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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

Ways to socialize safely during quarantine

(EDITORIAL) Months of isolation due to quarantine is causing loneliness for many, but joining virtual social groups from home may help fill the need for interaction.

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Quarantining, sheltering in place, staying home. We’re tired of hearing it; we’re tired of doing it. Yet, it’s what we still need to be doing to stay safe for a while longer. All of this can be lonesome. As the days turn into weeks and weeks into months, the alone time is getting to even the most introverted among us.

Solitary confinement is considered one of the most psychologically damaging punishments a human can endure. The New Yorker reported on this in a 1992 study of prisoners in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, as well as Vietnam veterans who experienced isolation. These studies showed that prisoners who had experienced solitary confinement demonstrated similar brain activity to those who’d suffered a severe head injury, noting that “Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.”

We aren’t meant to be solitary creatures. Your “pandemic brain” is real. That fogginess, the lack of productivity, can be attributed to many things, including anxiety, but being kept apart from other humans is a big part of it too. Be kind to yourself, give yourself grace, and join others virtually. Be it an app, a class, a Facebook group, a chat room, or a livestream, someone somewhere is out there waiting to connect with you too.

The good news? We are lucky enough to live in an era of near limitless ways to interact socially online. Sure, it is different, but it is something. It’s important. The best thing about this type of social interaction is being able to hone in on your specific interests, though I’d caution you against getting caught in an online echo chamber. Diversity of interests, personality, and opinion make for a richer experience, with opportunities for connecting and expanding your worldview.

Here are a few suggestions on ways to socialize while staying home and staying safe. Communicating with other humans is good for you, physically and mentally.

Interactive Livestreams on Twitch:

Twitch is best known as a streaming service for video game fans, but it offers multiple streams appealing to different interests. This is more than passive watching (although that is an option, too) as Twitch livestream channels also have chat rooms. Twitch is fun for people who like multi-tasking because the chat rooms for popular livestream channels can get busy with chatter.

While people watch the Twitch hosts play a video game, film a live podcast, make music or art, mix cocktails, or dance, they can comment on what they’re watching, make suggestions, ask questions, crack jokes, and get to know each other (by Twitch handle, so it is still as anonymous as you want it to be) in the chat room. The best hosts take time every so often to interact directly with the chat room questions and comments.

Many Twitch channels develop loyal followers who get to know each other, thus forming communities. I have participated in the Alamo Drafthouse Master Pancake movie mocks a few times because they are fun and local to Austin, where I live. Plus, in my non-quarantine life, I would go to Master Pancake shows live sometimes. The chat room feels familiar in a nice way. While watching online is free, you can (and totally should) tip them.

Online trivia in real time:

There are some good options for real-time online trivia, but I’m impressed with the NYC Trivia League’s model. They have trivia games online on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. The NYC Trivia League seems to have figured out a good way to run the game live while keeping answers private from the other teams. They run games on Instagram Live with a live video of the host, and participants answer via the question feature. Clever!

Online book club:

First I have to shout out my Austin local independent bookstore, BookPeople, because they are fantastic. They run book clubs throughout the year, along with readings, book signings, and all things book-related. BookPeople hosts several online book clubs during these lockdown days, and most people will find something that appeals to them.

I’m also impressed with this list from Hugo House, a writer’s resource based out of Seattle. This list includes Instagram and Goodread book clubs, book clubs for Black women, rebels, and poetry lovers. The Financial Diet recommends the Reddit book club, if you are comfortable with the Reddit format. Please note that it’s a busy place, but if you like Reddit, you already know this.

Cooking class or virtual tasting:

This is doubly satisfying because you can follow these chefs in real time, and you end up with a meal. There are a couple on Instagram Live, such as The Culinistas or Chef Massimo Bottura.

You can also participate in virtual tastings for wine, whiskey, or chocolate, though you will have to buy the product to participate in the classes (usually held over Zoom or Facebook Live). If you are in Austin, Dallas, or Houston, I recommend BeenThere Locals. The cost of the course includes the wine, spirits, or cooking kit in most cases, and all of the money goes to the business and expert hosting the class.

