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Editorial: open letter to the National Association of Realtors

In this open letter to the National Association of Realtors, one member says many others are frustrated as he is – do you agree or disagree with his assertions?

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A finger on the pulse of real estate

Since our inception, we have been one of the biggest megaphones in the real estate industry, and we publish housing news so consumers and real estate professionals have the freshest data on hand, while simultaneously publishing industry-changing editorials over the years. Many a policy has changed based on our columnists and you (the reader), and we would argue that the industry is better because of how interested people are in making sure it is running as best as it can.

We recently received an open letter to the National Association of Realtors from from Daniel Bates, who is the owner and Broker-in-Charge of MCVL Realty, a boutique brokerage that specializes in real estate sales and rental management in McClellanville and Awendaw, SC. Bates is also the Chairman of the Bulls Bay Chamber of Commerce which also serves this rural niche located between Charleston and Myrtle Beach.

Upon reading, our first inclination is that we disagree with quite a bit of the content, but understand that many people agree with these points. The role of the world’s largest trade group is extremely complex, and while the member benefits (discounts on car rentals and such) mean little to paying members, the NAR’s policy and lobbying efforts, we believe are critical. The D.C. office is filled with extremely hard working unsung heroes whose fingerprints will never be seen as they help guide successful policy and block industry-destructive policies.

Although we agree with certain points made by Bates below, we disagree with others, so instead of us making the decision about whether Bates’ opinion is on point or not, we are publishing it in full and asking you to tell us in the comments what you think – what points do you agree and disagree with Bates on?

The following open letter is in the words of Bates himself.

An Open Letter to the National Association of Realtors

I am witnessing a rising level of discontent among members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is palpable through comment threads and forums of the internet. These voices have grown from seemingly few in numbers, written off as outliers, to a majority who are not pleased at the basic level of representation from their trade organization. The common thread of the complaints is that the organization values it’s own existence and money over preservation of the industry, it’s members, and the general public, which whom they serve.

With all this discontent, why do members remain? NAR would have you believe that it is because of the excellent services offered, however the answer is much more simple; it costs more to not be a member than it does to be one. Despite a DOJ ruling banning the organization from tying membership to access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) which agents rely on to share information about their listings and offer compensation to other participating brokerages, agents still find themselves having to be a member because of “non-member” dues which exceed the cost of membership and local REALTOR Associations built on top of the maintenance of these local databases. Reports from areas that have successfully severed the tie where vast majorities of brokerages and their agents have abandoned local, state, and national REALTOR Association membership is that all is rosy.

NAR leadership cite a plethora of reasons that the organization provides huge value to it’s members, but each argument they make seems to be flawed and causes dissatisfaction among members

A higher standard of professionalism?

NAR touts it’s Code of Ethics (COE) as the crowning achievement of bringing order to an otherwise chaotic marketplace. Perhaps these initial rules were valuable to have been penned, but can basically be summed up by the Golden Rule. There have also never been numbers produced to back up the argument that a REALTOR acts more ethically than a non-member, in fact, the opposite may be true – markets with high non-member numbers are performing quite well. State licensing commissions already enforce rules which guide the industry and protect the public and would cover the most egregious offenses performed by agents. As far as the agent-to-agent infractions, many believe that karma settles those scores and agents who can’t play well with others don’t make it far in the industry.

Ultimately, enforcement of the COE can be called into question because the complaint process is overbearing and impractical for the “victim” and the punishment is often no more than a slap on the wrist. Violators are not stripped of their membership and the records of what happened often remain private, so there are no lasting repercussions to the offender and no effort to clean up the industry.

A brand that attracts consumers?

Despite the organization’s age and advertising budget, the vast majority of the public is still very much in the dark as to any difference between a real estate agent, broker, or REALTOR. In addition, there is also still a large misunderstanding about what agents do, whom they represent, and how they get paid; all basic tasks that a competent trade organization should have successfully tackled from the beginning. Many members also feel that NAR’s decision to run advertising stating that it was a “A Great Time to Buy Real Estate” the entire way through the plummeting real estate market from 2007-2010 was misleading and did more harm than good to gain the trust of an already woeful public.

A lobbying voice?

One of NAR’s biggest arguments for it’s current existence is their great lobbying ability. They tout any cause that they supported as a victory which would have never happened without their involvement, a fact which is impossible to argue, but quite arguable. Even casual outsiders can see that the wheels of Washington are in fact greased by money, but my biggest argument is that most of their achievements while possibly helping real estate agents, have harmed the country in the long-run.

