Five Questions With HGAR CEO Richard Haggerty
John Jordan | December 22, 2022
Richard Haggerty, who has worked in various roles at the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors and its predecessor organizations for nearly four decades, will go down in the annals of HGAR’s storied history as the leader who guided it to become a major real estate organization in the New York metro region. In his 10-year tenure as CEO, the association has grown from a membership of approximately 4,000 to more than 14,000 Realtors and affiliates in a six-county region in the Hudson Valley-New York City region.
Beginning in 2012 he has overseen the association’s expansion into Rockland and Orange counties, the Bronx and Manhattan. As he leaves HGAR, the enigmatic Haggerty has a long list of accomplishments, including: being the co-founder of the regional OneKey MLS, along with Jim Speer; championing Fair Housing and Realtor Ethics for decades; helping establish HGAR as one of the first organizations in the U.S. to embrace Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and hiring its first full-time DEI Officer and helping lead HGAR through the most difficult period in its history—the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since he announced back in September that he would be leaving HGAR to take over as CEO of OneKey MLS on Jan. 1, 2023, from retiring CEO Jim Speer, well-wishes have been pouring in from new and longtime HGAR, NYSAR and NAR members.
2022 HGAR President Anthony Domathoti seemed to sum up the feelings of many association members when he said recently, “A leader like Richard doesn’t come around every day. His ability to make every team member feel valued is an irreplaceable quality. He is one of the pillars that held HGAR up. I’m fortunate to have been able to work with him, and I wish him all the very best in the future. I thank him for everything…He will be missed.”
The veteran Realtor executive first worked at the then Westchester County Board of Realtors in 1984 as a temporary employee. After three weeks he was offered a job as the Director of Membership Administration and over the years he worked in other departments including Professional Standards and Multiple Listing Service. He was appointed Deputy Executive Officer in 2004.
After the Westchester County Board of Realtors merger with the Putnam County Association of Realtors in 2009 that created the Westchester/Putnam Association of Realtors, he oversaw WPAR’s merger with the Rockland County Board of Realtors and the Orange County Association of Realtors that created the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors in 2012. In January 2017, HGAR merged with the Manhattan Association of Realtors, creating an HGAR Manhattan Chapter, and in 2020 HGAR merged with the Bronx-Manhattan North Association of Realtors to create the Bronx Chapter of HGAR.
Since OneKey MLS’s inception in 2018, Haggerty has served as OneKey MLS’s President and Chief Strategic Growth Officer. Along with Speer, Haggerty was instrumental in the creation of OneKey MLS, the New York metro area’s first regional multiple listing service. Launched with the Long Island Board of Realtors, OneKey MLS has more than 50,000 subscribers and serves Manhattan, Westchester, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Orange, Nassau, Suffolk, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.
Since Haggerty penned his last “Gateway Perspectives” column in this edition of the newspaper, Real Estate In-Depth thought now was the time to get his perspectives on the association’s past, present and future, as well as his goals at OneKey MLS.
Real Estate In-Depth: In your 38 years at the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors and predecessor organizations, you have filled a variety of roles and provided a wide range of services to the membership including ethics training and most recently championing the association’s groundbreaking Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives. With that in mind, how has the role of the Realtor changed over the years?
Haggerty: When I first came to work for the association, which was in 1984, we were getting the (listing) books that were delivered from Canada and we would deliver a hot sheet that had all the status changes in all of the existing inventory every day to all of the offices. Back then, the Realtor was the caretaker of the information and in order to have access to information, you had to work with a Realtor. That started to change with the advent of computerized MLSs. When I first went to work for the association, we had the very first beginning of a computerized MLS. They were hard-coded monitors that were plugged into a system that was very primitive, but still back then it was pretty cutting-edge.
But, if there is one thing that has definitely changed is that Realtors are no longer the gatekeepers of the information. They have really evolved into much more service-oriented professionals where their focus is on providing a high level of professional service. … It took a long time, but I think that is the biggest transition for Realtors in my tenure.
Real Estate In-Depth: How has the role of the Realtor association changed in your nearly four decades at HGAR and is its work more relevant now and if so, why?
Haggerty: I think the biggest change is we deliver information in a much more-timely basis. When you think about it in 1984, we relied strictly on deliveries. We delivered the books; we delivered the hot sheets and mail. At that point, Al Gore had not invented the Internet yet. It was a really different environment. So, when news broke, we would report it in the monthly newspaper (Westchester Realtor). It wasn’t as though we had a website we could splash it all over.
Fast-forward with what we did with COVID, where we were providing almost real-time information to our members. Members expect information in numerous different formats, whether it be the website (HGAR or Real Estate In-Depth), e-mails, texts, weekly newsletters (the monthly newspaper Real Estate In-Depth) and the Daily Update. However, they want the information. We have to be able to deliver it and it’s got to be immediate and it’s got to be so much more-timely. I think the members got used to The Daily Update (launched in the early stages of the COVID pandemic in April 2020) and getting their news on a much more-timely basis. And that has been a big evolution. I think we have been able to really step up our game and fill that niche very effectively, and in my perspective, much more effectively than many other organizations.
