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Dear Madame President: An Open Letter to Vicki Cox Golder

Open Letter to NAR PresidentDear Vicki (may I call you, Vicki?),

I just finished reading the wonderful profile written about you in REALTOR Magazine. As a native Washingtonian now living in the MD Suburbs, I want to welcome you to the Nation’s Capital. It’s a tad different than Tucson area but you might grow to like it. It seems a lot of people do.  Most love having their neighbors keep them in Washington instead of “back home”.  Even one of your Senators (John McCain) loves the city so much he wanted to move into that nice, big White House for awhile.

You may want to leave your .38 behind at the ranch, though. There are plenty of rattlesnakes in DC but it’s frowned upon if you shoot them because they’re the ones that create all the legislation. Plus, DC has some tough gun laws.

Your Agenda

I also noticed that you want to pump up the numbers of Realtors who answer the National Association of Realtors’ Calls to Action.  I see part of you plan is to put the touch on Broker/Owners who, in turn, will strong arm encourage their agents to click on the buttons.  I’m guessing that having larger number of Realtors contact their duly elected representative (see John McCain) about NAR issues will show exactly how powerful the largest trade association in North America can be.

Good cause. Wrong approach.

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Constituent Service

What you probably already know (see Call to Action) is that politicians respond to constituent concerns. They know they need their constituents on their side in order to keep coming back and keep a [very nice] job.  That’s a big difference between then and the NAR and, really, most trade associations and unions.  It seems that the leadership of NAR can effectively ignore the concerns of its constituents and just follow some issues perceived to be important by staff or a few in the leadership.

This is the part that should get attention.   Much like the labor unions, NAR is living, fat and happy, off dues that are essentially mandatory and all the great non-dues revenue from its various business endeavors.

NAR is not getting the response it needs from individual members because NAR leadership has essentially marginalized individual members. Half-baked and demeaning marketing campaigns about “now is the time to buy” and “get off the fence” are really not the way enamour the membership with your cause.  It’s time to put the Realtor back into the center of the real estate transaction.  It’s also time to get serious about taking on the competition to the Realtor brand.  There are businesses out there getting ready to eat NAR’s lunch.

If NAR is going to sit by the sidelines while Zillow sends Spencer Rascoff to talk about major housing issues on CNBC and overtake Realtor.com as the “go to” web portal for real estate information it won’t be long before NAR will be just like the formerly great and powerful AFL-CIO — begging Congress to force members to pay up.

Find Out What is Important to Your Members

The bottom line here, Vicki, is that NAR really needs to get down in the trenches and see what is important to their members and then go to the mat to fight for those issues in Washington.  Ditto about staying in front of consumer trends and not lagging behind the entrepreneurial companies by becoming just another “me, too” Internet presence.  NAR needs some fresh thinking and some fresh blood.  And co-opting a few social media types to become  NAR mouthpieces is transparent and insulting.

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You have over a million members that could be a force for good in the world. If NAR leadership continues down it’s current path, NAR will become a toothless tiger — powerless and ineffective.

Welcome to DC from your dues paying, RPAC contributing, local and State Association participating member,

Ken

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Written By

“Loves sunrise walks on the beach, quaint B & Bs, former Barbie® boyfriend..." Ken is a sole practitioner and Realtor Extraordinaire in the beautiful MD Suburbs of DC. When he's not spouting off on Agent Genius he holds court from his home office in Glenn Dale, MD or the office for RE/MAX Advantage Realty in Fulton, MD...and always on the MD Suburbs of DC Blog

41 Comments

41 Comments

  1. Mack Perry

    January 10, 2010 at 8:34 am

    Ken, have you thought about running for president of NAR? Oh well that probably wouldn’t work…You make too much sense.

