The National Association of Realtors may increase its political advocacy spending by $30 million annually, which could result in an increase in member dues.

  • "The Future of the Realtor Party" presidential advisory group (PAG) is recommending spending an additional $25 per member each year on political campaigns, bringing Realtor Party spending to $65 per year.
  • Realtors have six months to tell NAR what they think of the PAG's recommendations.

CHICAGO — The National Association of Realtors is considering increasing its political advocacy spending by $30 million annually, which may lead to an increase in annual dues per member if the trade group decides not to shift spending elsewhere.

Bob Goldberg

New NAR CEO Bob Goldberg and NAR President-Elect Elizabeth Mendenhall announced the potential change on stage at NAR’s annual conference last week.

Over the last nine months, a 21-member presidential advisory group (PAG) appointed by NAR President Bill Brown has reviewed NAR’s lobbying arm, the “Realtor Party,” and considered how it needs to improve “to remain effective into the future,” Goldberg told a packed ballroom of attendees.

“What we learned from the PAG’s research is that we must do more. Our members and our associations want and need more from the Realtor Party,” Goldberg said.

Note: Goldberg begins talking about the PAG at about the 13-minute mark.

Elizabeth Mendenhall

NAR created the Realtor Party five years ago, with a $40 dues hike passed by the NAR board of directors in 2011 despite polls showing members overwhelmingly opposed it, and warnings from local association executives that a dues increase would accelerate membership declines. The trade group’s membership currently stands at 1.3 million — near its 2006 peak.

Now “The Future of the Realtor Party” PAG is recommending the trade group spend an additional $25 per member each year on political campaigns, bringing Realtor Party spending to $65 per year per member. If that additional funding were only obtained through a dues increase, that amounts to a 21-percent increase in NAR dues, which currently stand at $120 annually.

“The PAG report emphasizes that now is the right time to step up our local, state and federal advocacy and independent expenditure campaigns,” Mendenhall said.

“With issues like tax reform looming, not only in our nation’s capital, but in state capitals across the country, it’s time to up our ante in issue and candidate advocacy.

“From city hall to the state house to the U.S. capitol, our elected officials are making decisions about flood control, housing financing, taxes on real estate services, and rental housing that impact our bottom line.”

“There’s definitely a lot at stake. Many property owners and even some of our own members don’t comprehend some of the very real and dramatic impact that some of these issues have on our own industry and especially even their own wallets,” she added.

The recommendations

A 142-page report details the PAG’s recommendations, but will not be available publicly. It is currently being shared with NAR committees, NAR spokesperson Sara Wiskerchen told Inman via email.

The PAG recommended adding 19 new Realtor programs and enhancing 14 current ones, according to a public summary of the recommendations. As stated in the summary, some examples of new programs include:

  • A State Staff Key Coordinator Program to assist associations in navigating available Realtor Party programs
  • A Rural Outreach Initiative to tailor community outreach for rural associations
  • An Urban Outreach Initiative to tailor community outreach for associations in urban settings
  • A Federal Political Coordinator Advocacy Academy to provide intense and interactive training for new FPCs

Some examples of enhancements to existing programs include:

  • Realtors Addressing Homelessness to enhance the Housing Opportunity Program
  • Guarding Against Natural Disasters to enhance the Smart Growth Program
  • Federal Political Coordinator Recognition — an “honor roll” to recognize FPCs and their teams for exceptional work
  • A Broker Involvement Program expansion to boost engagement in NAR advocacy efforts

“All of these programs are aimed to help address specific gaps that the PAG identified through surveys of state and local associations,” Wiskerchen said.

Leslie Rouda Smith

A few programs will be eliminated “due to lack of use of those resources or other reasons,” PAG Chair Leslie Rouda Smith told conference attendees.

The PAG also recommended adding funding to increase NAR’s ability to promote federal issues through the existing Federal Issues Advocacy Program and increasing the federal independent expenditure program from 8-10 U.S. House races per election cycle to also include more U.S. Senate races, the trade group said.

How much these recommendations cost “will depend on which and how many of the new or enhanced programs are approved,” Wiskerchen said.

“From there, decisions will be made about funding, either through funding requests, allocation shifts or a possible dues increase.”

PAG Vice Chair Jim Liptack emphasized that two-thirds of the dollars collected will continue to go back to local and state associations for use in their own communities.

“That was the pledge that was made in 2011. The Realtor Party keep that promise and the PAG reaffirmed that,” he said.

In that vein, the PAG recommended customizing programs to the needs of associations of different sizes.

“One size does not fit all,” he said.

The PAG also suggested ways to measure the effectiveness of Realtor Party programs, including key performance indicators to see whether programs are achieving their goals; an impact-effort matrix that would prioritize programs based on the effort needed to implement each activity and the potential impact each activity has on the Realtor Party mission; and a return-on-mission analysis that would measure how each program furthers the overall mission and goals of the Realtor Party.

Up for a vote in May

A dues hike is on the table, but not inevitable. NAR’s budget review team will consider the proposed increase in Realtor Party spending along with other needs for enhanced products and services for members, according to Goldberg.

If the PAG’s recommendations pass muster, that doesn’t necessarily mean members will be required to pony up an additional $25 per year, Rouda Smith said.

“If there are cuts in other areas, the Finance Committee will make that decision as to where that money will go,” she said.

The NAR board of directors and Finance Committee will not discuss funding requests, allocation shifting or dues increases during the conference, the trade group said.

Instead, additional discussions will be happening at the Realtor Party Training Conference in San Antonio, Texas at the end of this month, and NAR’s 40-member Budget Review Committee will discuss the PAG’s recommendations in March.

From there, any recommendations must pass through the 20-member Finance Committee and the 70-member Executive Committee to reach the 800-member board of directors for a possible vote at NAR’s midyear conference in May.

Why bring up the recommendations now? Goldberg said it was in keeping with his “leadership in the sunshine” philosophy.

For the sake of transparency and to not “spring things” on members, “it is imperative that we communicate as fast as we know [something], not just talk about it in back rooms,” he later told association executives.

On stage, Mendenhall said: “Changes within our industry are happening at a break-neck pace, and clear and open dialogue is crucial if we’re going to keep the role of the Realtor essential to the consumer. So this means we have to be willing to have difficult conversations and make difficult decisions.”

Realtors have six months to tell NAR what they think of the PAG’s recommendations, Rouda Smith said. “Anything you’d like to share, we’d sure like to hear about it.”

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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