When good guys get off the mark: A response to Jim Harrison's NAR criticism

Decisions will be made by a group of well-informed people who act in what they perceive to be the best interest of our organization

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Reposted with permission from Bill Lubin, “When good guys get off the mark” is a direct response to MLSListings CEO Jim Harrison’s Inman article, “It’s time to stop ignoring the crisis at NAR.”

I like Jim Harrison and consider him a friend — I’ve worked with him, shared time socially with him and enjoy spending time with him, and yet I find myself stunned by the way this op-ed has been written and disagreeing with many of the statements he makes. I get that he is concerned, but I believe that he has taken the wrong way to make any kind of cogent point and that this article will create more issues than solutions.

Let’s start with the background:

Leadership

As a working real estate professional, an “industry observer” (from the inside) and an active member of my local, state and national associations, I don’t see the disconnect Harrison mentions. A disconnect that he says is in specific areas, but he then neglects to mention what those “disconnects” are.

As a member and an RPAC major investor, I am more than happy with the political advocacy of our group, the increasing numbers of RPAC investors and the thoughtful efforts of NAR, both staff and members.

I don’t know that the CEO transition was disappointing (that’s an opinion rather than a fact), and I am unclear why Harrison says that. Bob Goldberg is very well-informed, dedicated to the membership and enthusiastic about engaging members and advocating for them.

I see him engaged and in step with the leadership team, who are a team of individuals that work together in a manner that I have heard described as “being in lockstep.” Call it what you will, everyone seems to be trying to do their best to be transparent, accessible and engage the largest number of members possible.

The op-ed moves into a litany of unconnected items labeled as “unsuccessful NAR efforts and exploits,” where it seems that nothing that NAR does is done right. I don’t want to argue about the benefits or problems of the programs because that really wasn’t what the op-ed was about, this was more of an opening salvo.

Logogate

I would note that NAR’s “logogate” isn’t the first time an entity tried a new logo and rolled back to the old one when there was a public hue and cry (check with the GapPepsiUniversity of California or Tropicana — all had their own redesign problems), and since I was busy during the T3 conference, I don’t know what NAR’s “dismal performance” consisted of, but I didn’t know that NAR needed to perform on any level at someone else’s private industry event or that such a thing rises to the level of anything resembling a crisis.

Dues debate

And then we get to a big issue — asking real estate professionals to pay $30 per year more in annual dues, a sum that wouldn’t let you watch a first run movie in 3D with a large popcorn and soda.

The Houston Association of Realtors Board of Directors passed a motion of non-support of NAR to show its collective displeasure with NAR’s proposed dues increase, but it’s not a thing. It is not a constituent of NAR, it is a sister organization, and though it has members who are NAR directors, they are organizationally distinct.

I get that people aren’t happy at the idea of paying more dues and that when HAR had a survey, the members voted that they would rather keep their $30 than have their dues raised. HAR then wrote a lengthy and articulate letter to NAR making its position clear and asking NAR to take certain specific steps — steps that NAR wouldn’t and shouldn’t take at the direction of a single local association, even the largest local association in the country.

I’m not surprised at the result of the HAR survey because I’ve never been part of any organization or condo or HO association where the rank-and-file members volunteered for an increase in their monthly or annual fees.

In fact, it’s a great American tradition to grouse and complain about such things. However, NAR’s staff and leadership have made a huge amount of information available to the world to explain why they are requesting such a change — and any such increase will have to be approved by the board of directors during the meeting in Washington next week — and that’s the right place for that decision to be made.

DocuSign IPO

Then, we get around to the DocuSign IPO — something that is a failure in an early paragraph, but now a source of income, and therefore concern, and hints about a possibly sinister conspiracy. “The response from NAR’s leadership has been shrouded in secrecy as demonstrated in the attached exhibits, A and C.” The attached exhibits are instead remarkably clear.

Exhibit A doesn’t refer to the IPO at all, and merely addresses the responsibilities of NAR’s directors, pointing out that each director needs to follow their conscience about any potential conflicts of interest arising from other offices they may hold. It also points people to the answers about the proposed budget increase and is explanatory rather than secretive.

Exhibit B is not from NAR at all. It is HAR’s letter about the proposed dues increase. Again, nothing to do with the IPO. As an aside, I understand that they felt strongly about these issues and that HAR’s BOD had some points they wanted to make. From what I know personally about Bob Goldberg, Elizabeth Mendenhall, John Smaby, Vince Malta and Colleen Badagliacco, all their suggestions will be read and considered because that’s the type of leaders those people are.

And then there is Exhibit C — this was a Facebook post by Brad Inman where he published a memo from NAR Treasurer Thomas Riley. This document (the only one connected to the IPO) merely states the facts about the IPO, the 2019 NAR budget, and ends by saying: “Any discussions about the proposed 2019 budget need to be independent from outside investments and income from wholly-owned subsidiaries as it is not fiscally responsible for NAR to budget its annual funding needs, nor can those funding needs be met, with proceeds from a one-time investing payout,” which is a sensible a statement as anyone can ask for.

Any organization should be supported by its regular streams of income and not be dependent on outside windfalls — Business 101.

Where the op-ed really goes off the rails, and asks that “did you stop beating your wife question” is when he says “Given NAR’s responses and NAR’s history (remember the Homestore scandal) it might be safe to assume the unthinkable; that it is likely one or more NAR insiders of current and former senior staff, consultants and volunteers may be in line to receive financial gain from the DocuSign IPO.”

The Homestore scandal didn’t involve NAR directly and wasn’t the result of any bad actions by staff or leadership. To assume the worst (almost two decades later) of our current staff and leadership with no basis in fact is just not the right thing to do here. We are not a country where guilt is assumed until innocence is professed.

I didn’t write this to support the dues increase, though personally, it’s not a significant amount of money to me. But I do feel that passion has overreached reason and fact, and we should try to refrain from allowing that to influence the reasoned discourse that professionals should engage in.

The leadership of NAR and the staff of NAR have been bending over backward to explain, expose and expound on everything that has happened, everything that is happening and everything that is planned for the future of the organization.

They have done nothing that should cause them to be attacked, reviled, or suspected of wrongdoing or ill intent. How about we all read the information, digest the information, talk to the directors from your state or local association and then let them vote the way they feel will best serve the organization, its members and the industry. And for goodness sakes, let’s leave our soapbox and hyperbole at home.

There will be debate and discussion next week in Washington, D.C., during the board of directors meeting and a decision will be made one way or the other. It may be the optimal decision or it may not, but I assure you that the decision will be made by a group of well-informed people who act in what they perceive to be the best interest of our organization.

Not sure I’m right? Just come and see — we’re actually a very open organization.

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