The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is known as one of the most powerful trade groups in the country. It makes almost $200 million in revenue every year, most of that from member dues — and its largest expenditure, by far, is employee compensation and salaries.

Editor’s note: Please scroll down to see a response from NAR treasurer Michael McGrew.


The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is known as one of the most powerful trade groups in the country. It makes almost $200 million in revenue every year, most of that from member dues — and its largest expenditure, by far, is employee compensation and salaries.

Like every nonprofit organization, NAR is required to submit annual reports of its finances to the government; those forms are publicly available. Inman used the 990 tax forms from 2012, 2013 and 2014 (links go to the forms on Guidestar.org) to look at the revenue and expenses that NAR reported for those years.

Here’s an in-depth look at the association’s biggest expense: paying its employees (and certain board members).

The bird’s-eye view

NARCompensation-1

The total number of employees at NAR decreased between 2012 and 2014, even as total revenue increased by almost $20 million.

Expenses also appear to be creeping up. There was a dip in 2013, but 2014’s numbers seem to show an upward trend in spending.

Where does the money come from?

NARCompensation-2

The lion’s share of NAR’s revenue comes from member dues. The company’s revenue has grown by more than $5 million annually since 2012.

Other sources of revenue include conventions, advertising and subscriptions, government affairs, publications and service materials and other program services. Together, those sources comprise less than one-quarter of NAR’s revenue.

How is the money spent?

NARCompensation-3

The biggest expenditure NAR has involves paying its people. More than 25 percent of NAR’s budget is allocated to compensation.

The next-biggest expenditure, at about 20 percent of the budget, is advertising and promotion.

Items like travel, office expenses and expenses for conferences, conventions and meetings average about 5 percent apiece of NAR’s budget.

To take one example: In 2014, NAR spent $10,553,121 on office expenses, $9,093,127 on travel, and $7,967,341 on conferences, conventions and meetings.

Who’s getting paid and how much?

NARCompensation-4

These members of NAR’s board of directors reported compensation and hours worked from 2012 to 2014.

Board members change every year. The vast majority of NAR’s board members are unpaid, but officers may be (and, at NAR, are) compensated for their time. They must report the amount of compensation as well as estimate their average hours worked per week.

Executives-NAR

NAR’s executives must also report their income. These numbers include estimated time spent working for related organizations (which must be reported) and the total amount of compensation, which includes salary plus any “other” compensation received in exchange for working at NAR.

Response from NAR treasurer Michael McGrew

It can be dangerous to independently dissect information without benefit of context and analysis. The IRS 990 return requires, and therefore provides, useful but limited informational content.

NAR prides itself on being an open, honest organization which invites comment and criticism as a way to improve on the message and values it is conveying. A number of folks have been particularly assertive in their reviews — some positive, some negative. We respect every comment, no matter how harsh, and thank you.

We would like to add some information which gives additional context to the information extracted by the reporter from the 2014 990 information returns submitted to the IRS by NAR.

President Steve Brown was the subject of many of the comments, particularly as it relates to him working 1.8 hours per week on behalf of NAR. First, this is a typo and should read 10 and 8 for a total of 18 hours per week. We regret the typo; it was our mistake.

But the bigger issue is what the 18 hours reflect. In all the officers’ cases, the hours in the return represent the average hours per week spent in either the Chicago or Washington, D.C., headquarter offices. These hours do not reflect the officers’ “time in the field!”

We have in our system:

  • 1,250 local associations
  • 54 state and territories
  • Roughly 700 MLSs

During 2014, Mr. Brown spent an additional 50 to 60 hours a week, traveling between 150,000 — 175,000 miles, testifying before Congress and promoting and speaking on behalf of NAR and great Realtors everywhere.

It is true that the largest expense was President Brown’s stipend of about $160,000 to cover various staffing and administrative costs incurred back home in his real estate company. If Steve had not been away from his company for over 300 days in 2014, he would not have incurred this significant extra administrative burden. This is the job, and the demands on all of the NAR officers continue to increase.

The second-largest expense (about $110,000), is related to certain travel companion expenses that, for IRS purposes, must be treated as compensatory. These two items represent roughly two-thirds of Brown’s compensatory items, and all other officers listed amounts follow a similar pattern. Being an NAR officer, with their decades of unpaid service, is hardly a “get rich” scheme.

As to the staff compensation, a number of you have correctly reported that the NAR Treasurer and Finance Committee review extensive market based analysis every year to make sure NAR is paying within a reasonable band width for all its key positions. Kind of like a Realtor doing a comprehensive CMA (comparative market analysis).

For example, a small sampling of the market data for 2012 is:

  • CEO, Mortgage Bankers Association ($1,345,000)
  • CEO, National Association of Home Builders ($2,319,000)
  • Independent Community Bankers of America ($1,782,000)
  • National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts ($1,685,000)
  • The Real Estate Roundtable ($1,619,000)
  • The National Multi-Housing Council ($1,121,000)
  • The International Council of Shopping Centers ($2,443,000)

Finally, it has been observed numerous times that we are a very large organization. That is true; we are the largest trade association in the world.

But we are not too big to “take a hit” if it is deserved, and our members’ voices must be heard, so keep it coming!

Maybe next time we’ll be asked to comment before (incomplete at best) information is passed on. We hope this explanation offers some indication of our desire to always do the best we can for you.

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