Tax credits to first-time home buyers was essentially cash for clunkers for the real estate industry; an artificial shot in the arm which helped a struggling economy, but also prevented capitalism from taking hold and allowing the market to seek a natural level. The biggest argument that it’s lobbying efforts are not supported by it’s members, was NAR’s own move to make contributions to their PAC mandatory. NAR also stated that they would not take sides in the national election and then proceeded to hire Hilary Clinton as the headlining speaker for their national convention. PAC donations should always be optional when membership crosses political lines.

Superior Training?

NAR is also quick to cite the many designations offered which ensure that their members are at the top of the profession. While there is no denying the value of education, the quality can always be called into question, but more than that; the motives.

NAR makes hundreds of dollars off of each designation issued to each agent anxious to differentiate themselves from the crowd and add some letters to the end of their name. Not only does is cost money to obtain this training and then apply for the designation, but agents are also charged annually to actually retain the ability to claim the use of the designation. The recurring fees just to claim the right to use a designation are like a college reclaiming a graduate’s diploma unless a contribute to the Alumni fund was made each year.

A consumer gateway?

In a move that can only be described as ludicrous, NAR gave away it’s rights and control of it’s own website, Realtor.com, to a third party (read: for-profit) company, Move, Inc. With a direct feed to the listings of it’s members, Realtor.com was able to boast a quality control that it’s competition did not have, however this fact was squandered while it’s competition (Trulia and Zillow) built better tools and features on a more user-friendly interface while convincing brokerages to volunteer their listings to get better exposure. Realtor.com was quickly bumped to the third on the list for most major real estate keyword searches.

Under Move, Realtor.com charged agents and brokerages to display their contact information and the total number of pictures on their own listings as a way to profit, yet brokerages still found a better ROI investing in Zillow and Trulia advertising. Realtor.com had but one claim to make over Trulia and Zillow, that their data was a clean as the new fallen snow, due to it’s source, and yet NAR leadership voted to allow FSBO builders AND non-member agents to supply their data directly to Realtor.com.

NAR then agreed to supply it’s membership records for a tool which had three times been objected to and shot down by REALTOR members which allows consumers to search for agents in an area, promoting quantity over quality and skewed toward the success of teams over individual performance of agents without regard to their abilities to serve a clients needs.

Value for the money?

NAR’s final argument to justify it’s existence is to state that most members get far more in services (like those cited above) than they pay for dues. While NAR (and state and local) memberships often include free and discounted services which can be used by agents, they also discourage free enterprise.

Contracts are struck with companies and then efforts are made to suppress competitors which would normally compete in the market and cause both companies to improve their products and services or lower their prices. Most will agree that if NAR disappeared tomorrow and they had to pay 10 percent more to rent a car, or purchase the complimentary document software (but have a choice on which one to use), but they were not responsible for paying for lobbying, designation use fees, or bloated leadership purchases including a new a high rise building in Chicago; that they would somehow be able to go on.

In the end, the overall grand scope and duties of the National Association of Realtors seems to have escaped their their mission statement “to help its members become more profitable and successful” and morphed into an organization who’s primary goal is to preserve and enhance it’s own existence.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Ken Brand

    November 13, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    You make some good points. Hopefully we’ll hear some “as persuasive” counter points. Thanks.

    • Hank Miller

      November 23, 2013 at 1:05 pm

      HA! You’ll be waiting a loooooong time for anything positive to come out of NAR. Follow the money – that’s all they are concerned with. Like all other PACS, fees drive the bus and the bus cares less and less about it’s members as moves along.

  2. Shawn K. Rooker

    November 13, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    I was not aware of so much discontent, however I agree to a certain extent on all points. Some more than others, and based on my experience. Code of Ehtics? Great, but that’s not my value to the consumer. Brand? I will take care of that myself, no need for help there. Training? Designations are not helpful, course materials are. I just finished GRI, good stuff, and I’m glad I don’t have to pay annually. And I don’t care about the letters. The Move.com thing is a few steps back.
    However, it is my assessment that their lobbying strength is top notch. The direction they lobby towards is beyond the scope of my attention span, as I am busy with my profession. I do appreciate the work they do in Washington.

    In the end, I am a member because it is my profession. No need for bells and whistles, just forward momentum towards a more professional profession. I do not think the public cares that I am an all-caps-realtor, they only care that I can take the mass amount of information out there and crunch it for them in a highly respectful and consumer-friendly way.

  3. Hank Miller

    November 14, 2013 at 8:12 am

    So a “professional organization” more concerned with their image and perks than their members? Sounds like the Appraisal Institute revisited….how’s that appraisal industry doing under their stellar guidance?

    NAR is concerned with NAR, heard they’re getting a new building?. The suits project an image of concern but please stop already. Bates does a great job highlighting just a few of their flubs – multiple designations by check, lack of professional standards, complete disconnect with the public, subpar agent resources…..and more.

