Just recently, for a few hundred dollars, you could enter a magical place in Anaheim, California. Tickets were sold by the thousands and people came from across the country to be there.
The activity list was so vast that attendees were encouraged to plan out their schedule weeks in advance. As you walked through this magical place, there were so many moments to be photographed with well-known characters and reunited friends.
Like any magical kingdom, this one was a manufactured place of happiness where real troubles were submerged for another day. But last week, despite best efforts, those troubles were apparent even if they remained just below the surface. Despite all the glossy shine and copious amount of wine, there was no denying the fairytale was no more.
Despite a tremendous job by the NAR events team, the conference did not change the narrative that America’s biggest trade association is in crisis. It’s true NAR NXT had all the rousing requisites: 12,000 attendees, 350 exhibitors, galas, networking sessions, celebrity speakers (I’m still not sure what Mindy Kaling has to do with real estate sales, but she is awesome), and much more.
Those who flocked to Anaheim very much represented the true believers, those passionate about their profession and their trade association. Their devotion was admirable. Their fears, though, remained palpable.
From walking the exhibitor hall to chatting with members at the lobby of the Hilton and Marriott hotels, to conversations in the Anaheim Convention Center, my day at the conference confirmed that uncertainty and unease were high as NAR entered uncharted waters.
The failed trial, the outcome. The failed culture, the outcome. The headlines. The public outcry. The “early retirements.” The embarrassment of it all.
NAR leadership put on a brave face. They declared there were “very many grounds” for appealing the Sitzer | Burnett jury verdict (which was rendered in less time than it takes to fly from Palm Beach to LaGuardia Airport). They held an entire session singularly devoted to the topic of culture (although they warned no reporters were allowed in the room and recording it was against the rules).
While the lawsuit outcome and the sexual harassment aftermath are separate debacles, in many ways they are inextricably linked — both reflect poorly on NAR and shine a negative light on its members.
And perhaps that’s the biggest takeaway from NAR NXT.
Its 1.6 million members are taking it on the chin, from a public that holds us in little regard and from its executives who ran the ship aground. Time is short. There is much to do.
To make change happen, I founded The NAR Accountability Project. In less than three months, we’ve grown the organization to include over 2,000 members in all 50 states. We’ve put forth a comprehensive reform plan that has already achieved results — three of our four initial demands have been adopted by NAR. But more needs to be done.
- We believe that a permanent CEO needs to be hired, one who won’t hold to old dogmas or care about internal politics.
- A coherent, cost-effective messaging strategy needs to be formulated to convey to the public how hard agents work and the value proposition that we offer to both buyers and sellers.
- NAR must work to retain its own members, as it is otherwise a near certainty to shrink dramatically in the coming years.
- To put the era of sexual harassment in the rearview, NAR must release all women from non-trade secret NDAs. The time for silence is over. Let women speak their truth, get it all out there, and then turn the page with a new culture of openness, transparency and integrity. It will make a difference.
Next year, NAR NXT will be held in Boston. It will take more than the luck of the Irish for things to be improved in a year’s time. But it can be done. It must be done.
Jason Haber is the founder of the NAR Accountability Project and an agent at Compass.