Five Questions with HGAR President Crystal Hawkins Syska
John Jordan | January 21, 2021
To begin 2021, Real Estate In-Depth chose to interview HGAR President Crystal Hawkins Syska who begins her term under unprecedented circumstances with the nation in the grip of a deadly pandemic, a national economic crisis and social and political unrest that will likely shape policy and economic activity for years to come.
In recognition of the continued spread of COVID-19, Hawkins Syska will be the first association president to be installed virtually. On Feb. 4 from 5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m., HGAR will install its 2021 President, Executive Officers and Directors via Zoom.
Hawkins Syska and HGAR Officers will be installed by National Association of Realtors President Charlie Oppler. NYSAR President David Legaz will install the 2021 HGAR Directors. The Installation Gala program will also include a 30-minute mixer with breakout sessions prior to the program and entertainment by international music duo, “The Reminders.” A Swag Bag with champagne and gourmet snack will also be available for those who purchase tickets prior to Jan. 21. For more information go to: https://www.hgar.com/event/hgar-installation-of-2021-20210204.
Hawkins Syska, an Associate Broker with Keller Williams NY Realty in White Plains, has been in the real estate business since earning her license in 2004.
The Bronx native first joined the HGAR Board of Directors in 2017 and served as Secretary before being named President-elect in 2020. She also serves as a Director with the New York State Association of Realtors. The graduate of City College of New York began her real estate career with a small brokerage firm in Ossining before joining Keller Williams NY Realty. Hawkins Syska specializes in short sales and has a Certified Distressed Properties Expert (CDPE) certification and has a service area from the Bronx to Dutchess County.
Before entering real estate, Hawkins Syska worked as a property manager in Greenwich, CT for about two years. Her first post-college position was in public relations and communications with the International Rescue Committee in Manhattan, which helps refugees from foreign countries, settle into the U.S.
Real Estate In-Depth: As we enter 2021, the Hudson Valley region is experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. While the real estate industry remains fully operational, with safety protocols, what would you say to Realtors working in these most difficult times?
Hawkins Syska: I would say they need to work smart and to be cautious and considerate. We should not take any unnecessary risks as we try to help individuals continue in their goal to homeownership. In my mind what that means is I think that with the protocols that we have in place we should make sure that we are only taking the most qualified buyers into properties—meaning asking for the COVID disclosures, which are required, but also asking for pre-approvals for funds, which is very important. This is not the time for “tire kickers.” Ultimately it elevates our service anyhow, because we are really dealing with the people who want to buy now.
I also think that we should take precautions in terms of protecting our homeowners and work with them and their concerns—making sure that there is hand sanitizer, booties and masks are available in order to go the extra mile in protecting the public.
Also, we should protect ourselves. It is not required that they have to work (in-person), but when they do so they make sure that they are not taking any unnecessary exposure to themselves. I personally had COVID-19. It was brought into our home through one of our kids and the truth is that what we experience with the illness is not necessarily what plays out in real life with what we hear on the news. Our teenager had the symptoms far worse than either myself or Peter (Spino, her fiancée) did. And that was not what we thought (when first contracting the virus).
Real Estate In-Depth: A native of the Fordham section of the Bronx, you are taking on the role of HGAR President shortly after the association merged with the Bronx-Manhattan North Association of Realtors. Do you believe the formal addition of the Bronx to HGAR’s market area is important and if so, why?
Hawkins Syska: I do feel the merger is important and I am really excited that they joined exactly at the time that I will be president. There is a synergistic relationship between the Bronx and Westchester County. You can go to nearly any part of Westchester County and you will find former Bronxites. They are even in areas where a lot of us settle. When I look at this there is definitely those who leave the city to come up (to the northern suburbs) and there are those who are actually leaving Westchester to go back to the Bronx to have that type of lifestyle. So, I think that it is incredible that we are all one, together.
Real Estate In-Depth: Fair Housing has been in the news, especially with NAR recently offering an apology for past practices in terms of its past actions on fair housing. HGAR has embarked on a number of fair housing initiatives. Can you provide an update and if you have any further plans to institute new fair housing programs at HGAR?
Hawkins Syska: My specific theme for this year, my platform is “Fulfilling the American Promise” and that is a direct response to what we have seen as challenges in everyone receiving fair and equal treatment when it comes to housing. This year we will be creating a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and it’s my intention that committee will be working with Fair Housing and Education (committees) to bring fresh new insight and training to our members to make sure we can serve the public at the highest level.
Editor’s Note: Hawkins Syska said that committee chairs and members have yet to be named.
Real Estate In-Depth: Can you outline your administration’s other plans and goals for 2021 at HGAR?
Hawkins Syska: I want to increase our visibility to the public through some public service announcements on local cable channels… I am looking to work with our local governments to create access to Department of Buildings’ information for the whole county, to be more similar to New York City.
The other goal is to increase the diversity among our agents and work more homogenously with other communities. One way (to increase diversity among agents) is more conversations need to happen on the high school level about what it means to be a real estate agent because of the fact that my step daughter just graduated high school and is now in college and there are quite a few of her friends that are actually looking to join the real estate industry. So, I think if we could actually create programs geared more to the young about the impact of real estate on wealth in all the neighborhoods, I think that we would raise awareness and attract different groups of people to the industry.
Real Estate In-Depth: HGAR has been heavily involved in legislative advocacy throughout the Hudson Valley and now is engaged in representing members in the New York City region in both Albany and Washington, DC. Are there any critical legislative issues you would like to see either advanced or defeated during your term of office?
Hawkins Syska: I would definitely want to see on the local and state level more of a recognition of affordable housing because affordable housing is not just for those starting out, but also for our seniors, which are about to be a really big group, bigger than any other and there is not enough housing for them to stay in Westchester. So, I think we need to revisit rent control laws because there are a lot of aspects of them that are unintended consequences that are actually harming the public as opposed to helping them. Also, we need to address co-op transparency.
Based on a lot of things that have happened this year and when it comes to co-op sales that are down 16.7%, people just slip past them (co-ops) and are willing to move to places like Sullivan County and part of that is the process. So, I think co-op disclosure is very important.
I also think that the initiatives President Barack Obama put in place for HUD need to come back on the federal level, such as the language changes in the Fair Housing Act’s Disparate Impact Standard.
Another key issue is the SALT Cap. We lost a lot of sales to Connecticut because of that cap and we need to have that changed. I am really excited that it looks positive in that direction (that the new Biden administration may change or repeal the SALT Cap imposed as part of the federal Tax Cuts and Job Act passed in 2017.)