WASHINGTON — The National Association of Realtors ushered in its midyear conference Tuesday afternoon with a plea for attendees to be respectful ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit on Friday.

Trump is set to speak from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel at the annual Realtors Legislative Meetings and Trade Expo, which has drawn more than 9,000 Realtors.

John Smaby

So many thousands of NAR members showing up to the nation’s capital sends a message to politicians, NAR President John Smaby told conference attendees during NAR 360, the conference’s kick-off event.

“We mean business! Our business is not Republican. It’s not Democrat. My friends, we are the Realtor Party,” he said, referring to NAR’s lobbying arm. Attendees cheered and applauded.

“To be seen and heard matters. Regardless of your personal politics, [Trump’s] participation is important. We have the attention of the oval office. [NAR Past President] Elizabeth [Mendenhall] and I, on behalf of the leadership team, ask all of you to be respectful of this visit.

“President Trump’s involvement underscores the importance of real estate and the role Realtors play in facilitating the American Dream of property ownership.”

The announcement of Trump’s visit prompted heated debate among Realtors in online Facebook forums, including on NAR’s Facebook page and Inman Coast to Coast.

Mendenhall noted that NAR had a longstanding practice of inviting sitting presidents to speak at its annual conferences and 10 had taken the trade group up on its offer in the last century. According to a NAR FAQ, these were:

  • Herbert Hoover (1921)
  • Calvin Coolidge (1923)
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower (1960)
  • Richard Nixon (1963, 1973)
  • Gerald Ford (1965, 1974, 1982)
  • Jimmy Carter (1986)
  • Ronald Reagan (1969, 1982, 1984, 1985)
  • George H. W. Bush (1981, 1989, 2006)
  • Bill Clinton (1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 2006)
  • George W. Bush (2005)

NAR is not paying Trump a fee to speak and does not pay current public officials to attend its conference, according to the FAQ. The invitation to speak also does not mean the trade group is endorsing Trump’s re-election; NAR does not endorse presidential candidates or donate to presidential campaigns through its Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC), the FAQ states.

NAR has for years been one of the top lobbying organizations in the U.S. by total spending and poured $14.4 million into supporting 10 candidates during the contentious 2018 midterm elections: six Republicans and four Democrats.

Elizabeth Mendenhall

“The clout we have gained after years and years of advocating tirelessly on behalf of real estate interests opens up doors for all of us,” Mendenhall said.

Mendenhall and Smaby emphasized that Trump’s visit was about Realtors’ influence in government.

“The opportunity to hear our nation’s leaders representing both sides of the aisle is what the Realtor Party is all about,” Smaby said.

“It’s not about politics, it’s about position. Realtors must position themselves to be heard. And this week, we’re doing just that.”

During NAR’s midyear meeting Realtors meet with members of Congress and regulatory agency officials to discuss issues related to housing.

This week the trade group will also celebrate the 50th anniversary of RPAC. After members visit Capitol Hill on Wednesday, the trade group will host a celebration during which 189 Realtors and staff will be inducted into the RPAC Hall of Fame, Mendenhall said.

These are members who have invested an aggregate lifetime amount of at least $25,000 to RPAC.

Most of NAR 360 was dedicated to a presentation from Phil Hansen, a visual artist who creates portraits using materials as varied as spit-up food, a broken guitar, two-by-fours, shadows and stories written out by hand.

Hansen, who started out his career doing pointillism, set out to reinvent himself as an artist after he developed a tremor in his hand. He found that by embracing his limitation, instead of holding on to the idea that he could no longer do art, he was able to awaken his creativity.

He urged attendees to think about where they wanted to go, what self-limiting beliefs they could let go of and to try to see challenges in a new way.

Phil Hansen at NAR 360 on May 14, 2019

Most attendees seemed to enjoy the presentation, impressed by each new art piece they saw come together in short videos Hansen played — though one tired soul fell asleep, snoring audibly.

Hansen ended the talk by showing off a piece NAR had commissioned in which he was given the names of 10,000 RPAC investors and used them to create a picture of NAR’s Washington D.C. headquarters. He unveiled the picture to pleased oohs and ahs from the audience.

Phil Hansen artwork commissioned by NAR

A replica of the original will be displayed at the conference for attendees who wish to find their names. NAR will display the original at its D.C. headquarters.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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