There’s nothing like a price jump to get agents and brokers thinking about the value of a product.
Since the National Association of Realtors passed a $10 increase in their annual bill for the trade group’s consumer advertising campaign on Friday, its members have been sounding off in varied comments that indicate the decision has them evaluating their NAR memberships — and whether or not they’re happy with what they’re getting.
At NAR’s midyear conference, the Realtors Legislative Meetings, Friday, the trade group’s board of directors approved a 29 percent increase to the special assessment, from $35 to $45, starting in 2023. The board also extended the campaign for another five years, through 2027, rather than the usual three-year renewal. The assessment is in addition to NAR’s membership dues, which the board voted Friday to keep at $150 for 2023.
The special assessment is used exclusively for NAR’s consumer ad campaign, which promotes the value of property ownership and the Realtor brand. The association launched its fourth “That’s Who We R” national ad campaign in February with an emphasis on the difference between Realtors and other agents and tech platforms. NAR has 1.5 million members nationwide.
Through emails, Facebook posts and article comments, agents and brokers expressed a wide range of opinions on the fee increase. Some thought it was necessary, others that it’s a bargain, and still others that it should have been higher in order to raise the bar of professionalism in the industry.
“Much needed,” said Emmy Simpson, a Realtor at Better Homes and Garden Real Estate Steinborn and Associates, in Inman’s Coast to Coast Facebook group.
“There were some at the meeting who thought it should have gone to 20,” she added.
“When a couple of cups of coffee can cost more than $10 this increase should not be a financial burden,” said Tim McBrayer, an agent at the Jim Allen Group.
“I believe it’s a small price to pay to educate consumers about what it means to use the services and expertise that Realtors provide. It should have been at least $25 more.”
Bill Flagg, president of the North Central Jersey Association of Realtors said, “The ad campaign has been very successful, so the $10 increase was on the light side. We have the Photofy app that is a free tool with our NAR dues that is worth the $10 alone.”
“10 bucks?? Should have been raised at least a 1000,” said Denis Murphy, a RE/MAX real estate broker. “Make a 2-year waived fee to introduce new realtors in.”
“[D]ues at all levels need to start moving upward along with licensing fees to start thinning out the license hangers, and those not commited to this as a business,” said Bill Lyons, a broker associate at the Keyes Company.
Lonna Sciarretti Spitaleri, broker-owner of Costa Bella Realty Group, said she “totally” agreed with the fee raise.
“I am so proud when I hear the advertising on the radio and television,” she said. “They are looking after us Realtors that are in this business! I am so proud to be a member of NAR!! Thank you for looking after us!!”
But others proclaimed the increase a “cash grab” for an association and an ad campaign they said doesn’t provide value while others took the opportunity to say that they would rather not be NAR members but are forced to be by their brokerages or their MLSs. Some suggested that the requirement to join a Realtor association in order to join the MLS is an antitrust violation.
“This fee increase is ridiculous!” Brian Wisner of RE/MAX of Princeton told Inman via email. “A top heavy organization that really doesn’t do much. I’m paying for a useless org, kinda like union members and their dues. I pay from my hard-earned money and get nothing. How about asking them to cut the fat! Why are Board Directors making a million each? Commercials that don’t do a thing to help ME!
“If I didn’t have to join, I would quit this org in a heartbeat! Why do we have two buildings on two of the MOST expensive streets in the country (Michigan Ave in Chicago & Jersey Ave in DC)? Get rid of them both and move to cheaper areas. Only one that’s really needed would be the DC location and that could be moved to a less expensive surrounding area. Sell Chicago and lower our fees.”
Wisner said he had to join NAR because it’s in his brokerage’s bylaws that if the office is a member then all the agents who hang their license in that office must become members.
“I would have to find an Office that is not a member,” he said. “Joining also gives the exclusive right to use the name Realtor. That’s trademark by the Association and only members are allowed to use it. So, RE/MAX, Berkshire Hathaway, eXp, Keller Williams, all the nationally-known names are all members and they require agents to join otherwise you can’t work under their broker licenses.”
Phillip Lande of the Atlas Group had a similar take.
