August 2018 marks one year since Bob Goldberg replaced Dale Stinton as chief executive of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), a position helmed by just 12 people in the trade organization’s 110-year-and-counting history.
Since then, it has ballooned to represent 1.3 million members, to whom Goldberg, himself with NAR since 1995, has made enormous promises, including smashing the trade group’s “ivory tower facade.”
Eager to paint himself as a change agent at a time when NAR members demand transparency and a break with the status quo, Goldberg has vowed to reorganize the massive organization, lean into emerging technologies and build a strategic think tank, among a litany of other promises, both big and small, he laid out shortly after his appointment last year.
So, has Goldberg made good on his long list of goals? Through a spokesperson, the organization declined to answer Inman’s specific questions, instead issuing a statement on NAR’s accomplishments over the past year.
“The achievements of the National Association of Realtors are not the results of one person, but rather they are the collective outcomes of a visionary Leadership Team, dedicated volunteers and staff,” said NAR spokesperson Sara Wiskerchen in a prepared statement.
“Over the past year, NAR has focused on becoming a radically member-centric organization, achieved advocacy successes on Capitol Hill, and positioned ourselves to be the leading advocates for technology for Realtors,” she added. “Of course, NAR’s year is not complete until our Annual Conference in November, so we are focused on completing as many priorities before that time. We will directly report all of the year’s accomplishments to our members in a comprehensive annual report to be produced shortly after the conference.”
NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall, meanwhile, also lauded the organization and Goldberg himself, narrowing in on his “vision and leadership.”
“The past year has surpassed our highest expectations, and NAR CEO Bob Goldberg’s vision and leadership have been critical to our success,” Mendenhall said in a statement. “We look forward to building on these achievements to further advance our members’ success in 2019.”
Here’s a rundown of what the organization has accomplished, the challenges it encountered (and how it dealt with them under Goldberg’s leadership), and how a few members perceive Goldberg’s first year in office.
NAR successfully influences U.S. tax reform
It seems like ages ago, but for the last quarter of 2017, there was a flurry of activity from NAR leading up to the passage of the Trump-requested, Republican-led tax reform package in December.
Initially, NAR staunchly criticized elements of the tax reform bills in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, specifically pointing out that plans to cut the mortgage interest deduction tax credit in half (from $1 million to $500,000 for newly-purchased homes), and to eliminate most state-and-local property tax deductions (SALT) would be an “assault” on the housing market and cause home values around the country to plummet.
NAR released various statements, research, and documents trying to persuade Congress to make tax reform more favorable to real estate, including its own proposed fixes for some of the elements it identified as problematic. In the end, NAR was able to preserve the mortgage interest deduction up to $750,000 and retain some SALT deductions up to $10,000, a partial but significant victory for the trade group. It also obtained a 20 percent business income deduction for pass-through businesses, which include many residential and commercial real estate brokerages.
That NAR leaned so heavily into advocacy on this issue and got some results can arguably be held up as a major accomplishment of the Goldberg era.
Unveils new logo, then rolls it back
In April, NAR unveiled a new three-dimensional logo — the association’s first redesign in 45 years. The backlash was swift and immediate – especially as it was revealed the development and design cost NAR an estimated $250,000. The reaction was so visceral that NAR paused the rollout mere days after it was announced.
“We are a member-centric organization and this decision to postpone the brand transformation demonstrates that your national association is listening,” Goldberg and NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall said in a joint statement at the time. NAR declined to comment on whether the new logo will return or if it has been permanently shelved.
Approves one dues increase and tables another
At the association’s midyear meeting in Washington D.C., the 800-member board of directors approved a $30 increase in annual dues – a jump from $120 to $150 a year – for 2019 and beyond despite a host of debate and opposition from Realtors and local associations. The trade group tabled a proposal that would have subsequently raised dues 2.5 percent annually, starting in 2020.
NAR declined to comment on whether Goldberg considered passage of the dues increase one of his accomplishments.
Makes $20 million from DocuSign IPO
When e-signature provider DocuSign went public in April, NAR made $20 million, according to Goldberg. In addition to his role as CEO, Goldberg is also the president and a member of the founding team of Second Century Ventures, NAR’s venture capital arm, which invested in DocuSign back in 2009.
But the windfall also drew controversy. An op-ed from MLSListings CEO Jim Harrison, later said to be the work of a consultant, called for more transparency from the trade group and asked for a statement that affirmed no NAR employees, consultants, volunteers or leaders would profit from DocuSign’s initial public offering (IPO). Harrison later apologized for the op-ed.
NAR penned a “furious” response saying no members of its staff profited from the IPO and that its leadership team had confirmed in writing they had not benefited from the IPO.
The Houston Association of Realtors suggested the $20 million from the IPO should be used to offset the proposed dues increase in May, but the NAR board did not approve that proposal.
The platform has drawn criticism from Zillow and Scott Petronis, the chief product and technology officer at eXp Realty, but NAR – which has invested millions on the platform – has been its staunch defender.
NAR unveils plans to renovate Chicago headquarters
NAR unveiled plans in July to give its Chicago headquarters a $45 million facelift — $6 million of which would come from an increased budget thanks to the dues increase. The other $36 million will be financed.
“Serving our members is our top priority and we think that starts at our headquarters and home in Chicago,” Goldberg said in a statement, at the time of the announcement. “The building is in a coveted and high-profile location in Chicago and is an investment well worth protecting.”