    • Ken Montville

      January 10, 2010 at 8:41 am

      I understand that becoming President of the NAR is almost as expensive as running for Congress. My bank account isn’t that rich. Thanks for the thought, though . 🙂

    • Jim Duncan

      January 10, 2010 at 9:23 am

      If you want to start the run for NAR president in 2025, you’d better start now. 🙂

  2. Ken Brand

    January 10, 2010 at 8:48 am

    I have to say, over the years I have grown indifferent. It’s a long, not really interesting, story. But, your voiced opinions, along with the rising visibility and volume of others is attracting attention and awareness. I appreciate the wake-up calls from all the open eyed, I’m sick of this crap, feet on the street, REALTOR colleagues.

    Like I said, I’ve been indifferent for years, but due to your’s and other’s influence, I’m paying attention, and this year, I’ve agreed to sit on a Board Task Force. In yesteryears, I would have passed.

    Thanks.

  3. Ken Brand

    January 10, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Dabblers and devils be gone….poof. If I ran for President and won, I’d raise the dues to $5,000 a year. My ciphering shows that our annual revenue would remain the same, BUT, instead of 1.2 million dues paying people, we’d have about 217,000 members.

    Theoretically, only the productive, whip smart, hard working, career-minded-fireballs would be able to pay. Next, we’d recreate everything to support and empower fire-balls instead of cater and kowtow to the average, old (minded), mediocre, snowballs.

    Do I have your 2025 vote?

  4. Fred Romano

    January 10, 2010 at 9:42 am

    In the last 5 years we have seen major shifts and changes in this industry, and it will be fun to see what happens over the next 5… Zillow, Trulia, Cyberhomes, RPR, and other online services could turn the traditional business model upside down.

    My niche – I made the shift to flat fee services about 2.5 years ago and glad I did. Technology is moving faster than ever, so NAR better get moving or it will be left in the dust. The sad part is that we are FORCED to pay dues or not be able to play in the games. 🙁

  5. Greg Cooper

    January 10, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Ken,

    As always, spot on. I think you could have written a letter with this tone 5 years ago and IF someone was listening and acting on it there could have been change. At this point NAR to me is a big, lumbering jurrasic era beast that is simply consuming resources and offering minimal back and destined for the scrap heap of our business. They just don’t know it yet. Shame too because there are bright stars hiding in that beast who’s abilities are some of the few reasons I hold a slight hope that there actually could be change. Silly me.

  6. Nobu

    January 10, 2010 at 10:12 am

    Classic case of Realtor1.0 (old-school, internet-what?, backwards thinking fat cat agents/brokers/leadership resting on their pre-2005 laurels) vs. Realtor2.0 (new-school, consumer-centric, forward thinking agents/brokers/leadership sensing our impending fade into irrelevance) ideology.

    While I applaud this letter, and all the others like it, do y’all think Vicki knows what agentgenius.com is, much less read this or any of the other letters floating around the interwebs? Ken Brand is right, only by getting involved at the local association and State leadership levels, can we make our voices heard and make a difference as one Realtor2.0 group, united. I’m part of NAR’s YPN Leadership (https://realtor.org/ypn) and all 30+ of our chapters plan to make our time in front of NAR leadership at MidYear 2010 well spent. We’re right there with you Ken!

    • Lani Rosales

      January 10, 2010 at 10:45 am

      Nobu, I can tell you for a fact Vicki knows what agentgenius.com is as does most of the staff at NAR, we have a long history together. All writers here voice objections (and support) in a constructive manner because NAR is listening while other sites complain and moan and get ignored. Several of our writers are volunteer NAR committee members and another of our writers is the Sr. Technology Policy Adviser at NAR, so this is a great place to banter about the way forward for NAR despite which side of the proverbial fence anyone falls on.

      Since we’re on the subject, in your opinions (Ken, Ken, Fred, Nobu, et al), what would be a better way for Vicki/NAR/MarketingDeptatNAR to phrase encouragement for people to lobby Congress? How specifically would you handle this situation if you were in Vicki’s shoes?

