Politics isn't just for politicians. Jake Schloegel, president of Schloegel Design Remodel in Kansas City, Mo., learned that lesson a few years ago as he battled for repeal of a sales tax that was having an impact on the remodeling industry. Kansas City, plus its counties and municipalities, had enacted a clutter of sales taxes that remodelers had to be aware of, report, and submit.
“The only guys really charging and collecting taxes were legitimate, not the subterranean contractors,” Schloegel says. “So we were at a price disadvantage of about 4%.”
The local chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) decided to take on the issue at the state level. After several meetings to hammer out an effective approach, NARI representatives — including Schloegel — went to state legislative committee meetings and sessions to present their case.
“We said it was an unjust tax for people trying to maintain their home, especially people on a fixed income and those who were lower-income. They were being taxed like no one else when trying to maintain or improve their biggest asset,” Schloegel says. Legislators listened and repealed the tax.
Building height issues drew Mark Scott of Mark IV Builders in Bethesda, Md., into the political arena. “My belief, generally speaking, is that nobody pays attention to local issues such as the height of buildings. It's a free shot that a county council person can take, saying he's looking out for the interests of the community without much political fallout concerning donations,” Scott says.
So last May, Scott formed a political action committee (PAC), which aimed to increase county council candidates' awareness of the local building community. While setting up the PAC took about 15 minutes and raising money took just a few phone calls, the rest of the process demanded much more of Scott. “It was way harder than I thought it was going to be. The simple mechanics is one thing. Learning nuances and personalities is something different,” he says. On top of that, two-thirds of the candidates supported by the PAC lost in the November elections.
But Scott is philosophical about his experience. All the new county council members and staff know him, he says, and will talk with him early on relevant issues. Besides, “I think we were able to put a more human face on the local building community,” he adds.
Similar political interests often draw remodelers and builders to work together. The Treasure Coast Builders Association, however, faces a challenge in representing all its members on the issue of Florida's homestead law. The law limits property tax increases to no more than 3% per year. But homeowners who build a new house will get hit with a huge increase in property taxes. That encourages remodeling but not new construction, explains Rick Hope, president of The Hope Co. in Vero Beach and past president of the association. The group would like to see the law changed to permit homeowners to carry the value of their old home with them, thus earning a break when taxes are calculated on their new home.
As demanding of time and energy as being politically active is, Scott remains convinced that the task is critical. Politics will play an increasingly stronger role in the market, he argues, and early awareness of potential issues permits remodelers to mobilize. “If somebody doesn't do it, we're all in trouble.”
Diane Kittower is a freelance writer in Rockville, Md.
National Agenda The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) announcement in December 2005 of new rules governing lead-safe work practices for remodelers created a catalyst for NARI and the National Association of Home Builders' (NAHB) Remodelers to work together more closely. With significant funding and professional advocacy provided by the NAHB to conduct a research study on lead, NARI and NAHB Remodelers partnered on jobsites and on certification training for members. Both organizations submitted positions in opposition to the EPA with the hope of influencing more reasonable amendments. To date, rules remain in a proposal stage, and the EPA is expected to conduct further research. —N.P.