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NAR quietly buys building: good investment or bad use of dues?

The National Association of Realtors has used member dues to buy an entire building without explanation as to its use, and members are not reacting favorably.

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national association of realtors building

national association of realtors building

Good investment or bad use of dues?

Recently, NAR purchased a building in Chicago as an investment. The building, 437 N. Rush St., a two-story building that borders the west side of the association’s Chicago headquarters off Michigan Avenue, filed for Chapter 11 in December of last year. It was a great buy for $1.45 million –but what NAR members in Chicago want to know is, why was the building purchased?

Doug Hinderer, NAR’s senior vice president, was vague when we asked him what the building would be used for. The building, paid for in all cash (no commissions were involved in the deal), could be knocked down to expand NAR’s existing headquarters, or maintain the building as it is and collect revenue from the building’s tenants, which include the Phil Stefani’s 437 Rush Italian Steakhouse.

I found it surprising that Hinderer and NAR were giving vague answers as to how this building would serve the association’s members, especially when it was just last year that NAR raised its member dues. Agents wanted to know why there was an increase in dues, and with this information about a $1.45 investment purchase, agents’ reactions varied from hopeful to confused to angry:

  • “You failed to mention the current appraised value is over $4,000,000. Sounds like one heck of buy for NAR and members,” Jack Persin, managing broker of Ryan Hill Realty and copresident of MORe, said.
  • “Nice that the membership is the last to know,” Lyn Sims of RE/MAX Suburban, said.
  • “We pay our dues so NAR can invest in real estate? Really? Regardless of whether or not it will turn out to be a good investment, this is not what I want them doing with my dues,” an anonymous comment from a “Kent Black” wrote.

Agents in the dark

Given all the facts, even though the purchase is well below market value, I have to say that I feel for the angry agents here. Members’ hands are tied here – they have to pay dues to stay a member of the association, and if they give up membership, their job as an agent would be a lot harder.

But NAR also isn’t telling them where their dues are going, and while this building could expand its headquarters, it sounds like that’s the least of agents’ goals – they want more help with their business, more conferences and seminars that can teach them how to navigate today’s market, and points of use and interest.

Maybe NAR can use this building for member education classes, but since NAR seems to be undecided as to how to use this building, we’re not exactly sure what it will be used for. And it might not be used for anything, just a way for the association to make more money. In that case, here’s hoping they don’t need to raise member dues again anytime soon.

NAR seems to have taken an uncaring attitude towards its members about this issue, but the deal is done. I just wish NAR would take a different attitude – it’s clear that with unhappy agents over dues and now using dues for this investment, there could be some upheaval in the future.

Stephanie Sims is the managing editor of Agent Publishing, which currently has online publications in Chicago, Houston and Miami. With expertise in evaluating housing markets, website content and social media strategy, and reporting information agents want to know about, Stephanie can be found at her desk with coffee that got cold or not eating lunch because she’s busy planning editorial assignments and interviews for the Agent Publishing websites.

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22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Michael Gibbons

    August 15, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    NAR should be on one mission. Doing everything they can to raise the perception and practice of the Realtor porfession to that of Lawyer, Doctor or Accountant. Right now being a realtor is a little like being a waitress…last to be paid and sometimes they get stiffed by buyers and sellers alike. Somehow Realtors have to start getting paid for the countless hours of work they do too often on the “hope: they will get paid…in NC everyone gets paid at the closing table (lawyers, repairs, surveys etc) except the firm/Realtor – that would be a good place to start…

  2. Michael Gibbons

    August 15, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Not sure how it works in other states but why not have buyers and sellers pay (fee-based) respectively for the professional services of a Realtor? Yes….that means buyers pay and sellers pay – why does that not make sense and simplify so much of this madness?

  3. Brian Hickey

    August 15, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Buying a potential teardown, or anything for that matter, without any commissions involved – this coming from the top of the industry………..hmmm, seems to be against everything they promote?
     
    Thanks,

  4. J Philip Faranda

    August 15, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Stephanie’s point about transparency is a strong one. I would concede, however, in NARs defense, that if they transferred $1.45 million from a money market to a municipal bond portfolio it would get zero attention. Dues increase or no, the money was already there, and I am not sure membership has much of a say in how reserves are invested. And the non-brokered aspect of the matter does contain more than a little irony. 😉

  5. norm_fisher

    August 15, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    It’s an absolute outrage that a real estate association would choose to invest some of its money in real estate, especially real estate that’s trading at 36% of appraised value. Idiots! 