      • Ken Montville

        January 10, 2010 at 6:29 pm

        Lani,

        I always come back to member/constituent service. If your membership see’s that you are fighting for their cause and looking after their needs, they will go to the ends of the earth for you, including grassroots lobbying efforts. If you continually ignore them or worse, make token gestures, the membership will become lethargic.

        In the political world, people just get voted out. In the trade association world you end up with a trade association that is essentially powerless.

    • Melissa Krchnak

      January 22, 2010 at 3:37 pm

      Nobu, as a fellow YPNer, thank you! Thank you for suggesting further involvement to change that which you don’t agree with and thank you for bringing this to the attention of the YPN. I agree that only through further involvement can you expect to change anything. If you are not getting involved at a local, state and national level then the argument should end. If you are and you’re not seeing the results you’d like, then you’re not involved enough. Thanks to Drew to backing up this idea! You can’t influence change without specifically outlining what change you’d like to see, which brings me to Lani.

      Lani, while I don’t have any major arguments for how NAR is handling the level of involvement of its membership, I also don’t have any constructive criticism. It seems that simply saying that something isn’t working won’t motivate change, will it Mr. Montville?

      I appreciate the idea behind this letter but not the intent of it. It seems so negative when you’re hoping for a positive outcome. “Hope” and “Change” were the 2 main words focused on during the election of the guy that ended up in “that nice, big White House for awhile” which I think is also the idea behind NAR’s Moving Forward in 2010 and Strategic Planning outline for 2010-2012, if you haven’t read it.

      And, in regards to Brandie, while the consumer isn’t familiar with NAR, they are familiar with the REALTOR brand which is one in the same. While I do get questions about the difference between a REALTOR and a Real Estate Agent, most consumers know the term REALTOR well enough to ask that question. I don’t think we have a brand issue here.

      As a young REALTOR, I have nothing but the best intentions for my involvement, future in the industry and the future of our leadership. I’m active at many levels and intend to become more involved to better serve my local, state and national associations and consumers. Only through our work lobbying are some major changes possible. I’ve seen first-hand how getting more involved and speaking to politicians can influence change. So, if you’re not making your voice heard by contacting your local politicians in some way, shape or form when there is an industry changing law being voted on, then you are not best serving yourself, your peers and most importantly, your clients. They are everything and the driving force behind my further involvement. Influencing change is powerful but realizing that you’re helping change for the better of all consumers, is amazing. Change starts with the smallest contact (even if you were encouraged to do so).

  7. Joe Loomer

    January 10, 2010 at 11:30 am

    Ken & Ken – just keep it up, the tree fell and someone was there to hear it.

    Didn’t ask me, Lani, but I would tell Vicki to start with a Dominos style public awareness campaign – “you told us we suck, we listened, we’re not going to suck as much anymore.”

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  8. Ken Brand

    January 10, 2010 at 11:41 am

    My advice to Vicki, as it is to all leaders (and myself), is to make time to engage personally. Time is finite, delegation is wise, but in issues such as this, personal engagement on important topics, such like this would “AMAZE” people.

    It’s awesome that NAR leaders follow along, read and assimilate, I recommend they participate, not just Todd. What if Vicki chimed in on this conversation and left a message/comment. That’d be something; swivel some heads, pop-open some eyes, and wag some wet-tongues. How many RTs would that generate?

    There is a downside though, crowd expectations, mob mentality, backfire, etc. What the hell right? No guts, not glory, etc.

    An example of a National Leader doing it well is Sheri Chris with BH&G. When it’s done right is REMARKABLE.

    Vicki, you’re up? What do you think?

  9. Nobu

    January 10, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    EXACTLY, Ken Brand! While I have no doubt that Vicki knows that agentgenius.com is per se – thanks to @tcar/@nartech among others, I don’t think she fully realizes that web focal-points like this is where current and future RealEstate thought leaders are communicating and exchanging ideas. Wouldn’t it be in NAR’s best interests to keep up with that? Into my 14th year in the industry, I’m jaded. I’d like to see @nartech dump a transcript of each and every one of these thoughtful convos into VCG’s email for her to comment on, but I’m not holding my breath. Now that @nartech is involved in AG I think we’re one step closer to that, but I digress.