Look for your favorite wine, spirits, cheese, chocolate makers, and chefs that are local to you to find a similar experience. Most either prepare the class kit for pickup or delivery within a local area.

Quarantine chat:

To interact with another quarantined person seeking social interaction, there’s Quarantine Chat. Quarantine chat is one of the ways to connect through the Dialup app, available on iOS and Android devices. Sign up to make and receive calls when you want to speak with someone. The Dialup app pairs you randomly with another person for a phone conversation, at a scheduled time, either with anyone or with someone with shared interests.

Quarantine chat takes it a step further with calls at random times. When your quarantine chat caller calls, you will not see their number (or they yours), only the “Quarantine Chat” caller ID. If you are unable to pick up when they call, they will be connected with someone else, so there is no pressure to answer. It’s nice to hear someone else’s voice, merely to talk about what you’ve been cooking or what hilarious thing your pet is doing.

Play Uno:

Uno Freak lets people set up games and play Uno online with friends or strangers. Players do not need to register or download anything to play. Uno Freak is web-based.

Talk to mental health professionals:

If your state of loneliness starts sliding toward depression, call someone you can speak to right away to talk over your concerns. When in doubt, call a trained professional! Here are a few resources:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): The NAMI HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 am–6 pm, ET, 800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org.
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to this text line 24/7 for someone to text with who will also be able to refer you to other resources: U.S. and Canada: 74174, U.K. 85258, Ireland: 50808.
  • Psych Central has put together this comprehensive list of crisis intervention specialists and ways to contact them immediately.

There are many ways to connect even though we are physically apart. These are just a few real time ways to interact with others online. If you want something a little more flesh and blood, take a walk around the block or even sit in a chair in front of where you live.

Wave at people from afar, and remember that we have lots of brilliant doctors and scientists working on a way out of this. Hang in there, buddy. I’m rooting for you. I’m rooting for all of us.

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Opinion Editorials

Working remotely: Will we ever go back? (Probably not)

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Now that the pandemic has opened the door on working remotely, there’s no way we’ll put the genie back in the bottle. But, here’s some ways you can adapt.

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Woman working remotely on her couch with a laptop on her lap.

When it comes to working remotely, will the toothpaste ever go back in the tube?

Mark Zuckerberg recently said, “We are going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale…” By 2030, Zuckerberg anticipates that over half of Facebook’s workforce will be remote. Many other companies are jumping on the work from home bandwagon. Working remotely has helped many businesses manage the pandemic crisis, but it’s unsure what form remote working will take over the next 10 years.

We know that employees are responding positively to WFH, as reported in this article – Employers: Lacking remote work options may cause you to lose employees. As offices transition to a post-COVID normal, here are some things to consider about your office and remote work.

What does your business gain from allowing workers to WFH?
The future of remote work depends on a conscious application of WFH. It’s not just as easy as moving employees out of the office to home. You have to set up a system to manage workers, wherever they are working. The companies with good WFH cultures have set up rules and metrics to know whether it’s working for their business. You’ll need to have technology and resources that let your teams work remotely.

Can your business achieve its goals through remote work?
The pandemic may have proved the WFH model, but is this model sustainable? There are dozens of benefits to remote work. You can hire a more diverse workforce. You may save money on office space. Employees respond well to remote work. You reduce your carbon emissions.

But that can’t be your only measure of whether remote work fits into your vision for your organization. You should be looking at how employees will work remotely, but you need to consider why employees work remotely.

The work paradigm is shifting – how will you adapt?
The work environment has shifted over the past century. Remote work is here to stay, but how it fits into your company should be based on more than what employees want. You will have to work closely with managers and HR to build the WFH infrastructure that grows with your organization to support your teams.

We don’t know exactly how remote work will change over the next decade, but we do know that the workplace is being reinvented. Don’t just jump in because everyone is doing it. Make an investment in developing your WFH plan.

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Opinion Editorials

The truth about unemployment from someone who’s been through it

(EDITORIAL) Unemployment benefits aren’t what you thought they were. Here’s a first-hand experience and what you need to know.

