Shame on me, I take too many jabs at the National Association of Realtors. But the fact is that NAR does some things so damn well, like influencing the laws of the real estate land.
Last week, two sweeping public policy changes were up for grabs in Washington, D.C. — tax reform and net neutrality. On both of these gnarly issues, NAR was in the middle of the raucous debate, lobbying, pushing and cajoling the politicians.
The powerful trade group understands too well that these two thundering policy changes will have long-lasting impacts on everyday Americans and working real estate professionals.
On tax reform, while the final outcome is still a little fuzzy, NAR took careful aim at three key provisions and can declare victory.
On the mortgage interest deduction, it zeroed in on retaining a total cap of $1 million on primary and secondary homes. NAR almost got that: the compromise bill sets a total cap of $750,000, or $250,000 less than the current tax code allows, for both primary and secondary residences. That’s for new mortgages — existing home loans will retain the current $1 million mortgage interest deduction limit.
On the capital gains exemption for the sale of a primary home, it lobbied Congress for the exemption of gains of up to $250,000 for single filers and $500,000 for joint filers if homeowners lived in the homes for two of the last five years. Bingo, NAR won this fight, without a blemish on the exemption.
On state and local tax deductibility, it fought the limitation of deductibility of property taxes. Once all but eliminated in earlier versions of the tax bill, deductions were expanded beyond property taxes, to include income tax, but capped at $10,000. This was a compromise, but a win for NAR.
Political observers say NAR’s long-standing credibility inside the Beltway and, of course, it’s staggering political contributions, were central to swaying Congress on these issues.
On net neutrality, while not a victory by any means, NAR also put up a good fight to stop the Federal Communication Commission from overturning the rules of how internet service is provided.
Last week, in a 3-2 vote, the FCC ended the 2015 Open Internet Order, which regulated the way internet service providers (ISPs) treat content. It required ISPs to treat all content equally and blocked the favoring of “fast lanes” for favored sites.
“The internet as we know it today is a fair and open platform that puts everyone on a level playing field,” said NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall. “FCC’s rollback of the Open Internet Order will mean higher costs and slower service for millions of American consumers and businesses. Realtors have strong concerns about what that might mean for the way consumers search for homes online and real estate is transacted.”
Mendenhall fretted about small businesses that could get jerked around by the appeal.
“This is a main street concern that affects businesses and consumers across the country.”
NAR is a well-oiled political machine that does not always get its way, but it is smart about how it picks its issues and is staffed by some of the best and brightest folks in the D.C. lobbying circuit.
On tax reform, an ambitious influence campaign by the trade association targeted homeowners in approximately 60 districts across the country while individual NAR members were reaching out to their elected officials.
At the heart of the operation is the low-key Gerard N. “Jerry” Giovaniello who runs NAR’s 40-person lobbying juggernaut. A humble, smart and focused executive, he garners respect from both sides of the aisle. Imagine if Tom Hanks walked into a room in Hollywood — that’s the deference colleagues and politicians show Giovanniello after 30 years on the frontline of Washington politics.
And generally, he keeps his bosses at NAR focused on the side of the everyday agent and small broker-owner.
Indeed, when it comes to the political side of real estate, NAR is often the industry’s best hope for protection.