“Questions about Real Estate” Reveals Members’ Research Needs from 80 Years Ago

Have you ever wondered what the most common reasons are for selling a home?  Or how smart home devices impact resale value? The librarians at NAR can help you find the answers through our research request service, a member benefit since the earliest days of the library.

Some insight into what this process looked like before the computer era appears in the column “Questions about Real Estate,” from NAR’s member publication Freehold (1937-1942).  Longtime NAR librarian and eventual Executive Director of the Counselors of Real Estate, Carrie Maude Jones, explains in the first issue that “the biggest Library job is answering inquiries which roll in by letter at the rate of from eight to ten thousand annually.”

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Carrie Maude Jones

Jones highlights several of these 8-10 thousand questions in each column, covering topics as diverse as chain store rents, agent compensation, and urban debt.  Some of the questions featured are windows into a bygone era.  One from August 15, 1937 begins, “Can you give us the names of manufacturers of miniature houses?”  And before you assume this is an early progenitor of the tiny home movement, the requester continues, “-houses which could be used for display and advertising purposes in real estate offices?”  Jones replies with information on five separate mini-home resources.

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A mini-home from 1948. National Real Estate Journal.

In addition to the sometimes antiquated topics, another relic of the era is the sheer number of appraisal-focused questions that appear in the column. For context, this was prior to the NAR Appraisal Division’s spinoff into what became the Appraisal Institute.  Members sought advice on how to appraise everything from funeral homes to breweries to churches (“It is a highly special problem,” writes Jones). Given the circumstances of individual properties, precise answers to these appraisal questions are impossible.  However, Jones and her staff collected articles, expert opinions, and occasionally sample appraisals that would help inform the requester’s approach to their particular situation.  In this regard, these appraisal questions are like a distant cousin to our most common category of research request today: property value impacts.  My colleague Abigail Creitz has written previously about these requests, stating, “there might not be data to state an outcome with absolute certainty, but searching articles from newspapers, magazines, and journals might provide some insight to general opinion or precedent.”

For the most part, we approach answering research requests the same way our predecessors did 80 years ago – only the methods of delivery have changed.  As an example, one member writes to “Questions about Real Estate” for help with resources on marketing to clients.  Back then, the requester may have received a box in the mail containing books and pamphlets on the subject (on loan from NAR), along with a typewritten letter and reading list.  Today we’d point the requester toward various online sources (REALTOR® Magazine’s Handouts for Customers, NAR’s Field Guide to Marketing Tips for REALTORS®, and the Library’s Real Estate Business Letter Templates, just to name a few), and link to titles in our eBook collection.  And rather than wait weeks for the reply, the member has an answer within a few days.

If you have any research needs, please contact NAR’s Library & Archives today.  We’ll combine the detailed research practiced since the Library’s beginnings with the efficiency of today’s technology to provide you with the information you need, when you need it.

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Library Brochure, ca. 1960

Keep in touch and informed: Follow Information Services on Twitter (@asknar) and Facebook (NAR Information Services). Contact us next time you have a research project or question toll-free at 800.874.6500, informationservices@realtors.org, Skype narinfoservices, or text AskNAR to 66746.

Hathaway Hester

Hathaway Hester, MLIS, DAS, is manager of the association archives at the National Association of REALTORS®. She currently serves on the Steering Committee of the Chicago Area Archivists as well as the Education Committee of the Midwest Archives Conference.

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