    The other half of the battle will be to mobilize the rest of us jaded Realtors and create some awareness to the fact that one leader at a time, the industry is changing for the better! I’ll be looking up Sheri Chris later today.

    As for your second question Lani, are you talking about RPAC? I’ve been looking at it from this perspective: there is value there and our lobbyists are doing it right for the greater good, but it also can be a catalyst for change. Imagine if we were to get these Realtor2.0 types to give to RPAC just double their minimum requested donation? A small dollar amount yes, but there’s strength in numbers there. How quickly do you think we’ll gain the ear of VCG? That’s my goal with YPN this year, an uphill (and subversive) battle as it may be.

  10. Duke Long

    January 10, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    1. Reference: I was a Teamster at 16 years old.
    A I paid my dues and watched them save everyone who didn’t deserve a job.
    B. Their only motivation was to collect dues and self serve the “management” of the Teamsters.
    C. Their value proposition was that they had the best trained workforce for the job.
    D. After I started my own company from 0. Creating multiple jobs,locations,and tax dollars with my own money.They showed up asking for you guessed it, money.When I asked why, they said it was for the continued training of their work force and “representation” of my interests. I said No and got sued.
    Was I asked to participate in any capacity at all?
    Was I given a voice in leader ship?
    Could I participate in the management of the “funds”?
    Was is worth the price to stay in business?
    Guess what business I decided to get into next? Real estate.

    • Ruth Lopez

      May 21, 2010 at 11:01 am

      Duke,

      Funny, but I feel the exact same way about the NAR & their Pac as you feel about the Teamsters.

      They take my money and I have NO CHOICE but to pay – and then they live fat & happy off the proceeds which they use to push their partisan political objectives – nearly all of which I strongly disagree with.

      I’m late to this discussion because I only found it doing research on the NAR president. I was researching because the last “call to action” infuriated me – it was nothing but veiled threats of looming danger if we didn’t respond as we were being called to do, but there was nothing in it factual that supported the call. It was all personal opinion dressed up in hyperventilation and hyperbole.

      It’s all BS & nonsense.

  11. Thomas Johnson

    January 10, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Vicki could at least show up. After all, industry leaders like Glenn Kelman of Redfin who shows up in the belly of the beast and Sherry Chris who is everywhere. Does that woman sleep?

    But alas, I know the the president of the REALTORS is busy busy busy. Probably as busy busy busy as an REO listing agent with hundreds of listings-too busy busy busy to talk to those who bring the business/gravy train.

  12. jlittleaz

    January 10, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Much about NAR offends me, and you hit almost every point. Let’s have a revolution!

  13. Todd Carpenter

    January 10, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    “And co-opting a few social media types to become NAR mouthpieces is transparent and insulting.”

    Ken, could you please elaborate on what you mean by this?

    • Duke Long

      January 10, 2010 at 4:27 pm

      Todd,
      I’m waiting for this one!

      • Ken Montville

        January 10, 2010 at 6:25 pm

        Todd and Duke,

        Todd writes: “Ken, could you please elaborate on what you mean by this?”

        Ken M. answers: “No”.

        • Todd Carpenter

          January 10, 2010 at 6:45 pm

          Why not Ken?

          Because it looks to me that you called me a co-opted NAR mouthpiece.

          Or do you mean that the people I’m “co-opting” like Jay Thompson or Daniel Rothemel, or the 80 some odd “social media types” that I have managed to place on national committees this year (with Vicki’s endorsement) are now NAR mouthpieces? I’m not sure who you’ve decided to insult here.

  14. Sal Antsipenka

    January 10, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    I don’t care about NAR whatsoever and whatever they can do for me doesn’t matter at all. I can do my marketing much better and to the same number or greater number of people, because I cover Europe as well. The only benefit at this point is a “bragging right” that I belong to NAR with all that nice fees I pay. Internet is a great equalizer and whoever can work the internet as his/her marketing base doesn’t need fringe benefits from anyone.