Goldberg restructures organization
The first manifestation of delivering on the promise to smash the “ivory tower facade” of NAR came in January, when Goldberg announced he had reorganized 10 groups within the organization in an effort to enhance services and engagement with members.
“This reorganization reflects the promise I made when I was named CEO last August to create better efficiencies in engaging with and serving the association’s members,” Goldberg said in a statement.
As part of that reorganization, NAR launched it’s Strategic Business Innovation and Technology (SBIT) group, one of Goldberg’s early promises. However, thanks in part to that new team, the organization saw fit to cut Mark Lesswing, its chief technology officer, earlier this month.
The SBIT group will cost $375,065 this year, of which $294,000 is a budget increase and labor reallocated from existing programs in the amount of $81,065, according to NAR.
NAR declined to comment on what the SBIT group has done so far or how it has benefitted members.
NAR is exploring restructuring through two additional programs. One is a Governance Game Changer Presidential Advisory Group to examine NAR’s governance structure that will cost $124,224 this year. “The PAG will make recommendations based on a comprehensive, multiyear plan involving PAG meetings, examination of industry and corporate best practices, and solicitation of member input, with the goal of producing a recommendation on the best possible governance structure to position NAR to operate efficiently and strategically in the future,” according to NAR’s May 2018 Finance Committee report.
NAR has also hired consulting firm Willis Towers Watson to “optimize” the association’s structure to be “more nimble” and “responsive,” according to the committee. The firm’s services will cost $180,000 this year and NAR will also be reallocating labor costs of $10,601 to the program, according to NAR’s Finance Committee Report.
Support for social justice issues
At NAR’s midyear conference, the association took major steps to reckon with its past. It acknowledged that, at one time, it was not in support of the Fair Housing Act. The association also officially came out in support of legislation that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the act’s protected classes and dropped Congressman Dana Rohrabacher from a political donation program after the congressman reportedly said he did not support that legislation.
New technology conference
One of Goldberg’s early promises was to launch a world-class NAR technology conference. That event debuts later this month. The conference, called the Innovation, Opportunity & Investment (iOi) Summit, will take place at Bespoke, an event space in San Francisco, Aug. 29-30 and costs $250 to register. The tech conference will also include an artificial intelligence hackathon Aug. 28-29 and a “Start-Up Pitch Battle” for early-stage companies on Aug. 29.
A year ago, Goldberg said he hoped to use the tech conference as an opportunity to connect with members. NAR declined to comment on what Goldberg’s presence will be at the iOi Summit.
Starts ‘A Day in the Life’
Launched in 2018, ‘A Day in the Life,’ was another one of Goldberg’s early promises on which he delivered. The initiative – which can be followed at NAR’s website – tells the story of local Realtors, brokerages and associations on the ground.
“A Day in the Life” is a new training program for NAR staff and part of a broader program with “many other activities and initiatives” that will cost the trade group $713,148 this year. NAR declined to comment on what those other activities and initiatives are.
“By spending quality time with members, NAR employees will come away with empathy for what members do each day, which translates into even better service from NAR,” according to NAR’s Finance Committee report.
NAR declined to comment on how many of NAR’s staff had completed the program and whether the program had lead to any changes that have benefitted members.
What promises have yet to be fulfilled?
When he first took the job, Goldberg announced plans to build a strategic think tank, investigate the viability of a homeowner’s coalition membership organization, and dedicate additional NAR staff resources to changing demographics. Without comment from NAR, Inman could not provide firm updates on the progress of these goals.
Goldberg also vowed to invite “disrupters” into the tent of organized real estate and to have conversations with companies that NAR members have chosen to serve them, even if NAR didn’t agree with the companies or like what they are doing. NAR declined to comment on whether it’s had any such conversations with one of the entities it seems to clash with the most, Zillow Group or any of its companies.
In March, Goldberg announced the trade group was in “active discussions” with three of the four “FANG” companies: Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google, but NAR has since declined to provide any details regarding the discussions.
How would members grade the job?
The question was posed to readers on the Inman Coast to Coast Facebook group by Inman Founder Brad Inman: “One year in, what is the report card on Bob Goldberg, ‘The (NAR) Boss?’”
For some, the question seemed to hinge on another goal of Goldberg’s: to better communicate with members.
“I’d give him an incomplete,” posted Andrea Geller, Realtor at Hot Property, The Chaz Walters Group at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Chicago. “He keeps throwing around the word transparency but hasn’t told us what the ‘New’ NAR is transparent about that they haven’t been in the past.”
“I appreciate CEO Bob’s openness and friendliness,” posted Dale Chumbley, Realtor at Real Living, The Real Estate Group. “It’s been great getting to know him more and his care for the Membership. I’d say year one has been a great start.”
“I was a skeptic at first, since I figured he would be ‘status quo,’” posted Leigh Thomas Brown, CEO and Realtor Leigh Brown and Associates, Re/Max Executive Realty. “Lucky for us, he is anything but.”
“He has worked insane hours to figure out solutions on the staff side, he’s meticulous when it comes to being a better steward of our time and money, and he listens,” added Brown, also the chair of the Realtor Political Action Committee’s trustees fundraising committee. “I’m as judgy as they come and I judge him a solid A.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with budget information from NAR’s May 2018 Finance Committee report and clarification on that budget information from NAR.
What do you think? How have the past year’s developments at NAR affected you and your business? Comment below.