The Association of Real Estate License Law Officials recently held its District 1 conference at Mystic’s Hilton Mystic hotel.

Connecticut real estate license regulators got a rare opportunity last week. They mingled with out-of-staters who are in the same business and gathered ideas for better protecting Connecticut’s real estate consumers at the District 1 conference of the Alabama-based Association of Real Estate License Law Officials.

The international association, which is known as ARELLO, says its mission is to “support jurisdictions in the administration and enforcement of real estate license laws to promote and protect the public interest.”

Although the district conference – like the upcoming national conference – is an annual event, many of Connecticut’s license law officials were attending for the first time because the state Department of Consumer Protection, the department that oversees the state Real Estate Commission, does not pay to send its employees or the commission’s volunteer members to the conferences. Years ago, when the Real Estate Commission was independently funded via real estate license fees, Connecticut was an active member.

So this year, commission Chairman Bruce Cagenello decided to bring the district conference closer to home. It had previously been held in other places – District 1 includes Bermuda, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont – so any Connecticut regulators who attended paid their own way.

The 2006 district conference was originally slated to be held in Washington, D.C., but Cagenello, who hoped to make it more cost-effective for members of Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection to attend, lobbied at last year’s district meeting in Portland, Maine, to bring the 2006 conference to Connecticut instead.

The event was held last Sunday and Monday at the Hilton Mystic hotel in Mystic. About 40 people from across the country attended. DCP Commissioner Edwin Rodriguez was among the speakers.

‘A Lot of Variables’

It remains to be seen how much the exposure to ARELLO will effect the DCP’s participation. Because the Real Estate Commission, like all other boards and commissions within the department, is no longer the beneficiary of dedicated funding, it has been years since Connecticut has been active in ARELLO. Real estate income to the DCP is about $10 million, according to Cagenello.

“[Cagenello] got exposed to the power of sharing ideas,” said Craig Cheatham, chief executive officer of ARELLO.

Staff members from the DCP and the staff of the Connecticut Association of Realtors worked to organize the event in Mystic.

“Connecticut has not really been connected with the real estate regulators community for several years,” Cheatham said.

But increased participation could benefit Connecticut’s regulators and consumers, according to Cheatham. The real estate industry constantly evolves, and participation in ARELLO and exposure to other states’ problems and solutions can help shorten the time between what is happening in the real world and when new regulations are implemented to address those issues.

“It’s interesting to see how other states deal with the problems we deal with,” said Marilyn Keating, a member of the Connecticut Real Estate Commission who attended the conference. “It kind of gives you an advantage.”

Despite some differences in real estate markets, most states deal with the same problems, and all ARELLO members are ultimately in the business of protecting consumers, Cheatham said. Connecticut has some obstacles, including the funding and structure of the Real Estate Commission, but Cheatham said he hopes bringing the conference to Connecticut to expose the DCP staff and commissioner to the organization will be a way to overcome them.

“Whatever light bulbs come on for Connecticut attendees to make them realize [the value of participating in ARELLO] will be good,” he said.

Attending conferences is only part of participation in ARELLO, however. Cagenello said his hopes are to get the DCP to recognize the value of participation and take advantage of ARELLO. He expressed interest in getting a staff member on one of ARELLO’s boards.

Cagenello also said he hopes exposure to the organization and its work will help convince the department of the importance of filling out surveys and providing statistics for research purposes. Because there are few staff members dedicated solely to real estate, such requests often go unfulfilled.

Connecticut’s participation would benefit all its citizens, Cheatham said. Instead of real estate license regulators in the state operating in a vacuum, he said, ARELLO allows them to see that others have the same issues.

“People walk away with solutions every time,” he said. “It allows them to bring better solutions faster to Connecticut.”

In a subsequent interview, Rodriguez noted that “ARELLO is a great organization.” But since the DCP is a governmental agency that regulates many industries, and given budgetary constraints, its participation would have to be on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Rodriguez would not commit to sending people to conferences every year, saying he would have to find out more about the time and travel commitment that would be required to nominate someone for ARELLO’s board. He pointed out that, although he realizes real estate drives the economy, he often has to put public safety and health issues above economic ones. If, for example, there were a choice between sending someone to a conference on food safety or to an ARELLO conference, he said he would be inclined to choose the food safety conference.

“There are a lot of variables coming into play,” he noted.

Rodriguez said he hopes the Real Estate Commission can be more involved in ARELLO, however.

“I think sharing information is very [important],” he said.