WSU Center for Real Estate offers education, analysis

A house for sale in Riverside. (September 19, 2011)
A house for sale in Riverside. (September 19, 2011) The Wichita Eagle

There’s more – much more – to Wichita State University’s Center for Real Estate than just being a training ground for young real estate professionals.

The 35-year-old program trains about 50 to 60 students a semester in the elements of commercial and residential real estate, knowledge useful in almost every sector of business, said Stan Longhofer, the center’s director.

But its work as a resource to the local and state real estate industry – “advancing real estate knowledge” by compiling statistics, analyzing the state of residential and commercial markets – is as significant. The center is privately funded, with no state funding and no plans to request any.

That’s the imprint of Longhofer, a WSU-educated economist who was hired in 1999 to revitalize the struggling discipline at WSU.

“Prior to my coming here, it was an academic and educational program – research and some outreach,” Longhofer said. “To my knowledge, there was no explicit outreach function.

“One thing I recognized quickly when I started was that to build relationships in the real estate community, you have to have a presence and interaction in that professional community. Having a center, a focus and a face for that was important, so that’s why I proposed this structure.”

The center’s face is its treasure trove of real estate statistics and the analysis it provides with those numbers, Longhofer said.

“I think it’s really important for a university with an urban focus like we have, for our research activities to be geared to a practical focus,” he said. “How is this impacting people in our community?

“So the role of the Center for Real Estate is to apply the research we have, the knowledge that we have, to advance our real estate markets and the knowledge we have of our real estate markets.”

Today, Longhofer’s center is the primary Kansas source for real estate sales and market analysis, including compiling the state’s multiple listing service numbers for the Kansas Association of Realtors. The center annually issues its housing market forecast.

All are crucial to successful real estate brokerages, said Tessa Hultz, chief executive of the Wichita Area Association of Realtors.

“WSU’s Center for Real Estate does a wonderful job of gathering statewide statistics that Realtors can use to put the local MLS information into perspective,” Hultz said.

It’s information essential to buyers, sellers and their brokers, said Gary Walker, residential general manager for J.P. Weigand & Sons in Wichita.

“It’s hard for any of our associates, or me, to compile all the information Stan does and understand it analytically,” Walker said. “That’s the real advantage the center brings – market information in an easy-to-understand fashion so our agents have it to talk about with their buyers and sellers.”

The center’s history

The real estate major was founded at WSU in the late 1970s by the late John T. Arnold, the Wichita commercial broker who founded the NAI John T. Arnold brokerage downtown.

One of the program’s co-founders, Wichita real estate investor Steve Clark, agrees with Longhofer: Everyone needs a good dose of real estate education, and opportunities to get it are rare at American universities.

“These skills do translate into every sector of business,” Clark said. “Everyone needs a background in real estate, whether they specialize in it or not.

“Being a real estate guy, I’m biased, but surprisingly few schools around the country offer a good real estate education. Most people think in the first sense of a home sales business, but real estate is so much more than that. There are numerous opportunities for young people to be involved: appraisal, construction, apartments, office buildings, residential. It’s a massive industry.”

“Think about it,” Longhofer said. “What businessman doesn’t constantly face real estate decisions, right? Location. Lease or own.”

Arnold’s nephew, Don Arnold, completed the program and is a principal in his uncle’s brokerage.

“The program gave me a broad base of knowledge I draw upon on a daily basis in my real estate career,” Don Arnold said. “I can read an appraisal, for example, and understand it. If it doesn’t make sense, I can ask a professional to review it for me. Without the education, you’re in danger of just assuming the appraisal is correct.”

Some of the program’s early professors included Lynn Woodward, who started the program, and Wichitan Mark Dotzour, who has gone on to become the real estate economist at Texas A&M University and is an annual speaker at the J.P. Weigand & Sons Real Estate Forum.

But the major began to decline in the late 1980s, mimicking the downturn in the real estate markets brought about by the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Six years later, the Kansas Board of Regents eliminated the major and morphed it into an emphasis in real estate with a major in finance.

In 1999, Longhofer was hired to rebuild the program, starting with its local ties to the real estate community. Steve Clark’s pleased with the results in Longhofer’s first 13 years.

“I think my money has been well spent,” he said. “I’d like to see the program grow more and I’d like to see Wichita State grow more, for that matter.

“There are great things going on out there, and this program is one of them.”