  6. GreggDLarson

    August 16, 2012 at 8:02 am

    I can’t believe some these comments.  NAR is financially sound and has millions of dollars in reserves. We all know that. Financial strength is a good thing for a trade association that wants to remain relevant and strong in the future, right?Having the money sit in a money market account making 0.5 – 1.0% versus snapping up a building for less than half its appraised value is called a SMART long-term investment.  Wake up and recognize a good investment when you see it, real estate professionals!  Some people expressed concern about the “vagueness” of what NAR will do with the building?  Have you ever been to Phil Stefani’s 437 Rush Steakhouse?  The place is an institution in Chicago (it’s been there forever), the food is insanely food, its always busy, and I’m sure their rent plus the other tenants in the building provides an EXCELLENT ROI on the $1.45M investment.  If NAR does nothing with the building but collect rent, it’ll be a great investment.  Or wait, maybe the real estate market will be stronger in a few years and NAR will flip the building for its $4M appraised value (or more) and make a few million in profit.  Is that a bad thing? Would it have been better to leave that cash in a money market account making 1% or less?  If you’re upset about the “lack of transparency”, what do you think NAR should have done? Take a member vote on whether this is a good investment of reserve funds by asking a million people with no knowledge of commercial real estate value in Chicago their opinion?  And in the process let every investor on the planet know there’s a smoking deal on this building so NAR could attract more buyers to bid?  i think quietly buying this building was brilliant. If you’ve ever been to the NAR building, it doesn’t take an expert to realize that prime real estate next door to NAR’s HQ on Michigan Avenue is a good long-term investment.  My hat’s off to whoever recognized this opportunity and jumped on it.  

    • rqd

      August 16, 2012 at 11:40 am

       @GreggDLarson All great points, Gregg.  
       
      Rhetorical question: Assuming this was an insanely great deal, why wouldn’t the Stefani Group (or one of their investors, benefactors, etc.) buy the building?  It’s a single tenant, purpose-built, restaurant building.  I’m guessing they could’ve owned it for far less than current rent and financing an insanely great deal is not a problem for a well run restaurant group with many well-heeled fans.
       
      As far as it being an institution that’s been there forever, I think that’s a bit of an overstatement as it opened in 2000.
       
      Still looks like a good deal, though.  I’m sure it will work out well.

      • GreggDLarson

        August 16, 2012 at 12:16 pm

         @rqd Good question – I don’t anything about the Stefani Group’s available cash, but I believe most successful restaurant groups stay out of the real estate business and use their cash and credit lines for expansion, not buying their buildings.  NAR is experienced with restaurant tenants too, just think of the famous Billy Goat cheeseburger, Chicago and DC!

  7. gertiecranker

    August 16, 2012 at 9:44 am

    Every association–Realtor or otherwise–is increasingly aware that dues income simply will not continue to be the sole source of income.  That’s especially true in organizations like NAR, with a certain loss in membership numbers in coming years. Association income must be diversified, and I applaud NAR for investing in what looks like a heck of a good real estate deal.

    • GreggDLarson

      August 16, 2012 at 10:43 am

       @gertiecranker Spot on, Gertie.  well said.

  8. NashvilleBrian

    August 16, 2012 at 11:29 am

    This post really makes me sad.  First, the term “quietly” in the headline.  There was nothing secret about this.  It was all over the director’s meeting, in tweet streams, in leadership meetings, in meetings with general members, the list goes on and on.  
     
    One of the many information sessions  NAR held on this showed the fully transparent breakdown.  The facts:
     
    NAR now owns an entire block on Michigan Avenue in Chicago on one of most expensive real estate spaces in America.
     
    The space has a TRIPLE NET income.  Repeat…a TRIPLE NET income.
     
    The current rate of the return is 13%.
     
    NAR paid $1.45M and the real property appraised for $4M two months later.
     
    NAR tried three times over the past 20+ years to do this, and couldn’t get it. 
     
    The investment of $1.45M adding a whopping $15M of additional value to the current building.
     
    I’m with Gregg on this one.  My jaw is dropped right now.  This article should be about the brilliance of the move, and it should’ve been written a year ago!