Real Estate In-Depth: In your early days as CEO, you began talks that eventually led to mergers that significantly increased membership rolls and the association’s service area to Orange, Rockland, the Bronx and Manhattan. What were the economic and business forces that drove you to make these deals?
Haggerty: I think the biggest force was that the market became more regional. When I first came to work at the Westchester County Board of Realtors, we had maybe right around 1,500 members, maybe a little less. At the time, everyone operated in the towns where their offices were located. So, if you were in Larchmont, that is where you sold. Over the years, that started to change and it really started to change because MLSs became more organized, real estate data became more complete and Realtors had more access to data. As they had access to more data and accurate data, they started to expand their market areas. And also, there was a push by two different forces toward regionalization of offices. One was when Jack Mitchell convinced George Lawrence to merge with Art Houlihan and create Houlihan Lawrence. So, all of a sudden you had an office that covered the southern part of the county based in Bronxville and you had an office covering the Northern part of Westchester, join forces to cover the entire county. And Dan Bixler did something very similar when he got a Coldwell Banker franchise and started opening offices throughout the county and beyond. And that’s what happened with Houlihan, which expanded into Putnam and expanded even further. And when those forces really started to expand outside of the county, obviously we started to look at whether we should be expanding our borders.
We started with Putnam in 2009 and then we were approached by Rockland County through Drew Kessler at the time who was interested if we wanted to talk about a potential merger. And I made the decision with (WCBR CEO) Gil (Mercurio) at the time that if we are talking merger with Rockland, we should also talk merger with Orange County. … I reached out to (OCAR CEO) Ann Garti and asked if this should be a three-way conversation and she said, “Yes.”
The same thing happened in Manhattan where we saw the opportunity to expand into Manhattan. That organization was reaching out to several organizations, and they decided that we were the best fit. When you look at the fact that Westchester is, from my perspective, an extremely important suburb of New York City and Manhattan, that seemed to make a natural progression as well. So, I think we are responding to natural market forces where the region was expanding and continues to expand. Editor’s Note: Haggerty also discussed the circumstances surrounding the merger with the Bronx-Manhattan North Association of Realtors in 2020 and noted that COVID sped up the process that resulted in the ratification of the merger deal via General Membership meetings held on Zoom.
Real Estate In-Depth: You are leaving HGAR as the industry heads into uncertain times with the Federal Reserve trying to tamp down growth without bringing on a recession by hiking interest rates. How do you see the regional housing market in 2023 and what are the key issues that will determine the health of the market?
Haggerty: I am still bullish on this market and primarily because of geography. I do think the Federal Reserve is playing a very interesting game of chicken. I think he (Fed Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell) talks a tough game because he doesn’t want the markets to go out of control. So, when they did the half-percentage point increase (earlier this month), I think everybody anticipated that. But, then he was very hawkish in his remarks afterwards saying they were going to continue to raise rates. I think he uses that hawkish rhetoric as a tool to try to curb as Alan Greenspan used to call it “irrational exuberance.” I do think, quite frankly, that they will potentially slow down the rate hikes if the market indicators continue to show that inflation is being tamed.
At the end of the day, in this area the local economy is very strong. I really think that because of our lack of inventory, we are going to see a softening in 2023 of sales, but I don’t see a softening in prices. I just think that because of our low inventory situation, with no relief in sight, that prices are going to stay steady. My biggest concern for this area, and the rest of the nation as a whole, I see a lot of new construction of multifamily housing and not a lot of construction of single-family homes and condos and I don’t want this country to be a nation of renters. … I really think both on the state and local levels, we have to really come up with ways to continue to promote homeownership as a way to create generational wealth… Editor’s Note: He said that the Hudson Valley is recognizing the need to develop affordable housing and praised Westchester County Executive George Latimer for earmarking a record $90 million in 2023 for affordable housing initiatives. He said the issue must be addressed via public-private partnerships for true progress to be made.
Real Estate In-Depth: Can you spell out your goals as you take on your new position as CEO of OneKey MLS?
Haggerty: So, I would put it into two different buckets. The first is to really increase the efficiencies and the tools connected to the MLS. To really give the best tools available to our subscribers and participants so they will be able to deliver the best service that is possible to their consumers. The second is growth. I remember why we created OneKey MLS to begin with, which was to create one MLS and one consumer-facing site that benefits the entire greater New York City and suburban geography and that is where buses and trains go in and out of the city. I think there should be one MLS and that is not going to happen overnight, but I think it could definitely happen in the near future and I think it needs to happen. As I indicated earlier, a lot of firms have really become regional forces. You look at firms that used to be based only in the city that have now expanded into the suburbs, out to Long Island and up into the Hudson Valley, and out into Connecticut and even into New Jersey. And it doesn’t make sense that they have to be members of multiple MLSs.
Now, that doesn’t mean there is just going to be one MLS. There may be partnerships. There may be other opportunities to cooperate, but we have to figure out ways of delivering the most efficient service that we can to our participants and subscribers because when you look at the natural growth of this area, it just makes sense.