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Have I ever told you how I owed the government over two grand because of unemployment in 2019, and only just finished paying it back this year?

This isn’t exactly the forum for memoirs, but this is relevant to everyone. So I’ll tell y’all anyway.

It all started back in 2018 when I came into work early, microwaved my breakfast, poured coffee, and got pulled into a collaboration room to hear, “We love you and your work, April, but we’ve been bought out and you’re being laid off.”

It was kind of awkward carrying my stuff out to the car with that Jimmy Dean sandwich in my mouth.

More awkward still was the nine months of unemployment I went through afterwards. Between the fully clothed shower crying, the stream of job denial, catering to people who carried rocks in their nostrils at my part-time job (yes, ew, yes, really), and almost dying of no-health-insurance-itis, I learned a lot!

The bigger lesson though, came in the spring of the following year when I filed my taxes. I should back up for a moment and take the time to let those of you unfamiliar with unemployment in Texas in on a few things that aren’t common knowledge.

1: You’re only eligible if you were laid off. Not if you had quit. Not fired. Your former company can also choose to challenge your eligibility for benefits if they didn’t like your face on the way out. So the only way you’re 100% guaranteed to get paid in (what the state calls) “a timely manner”, is a completely amicable split.

2: Overpayments have to go back. Immediately. If there’s an error, like several thousand of Texans found out this week, the government needs that cash back before you can access any more. If you’re not watching your bank account to make sure you’re getting the exact same check each time and you have an overpayment, rest assured that mistake isn’t going to take long to correct. Unfortunately, if you spent that money unknowingly–thought you got an ‘in these uncertain times’ kinder and gentler adjustment and have 0 income, you have a problem. Tying into Coronavirus nonsense is point three!

3: There are no sick days. If ever you’re unable to work for any reason, be it a car accident, childbirth, horrible internal infection (see also no-health-insurance-itis), you are legally required to report it, and you will not be paid for any days you were incapacitated. Personally, my no-health-insurance-itis came with a bad fever and bedrest order that axed me out of my part time job AND killed my unemployment benefits for the week I spent getting my internal organs to like me again. But as it turned out, the payment denial came at the right time because–

4: Unemployment benefits are finite. Even if you choose to lie on your request forms about how hard you’re searching for work, coasting is ill-advised because once the number the state allots you runs out…it’s out. Don’t lie on your request forms, by the way. In my case, since I got cut from my part-time gig, I got a call from the Texas Workforce Commission about why my hours were short. I was able to point out where I’d reported my sickness to them and to my employer, so my unpaid week rolled over to a later request date. I continued to get paid right up until my hiring date which was also EXACTLY when my benefits ran out.

Unemployment isn’t a career, which is odd considering the fact that unemployment payments are qualified by the government as income.

Ergo, fact number five…

5: Your benefits? They’re taxed.

That’s right, you will be TAXED for not having a job.

The stereotype of the ‘lazy unemployment collector burdening society’ should be fading pretty quickly for the hitherto uninformed about now.

To bring it back to my story, I’d completely forgotten that when I filed for unemployment in the first place, I’d asked for my taxes NOT to be withheld from it–assuming that I wasn’t going to be searching for full time work for very long. I figured “Well, I’ll have a tax refund coming since I’ll get work again no problem, it’ll cancel out.”

Except, it was a problem. Because of the nine month situation.

I’d completely forgotten about it by the time I threw myself into my new job, but after doing my taxes, triple checking the laws and what I’d signed, it was clear. Somehow…despite being at my lowest point in life, I owed the highest amount in taxes, somewhere around the 2k mark.

Despite being based on a system that’s tied to how much income you were getting before, and all the frustrating “safeguards” put in place to keep payments as low and infrequent as possible, Uncle Sam still wants a bite out of the gas-station Hostess pie that is your unemployment check. And as I’m writing this, more and more people are finding that out. And even as we enter 2021, there is still more to be aware of – we’re not out of the woods yet.

I’d like to end this on a more positive note… So let’s say we’ve all been positively educated! That’s a net gain, surely.

Keep your heads up, and masked.

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