MLS president promotes technology, ethics

Linda Witte, partner with Keller Williams Realty and president of the local Multiple Listing Service, has been in real estate for more than two decades.

Distressed properties, loan defaults, worried investors. 2008? Try 1986.

It was 22 years ago that Linda Witte started her real estate career as an agent with Presson and Stroman. Back then, federal code changes had taken some of the tax advantages away from real estate, and prices slid as the get-rich-quick crowd bailed out and lost money.

By contrast, overzealous subprime lending and borrowers unable to repay mortgages have been cited as culprits in the current housing slump. The downturn hasn't been uniform, either, as formerly high-flying markets, such as Las Vegas, have taken big hits while Greater Charleston has been grazed but not battered. Speaking from experience, she says, "This feels like not even as tough a market as when I got into it."

Witte, partner in the Charleston area Keller Williams Realty franchise, has seen the highs, too. Keller Williams launched locally in 2003 during a bullish real estate run. "We were rocking," she says.

Such experience with real estate's cyclical nature pays dividends in Witte's current position as 2008 volunteer president of the regional Multiple Listing Service, a division of the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors. "I'm growing into it," Witte says of the post. "I was challenged by it."

The service, found in various forms nationwide, permits Realtors to join together to "list" properties, sharing market information while earning commissions if the homes, land or buildings sell. As a result, a larger pool of brokers can be involved in promoting the thousands of properties that come on the market each year.

Of importance in a market like today's that favors buyers, the MLS should "help clients get sellers to list properties at the right place to get sold," Witte says. That way, homes sell at market prices and in a timely manner.

The efforts are more than strictly business, though. "We want to have a positive impact on the quality of life and the community," Witte says. For instance an MLS instructor, Lydia Diaz, is one of the first professionals in the state certified by the National Association of Realtors to assist the "Home From Work" program to help local employees buy homes and keep them. Witte says the certification stemmed from a collaborative effort of the Charleston Realtors Association and the College of Charleston's Carter Center for Real Estate.

The MLS is working to ramp up Real Estate TV on Channel 95 on Comcast Cable, which Witte says will be "a real service to agents and the public." Another initiative is centralized showings, wa service where Realtors have one central place for scheduling appointments to show properties. Charleston area MLS membership, even in a slow time, dropped just 6 percent to 5,668 this year from 5,908 in 2007.

Witte, a Greenville native, moved to the Charleston area decades ago. She worked for Prudential after it bought out Presson and Stroman, then switched to ReMax because, she says, it offered her more flexibility. Five years ago, Witte joined four partners to start up the local Keller Williams franchise. It has offices in North Charleston, downtown, West Ashley, Isle of Palms and Mount Pleasant, where she is based.

Witte says technology is a key component of today's real estate market. She stays in touch via her "smart" phone, checking e-mails, going online, even reading real estate contracts. In her volunteer president's role, Witte wants the MLS and its staff to remain tech savvy. Separately, she wants to promote education and the advancement of the Realtors' code of ethics.

Witte's term concludes at the end of the year. Her assessment after the first 100 days or so? "It's been exciting," she says.