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Christian Real Estate Network Under Fire

The Christian Real Estate Network (CREN) has come under fire recently for alleged discrimination and violating fair housing laws.  According to CREN’s president, Justin Smith, the California-based network has received an increasing amount of “hate mail” in 2004 accusing it of being prejudiced in whom they deal with.  Smith said that these letters are “misguided”.  “There is a basic misunderstanding on how we operate as a business.  It would be silly to deny anyone service – we never say anything like that at all,” he said.

CREN is a family-run business as Justin father, Bart, is the CEO and co-founder of the network.  The senior Smith has served as a broker-owner in the RE/MAX system since 1987.  “Our critics clearly have a misunderstanding of the fair housing laws and how our business operates,” Bart Smith said.  He continued,  “The reason we started this network in the first place was because we found that there is a huge number of people who would prefer to use a Christian agent.”  Smith points out that the network’s “statement of faith” is fairly broad, with memberships open to most Christian denominations such as Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian faiths.  The network's pledge of performance states, "As committed believers, and as real estate professionals, we agree to provide a level of service to our clients which will glorify our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  The network, however, does not recognize members of the Church of Latter Day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses as eligible to join the referral network.

The two year-old network operates by referring home buyers and sellers to Christian real estate professionals.  Since its inception in 2002, the referral network has grown to represent about 340 real estate agents and about 60 loan officers.  The network also refers business to Christian property managers, and last month the network expanded to include referrals for Christian appraisers.  The network reportedly processed more than 1,000 requests for real estate agents and loan officers in 2004, and there are members in all but a few states. The network also is open to real estate professionals in Canada.

To be part of the network, agents pay $200 for a three-year membership, which is goes towards to the network’s advertising budget.  The network advertises on a number of Christian-affiliated Web sites and radio stations.  In addition, members must pay a 25-percent gross commission for any transactions referred by the network.  Loan officers can become members of the network for $50 per month or $475 annually.  To be eligible for membership, agents must be licensed for a minimum of three years and must have closed at least $1-million worth of sales in the previous year.  Loan officers must have at least 6 months of experience.     

Another Christian real estate network in Michigan, Exodus Network, is keeping a close eye on developments with the CREN.  The Exodus Network operates in a similar manner but has had little problems with allegations of discrimination.  The Exodus network advertises that its members “work with biblical integrity and honesty”.  The group's web site carries the statement, "The Exodus Network abides by all the practices of the fair housing law".