The National Association of Realtors board of directors has approved a $40-a-year dues increase to boost political activities, despite polls showing members overwhelmingly opposed it, and warnings from local association executives that a dues increase would accelerate membership declines.
In March, NAR floated the idea of raising the national association’s dues by 50 percent, from $80 to $120, in order to increase spending on political advocacy in light of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down restrictions on independent campaign expenditures by corporations.
An advisory group formed by NAR’s then-president, Vicki Cox Golder, concluded in a November report that the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC would open the floodgates for independent campaign expenditures, requiring NAR to step up spending to maintain its voice.
The dues increase approved Saturday "will allow NAR to provide millions of dollars in additional support to state and local boards, which are facing a cadre of policy proposals that would restrict private property rights and drain homeowners’ pocketbooks," NAR President Ron Phipps said in a statement.
More than 80 percent of Realtors opposed the proposed dues increase, according to an online poll conducted by RealTown.com of 3,041 subscribers.
NAR also received more than 2,000 comments on the proposal, with those opposed vastly outnumbering supporters of a dues increase.
In comments submitted to NAR, one Realtor who spoke in favor of a dues increase, Julie Fedorovich, said NAR’s political activities are "vital," adding, "We either do this now or it will cost Americans more to battle the fallout after the fact."
While some objected to the dues increase as a financial burden, many said they were worried NAR would support candidates or issues that they disagreed with.
NAR has said about about two-thirds of the $42 million in additional annual dues it expects to raise will be spent at the state and local level.
At 1.01 million, NAR membership in April was down 26 percent from a peak of 1.37 million in October 2006. During the two decades before the housing boom, NAR membership mostly stayed within a range 600,000 to 800,000 members, breaking the 1 million mark for the first time in April 2004.
Some association executives attending NAR’s midyear conference in Washington, D.C., last week warned that they were expecting to lose more members if NAR raised dues.
In the Seattle market, the percentage of members of the regional MLS who are Realtors has already dropped from 68 percent to 48 percent, the CEO of the Seattle Kings County Association of Realtors said in a meeting.
Some discussion of the dues increase on Twitter.com was categorized using the hashtag #RPPSI, for "Realtor Political Party Survival Initiative."
Amissville, Va.-based broker Julie Emery tweeted that the dues increase "has me trying to figure out options for leaving the association. Lockboxes seem to be the biggest obstacle."
Reading, Pa.-based Realtor Randy Corcoran wondered why "did you even ask our opinion, when you clearly did not care? Shame on the National Association of Realtors. You work for us."
On BloodHoundBlog.com, Phoenix-based broker Gregg Swann — a vocal NAR critic — said "NAR is now arguably a labor union. Membership is forced for most Realtors to gain access to the MLS. And #rppsi is beyond all doubt forced political speech: You will have no control over the $40 a year that is to be extracted from you."
NAR last raised dues in 2008, funding its Second Century Ventures technology incubator and a series of other initiatives with a $16 dues increase. Members also pay a $35-a-year special assessment for NAR’s "Home Ownership Matters" public awareness campaign.
In his statement, Phipps said NAR is "the only organization speaking on behalf of America’s homeowners." At the group’s midyear meeting, NAR has heard from "dozens of industry and government leaders" about the "growing desire on the part of federal, state and local governments to implement policies that would hurt homeowners and the economy. In passing this initiative, Realtors send a clear message that we are ready and willing to protect the homeowners and communities we serve."
NAR’s top advocacy issues at the federal level in 2010 included protecting the mortgage interest deduction and capital gains exclusions for homeowners; preserving Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s ability to provide liquidity to mortgage markets; maintaining homebuyers’ ability to obtain Federal Housing Administration-insured loans; and improving the short-sale process.