  15. Ken Montville

    January 10, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    To all of the above — I appreciate your participation in this discussion. It seems to have struck a chord with some folks. Speaking for myself, I have been proud to be a Realtor until recently. However, I tend to agree with Greg Cooper’s perspective – that NAR is becoming obsolete (a paraphrase) and they just don’t know it yet.

  16. Brandie Young

    January 10, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    (Disclaimer: I’m not a Realtor or Agent)

    As such, I have no dog in this fight, but do have an outside/in perspective.

    As a consumer, NAR doesn’t resonate value to me. That’s not a judgment, it’s an observation and only my personal opinion. It would be interesting to understand consumer sentiment, but I digress …

    it’s easy to criticize everything a big entity does wrong. I’ve held positions at BIG companies, and the truth is, you just don’t know how the sausage is made until you’ve been to the factory.

    A big entity can not simply stop or turn on a dime. It is what it is. I think a great step in a progressive direction is NAR’s interest in social media. I applaud them that.

    I wonder if you spent a day or two shadowing Vicki to truly understand the weight of her responsibilities, and how the Board has prioritized her mandates, you’d alter your perspective? Just a thought.

  17. Matt Stigliano

    January 11, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Ken – I hope Vicki does get a chance to read this (and some of the other posts floating around out there about her leadership of NAR). I haven’t been around long enough to think NAR is a complete waste like some have, but I have been around long enough to see some things that I dislike.

    As a dues paying member, I often take my chance and call out NAR for things I don’t like. I have spoken openly about my feelings on some of the issues and will continue to do so. The idea of NAR co-opting some voices has been put out there before and although I have felt the same myself at times, I don’t think that’s totally what NAR’s intent was with some of their moves (it may have been part of the plan, but I don’t think they figured they would be able to co-opt 100% some of the people they’ve asked to join them). Heck, I even got on to a committee as part of the new NAR plan and I applaud the efforts (so maybe I’m biased) of NAR to bring in some new blood that might not otherwise be a part of committees (I had it as part of my long term plan, but was able to skip ahead thanks to the new effort).

    I think Brandie Young’s comment is telling:

    As a consumer, NAR doesn’t resonate value to me. That’s not a judgment, it’s an observation and only my personal opinion. It would be interesting to understand consumer sentiment, but I digress

    I don’t think she was digressing. I think NAR needs to do two things – become more relevant to consumers and become more relevant to agents. Blowing smoke up everyone’s ass with marketing campaigns is not going to cut it. You can hire all the pretty actors and actresses in the world to tell me how “now is the time to buy,” but unless I’m ready, willing, and able – I’m not going to buy a house. You can put out all the President Podcasts you want, but if they’re poorly scripted and acted out monologues of “what I want to hear” vs. what’s happening today (sorry Charles), I’m not going to click on the links and take time out of my day to watch and listen. I’ve got a business to run and I save my watching actors time for The Office and Community.

    Give the people (consumers and agents) what they want and what they need – and deliver it in a personable, no-hype way. Yes, NAR will always want to spin positives out of everything – and I don’t fault them for that, negativity only makes us much more negative – but when the spinning turns into nothing more than a media blitz of non-believables, you’re going to lose the ears of those you seek pretty darn fast.

    @Nobu – Although I think they might have started a bit late, I do think NAR is listening and watching. I’ve have had several contacts from different parts of NAR over the past year on posts I wrote – some very critical of NAR. While they may not jump into the fray every time, I can tell they’re paying attention. The question is what they will do about it…I think that will shape NAR’s future more than anything.

