Dear incoming CEO of the National Association of Realtors,
I am just a lowly 30-something broker of a three-agent office, serving a small rural niche with only a decade of real estate under my belt.
There are those who have delved deeper and have longer resumes, which include local, state and national leadership roles within the Realtor associations.
However, if you judge me for who I am not, you will miss out on the fact that I am your core membership. I am a member not because I am enthused by your efforts, but because it is the path of least resistance.
I admittedly follow NAR’s efforts out of the corner of my eye while focusing a majority of my efforts on things that I can control to improve my business. I volunteer my time in a thousand more worthy community causes than the Realtor boards because they don’t truly impact my business or my community.
If you believe that I represent an unhappy minority instead of an apathetic majority, I ask that you conduct some open-minded polling of your members.
In 2013 in “An Open Letter to the National Association of Realtors,” I questioned the value of the organization on numerous levels in hopes that the organization would read my concerns and strive to make improvements.
Sadly, my list of grievances has grown longer.
I read that NAR is seeking new leadership, however, so I thought it may be good to write an open letter imploring a change of course.
Step 1: Define your goals
The first step of any organization is to define its goals — yet I am completely baffled as to what NAR seeks to achieve.
If NAR is, in fact, a trade association, then everything should be viewed through the prism of helping its members succeed in that trade. Rather than going in 50 directions at once, let’s focus on the getting the basics right first.
Step 2: Build a brand
The most basic of steps of a trade group should be to define why their members (Realtors) are better than non-members (real estate agents).
I don’t see how this can be achieved if you aren’t willing to start by enforcing more serious sanctions and expelling bad actors. If a Realtor egregiously violates the code of ethics, he should no longer be able to claim that he is a Realtor.
When you take away the MLS (which the Department of Justice seems to be doing, little by little) what is NAR’s compelling value proposition?
You can’t say, “It’s the brand” unless you are willing to educate the population about the difference between non-Realtors. And if there isn’t a difference, then there is no brand value.
Step 3: Education
Education is one area where a trade association can make a big difference that could lead to a measurable difference in building a brand.
All of the best training programs, however, are coming from outside of NAR.
In a cutting-edge industry like real estate, by the time you write, train and distribute a formulated program, it is almost undoubtedly obsolete.
NAR should be devoting a majority of its manpower to making education of the highest quality and then delivering it to us through highly knowledgeable instructors via webinars and recorded video. It should have people on staff producing marketing podcasts and interviewing the top agents across the country.
It should do all of this while lowering the cost so that it is attainable by all members.
We should move away from agents collecting an alphabet soup of designation abbreviations and work toward the Realtor designation itself being the most important thing on our business card, not something omitted for brevity.
This should be done while being mindful not to place all agents in one box, but allowing them to pursue specializations that fit within the market or niche that they serve.
In other words, they should acknowledge that a country boy like me does not need to learn about condos and would appreciate a mention of land sales once in a blue moon.
Step 4: Provide value
My state association (SCAR) provides me tangible benefits, including a legal hotline, a real estate forms program — and, most recently, a membership to Inman (woo hoo!).
My local board (CTAR) provides me with my MLS (without getting into the minutiae of the word “provides”), a local property record software and prospecting tools and a CMA tool.
Through collective bargaining, these organizations have been able to deliver useful tools for which I would have individually had to pay more than the cost of my dues to compile and thereby leveled the playing field and allowed me to compete with major brokerages.
NAR collects more dues than my local and state organizations but fails to provide the same valuable line of products.
I get a discount on computers and car rentals from specific brands I never use, a credit union I have no need for and a sub-par insurance marketplace. I will acknowledge it’s hard work on Realtors Property Resource (RPR); however, my local board decided not to participate in the program, and after hearing concerns about how data would also be used, I support the decision and appreciate the concern.
NAR has failed to solve any of the big problems faced by members, such as a real health insurance product for independent contractors and a national MLS, which would unite us.
NAR also needs to be careful that it is not stifling innovation through its allegiance to individual service providers. There was a great benefit to my state association getting all Realtors on the same legal forms program for the ease of business, but doing so on a national level can pick winners and losers in the market and hold back companies with cutting-edge and superior products and services.
Grants and unbiased coverage to encourage innovation would be far better than offering discounts to a single product or service in a sector.
Step 5: Be good stewards of our money
Ronald Reagan famously described the government by saying, “We could say they spend like drunken sailors, but that would be unfair to drunken sailors because the sailors are spending their own money.”
Members of NAR work hard for their money and would be more supportive of NAR initiatives if they saw more discretion with spending.
Of course you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but I predicted that .realtor and .realestate top level domains (TLD’s) would be a huge failure for the organization. It seemed clear to me that a .realtor domain would be confusing to the public and less valuable than a solid .com address — not to mention the four-times price point they were charging after the first complimentary year — but some praised the move and said it would be the greatest thing in the world and everyone would want one or more, even though I have seen no adoption in our industry.
The single largest source of wasteful spending is the $100 billion spent by NAR since 1999 on lobbying.
As one of the largest political action committees (PACs) in the U.S., NAR now forces its members to pay what was once a voluntary contribution. Proponents of lobbying are quick to chime in that you can’t get anything done in Washington without greasing the wheels.
That makes me feels slimy and violates my own personal code of ethics. Maybe it is business as usual — but prove to me that any single political accomplishments in NAR’s lifetime would not have passed if we didn’t buy off politicians who voted for the law, and then show me how my career in real estate would have been so impacted by this that my very livelihood was threatened.
One example: If mortgage interest deductions (MID) are such a crucial part of homeownership, why don’t citizens take up arms and march on Washington when they are threatened? Why don’t the tax benefits of homeownership ever come up when working with buyers?
Just as they need to cut wasteful spending, they should also stop nickel-and-diming their very own members.
Realtors should not have to purchase a copy of NAR’s reports; they should be given it. At the same time, they should also be so amazingly well-written and produced that we would want to pay for them.
We shouldn’t have to pay for the continued use of the designations; we should be able to brag to the public about the great training we received for years to come.
Step 6: Shake things up
In an industry that tries to re-invent itself every three or four years, I’m shocked that we have had the same CEO for 36 years.
I’ve never met the man and don’t have a bad thing to say about him, but let’s take this opportunity to ditch the status quo and try something new.
Restructure things from the top down. Bring in some outsiders who are willing to listen to the agents too busy to fly out to national conventions and cheerlead but are still trying to be the best agents possible for their clients.
Because we just want an awesome trade association that supports us in our efforts.
Daniel Bates is the broker/owner of MCVL Realty.