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Growing Pains for the National Association of Realtors

crowd-blurIt’s all about brand ownership

There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding by the National Association of Realtors (N.A.R.) of the age in which we’re living. For over 100 years now, the N.A.R. has been perceived  as a closed society, private, and secretive, and over the past year has launched a campaign to change those things by rolling into the social media era. On the surface, it would appear that transparency and open dialogue rules the day, but in actuality, it’s still in flux when it comes to membership versus the concept of brand ownership.

Search, Blogs, companies within the real estate industry, and social media all gave rise to consumer empowerment years ago, from Redfin crowd sourcing transactions with consumers to agents crowd sourcing their businesses via blogs, un-conferences and social media, giving the outcome a voice.  All of this sparks growth and change that actually began with the concept of the information super highway, but I’ve fast forwarded for brevity.  Consumers (whether a Realtor’s client, or customer) or even a member of an association (any association) for years (now more than ever) have related themselves to the brands in which they’re associated (by choice or not) when interacting, and expect the ability to add input and value to the brand and how they experience whether the brand asks for it or likes it. The brand ultimately makes the decision, but in the the case of the N.A.R. the membership is the brand, not the people who are in charge.

Their challenge is great, their rewards are even greater

Demographically speaking, the N.A.R. is a very wide spectrum of consumer.  From the Realtor in rural Texas who’s never had a need for email to the uber tech savvy Realtor in Los Angeles, this array of constituents of the brand known as the N.A.R. all have a unique way in which they view the Brand and how it is led, and when those worlds collide, you can expect havoc, dismay, or even outrage when the idea of their brand changes. Make no mistake about it, it’s happening all the time as Realtors are adapting to very swift and seemingly radical change. To Brokers, local and state boards, N.A.R. (the organization) is seen as a tool and that tool is moving swiftly to modernity, merging many levels of  ideals and visions.

Open eyes, ears, and minds

Not everyone can be on a committee within the N.A.R., and not everyone will want or need to crowd source their experience with the brand. In a sea of a purported 1.2 million Realtors, it will be a very small percentage in comparison to the whole that will actually utilize their voice in making or demanding change, and in fact, many will either love or walk away in dismay and disappointment over the choices that unseen and unknown leadership and committees  make on their behalf.  This is why it is so critical that associations listen to even the smallest voice, no matter how it comes, right or wrong, loud or mousy, not just those with mutual and or vested interest.

Where do we go from here?

  • Recognizing  the disconnect and turning on rather than turning off the dialog is the first step. Listening should never end in the social media era, because it’s about the time you think you understand everything that it all changes.
  • Understanding that because you’re a thought leader and eager learners look up to you, doesn’t mean they should necessarily be adopted to a committee; otherwise, who will you have to count on when you need to hear the truth?
  • Today’s thought leaders are only as good as their eyes and ears, if open.
  • Just because you made a plan doesn’t mean you’ll never update or modify it- you never knew everything to begin with.
  • Understand that the N.A.R. has a very unique brand and how it says it wants to relate is multi-dimensional- it cannot be a facade of multi-dimension.  Consumers (Realtors) own the N.A.R. brand, which includes not only membership, but also board staff, brokers, and virtually everyone in between.

Growing pains are never easy, but they’re a part of the business for any Association, especially as large as the N.A.R.  That doesn’t mean that we quit, retreat to a corner, or tear down the momentum built by our current SM leadership- this would be a crime of epic proportions. Simply put, it means we (including they) all need to continue listening, continue to dialog, even with those we may not agree with or like, if it truly is a personal, honest, and passionate vision you see for your association.

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Benn Rosales is the Founder and CEO of The American Genius (AG), national news network. Before AG, he founded one of the first digital media strategy firms in the nation has received the Statesman Texas Social Media Award and is an Inman Innovator Award winner. He has consulted for numerous startups (both early- and late-stage), and is well known for organizing the digital community through popular offline events. He does not venture into the spotlight often, rather he believes his biggest accomplishments are the talent he recruits and develops, so he gives all credit to those he's empowered.



  1. Ken Montville

    February 2, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Change is inevitable and with a membership as large and diverse as NAR it is critical to listen and be about the business of building bridges to the many and varied interests within the organization. Flexibility, adaptability, and the willingness to make course corrections as necessary are all hallmarks of an organization that will thrive in the 21st Century. Steadfast allegiance to failed or failing initiatives or policies will only lead NAR to a sad ending.

    Many a great brand now exist only in the mist of fading memories and cameo appearances in old movies.