    This industry is a joke in the eyes of the public; there are far too many inept, incompetent and corrupt agents that soil the reputations of those working hard to make everyone understand that this is a profession. If NAR wants to shake it up, how about mandating simple designations based upon PERFORMANCE standards? How about designating a PART-TIME agent level? or a “Trainee” level. How about looking at what appraisers have to do with internships; working to gain experience instead of worthless designations void of real world experience?

    Idiotic commercials, tag lines like “I want to be your realtor for life” and the like continue to undermine the pros in this business. Realtors have horrible public images for a reason, there are no performance standards and no one to answer to.

    Maybe the best thing would be to trash NAR and put some teeth into the state and local boards, clean this industry up and make it the profession we project it as – after all, isn’t all real estate local?

  4. Matt Stigliano - @rerockstar

    November 14, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Daniel – I’d like to personally thank you for writing what I wish I could have. You’ve neatly tied up many of the loose ends floating through my head since I became licensed in 2008. I’d like to specifically note the section about the COE and how I feel about that. While I believe in the COE and what it stands for, I have never been able to wrap my head around the fact that “real estate agents” (as opposed to REALTORS) may not have a piece of paper stating their ethics, they can certainly abide by these same standards. Of course, the argument is that they don’t have a course to take action against those that violate it. As someone who recently dealt with an ethics complaint (I filed against someone), I agree that the course of action has less teeth than me calling up the agent and calling them out on it myself. Over a year went by before action was taken. The action? A piece of paper telling them they did wrong. That’s it. Certainly not worth the hours of research I poured into making my case or the 100s of pages of copies I had to supply to the the ethics committee.

    As a side note, I’d be curious to see the numbers on how many people actually use the member benefits on things like cars and computers. Personally, I could care less if these items exist or not.

    • Daniel Bates

      November 14, 2013 at 3:33 pm

      Thank You Matt, I became licensed in 2006, so I too have just been sitting back and watching one disgruntle situation after another with increasing frequency. I wrote on another forum and it bears repeating here: I am not opposed to paying dues at all, but when every so called “benefit” is on rocky ground there is a problem and we as members have a right to call out those problems. If those complaints fall on deaf ears and no action is taken than we have a right to leave. I would hope that NAR leadership would not want to see that. I have no doubts that if there is a mass exodus that it would not be long (almost instantaneous) that a new trade group would spring up. One that would take the lessons learned from NAR’s victories and it’s mistakes and better serve it’s members.

  5. Erica Ramus

    November 16, 2013 at 9:57 am

    I am a member of NAR because my MLS membership requires it. However, I do see many benefits of the group. The lobbying in DC is important. Their educational classes are good. I am in their master’s program and the courses are excellent for the most part. The designation training is very good, although I balk at paying $100 or $200/year just to renew those little letters. That said, I agree with many of the points in the letter.

    1. ETHICS — Being a Realtor does NOT make a person more ethical. Sorry but the fact that you need to teach “the golden rule” at all and require a course (yawn) in how to treat consumers and other agents right is pathetic. The “I am a Realtor thus I am ethical” argument does not fly. I have worked with plenty of unethical agents who wear the badge. Filing a complaint is lengthy and discipline light / rare. Frequently it boils down to “he said/she said” and those in charge can discourage filing if it’s not blatant, rock solid provable violation.

    2. DESIGNATIONS — The letters mean nothing to me. The training is priceless. I have earned designations then let the little letters expire at the end of the year, simply to get the education. I could easily spend $1000 every December on renewing the alphabet soup but I won’t. I don’t put them on my business cards but they’re nice on the resume. Consumers don’t care you’re GRI CRS CRB GREEN AHWD. Really? The only ones you’re maybe impressing is other Realtors at the convention when your name tag is overflowing with letters.

    3. CONSUMER IGNORANCE — Consumers equate Realtor = real estate salesperson just like Kleenex = tissue. We all know it’s not true but they don’t and that’s all that matters. I see non Realtor firms in other markets who operate just fine without the (R) behind their names. Consumers see the sign on the house and the listing on T or Z. They don’t say “Oh you’re not a Realtor let me go find one because I want a Realtor to represent me.” Nope. They just want to buy or sell a house. You have a license, right? Good to go.

  6. Mary St. George

    November 18, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    I am so happy this editorial was put together. NAR is very political in nature and in a way holds us hostage for the mls costs. The whole Realtor thing gets my goat. The public does not understand the difference, nor do they have any idea how we get paid, Even though we are independent contractors, we really are not. There is so much and I could go on and on.

