WASHINGTON — Realtor association executives from around the country say they expect to lose members if the National Association of Realtors raises dues by $40 a year to boost spending on political activities.
An alternative proposal that would offset a dues increase by eliminating a $35-a-year special assessment that funds NAR’s "Home Ownership Matters" public awareness campaign would be better received, some association executives said.
NAR’s board of directors will consider both proposals when it meets Saturday at the group’s midyear meeting.
Briefing association executives today, NAR CEO Dale Stinton said debate over the proposed dues increase can be broken down into two main components: Whether or not NAR needs to increase its political advocacy efforts, and if so, how to pay for them.
"The most frequently asked question is how will we raise the motions" at Saturday’s board meeting, Stinton said.
Although the agenda for Saturday’s meeting hasn’t been finalized, Stinton said that at the committee level the debate over the Realtor Party Political Survival Initiative has been broken down along those lines: necessity and cost.
NAR has received plenty of feedback from members on both issues.
Supporters of a dues increase say NAR will need to up its political spending in light of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down restrictions on independent campaign expenditures by corporations.
Many who don’t like the idea say NAR will inevitably get behind candidates or issues they don’t support. Others say they object to NAR asking them to pay more dues at a time when many Realtors are struggling.
Russ Hokanson, CEO of the Seattle Kings County Association of Realtors, said a poll of his association members showed that 60 percent preferred option B — a $35 dues increase offset by an equal reduction in the assessment for the "Home Ownership Matters" campaign. Only 10 percent were opposed to the Realtor Party Political Survival Initiative outright, he said.
"I think our job is to recognize the members and their wishes," Hokanson said. In the Seattle market, he said, real estate brokers don’t have to belong to the local Realtor association to participate in the regional, broker-owned multiple listing service (MLS).
He said that while 68 percent of MLS members in his market area used to be Realtors, that share has since dropped to 48 percent.
Although NAR officials have said they haven’t seen an appreciable decline in Realtor association membership in markets where MLSs are open to non-Realtors, "that statement is out of date — and incorrect — for our market," Hokanson said. "Realtors are simply choosing to walk across the street to a nonmember office."
Another executive with a 654-member association in Texas said "fully one-third are ready not to be members" if NAR approves a dues increase to raise money for political activities. Given the state of housing markets, he said, his members wonder why NAR continues its support for some legislators.
NAR says about two-thirds of the $42 million in extra dues it would raise each year for political advocacy if a $40 increase is approved would be spent at the state and local level.
Peter Morgan, association executive of the Maryland-based Howard County Association of Realtors, said NAR needs to do a better job explaining what the impacts at the local level will be. So far, NAR’s talking points have sounded like "Washington speak," to members, he said to applause from other association executives.
A recent poll of 3,041 RealTown subscribers found 82.3 percent were opposed to the proposed $40 dues increase, while 16.3 percent were in favor. The vast majority — 72.2 percent — also opposed the alternative proposal to offset a $35 dues increase with a corresponding reduction in the special assessment for NAR’s "Home Ownership Matters" public awareness campaign.
NAR’s Executive Committee on April 14 endorsed keeping the "Home Ownership Matters" public awareness campaign in place and raising member dues by $40 a year to fund political activities.
Christine Todd, the CEO of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, said that when she heard about the proposed $40 dues increase, her first reaction was that her association would have to forget about its own dues increase this year, and would probably lose members, anyway.
"Then I thought about the phone calls, the emails … people attacking me at the supermarket, saying, ‘Why did you raise my dues?’ " Todd said.
Todd said she recalled the debate over Realtor.com more than a decade ago, when one association executive stood up and said that what mattered was what was best for members — not association executives.
"Whether I support this $40 dues increase or not is irrelevant," Todd said. "What matters is we educate our members about what this initiative is about and why it’s needed, listen to their concerns, and make changes in response."
Todd, who was the sole representative of local associations on an advisory group created by NAR to study the implications of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citzens United v. FEC, said the group worked for close to a year to come to a consensus in its final report.
"The board of directors will make this decision, and we will respect it," Todd said. "Whatever decision they make, we must make it clear we stand behind them and support them all the way."
If a dues increase is approved, association executives will get help from NAR explaining the increase to members, said Steve Francks, association executive of the Washington Association of Realtors and chairman of NAR’s Association Executives Committee.
"We’re talking about getting you a script to use for phone calls," said Cindy Butts, CEO of the Maine Association of Realtors and the Association Executives Committee’s liaison to NAR.
Butts said if a dues increase to fund political activities is approved, the biggest challenge will be maintaining contributions to the Realtors Political Action Committee, or RPAC, which can make direct contributions to candidates’ campaigns.
Stinton said the debate over the dues increase threatens to overshadow discussion of another matter that would otherwise be the "hot stuff" at the conference: franchisor indexing of Internet Data Exchange (IDX) listings.
He said a compromise may be in the works that would attempt to address concerns of some brokerages about franchisor indexing of IDX listings by allowing a "broker opt-out."
Stinton said franchisors seem amenable to that solution, which is scheduled to be discussed at Thursday’s meeting of the Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee.