The first thing that National Association of Realtors (NAR) CEO Bob Goldberg did upon addressing a crowd of association leaders at NAR’s Leadership Summit is grab a guitar.

The first thing that National Association of Realtors (NAR) CEO Bob Goldberg did upon addressing a crowd of association leaders at NAR’s Leadership Summit today is grab a guitar.

“I’m going to let you in on a little secret,” said Chris Polychron, 2015 president of NAR, in introducing Goldberg to the stage and, naturally, handing him a red electric beauty.

The real reason Goldberg wanted to be CEO, you see — is to follow in the footsteps of his hero. That hero and those footsteps were not former CEO Dale Stinton’s. Polychron explained that “Bob Goldberg is a Bruce Springsteen fan. And for 22 years, he wanted to be ‘the boss.'”

Indeed, Goldberg has seen Springsteen live over 200 times since 1975. But his wife still won’t let him don the tight jeans and red bandana.

Goldberg soon put the guitar away to get serious (we didn’t get to hear a strum), but the intro set the excited tone for the rest of his message to an eager crowd hoping to take back good news to their member Realtors: A fresh era for the real estate industry is brewing; let’s move on from stuffy top-down leadership, and keep up with the industry’s transformation.

The exec who has 22 years of NAR experience spoke of his “utmost respect for our members” who he said are nothing short of inspirational, working to put roofs over the heads of families day in and day out.

“There’s no better way to enrich the world than by building vibrant communities accessible for all,” Goldberg said. “Our members who make this association shine: It’s clear that your purpose within the profession extends far beyond the paycheck.”

And that’s why the opportunity to lead NAR into the future is, for him, a labor of love.

“I understand and respect our association’s rich history,” he said. “I know where we’ve been. I know how we arrived at where we are today. The real estate industry is changing. Agents and brokers: Your profession is changing. Association staff, your role, and my role — are all changing. The clients we serve; they’re changing. To stay ahead of disruption we must all agree this industry is not the same as it was when NAR was founded 109 years ago — not even nine years ago.”

He then spoke of the array of challenges that Realtors face at this very moment:

  • Industry and tech disrupters that want to pull the agent and broker out of the equation
  • Venture capitalists that spent over $1.7 billion on startup investments that impact how brokers, agents, lenders and other industry professionals manage and run their business
  • The portals that are pushing for control and getting the mindshare of consumers
  • Brokers losing control of their intellectual property
  • The changing demographics in this country
  • Consumers who are more educated than ever before
  • Millennials with a DIY attitude
  • Professionalism and raising the bar so that consumers see Realtors’ value, and Realtors can justify their commissions
  • The current political climate in Washington, D.C., with vital legislation coming down the pipeline (tax reform is a big one, and Goldberg noted that the mortgage interest deduction is in trouble)

“These are not empty threats,” Goldberg said. “If we resist change, it is futile. We cannot, and we will not, let these outside forces dictate this industry. Realtors will be the disrupters. The status quo is just not an option.

“Fearless leaders like all of us in this room embrace fearless ideas, and in this era of disruption, I’m asking you, the leaders of Realtor associations that are in this room, to be fearless.”

In line with the NAR Leadership Summit theme, #RealtorsOwnIt, Goldberg emphasized that the time to take ownership of the issues at hand (and keep Realtors in a competitive position) is now.

What does smart change look like? Goldberg laid out a number of his concrete plans as CEO:

Build a strategic think tank

The think tank will be made up of world-class business experts — the best minds from within the real estate industry and the best minds outside of it — to develop specific action plans and countermeasures to mitigate threats to organized real estate. In referencing NAR’s DANGER report, Goldberg said that we need to “quit talking about all the threats” and take action.

Specifically Goldberg said NAR plans to identify alliances from external sources seeking to infiltrate this industry, and to do this “we need to build on the successes we’ve already achieved.”

Goldberg pointed to NAR’s Second Century Ventures (SCV) and REach incubator that has nurtured companies developing game-changing products. The first REach class incubator launched in 2013. Since then, the REach-SCV portfolio partnerships have extended to over 40 companies “that bring incredible products and value to our membership.”

That’s “40 companies that are now Realtor advocates rather than Realtor disrupters,” Goldberg said. “Of all the industries in this country, we had one of the top incubators. We need to build on that momentum.”

Establish a new strategic business and tech group

This group, to be led by a dedicated SVP, will be tasked with ensuring that NAR remains at the forefront of business and technology solutions and “stays ahead of the headlines” about Facebook’s new dynamic ad campaign, for example, and Amazon’s potential foray into the industry.

“Those headlines — candidly — we shouldn’t have been surprised by [them],” Goldberg said. “We should have been talking with those companies … mentoring them and advising them on how they can be successful with us.” It’s not NAR’s job to build every tech solution; that’s not its core competency. That’s why this initiative will focus on strategic business partnerships, Goldberg explained.

In line with this, he also indicated NAR’s support for MLS consolidation. “In practice, consolidation makes systems far more efficient while lowering costs for our members.”

Launch a world-class tech conference

The onslaught of news and headlines that Realtors keep seeing? NAR, which has the “best capabilities and facilities” to make it happen, plans to own more of that conversation with a new world-class conference.

NAR will also be building on the successes of its pilot “Member’s Edge” events — which strengthen the value proposition of Realtor associations at the local, state and national level — and “Broker’s Edge” events, which piloted in NYC and addressed the challenges brokers face in that local market threatening their profitability.

Let’s take these “high-touch, high impact” events “on the road,” Goldberg said, to connect with association members in a more personal environment.

Pursue new financial and legislative solutions

One of Goldberg’s top priorities is ensuring that the Realtor remains essential to the consumer.

According to the Brookings Institute, the 2020 census will show that more than half of Americans under the age of 18 are racial minorities. Goldberg asked: “As minorities grow into the majority, how will this impact our industry, and how will we be able to better serve that emerging clientele?”

He spoke about the great influence millennials have on home sales (or lack of home sales) right now. Challenges such as student loan debt, housing affordability and low inventory are impeding the homeownership rate.

Millennial ownership has fallen from a high of 57 percent to under 45 percent for those aged 30-34, Goldberg said. And as a father to two millennials, including a 26-year-old son who moved back home to save money for a house, Goldberg joked: “We all get it. The fact is I gotta keep working because my son is now back on the payroll.”

To remedy this reality, NAR will pursue some new financial and legislative solutions. Examples he gave were a mortgage product that rolled college debt into mortgages and first-time homebuyer federal tax exemptions in the use of un-cashed savings bonds.

Dedicate additional NAR staff resources to changing demographics

Just as Realtors are serving increasingly young and diverse clientele, so too are demographics changing within Realtor associations at the local, state and national level. “Consumer product companies know more about Realtors than NAR,” Goldberg said, and NAR has to determine “the best ways to engage and serve those members as we move forward.”

Investigate the viability of a homeowner’s coalition membership organization

Such an organization would be charged with engaging property owners with issues that are crucial to Realtor associations and emulate NAR’s successful grassroots initiatives. “The more consumers we bring into the coalition, the stronger our voice is elevated,” Goldberg said.

Improve communication to NAR members

“My tenure at NAR has provided me a unique perspective,” Goldberg said. “I know our strengths and recognize our weaknesses. I’m aware there’s a perception in the industry that NAR resides in an ivory tower.

“Some will argue that we sit in our office buildings on Michigan Avenue and Capitol Hill completely disconnected from the practical concerns of our members and industry.

“It’s a misconception. But [it’s my priority] to alleviate this apprehension, to take a sledgehammer to knock down the ivory tower facade of NAR.”

Goldberg added that a lack of communication is causing NAR at the national level to miss out on opportunities to highlight the wealth of resources and value Realtor associations offer.

His plans to “turn the pyramid upside down” so that “NAR is looking up to its members at the top” include taking NAR’s message on the road and engaging with members in their own communities.

He described his communication philosophy as “leadership in the sunshine,” which in practice means “tell everybody everything; keep them in the know.” That keeps members more enlightened and able to work with NAR to move the agenda forward, he said.

Effective immediately, Goldberg is implementing an executive outreach program whereby every NAR SVP and VP will be assigned a region within the country and be tasked with “strengthening relationships with everyone in this room,” in other words, local and state associations and board leadership, along with association member agents and brokers.

This isn’t a “side project,” Goldberg said, and senior exec positions are currently being rewritten to include these responsibilities as performance review measures.

Years ago, a member said something to Goldberg that “hit him like a ton of bricks.” He said, “Bob, you know what, I wake up every single day unemployed.”

“We all know that until the next contract is signed, our members are unemployed,” Goldberg said. “I want employees to understand that and more importantly feel that.”

Start a ‘Day in the Life Program’

“It does not matter if you’re a lobbyist, economist, mailroom employee or CEO — we are sending NAR staff out into the trenches,” Goldberg said. “We’re going to go on ride-alongs, attend open houses, visit boards, local and state broker office committee meetings; whether you’re new or whether you’ve been with NAR over 30-plus years, participation is a requirement of employment. Everyone is going to know that our members come first. No doubt about it.”

Commence an organization design study to review NAR’s internal structure

“Our structure hasn’t been reviewed in 15-plus years,” Goldberg said. The goal of the review will be to identify places where NAR could better serve its membership, and like Steve Jobs did with Apple, structure the organization as customer-first.

Reach out, be heard

Goldberg invited all Realtor members to join his network on LinkedIn, and follow him on his NAR CEO Facebook page. His goal is to respond to every single message within 24 to 48 hours. But his availability isn’t limited to social media.

“I am a people person,” Goldberg said. “I look forward to spending time with all of you at your local boards and associations. As long as I’m CEO — I’ll be reaching out, and I’ll be listening.” Membership might notice that SVPs and VPs at NAR are asking to connect with them on LinkedIn, too.

“There’s no one who is more passionate about this industry, and no one who has more compassion for our members than myself,” Goldberg said. “You’ll hear from me, but more importantly, I look forward to hearing from all of you.

“To quote the original boss: Baby we were born to run,” Goldberg concluded.

Email Caroline Feeney

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