The National Association of Realtors is taking a hard look at the enormous machinery that determines how the trade group makes decisions that affect its nearly 1.4 million members and the real estate industry overall.
At 800 members, the board of directors of the National Association of Realtors is bigger than Congress. For the trade group to adopt a policy, that policy must run the gauntlet of NAR’s governance structure, which includes more than 90 committees, advisory boards, councils and forums comprised of thousands of Realtor volunteers. Some of the trade group’s nearly 1.4 million members have complained NAR’s decision-making process is too slow. Others have said that it is too opaque and appears exclusive.
As part of NAR’s new strategic framework, which calls for NAR to “be a nimble, decisive leader in shaping the future of real estate,” NAR 2018 President Elizabeth Mendenhall has formed the Governance Game Changer Presidential Advisory Group (PAG), which is made up of more than 50 appointed members and association executives who will serve on the group over its three-year term.
NAR 2019 President John Smaby, NAR 2019 President-Elect Vince Malta, and NAR 2019 First Vice President Charlie Oppler will work with the advisory group as it carries out its work, the trade group said.
The group will “critically examine” these components of NAR’s governance, the association said on its website:
- Structure (member entities, positions, roles, authority, relationships)
- Process (planning, leadership development)
- People (criteria for appointment/election, training)
- Resources (how financial resources are devoted to governance activities)
- Operating environment/Organizational culture
“The goal is to ensure NAR’s structure supports the efficient, nimble and transparent operation of the association; fully engages the experience, expertise, and talent of its members; and positions the association to act effectively in the years ahead,” NAR said in an announcement.
In the end, the advisory group will use research, member feedback and case studies inside and outside of real estate “to create a recommended governance structure that achieves efficiency and transparency, allowing the national association to act deftly and proactively in its second century,” NAR added.
‘Everything is on the table’
At the NAR board meeting last week, Sharon Millett, former NAR president and chair of the advisory group, said some might hear the word governance and think “stodgy.” “But governance is how NAR makes decisions,” she said.
“We need to ensure NAR has the right people at the table, with the right information, and working under the right process, so decisions are made that will help our members be successful, providing the best service to their clients,” she added.
The advisory group could recommend sweeping changes, make a few tweaks, or determine NAR’s governance is good as it is and do nothing, Millett said.
“Everything is on the table with one exception: we are not looking at state and local governance,” she said.
The trade group is urging members to share their thoughts and opinions on NAR’s governance and how it can be improved with the advisory group at email@example.com.
“The Governance Game Changer PAG will seek input and discussion with our directors and with our members every step along the way,” Millett said, contrasting that with what has historically been how PAGs operate, where group members meet together separately and then present NAR leaders with recommendations at the end of a long, closed process.
The PAG will send out surveys and offer other opportunities for feedback, including open forums at NAR’s May meeting, according to Millett. Members will also receive periodic updates, NAR said.
“We’re going to share ideas, not things that we’ve decided have to be, because we want to hear your feedback,” Millett said.
Politics, new blood, poor communication
NAR held two such open forums at its annual conference earlier this month. The “Your NAR Your Way” forums were set up in a “World Cafe” style in which members discussed a topic at round tables and then moved between tables.
At one such table, Kit Fitzgerald, chair of NAR’s Leadership Academy Advisory Group, facilitated the discussion. She asked several members whether they thought it was easy or difficult to get appointed to a NAR committee.
“I think it’s difficult information to find,” said one Realtor. She also thought that at the national level “there’s a sold clique of folks” that seem to be involved and “it’s hard to get into that group.”
Fitzgerald asked whether the members felt that the work of a committee member at NAR is meaningful or substantive.
“If the leadership is not interested in moving forward then you’re wasting time,” said a Realtor from Hawaii.
Asked whether members felt there are an ample number of opportunities for members to participate at the NAR level, a Realtor noted that there’s a huge list of committees, but described an instance in which a local association leader wanted to join a couple of committees that he had expertise in, but was told they were full and directed to join other committees that weren’t in his wheelhouse.
A Realtor from South Carolina chimed in. “You have people that sit on [a committee] for 17 years.” She wondered aloud what criteria was being used to make committee appointments.
“I think turnover and new blood is a huge issue,” the Realtor from Hawaii said.
“I think there is a perception of politics,” another Realtor said. “If I’m not in the right local [association], I’m not in the right state that I’m never going to actually get through, so it’s not right for me.”
Fitzgerald noted that each state association has its own process for committee appointments. “It’s convoluted, so that’s why it’s confusing. It’s the three-legged stool thing,” she said, referring to the three levels of Realtor membership: local, state and national.
The participants listed barriers to volunteering, including poor communication from state and local associations about opportunities, the process of applying for committees, and the time commitment involved, which could be as little as twice a year or much more often, depending on the committee.
“Because there’s not a lot of information out there, it’s very intimidating [for agents],” one Realtor said.
Another Realtor praised NAR’s videos and suggested that NAR create 120-second videos about each committee to inform members about what each committee does and what the criteria is to serve.
Some members pointed out the difficulty of getting agents to volunteer at even the local level.
“No one is going to volunteer at NAR if they’ve never even stepped foot in your local association,” one said.
The same people seem to go to conventions and volunteer, another Realtor said. “They see that big picture.”
A Realtor from Burlington, Vermont, said she tried to get agents involved at the local level first, with the Young Professionals Network (YPN), for instance.
Another Realtor agreed, saying that a “personal ask” was important, especially for newer agents, instead of waiting for people to volunteer. For example, she said, when there’s a government affairs meeting at the local association she might call up an agent in her firm and say, “Want to ride over with me?”
“To get people to join or volunteer for anything you’ve got to motivate them and say this is the benefit to you,” said a Realtor from the Detroit metro area.