  9. heatherelias

    August 16, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    Just to make a quick clarification, both parties in the transaction were represented by commercial agents (as was detailed in the May article at Chicago Agent Magazine you linked to within this post).  From that article: “The deal was conducted with Phil Hoffer of GNP Realty representing NAR and Bruce Miller of Jones Lang Lasalle representing the Wrigley Company.GNP normally represents NAR in its real estate dealings, considering it has a long-standing relationship with the association and is the management company in charge of its headquarters.”
     
    ~Heather

    • Brian Hickey

      August 16, 2012 at 6:18 pm

       @heatherelias Thanks for the clarification Heather – make more sense that the Assoc would have agents involved.

    • Brian Hickey

      August 16, 2012 at 6:19 pm

       @heatherelias Thanks for the clarification Heather – it makes sense that the Assoc would have used agents to facilitate the transaction.

    • GreggDLarson

      August 16, 2012 at 11:47 pm

       @heatherelias Heather, thank you for the clarification on the agent representation – do you have any idea why a few vocal people/members  assumed no agent/broker was involved in this transaction?  

      • heatherelias

        August 17, 2012 at 8:52 am

         @GreggDLarson I’m guessing since this post said “no commissions were involved” they assumed there were no agents. But I’m only surmising. 🙂

  10. JimReppond

    August 16, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    Thankfully someone is out there doing reporting of where our dues are going. If you trust the NAR to tell us the truth or use our dues for what they were intended, I can refer you to a REALTOR who has a great deal on some swamp land in Florida.
     
    Some have praised this move as “a great investment” or “great ROI and profit opportunity”. This is not what I pay dues for! If I wanted to do that I would have invested in a REIT! Please just lower my dues and stop trying to make money from my money!

  11. Oldbroker

    August 20, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Most members do not follow the news or business of their associations…local, state, or national. I have served as a volunteer leader of my association for over 25 years, as a state director for 20 years, and as a member of many NAR committees and forums (incldung a year as a forum chairperson) and I know this to be the case. Knowledge of what is done at the state and national levels is even more remote and members typically know even less about them, and what they do. And that is a members perogative.
     
    Also, Realtor associations often buy buildings and excess land for current and future use. I have facilitated planning sessions for over 100 associations over the years and it is not unusual to have a segment of the leadership that believes the association’s money should be invested in real estate and not in CDs.
     
    Saul Klein

  12. GreggDLarson

    August 20, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Good point, Saul. Most of the local associations I’ve worked with over the years have done well by purchasing their own land and building, especially in the long run.  This is not new or unusal behavior for an association by any means, which made this article even more peculiar and off target.

  13. Oldbroker

    August 23, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    It always amazes me when people say “not with my dues dollars.”
     
    Associations have a perpetual existence and our REALTOR associations are where they are today NOT because of the dues paid this year, but because of the dues paid over many years, by many members…and by the many efforts of years of volunteer service, and effective management, under different economic conditions in all types of economic environments.
     
    Associations must be able to deliver consistent services in good times and in bad times, with a fluctuating membership count.
     
    Saul

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Opinion Editorials

7 ways to carve out me time while working from home

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) It can be easy to forget about self-care when you’re working from home, but it’s critical for your mental health, and your work quality.

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Woman in hijab sitting on couch, working from home on a laptop

We are all familiar with the syndrome, getting caught up in work, chores, and taking care of others, and neglecting to take care of ourselves in the meantime. This has always been the case, but now, with more people working from home and a seemingly endless lineup of chores, thanks to the pandemic. There is simply so much to do.

The line is thinly drawn between personal and professional time already, with emails, cell phones, and devices relentlessly reaching out around the clock, pulling at us like zombie arms reaching up from the grave. Working from home makes this tendency to always be “on” worse, as living and working take place in such close proximity. We have to turn it off, though.

Our brains and bodies need down time, me-time, self-care. Carving out this time is one of the kindest and most important things you can do for yourself. If we can begin to honor ourselves like this, the outcome with not only our mental and physical health, but also our productivity at work, will be beneficial. When we make the time to do things we love, our body untenses, our mind’s gears slow down that constant grinding. Burnout behooves nobody.

Our work will also benefit. Healthier, happier, more well rested, and well treated minds and bodies can work wonders! Our immune systems also need this, and we need our immune systems to be at their peak performance this intense season.

I wanted to write this article, because I have such a struggle with this in my own life. I need to print it out and put it in my workspace. Last week, I posted something on my social media pages that so many people shared. It is clear we all need these reminders, so I am paying it forward here. The graphic was a quote from Devyn W.

