors.

However, NAR opposed the bill’s changes to the standard personal tax deduction, doubling it to $12,000 for single filers, $24,000 for those filing jointly. The organization fears that deduction increase would be sufficient to negatively influence the pursuit of homeownership as a tax shelter with the mortgage deduction.

In addition, the revised tax code caps deductions for state and local property taxes, limiting them to $10,000. It also lowers the threshold for interest deductions for first and second homes to $750,000, down from $1 million. 

NEFAR, which supports the national association’s position on the new law, must place an emphasis on educating its members and the public regarding its impact on the real estate industry, Bates said.

“Once we learn the pros and cons, we’ll have to see how we can make it work for our members,” Bates said. “Let’s find out how we can make it a win-win.” 

NEFAR also will work to improve the availability of inventory in 2018, Bates said. While it has risen slightly in recent months, the three months’ supply of homes remains about half what is necessary for a balanced market. 

Meanwhile, new home construction remains hampered by a shortage of skilled labor, and smaller homebuilders continue to face difficulties obtaining construction loans to build spec homes, Bates said. 

Despite the challenges, Bates said NEFAR is up to the task. 

“We have a great association that meets the needs of its members,” he said. “Our No. 1 goal is to make members as professional and educated as we can to make them more profitable.”

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