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Profiles in Government: Real Estate Department Looks to De-Silo, Modernize Systems

The California Department of Real Estate is using existing resources to achieve its Portal Modernization Project and a single identity for external users, but it may receive funding in the proposed state budget for workload costs and IT equipment needs.

The headquarters building of the Department of Real Estate.
Fast Facts

Leadership: The California Department of Real Estate is headed by Commissioner Chika Sunquist, who was appointed Nov. 28 by Gov. Gavin Newsom and took office Jan. 3. A longtime DRE staffer, Sunquist joined the department in 2006 as a deputy commissioner in the Sacramento Enforcement office, where her work included investigating complaints against licensees and the unlicensed and doing background checks on license applicants. In 2008, she moved to the department’s Mortgage Loan Activities unit, where she worked on implementing the Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing Act, and licensing mortgage loan originators; and in 2015, Sunquist was promoted to supervising special investigator at the Mortgage Loan Activities unit. She had served as DRE’s assistant commissioner of enforcement since 2020, before being named department commissioner. Sunquist has a Bachelor of Science degree in languages and linguistics from Georgetown University and an Associate of Arts degree in administration of justice from Sacramento City College. DRE’s chief information officer is Calvin McGee II, who is also assistant commissioner of DRE’s Information Technology Division. McGee has been in both roles since March 2022 but his tenure at the state spans 23 years, dating to 2000, when he joined the California Department of Education as a project manager/programmer. McGee was most recently IT deputy director at the California State Treasurer’s Office from May 2021-March 2022. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in management information systems and a Master of Business Administration, both from California State University, Sacramento. He is a Certified Scrum Master by the Scrum Alliance and a certified Project Management Professional. “With my arrival in this position in March 2022, the Real Estate Commissioner divested IT into its own division. Because of that, I’m essentially building an IT shop from the ground up,” McGee told Industry Insider in November 2023 in a One-on-One interview.

Budget: $62.7 million according to 2023-2024 fiscal year numbers contained in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed FY 2024-25 state budget. The governor’s proposed budget would give the department $65.8 million for FY 2024-25, an increase of about 5 percent. (All numbers are rounded.)

Total staff: As of July 1, the start of FY 2023-24, DRE was approved for 381 staff, up from 351 in FY 2022-23. Newsom’s proposed budget would hold DRE at 381 staff. McGee has 25 employees, he said in November.

One of 14 state entities within the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency — which run the gamut from the Horse Racing Board to the Department of Consumer Affairs to the California Privacy Protection Agency — the California Department of Real Estate is responsible for safeguarding and promoting public interests in real estate via licensing, regulation, education and enforcement. It serves as a consumer advocate by monitoring and regulating the real estate industry; and is customer-focused by offering timely, efficient services for licensees, subdividers and consumers.

DRE generally champions public protection in real estate via enforcement of violations of real estate and subdivided lands laws; offering leadership on housing issues in the state; and incorporating advanced tech into its processes to improve service. The department was established in 1917, upon the state’s creation of the first-ever such body of real estate law in the nation, one that regulated licensing practices and licensees. DRE exists to serve the real property market, and it safeguards real estate transactions, licensing real estate brokers and salespeople. The department’s revenue originates with fees charged for real estate licenses, subdivision public reports, and other permits. DRE has district offices in Sacramento, Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Diego that carry out its responsibilities in real estate law and the subdivided lands law.

IT at DRE has shifted from being part of its Administrative Services Division to becoming its own division in March 2022, with McGee becoming its first-ever CIO. He directs IT staff but also spearheads IT use and adoption. The CIO said in November that the IT Division’s reorganization has gone beyond mere operational to include project management, business analysis and enterprise architecture capabilities plus more robust security and compliance.

“The Information Technology Division not only provides IT services, it now provides IT leadership,” McGee said in November, noting that as CIO, he changed the department name from Information Technology Services to the Information Technology Division to reflect its expanded mission.

DRE’s biggest initiative, the CIO said, is its Portal Modernization Project (PMP), which aims to modernize, expand and consolidate public-facing systems and eliminate siloing with a single identity for external users. Plans are for the new system to reduce demand on the department’s call center by enabling users with profiles to obtain answers on licensing, examination statuses and other common questions without needing to speak to an agent. The project, McGee said, will be done without a procurement, using existing resources.

The department submitted a budget change proposal (BCP) for “Addressing Workload Costs and Fund Solvency” and would receive $3.2 million from Newsom’s budget, from the Real Estate Fund in FY 2024-25, to address a funding shortfall and support its mission. Per the BCP, addressing the structural deficit of the Real Estate Fund will enable DRE to resolve deficits around salaries; fill critical vacancies; replace expiring limited term funding for five Licensing Division jobs; as well as handle facility needs, admin costs from outside agencies — and IT equipment needs. According to the BCP, DRE’s CIO has “identified that DRE is more than 15 years behind in technology updates.” The department’s existing IT equipment allocation is $14,000, but DRE’s average expenditure there is $542,000 annually. Accordingly, in the BCP, DRE sought $528,000 to cover the IT equipment shortfall.
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Industry Insider — California.