Kenya Burrell-VanWormer won the 2018 Inman Person of the Year award for leading HAR’s opposition to NAR’s proposed dues increase. Nikki Beauchamp, the president-elect for FIABCI USA, was one of the lone voices advocating for change when it came to restructuring, streamlining and cutting costs at the organization. Both women share their stories and what leadership means to them.

With more than 1,000 Inman posts, Bernice Ross is a long-time contributor whose weekly column on real estate trends, luxury, marketing and other best practices publishes every Monday.

When you hold the top leadership position in an organization, it’s often “lonely at the top.” This is especially true when you’re the lone voice advocating for what you believe is right, or when you’re putting in the long solitary hours getting the job done because the other members of your leadership team are title-seekers rather than doers. 

At the recent Awesome Females in Real Estate Conference in which I host, Kenya Burrell-VanWormer, immediate past chair of the Houston Association of Realtors (HAR) and Inman Person of the Year in 2018 and Nikki Beauchamp, president elect 2019-2020, FIABCI-USA (The International Real Estate Federation, U.S. Chapter) shared their experiences as they have stepped into the top leadership positions in their organizations. 

The dues showdown: NAR faces off against the Houston Association of Realtors 

Burrell-VanWormer won the Inman Person of the Year award for 2018 for leading HAR’s opposition to NAR’s proposed dues increase.

Burrell-VanWormer first became aware of the proposed dues increase when it appeared as an agenda item to be discussed at the NAR midyear meeting in May 2018. When she raised the issue with her executive committee, they decided to poll their membership to find out their position on the matter. 

HAR received 6,300 responses, of which, 97.4 percent were opposed to the increase. At that point, Burrell-VanWormer decided to write an open letter to NAR about the increase and their members feedback about it. 

The dustup went national when Inman obtained a copy of the letter and published it, with Burrell-VanWormer’s permission of course.

Inman also polled its readers and found that nearly 83 percent opposed the 2019 dues increase. They also found that 86 percent of their readers opposed NAR raising dues by 2.5 percent annually starting in 2020. 

The vote

With close to 700 NAR directors in the room for the mid-year conference in Washington, D.C., only Adrian Arriaga, a commercial broker owner from McAllen, Texas, spoke in favor of Burrell-VanWormer’s motion to use existing funds rather than increasing dues. 

Burrell-VanWormer’s motion was defeated: 159 in favor and 618 against.

What surprised Burrell-VanWormer most was how people who had been long-time friends treated her for taking a stand against the dues increase.

“People who I had known for years kept a safe distance from me, especially those who had plans to do bigger things with NAR,” Burrell-VanWormer told me in an interview. “I guess it’s a matter of self-preservation — do what’s best for you and not be attached to anything controversial, even as they were texting me their support.

“Nevertheless, we have heard from many across the country that are also opposed to the dues increase, especially in light of the fact that other state and local associations have also raised their dues, some as much as $100 per year,” she said.

“To me, true leadership isn’t about the title — it’s having the courage to speak out when no one is willing to support you. I did what our members wanted,” she added. “This was never personal. When we lost the vote, our association’s voice had been heard, and it was time for us to move forward on the many other issues that we face.”  

Burrell-VanWormer’ also shared what happened immediately following the meeting. 

After the vote, a member of the NAR senior leadership presented me with an ‘Own It’ coin,” Burrell-VanWormer said.

An “Own It” coin, according to NAR, is something that Realtors can buy at the Realtor Team Store and give to other Realtors as a thank you for “leaders’ commitment to serve their fellow” Realtors. People who received it said coins are encouraged to “re-gift” the coins and pass on the love.

Unlike the others who have received the coin in the past, Burrell-VanWormer’s receipt of the coin was never acknowledged publicly.

NAR went on to increase dues from $120 for 2018 to $150 plus an additional $35 special assessment for the consumer awareness campaign that remained the same. 

Doers vs. title seekers

Nikki Beauchamp is the president elect for 2019-2020 for FIABCI USA. What’s ironic is that she never sought out this position, especially because so many other people wanted it. 

The challenge with heading up a volunteer organization like FIABCI (or most real estate associations for that matter), is that there are two types of leaders — those who pitch in and do the work and the “title seekers,” who want the power and prestige of the position, without any of the responsibility.  

When an organization is filled with title seekers, they’re simply figureheads, and the administrative staff ends up running the show.

When Beauchamp joined the board of the New York Northeast Council of FIABCI-USA, she soon realized there was another board member with whom she worked with at their local real estate board, who was willing to pitch in and work with her. 

On the other hand, “the title seekers” were often too busy traveling, attending international conferences (or going on vacation) to have time or the desire to pitch in and do the work needed. 

As noted above, sometimes it only takes one person who is willing to take action to help an organization accomplish major goals. After being elected to the board of directors of the chapter and named to the executive committee, Beauchamp worked closely with the executive committee of the chapter as they took necessary steps to restructure, streamline and cut costs. 

Beauchamp was willing to speak out, even when she, like Burrell-VanWormer, was one of the lone voices advocating for change. 

Beauchamp believes that to recruit millennial members and leadership, it is imperative for the leadership team to work continuously to create an organization that is much more collaborative. Those efforts are paying off today as FIABCI USA membership is growing and it attracts more younger members.

As the FIABCI USA leadership team interacts on the international stage, it will be interesting to watch what happens. The reason? The three top positions in FIABCI USA are held by women at the moment while the current world leadership at FIABCI is predominantly male.

Burrell-VanWormer shared her favorite quote that sums up how these two women approach their leadership roles from author Robin S. Sharma: “Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence, and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and your ability to inspire teammates and customers.” 

Leadership is easy when things are going well, everyone is happy, and everyone is your friend. It’s when things get tough, when you take an unpopular position, or threaten to upset the status quo you discover who you really are as a leader as well as who your real friends actually are. 

How do you stay ahead in a changing market? Inman Connect Las Vegas — Featuring 250+ experts from across the industry sharing insight and tactics to navigate threat and seize opportunity in tomorrow’s real estate. Join over 4,000 top producers, brokers and industry leaders to network and discover what’s next, July 23-26 at the Aria Resort. Hurry! Tickets are going fast, register today!

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Bernice Ross, president and CEO of  BrokerageUp and, is a national speaker, author and trainer with over 1,000 published articles. Learn about her broker/manager training programs designed for women, by women, at and her new agent sales training at

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