HOWLAND - Decades as a Realtor, homebuilder, appraiser and industry official have paid off for Tom Williams, who in 2013 will become the first Warren-area real estate agent to serve as president of the Ohio Association of Realtors.
"I've been a Realtor for 34 years and been involved with OAR and the local association since the early 1990s on a dedicated basis. I felt this was a way for me to give back," said Williams, who also will be the first Youngstown-area resident to head the state association since 1952.
Williams, 60, will succeed Bob Miller as the president of the association, which normally gets its leaders from large metropolitan areas around the state.
Tribune Chronicle / Larry Ringler
Tom Williams sits at his desk in Howland after becoming the first Warren-area Realtor to be voted president-elect of the Ohio Association of Realtors. He also is the first Youngstown-area resident to head the state association since 1952.
Born in Youngstown, raised in Lowellville and now an Austintown resident who works out of Northwood Realty Services' office in the Howland Plaza, Williams has an extensive background in real estate.
He dedicated himself to attending meetings in Columbus, as well as huddling with lawmakers, both in Columbus and in Washington, to advocate for the industry. He currently serves as OAR treasurer.
He's stayed active locally as well, serving previously as president of the Youngstown Columbiana Association of Realtors, where he won Realtor of the Year in 1996 and 2003. He also has served on community boards, including the Lowellville school board.
Williams takes over during a difficult but promising time for the housing industry. The market continues to feel the weight of foreclosures, falling prices, tight lending standards and other issues that forced sales to dry up in 2008.
Progress is being made in Ohio, which Williams said has had seven straight months of sales gains. The Mahoning Valley area, while still struggling, is seeing some light from a stronger local manufacturing sector, plus the creation of jobs and paychecks from the coming natural gas shale drilling boom.
More, however, may be needed to restore consumer confidence to the level of making the biggest purchase most will make in their lives.
"People are scared to make any moves. They're concerned about jobs," he said.
One issue is tighter standards being used by banks that were stung by no-down-payment options and other loose terms during the housing bubble.
"If you have a good job history and your credit is good, it's not an issue. It's the person who might be a little marginal where banks are taking a stronger stand," he said. "They've gone to the other end of the spectrum from being so lenient, where they never should have been."
A number of problems could disrupt the industry's slow revival.
One is if lawmakers tinker with the mortgage interest federal tax deduction, as some have suggested in order to find more money to cut the nation's deficit.
"That would be devastating," Williams said. "People rely on those kinds of tax credits. We're in an election year, so sometimes things sit on the back burner. It's one of the huge issues the National Association of Realtors is fighting right now."
Another is the lingering prospect of higher interest rates. Rates have remained at historic lows around 4 percent as the Federal Reserve prints money to keep rates low. Williams expects rates to stay low for a while as the nation's bankers use the all-important housing industry to revive the economy.
"Other than wars, the housing industry has always been the main reason why the economy comes back," Williams said. "Look at how many jobs building a house creates, from construction to appliances, furnishings, carpet. It's huge."
Compared to renting, home ownership remains something special, but it's also a privilege, not a right, Williams said.
"How many people wash a rental car before turning it in," he said, referring to the pride of ownership owning a home brings instead of renting. "People take better care when they buy. It creates neighborhoods and stability.
"But not everyone can own a home. You're not entitled to it; you have to earn it," he added.