“If you are reading this, release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, and drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.”

There now, isn’t that remarkable? It is a great first step. Let go of the tension in your body, and check out these ways to make yourself some healing me-time.

  1. Set aside strict no-work times. This could be any time of day, but set the times and adhere to them strictly. This may look like taking a full hour for lunch, not checking email after a certain hour, or committing to spending that time outdoors, reading, exercising, or enjoying the company of your loved ones. Make this a daily routine, because we need these boundaries. Every. Single. Day.
  2. Remember not to apologize to anyone for taking this me-time. Mentally and physically you need this, and everyone will be better off if you do. It is nothing to apologize for! Building these work-free hours into your daily schedule will feel more normal as time goes on. This giving of time and space to your joy, health, and even basic human needs is what should be the norm, not the other way around.
  3. Give yourself a device-free hour or two every day, especially before bedtime. The pinging, dinging, and blinging keeps us on edge. Restful sleep is one of the wonderful ways our bodies and brains heal, and putting devices away before bedtime is one of the quick tips for getting better sleep.
  4. Of course, make time for the things you absolutely love. If this is a hot bath, getting a massage, reading books, working out, cooking or eating an extravagant meal, or talking and laughing with a loved one, you have to find a way to get this serotonin boost!
  5. Use the sunshine shortcut. It isn’t a cure-all, but sunlight and Vitamin D are mood boosters. At least when it’s not 107 degrees, like in a Texas summer. But as a general rule, taking in at least a good 10-15 minutes of that sweet, sweet Vitamin D provided by the sun is good for us.
  6. Spend time with animals! Walk your dog, shake that feathery thing at your cat, or snuggle either one. Whatever animals make you smile, spend time with them. If you don’t have pets of your own, you could volunteer to walk them at a local shelter or even watch a cute animal video online. They are shown to reduce stress. Best case scenario is in person if you are able, but thankfully the internet is bursting with adorable animal videos, as a backup.
  7. Give in to a bit of planning or daydreaming about a big future trip. Spending time looking at all the places you will go in the future and even plotting out an itinerary are usually excellent mood-boosters. It’s a bit different in 2020, as most of us aren’t sure when we will be able to go, but even deciding where you want to go when we are free to travel again can put a positive spin on things.

I hope we can all improve our lives while working from home by making time for regenerating, healing, and having fun! Gotta run—the sun is out, and my dog is begging for a walk.

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Opinion Editorials

Why robots freak us out, and what it means for the future of AI

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Robots and humans have a long way to go before the social divide disappears, but research is giving us insight on how to cross the uncanny valley.

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Close of R2D2 toy, an example of robots that we root for, but why?

We hate robots. Ok, wait, back up. We at least think they are more evil than good. Try it yourself – “are robots” in Google nets you evil before good. Megatron has higher SEO than Optimus Prime, and it’s not just because he’s so much cooler. It cuz he evil, cuz. It do be like that.

It’s not even a compliment to call someone robotic; society connotes this to emotionless preprogrammed shells of hideous nothing, empty clankbags that walk and talk and not much else. So, me at a party. Or if you’re a nerd, you’re a robot. (Me at a party once again.)

Let’s start by assuming robots as human-like bipedal machines that are designed with some amount of artificial intelligence, generally designed to fulfill a job to free up humanity from drudgery. All sounds good so far. So why do they creep us out?

There’s a litany of reasons why, best summed up with the concept of the uncanny valley, first coined by roboticist Masahiro Mori (Wow he’s still alive! The robots have not yet won) in 1970. Essentially, we know what a human is and how it looks and behaves against the greater backdrop of life and physics. When this is translated to a synthetic being, we are ok with making a robot look and act like us to a point, where we then notice all the irregularities and differences.

Most of these are minor – unnaturally smooth or rigid movements, light not scattering properly on a surface, eyes that don’t sync up quite right when they blink, and several other tiny details. Lots of theories take over at this point about why this creeps us out. But a blanket way to think about it is that our expectation doesn’t match what we are seeing; the reality we’re presented with is off just enough and this makes us uncomfortable .

Ever stream a show and the audio is a half second off? Makes you really annoyed. Magnify that feeling by a thousand and you’re smack in the middle of the uncanny valley. It’s that unnerving. One possible term for this is abjection, which is what happens the moment before we begin to fear something. Our minds – sensing incompatibility with robots – know this is something else, something other , and faced with no way to categorize this, we crash.