  7. John

    January 6, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    The NAR is nothing but a union but a union that DOES NOT adequately represent its dues-paying members. If it did, it would represent the thousands of agents working for next to nothing fees being crammed down their throats by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and countless banks that make up rules as they go along. One agent friend told me that after doing work for a local bank including a free BPO with the prospect of getting a REO listing, he was told to list for 30 days only. And the commission to him was 1.75%. That stinks but agents have no representative to go to to file a complaint. The NAR should be standing up to these institutional owners and demanding fair pay. Like low wage employees are taking a stand against Wal Mart and McDonalds demanding a living wage. If you look at the average income of the thousands of average agents out there you’ll find that they earn less than minimum wage for the hours and work they put in every day of the year. I’d be all for a backlash against NAR and a mass withdrawal of membership.

  8. Pingback: An open letter to the new CEO of NAR

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Opinion Editorials

Declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob or an un-alphabetized bookshelf.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, decluttering can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those three things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer slowing you down? Does it make a simple job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment to improve your productivity.

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What is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes.

In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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Opinion Editorials

How to build a company culture while working remotely

(OPINION EDITORIAL) It seems that even a post COVID-19 world will involve remote work, so how can you build and maintain a strong work culture that ensures growth and satisfaction?

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New startups and existing companies are starting to transition to a fully remote (or nearly fully remote) model, but what does this mean for work culture? If you’re not careful, your work culture could easily become diminished as you transition to a remote environment, and if you’re building a company from the ground up, you may not have a strong culture to begin with.

Culture isn’t something you can afford to give up, so how can you build and maintain your company culture while working remotely?

The importance of a strong work culture

Maintaining a strong, consistent company culture is vital, even if your company is operating remotely. With a strong work culture, you’ll enjoy benefits like:

  • Better recruiting potential. A company with strong work culture will seem more attractive to talented candidates. The best people in the industry will want to work at a place with a great team and a great set of values.
  • Like-minded teammates. Establishing a consistent work culture allows you to selectively hire, then maintain employees who are like-minded. Employees with similar goals and mentalities, even if they come from different backgrounds, will be able to collaborate more efficiently.
  • Smoother communication. A strong foundational work culture that establishes goals, values, and beliefs within an organization can enable smoother, more efficient communication. Staff members will be on the same page with regard to high-level priorities, and will be able to exchange information in similar patterns.
  • Lower stress and less turnover. Better work cultures generally mean lower stress for employees, and accordingly, less employee turnover. Of course, this assumes you’re hiring good fits for the organization in the first place.
  • A better public reputation. Your work culture can also boost your public reputation—especially if you emphasize core values that are important to your target audience.

How to build company culture remotely

Traditionally, you can use in-person team-building sessions, regular meetings, and workplace rules to establish and maintain your company culture, but while working remotely, you’ll need to employ a different set of tactics, like:

  • Hiring the right candidates. Building a great culture starts with hiring. You have to find candidates who fit with your organization, and already share your core values. If someone doesn’t agree with your high-level approach, or if they don’t like your rules or workflows, they aren’t going to do their best work. These same considerations should be applied to your third party hires as well; agencies and freelancers should also fit into your values.
  • Hosting virtual team-building events. You can’t host in-person team-building events, but that doesn’t mean that team-building is inaccessible to you. Consider hosting a video conference to introduce your team members to each other, or bond over a shared event. You could also host virtual game nights, or provide team lunches to celebrate wins. Any excuse to engage with each other in a non-work context can help employees feel more connected and part of the team, and there are plenty of options to make it work virtually.
  • Streamlining communication. Good communication is both a constituent factor and a byproduct of effective company culture. If you want your culture to thrive, you have to set good standards for communication, and encourage your employees to communicate with each other consistently and openly. People need to feel heard when they speak, and feel comfortable voicing their opinions—even if they don’t agree with their superiors. There should also be easily accessible channels for communication at all levels. Over time, this foundation will help your employee communication improve.
  • Improving transparency. Workplace transparency is important for any employer, but it’s especially important for remote businesses trying to build or maintain a strong culture—and it’s challenging if you’re operating remotely. If you’re open and honest about your goals and how you operate, employees will feel more trusted and more engaged with their work. Strive to answer questions honestly and disclose your motivations.
  • Publishing and reiterating company core values. One of the biggest factors responsible for making a company culture unique is its set of core values. Spend some time developing and refining your list of core values. Once finished, publish them for all employees to read, and make time to reiterate them regularly so employees remember them.
  • Making employees feel valued. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, make your employees feel valued. Take the time to show your appreciation however you can, whether it’s through a simple thank-you message or an occasional cash bonus, and be sure to listen to employee feedback when you get it.

Building a work culture in a remote environment is more challenging, and requires consideration of more variables, but it’s certainly possible with the right mentality. Spend time setting your priorities, and make sure you’re consistent in your execution.

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