    • Nobu

      January 12, 2010 at 8:57 am

      Should it be NAR’s place to be relevant and/or provide value in the consumer’s eyes? I would argue no. If I need plumbing fixed at my home I hire a plumber, not the whole nationwide plumber’s union. I think @Brandie’s lack of resonation with NAR is symptomatic of our industry as a whole; we’re losing relevance and value with the average consumer on the street. I have too many “what do I need you for?” conversations with consumers nowadays, more as technology outpaces our ability (as a whole, not individual agents) to adapt. Those cheeseball marketing campaigns? RPR? Houselogic.com? Those are put in place for us to further a – supposed – unified message to the street. Problem is, only a small majority of us are drinking the kool-aid, only making us look worse in the consumer’s eyes.

      It’s up to us to tell NAR that their spin campaigns aren’t working and we’re losing credibility at the street level; that their blatant lack of transparency is insulting; and that we feel our dues to value ratio is nil. More importantly we need to provide solutions, at every level of participation we have at NAR and hammer them every time the opportunity arises. After all, if we’re on a task force/network/group with them, aren’t we all co-opted? It’s about time we use those co-opted voices as a catalyst for some change.

      It’s easy for NAR to marginalize individual voices of dissent in our ranks, but as one unified voice? It’s potentially the pink elephant in the room that will not, and cannot be ignored. The question isn’t what “they” will do about it to shape NAR’s future, it’s what “we” will do about it.

  18. Drew Burks

    January 21, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Hi Ken – really excellent post! Some interesting points and definitely did a great job getting people talking.

    My thoughts … First, I am stoked that Vicki is reading or paying attention to blogs & blog comments. This is a huge step in the right direction in my opinion. Second, I in 100% agreement with those who are stepping up and getting involved with local, state and NAR committees. Like Gandhi said “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.

    The problem is this, far to many people would prefer to sit on the sidelines and whine/complain about it than get involved and do something. After all it is easier to complain! (in the short term anyway)

    As the Chair person for my local San Diego YPN Committee and member of several other committees including the 2010 NAR MLS Policy Review I am doing what I can to be part of the transition of our industry … the transition from archaic to web 2.0 / visionary! I am a 3rd generation Realtor and to be very honest I have never been happy with the leadership in our industry.

    I agree with Ken M. that our leadership has been fighting battles that meet their own agenda (some may or may not be in the best interest to our industry). However, one major area our industry leadership has overlooked has been technology. Realtors should, at the very least, have competitive tools compared to what our consumers have, BUT we do not. Not even close!

    My opinion is that our industry is focused on the wrong sector “the part-timers who make up the majority of our membership vs’ being focused on keeping our industry current or ahead of the consumer”.

    WHY, I asked myself? The only reason I can come up with is “more membership dues”! This is a huge mistake if you ask me.

    I like the direction Ken Brand is thinking; however, my approach would be slightly different. Before raising the dues to extortion rates I would first begin with making the barrier to enter Real Estate much more difficult … as it is, I would compare it to something like “traffic school” not a “profession”. Increasing the barrier to enter and remain a Realtor will weed out the vast majority of part-timers. Then we could look at raising dues if we find our industry with a shortage of “professional realtors”. Otherwise we will just end up with the same problem, with the exception our members will not be starving as many are now days.

    Joe Loomer also makes a great point … why doesn’t our current/past leadership just come out and be authentic “which is a critical component to Social Media” and say they have sucked in past and want to make it better! This seems to be a proven strategy!

    Sometimes it makes sense to just scrap what isn’t working and start over.

    THANK YOU to all of you for participating to make our industry better for years to come.

    Drew Burks

    • Ken Montville

      January 21, 2010 at 1:09 pm

      Thanks for checkin’ in, Drew.

      I keep coming back to NAR keeping in touch with what is going on with the membership. My thinking is that they are so focused on the political aspect of the association that they lose track of the fact that they derive their great political power from an engaged membership.

      Vicki Cox Golder seems to want to energize the association. Let’s hope she can make it happen.

  19. Susie Blackmon

    January 22, 2010 at 4:45 am

    I’m with Greg Cooper: “At this point NAR to me is a big, lumbering jurrasic era beast that is simply consuming resources and offering minimal back and destined for the scrap heap of our business.”

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