“NAR has done nothing to deserve a raise,” he told Inman via email. “They appear to be losing the issues in court, they have eliminated the emeritus status for all 40+ year members unless they have served on the NAR Board of Directors (talk about self-serving) and have not done anything for the general membership.”
He said he’s a NAR member because he has “[n]o option if I want to be a part of the MLS!”
Minna Reid, broker associate at Killebrew and Company Realty, characterized the fee increase as “another cash grab because they know we have no choice but to pay.”
“NAR is an industry dinosaur that only survives due to their monopoly on MLS access,” she said. “I for one am counting the days until joining NAR is a choice. That day is coming and they will be a thing of the past. They would lose 90%+ of their members if they had to prove their value.”
“Forcing the realtors to pay to play is the way NAR survives,” she added.
On the other hand, Brad Allen, broker-in-charge at The Art of Real Estate, said he’s a Realtor even though his MLS does not require it because NAR and state and local Realtor associations have helped keep him working through the pandemic, have identified pro-business and pro-Realtor political candidates at all levels, and have lobbied to keep agents independent contractors, to have independent contractors included in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), to keep the mortgage interest deduction, to renew the national flood insurance program, and pushed to have sexual orientation and gender identity added as protected classes in fair housing, among other issues.
“I can go on,” Allen said. “But what I can’t do is what NAR does. I own companies and sell homes. So they can have my $500 a year to ensure I can make 1,000 more. You’re not gonna like this, but if you’re not involved in your Realtor board you may wanna check it out. It’s pretty impressive.”
The increase rubbed some members the wrong way because they disagree with some of NAR’s political stances.
“We are held hostage by NAR — an organization that poses as a trade group but is in fact one of the richest right-wing lobbies,” said Richard Stanley, a Realtor at Coldwell Banker Realty. “I am ashamed to be a NAR member, but I have no choice.
“NAR should be raising its standards for membership instead of cheering state governments that run real estate license mills that swell its roll. What has NAR done for Americans who aspire to homeownership except to say, ‘Trust us’?”
Dan Young, a broker at eXp Realty, said, “Since we have no choice but to be a member to have MLS access, why not? Make it an even $10,000. They need more money to push their woke agenda. Hey DOJ! Want the real antitrust story? Look into NAR.”
“It’s a quick 10.5 million dollar grab by an organization that makes membership mandatory for access to MLS,” he added. “If there was real value in NAR they could make membership voluntary then charge whatever the market will bear, be it $10 or $10,000. Agents are pathetically blind to the antitrust violations being thrust upon them. Make membership voluntary and I bet they’ll figure out how to do more with less like every other industry association.”
Still others were not impressed with the ad campaign specifically.
“In 25 years of business and 15 years as a broker/owner, guess how many clients have asked me if I am a Realtor?” said Kimberly Dotseth, broker-owner of Blend Luxury Real Estate. “Or asked what a Realtor is? Or asked me about these TV commercials? That’s right. Zero. Dan is right: THIS is the antitrust case.”
Debra Schwartz, a Realtor at Realty One Group Infinity said. “Personally, I’d like an accounting for the return on investment. [W]e’ve been paying increasing amounts for NAR advertising campaigns since 1999. I haven’t seen the value for agents and brokers. I can think of much better uses for $66 million.”
Rich Jacobson, a broker at Fathom Realty, said, “Unfortunately, all too many times, NAR misses the target when it comes to ad campaigns. They don’t connect with consumers. We collectively do a really lousy job articulating the unique value propositions of being a Realtor.”
Andrea Geller, a broker at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Chicago said she believes there’s value in the ad campaign, but would have preferred that NAR work within its budget instead of raising the fee.
“As much as the campaign is a member benefit, with where the economy is and the direction it appears to be going, the better option would have been to look at where there is room to cut items from the budget,” she said.
“There is probably excess. As much as I respect what NAR does for its members, it is not an organization that has been quick to adapt to changes. Get rid of the old and in with the new.”
Asked for comment on members’ varied feedback on the fee increase, NAR spokesperson Mantill Williams told Inman via email, “MLS service is a great benefit for Realtors. As an association-provided service, local associations have the discretion to limit MLS participation to members of the association, and courts have repeatedly upheld this long-standing practice.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a comment from NAR received after publication.