Chika Araki Sunquist was appointed Real Estate Commissioner for the State of California by Governor Gavin Newsom on November 28, 2023. Her first day of office was January 3, 2024. She succeeded Doug McCauley whose final day was December 29, 2023. Commissioner McCauley had earlier succeeded Wayne Bell.

The question for today is, “Who is Chika Sunquist?” To help answer this question, the Commissioner very generously scheduled an interview with me with no limit on the questions. Hopefully, this article will answer some of your questions. Thank you, Commissioner.

Her hometown is Avon Lake, Ohio, a town of approximately 25,000 about 23 miles west of downtown Cleveland. She graduated from Magnificat High (Go Blue Streaks). Then, onto Georgetown University (Go Hoyas) in Washington, District of Columbia on the recommendation of her family, where she excelled and received a degree in Language and Linguistics.

At this time Chika was planning to become an interpreter concentrating on Japanese. However, she met her future husband while at Georgetown. His hometown was beautiful Sacramento, and they moved west together. Her career plans changed and on October 25, 2004, she applied and passed the California Salespersons Exam. (She became a Broker in 2006.)

Her license is currently listed “Government Service”. If you are employed by the Department of Real Estate, your Real Estate license is put on hold. You do not need to renew or complete Continuing Education during your time with the Department. When you resign, you have six months to complete any required Continuing Education and renew your license. 

Chika worked for nearly two years completely in residential sales in the Sacramento area. She enjoyed many aspects of the profession. After two years she applied for a position at the Department of Real Estate. In our discussion, she stated that successful real estate licensees should receive kudos for all the outstanding work they do in serving the public. Because of her sales experience, she understands many of the problems that licensees face. 

Chika began her career with DRE in 2006 as a Deputy Commissioner in the Sacramento Enforcement Office. There, she investigated complaints against licensees and unlicensed persons and performed background investigations on license applicants.

In 2008, Chika transferred to the DRE’s Mortgage Loan Activities Unit, where she was involved in the implementation of the Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing (SAFE) Act and the licensing of mortgage loan originators. In 2015, she was promoted to Supervising Special Investigator over the Mortgage Loan Activities Unit.

From 2020 to 2024, Chika served as the Assistant Commissioner of Enforcement at DRE. She was responsible for the overall management and operations of the Enforcement Division.

In her early years at DRE, Chika completed an Associate of Arts Degree in Administration of Justice from Sacramento City College. She has found this degree to be extremely helpful in her Enforcement Activities at DRE. The instructors were knowledgeable and experienced and many of them were currently working in the field. Chika believes strongly that Community Colleges offer valuable training, both before and after college graduation.

I first met Chika at the DRE’s Sacramento Exposition Office when she was the head of the Mortgage Loan Activities. Many major changes were being made. She was very capable and professional. It was a pleasure to work with her.

For the first time, licensees originating residential loans had to pass an exam to get an endorsement and then complete 8 hours of Continuing Education every year. It was a very busy time in the MLO Activities Unit. The SAFE Act rules have been in effect now for about 14 years and working well.

Then, Chika went back to Enforcement as Assistant Commissioner 14 years after her initial introduction. I asked her “What changes had she observed when she returned?” She told me that everything now is much quicker with the ability to use virtual meeting platforms, research online, and make decisions more efficiently.

Fraud is still fraud, and the scams just change with the time. However, the fundamentals are still the same. She tries to find the time to go back and read the old DRE Real Estate Bulletins from the 1940s and the 1950s. The sanctions from that period make great reading and even help in today’s cases. 

Now, Chika is the 25th Commissioner and the second woman to be appointed to that position. Paula Reddish Zinnemann was the Commissioner from 1999 to 2003. She is the youngest Commissioner in history, and the first Asian to hold the office. Congratulations. 

The Department of Real Estate as of March 31st supervises and regulates 310,966 Salespersons and 124,554 Brokers. (Incidentally, the peak number of licensees was around June 2008 when there were 542,000 licensees.) To do this, there is a staff that varies from 325 to 330 members. The budget this year for the DRE was $60M and the request for next year is $63M. Most of the staff have hybrid positions, working sometimes from home, and they are hiring at this time.

Currently, there is a slight decline in Salespersons and Broker Applicants. About 94% of brokers and 76% of salespersons are renewing their license, both consistent with historical averages. The total number of licensees has been between 400,000 and 450,000 for several years. The passing rates on the two State Licensing Exams stay around 50%. 

CHALLENGES: I asked the Commissioner what have been her biggest challenges in her first four months of service. She said, “Learning, there is so much more to learn. I did not know that I did not know so many things. But I am learning.”

SENATE BILL 263: This bill changed the course requirements for the Salespersons License, the Broker License, and Continuing Education. Basically, it required a new two hour Implicit Bias Course and interactive participatory components had to be added to several courses. The DRE Education section led by Eileen Brewster did an outstanding job getting all the courses approved by the very short deadlines allowed by our State Legislators.

ONLINE EXAM LICENSE APPLICATIONS (OLEA); Applicants can submit their paperwork online. It has improved the process greatly. At this time over 90% of the applications are being sent electronically. 

EXAM DEVELOPMENT PROCESS (EDP): This is the process to “refresh” the Real Estate Licensing Exams. Licensees, staff and third-party test developers work to update the state’s exams to ensure they accurately reflect current industry practices and continue to be legally defensible. This current process started in June 2023 and is scheduled to be completed by early next year.

YOU CAN HELP: There is a statement in the March 2024 Real Estate Bulletin pertaining to this action. And I quote, “If you’re a licensee who is interested in sharing your expertise by participating in the exam development process, please contact DRE’s Exam Administration and Development team at DRE Exam Admin & Dev Team.

PROCESSING TIME: The processing time of Exam Applicants should be between 4 to 6 weeks. At this time the processing time is 9 to 10 weeks. Chika told me that is too long, but there has been improvement since the Covid problems. This is another process she wants to improve quickly.

RE 149: This outstanding monthly form lists the number of licensees from the current month, one year past and two years past, new licensees, exam passing rates, sanctions, subdivision numbers and much more. Christina Jimenez, Assistant Commissioner of Communications and Publications told me that you can find the forms at DRE STATS FORMS.

PUBLICATIONS: The DRE has an outstanding list of publications for information and promotion. A favorite of the Commissioner’s is the Real Estate Law Book. There are many books and brochures that you can put your name on and use in your business. Do this now!

APPROVAL OF ADVERTISING: This worthwhile service pertains to MLO advertising. For a fee, you can send your advertising to DRE before you use it and they will review it. Might save you an audit. Preventive action might be better than corrective action. The Commissioner encouraged licensees to take advantage of this service. Check it out MLO’s.

FEES: DRE’s statutory fee cap was last raised in 1997, over 27 years ago, as a result of legislation signed into law in 1996. DRE’s fees were last changed by regulation, consistent with the statutory fee cap, in 2009. Since 2009, DRE’s fee have been at the maximum allowed under the fee cap, and in order to make changes to any statutory fees, the Legislature needs to act to raise the cap. The Legislature is considering DRE’s proposal now.

MY LAST QUESTION; Do you have a comment that you would like to pass on to the Licensees? She quickly offered, “Always remember your fiduciary duties and always show your clients your value as a Professional”.

That is an outstanding phrase to end our interesting interview. And I want to thank Christina Jimenez for arranging our interview and to Commissioner Chika Sunquist for being so forthcoming. DGE wants to wish her many years of happy and productive leadership. 

See you all around campus. And remember we sell Education. 

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