Campaign posters bad for business, realty agents say SIGNS OF CONFLICT

September 11, 1994|By Adele Evans | Adele Evans,Special to The Sun

Real estate broker Harry Blum is angry about campaign signs.

"Not one person running deserves to be elected," he said. "I have no respect for candidates when I ride on the street and see about 80 signs."

Mr. Blum, a partner at Fiola Blum Inc., along with scores of other real estate brokers say they believe big, bright campaign signs hurt business and confuse buyers. They block out for-sale signs. And some agents worry that too many yard signs -- whether for-sale signs, remodeling signs or campaign signs -- scare off house hunters who fear a mass exodus from the area.

The growth in the use of lawn signs similar to traditional for-sale signs is becoming a general problem for the real estate industry, said Arthur Davis III, president of the Maryland Association of Realtors.

"Unfortunately, people have fallen back on lawn-front advertising," Mr. Davis said.

"It has an impact on the buyer and gives an area a look. It leaves the false impression that too many houses are on the market. People aren't sure if they saw a sign for a contractor, political candidate or a real estate sign," he said.

But in recent weeks, with Tuesday's primary approaching, it's campaign signs that have angered agents. Some properties are home to a dozen signs.

The problem upsets many agents because an estimated one in six homes nationally is sold because the buyer has seen the for-sale sign, according to a study by the National Association of Realtors.

"By the time I get here I'm 'signed out,' " said Adam D. Cockey Jr., managing partner of W.H.C. Wilson & Co.

"Between the real estate signs, which are the minority, and the political signs, you want to look straight ahead. It's a shame they don't have our rules."

A real estate company can place only one for-sale sign for every TTC 600 feet of frontage. When a lone real estate sign is competing with dozens of campaign markers, many real estate brokers contend, the sellers and buyers are shortchanged.

"Propriety would say not to put eight to 12 signs up in one block," Mr. Blum said. "It's insanity."

But not every agent agrees.

"Our signs stand out. Certainly, people can see the difference between real estate and political signs," said Susanne Gurney, manager of Century 21-Don Gurney in Annapolis, who, with her husband, runs two other Century 21 offices in Anne Arundel County.

Ms. Gurney said Century 21 has paid "a fortune" in national advertising, which has made its signs easily recognizable. "I can see why little companies would be upset. But the campaign signs are a fact of life."

And some agents say the campaign atmosphere boosts business, by creating a small-town flavor.

Therese Redmond, manager of Century 21-Diana Realty in Bel Air, said she recently completed a sale of a home to a man from Indiana, who called the Harford County area the "friendliest place in the world."

"He was tickled by all the signs and seeing the waving people on the corners," Ms. Redmond said. "He got a view of the small-town atmosphere here that said, 'Hey, we're glad to see you.' "

According to the Baltimore County Election Office, campaign signs are allowed on a private property with the owner's permission. They may go up 30 days before the primary election and the losers must remove their signs within five days after the primary. Winners can remain up through the general election. Campaign signs may not be posted on state or county property, or on telephone poles. Commercial billboards are allowed on rented space.

That in itself isn't fair, say many in the real estate business.

"It's against the law for us, but they don't care and they're running for office," Mr. Blum said.

Mr. Cockey agrees: "It's been a trying market since 1990. Now the signs are blurring the availability of houses that are for sale."

Many political candidates are willing to compromise, but say they believe the real estate brokers are making a mountain out of a mole hill.

"We're already combating illegal real estate signs," said state Sen. Janice Piccinini, referring to small "open house" signs that are often posted on public property on weekends. "Our signs are very distinguishable."

Senator Piccinini is running for re-election in the 10th District. As a real estate agent, Senator Piccinini regrets stepping on anyone's turf, but added that real estate companies get to post signs 365 days a year, compared to the limited time candidates have.

"I've been careful not to block any legitimate signs," she said. "If we block their signs, they should just move our signs or contact the candidate."

What's more, campaign officials note that private property owners often contact them to request campaign signs for their lawns.

So what's to be done?

Mr. Blum says he has tried to get local officials to take notice, but with no success.

"In the past I've written letters about zoning violations," he said.

"Nobody feels like doing anything and it goes by the wayside. I stopped fighting city hall a long time ago," Mr. Blum said.

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