This is why they make good villains in movies – something we don’t understand and given free will and autonomy, potentially imbued with the bias of a creator or capable of forming terrifying conclusions all on its own (humans are a virus). But they also make good heroes, especially if they are cute or funny. Who doesn’t love C3PO? That surprise that they are good delights us. Build in enough appeal to a robot, and we root for them and feel empathy when they are faced with hardships. Do robots dream of electric sheep? Do robots have binary souls? Bits and zeros and ones?

Professor Jaime Banks (Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication) spends a lot of time thinking about how we perceive robots. It’s a complex and multifaceted topic that covers anthropomorphism, artificial intelligence, robot roles within society, trust, inherently measuring virtue versus evil, preconceived notions from entertainment, and numerous topics that cover human-robot interactions.

The world is approaching a future where robots may become commonplace; there are already robot bears in Japan working in the healthcare field. Dressing them up with cute faces and smiles may help, but one jerky movement later and we’ve dropped all suspension.

At some point, we have to make peace with the idea that they will be all over the place. Skynet, GLaDOS in Portal, the trope of your evil twin being a robot that your significant will have to shoot in the middle of your fight, that episode of Futurama where everything was a robot and they rose up against their human masters with wargod washing machines and killer greeting cards, the other Futurama episode where they go to a planet full of human hating murderous robots… We’ve all got some good reasons to fear robots and their coded minds.

But as technology advances, it makes sense to have robots take over menial tasks, perform duties for the needy and sick, and otherwise benefit humanity at large. And so the question we face is how to build that relationship now to help us in the future.

There’s a fine line between making them too humanlike versus too mechanical. Pixar solved the issue of unnerving humanoids in their movies by designing them stylistically – we know they are human and accept that the figure would look odd in real life. We can do the same with robots – enough familiarity to develop an appeal, but not enough to erase the divide between humanity and robot. It may just be a question of time and new generations growing up with robots becoming fixtures of everyday life. I’m down for cyborgs too.

Fearing them might not even be bad, as Banks points out: “…a certain amount of fear can be a useful thing. Fear can make us think critically and carefully and be thoughtful about our interactions, and that would likely help us productively engage a world where robots are key players.”

Also, check out Robot Carnival if you get the chance – specifically the Presence episode of the anthology.

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Opinion Editorials

4 simple tips to ease friction with your boss while working remotely

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Find it challenging to get along with your boss while working from home? Here are a few things you can try to ease the tension.

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Woman stressed over laptop in remote work.

Most people probably feel like their relationship with their boss is fine. If you’re encountering friction with your boss for any reason, though, remote work will often exacerbate it—this is one instance where distance doesn’t necessarily make the heart grow fonder. Here are a few ways to remove some of that friction without adding to your boss’ overflowing plate.

According to CNN, determining the problem that exists between you and your boss should be your first step. There’s one caveat to consider, however: Your boss’ boundaries. Problem-solving on your own time is fine, but demanding more of your boss’ time—especially when you’re supposed to be working—may compound the issue.

An easy way around this is a low-impact communique—e.g., an email—sent at the beginning or end of the workday. Since that’s a more passive communication style that takes only a minute or two out of your day, it’s less likely to frustrate your boss further.

If ironing out the issue isn’t your prerogative for now, examining your boss’ parameters for success is another place to start. Does your boss prefer to receive multiple updates throughout the day, or do they want one summative report each morning? Do you respect your boss’ preferred communication styles? These are important questions to ask during remote work. If you find yourself reaching out more than necessary, for example, it may be time to cut back.

It can also be difficult to satiate your boss if you don’t know their expectations. If you’re able to speak to them about the expectations regarding a project or task, do it; clarifying the parameters around your work will always help both of you. It is worth noting that some supervisors may expect that you know your way around some types of responsibilities, though, so err on the side of complementing that knowledge rather than asking for comprehensive instructions.

Finally, keep in mind that some bosses simply don’t communicate the same way you do. I’ve personally been blessed with a bevy of nurturing, enthusiastic supervisors, but we’ve all had superiors who refuse to acknowledge our successes and instead focus on our failures. That can be a really tough mentality to work with during remote periods, but knowing that they have a specific communication style that hampers their sociability can help dampen the effects.

As always, communication is key—even if that means doing it a little bit less than you’d like.

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