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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

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

The secret to self improvement isn’t always about improvements

(EDITORIAL) Self improvement and happiness go hand in hand, but are you getting lost in the mechanics of self improvement?

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Think back to your New Year’s resolutions. Now that it’s summer, how many of them are you still keeping? Think about which ones stuck and what went by the wayside.

If you’re like most of us, you had big plans to make yourself better but didn’t stay the course. I’ve only managed to keep one of my resolutions, but it isn’t always easy.

I want to take a look at why we can’t keep our goals. I think we’re always on a journey of self-improvement. It’s easy to get obsessed with reading self-help books or trying to learn new things. We want to be better. This spring, I went through a Lent study with a group of people. Lent is a time of growth and self-reflection, just six weeks. And yet many of us are struggling to keep up with the daily reading or maintaining a fast of something we willingly chose to give up.

Why do we fail?

I think we fail because of three things.

You might think I’m going to say something like we fail because we don’t have willpower, but I think that is the farthest thing from the truth. I’m no therapist, but I’ve read the literature on alcohol and drug rehab. It’s not willpower that keeps a person sober. It’s community. One reason I think we fail at our goals is that we don’t have a cheerleading team. I believe that we need people on our side when we’re trying to improve.

Secondly, I think we fail because we want immediate results. We have this mentality that things should happen quickly. I’ve written about this before. It’s like you workout once and want that swimsuit body. We get frustrated when we don’t see results right away. So, we move on to the next pursuit.

Do your goals lead to happiness?

Failure can also be because self-improvement goals don’t always lead to being better person. We do a lot of things because “we should.” Your doctor might think you need to lose weight. Maybe your boss wants you to be a better speaker. Meditation should make you a better person. Maybe you ran a marathon, and now you think you need to run an ultramarathon because that’s what your best friend did.

What makes you happy isn’t always what you should be doing.

Your doctor might be right, but if you’re choosing to lose weight because you want to make your doctor happy, you’re probably not going to stick with a program. If you’re trying to learn Spanish to make your boss happy, again, you’re probably not going to enjoy it enough to really learn. If you’re chasing after goals just to say you’ve done it, what value do your achievements bring to your life?

If you’re obsessed because you “should” do something, you’re going to get burned out and fail. Whether it’s New Year’s resolutions, a self-improvement project or giving up meat for Lent, you need solid reasons for change. And if you give something a try that isn’t for you, don’t soldier on. You don’t need to spend years taking yoga classes if you don’t enjoy it.

When something becomes a burden rather than bringing benefits, maybe it’s time to take a look at why you’re doing it.

When you don’t know why you’re knocking yourself out to be better, maybe you need to figure out a reason. And if you feel as if what you’re doing isn’t enough, stop and figure out what will satisfy you.

I’ve been doing a lot of meal prepping on the weekends. Sometimes, I want to quit. But it pays off because I have less to do throughout the week. It might seem like a burden, but the benefits outweigh the burdens. I’ve been able to eat much healthier and use more vegetables in my meals, which is the one goal I’ve been able to keep. I have some good friends that help me stay on track, too. I choose to eat more vegetables for my health. I think it’s a combination of all these things that is helping me meet my goal this year.

Don’t give up on making yourself a better person. Just don’t become obsessed over the program. Look at the outcome. Are you pursing happiness on a treadmill or are you really working to find happiness?

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Opinion Editorials

What I wish I knew about finances in my 20s

(EDITORIAL) They say money makes the world go round. So, let’s discuss how to be smart with finances before it’s too late.

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Being in my early twenties, something I’m still getting used to is the fact that I’m making my own money. This is not to be confused with the babysitting money I was making 10 years ago.

Twice a month is the same routine: I get my paycheck and think, “Wooo! We goin’ out tonight!” but then I snap back to reality and think about what that money needs to be put towards. The smallest part of it going towards fun.

It’s been tricky to really start learning the ins and outs of finances. So, I do what I usually do in any type of learning process? I ask for advice.

I used to be fixated on asking those more advanced in age than I what they wish they knew when they were my age. Now that I’m determined to learn about finances, that question has been altered.

I reached out to a few professionals I know and trust and they gave me solid feedback to keep in mind about building my finances, about what they wish they had known in their 20s. However, I don’t think this only applies to those just starting out, and may be helpful for all of us.

“It’s important to simply know the value of money,” says human resource expert, Nicole Clark. “I think once you start earning your own money and are responsible for your housing, food, etc. you realize how valuable money is and how important it is to budget appropriately and make sure you’re watching your spending.”

Law firm executive director, Michael John, agrees with Clark’s sentiments. “I wish I had kept the value of saving in mind when I was younger,” explains John. “But, still remembering to balance savings while rewarding yourself and enjoying what your efforts produce.”

There are so many aspects of finance to keep in mind – saving, investing, budgeting, retirement plans, and so on and so forth.

In addition to suggesting to spend less than you make and to pay off your credit card in full each month, Kentucky-based attorney, Christopher Groeschen, explained the importance of a 401k.

“Every employee in America should be contributing everything they can into a 401k every year, up to the current $18,000 maximum per person,” suggests Groeschen.

“401ks present an opportunity for young investors to 1) learn about investing and 2) enter the market through a relatively low-risk vehicle (depending on your allocations),” he observes.

“An additional benefit is that 401ks also allow employees to earn FREE MONEY through employer matches,” he continues. “At the very least, every employee should contribute the amount necessary to earn the employer match (usually up to 4%) otherwise, you are giving up the opportunity to earn FREE MONEY. Earning FREE MONEY from your employer that is TAX FREE is much more important than having an extra Starbucks latte every day.”

Whether we like it or not, money is a core aspect of our daily lives. It should never be the most important thing, but we cannot deny that it is, in fact, an important thing. It’s tricky to learn, but investing in my future has become a priority.

This editorial was first published in May 2018.

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Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re months into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are still fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.

Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.

The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.

And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.

We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.

That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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