    • Benn Rosales

      February 2, 2010 at 4:52 pm

      “Flexibility, adaptability, and the willingness to make course corrections”

      Really spot on comment all together, but that line caught my attention in that I wonder if you mean even you as an owner of the brand?

  2. Genuine Chris Johnson

    February 2, 2010 at 3:18 pm


    You’re wrong. What the NAR needs to be is a top down marching orders association. We must all agree to put our differences aside and march to the beat that they send us to. Who has time for differentiation? Let’s have them establish best practices and tell us what to do.

    They know best.

    We don’t.

    • Benn Rosales

      February 2, 2010 at 4:55 pm

      They know best. We don’t.

      …but if “we” are “they?”

      • Nobu Hata

        February 2, 2010 at 6:36 pm

        Agreed. “We” need to tell “them” what to do (at least put our two cents in); it’s a trade association for chrissakes.

    • Al Lorenz

      February 3, 2010 at 1:17 pm

      Funny, Chris.

  3. Ken Brand

    February 2, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Every BIG and small institution, corporation and individual is experiencing a tectonic shift in control, command, influence and their perceived role/value. If ever there was time for open-eyed, open-eared, open-minded and action oriented leadership, this is it. In the next 18 months the number of individual and collective Ka-Booms will have our ears ringing and our eyes stinging.

    To me your observation/advice is sharp. To survive and ultimately thrive, I MUST observe, assimilate and respond, not resist, defend and knee-jerk-react. If I don’t, I might feel as if I WON an occasional battle, but ultimately, I’ll LOSE my war.

    Dickens was right, these are the best of times and the worst of times.

    Cheers to a bright future, geers to a no-grow, status-quo.

  4. Bill Lublin

    February 2, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Benn; I agree with you that NAR needs to be responsive to change, and to listen to its members. However, I have to disagree with you when you say “For over 100 years now, the N.A.R. has been a closed society, private, and secretive, and over the past year has launched a campaign to change those things by rolling into the social media era” NAR’s meetings and committee meetings for the most part have always been open to its members – and it would be an incredible stretch of the imagination to presume that the Association , which has been reaching out to its members for over 100 years through every possible form of communication (from snail mail and printed materials to the latest in technological tools) has ever been the closed society you posit in that sentence. We as members have a responsibility to inquire if we wish to know, and a responsibility understand before we criticize.

    On another note, I would ask you a group of questions (for which I have no answer – only opinions)
    Should every member have an equal voice?
    Does the uninformed member have the same contribution to make to the group and the brand as the member who has spent their time becoming informed on the issues facing the group?
    Should the brand respond to individuals or to groups? What size should those groups be at minimum or maximum? How should they be determined?
    How long should someone be a member of the group before they can determine what the brand should do or be? And who filters through all the chaff to find the solid contributions?

    An association of our size is too unwieldy to be run as a democracy (can you imagine waiting for the million plus members to be informed of the crucial points of each issue, and then tallying the million plus votes to determine each course of action?) – it needs to be run as a republic – the representative form of democratic government. And when that is the case, you need to either trust the representatives, vote in new representatives, or become one of the representatives.

    I agree with Ken Brand “Cheers to a bright future, geers to a no-grow, status-quo.” But I think its unfair to presume that NAR is not the progressive association that its actions show it to be – I believe that the staff is absolutely world class and that the volunteer leadership are bright committed real estate professionals who have devoted much of their time to learning about the complicated issues facing our industry and then stepped up to assist the industry face them in the best manner possible.

    I also have to agree with Chris on this one – we need to help to choose our leaders, become one of the leaders, and then support them in their decisions for the greatest good of the group.

    • Benn Rosales

      February 2, 2010 at 7:37 pm

      you are right, the word perceived will be applied as it was actually my point.

      as for the rest, you know best.

  5. Matthew Hardy

    February 2, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Hard-headed civility, comity with passion for the best outcome and respect-based communication are already supplanting their opposites – even if we can’t see it obviously. Nothing can be “won” that means losers just go away. It is “us” and winning should first mean freedom and opportunity at it’s highest and best.

    I think Sun Tzu said something about not destroying your enemy completely…

  6. Erica Ramus

    February 2, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    Our local association is behind the times, and indeed very closed minded. No progressive, new ideas. It is all staus quo. The PENNA group is better, but locally I find the group archaic. Don’t change. Go with the flow and don’t rock the boat.
    NAR is 1.2 million strong, and who cares? I don’t.
    I am not of the belief that THEY know best and can give us marching orders.

  7. Toby Boyce

    February 3, 2010 at 12:43 am

    Erica – The power of NAR being 1.2 million members strong is what allows you to practice real estate the way you are. The political power of NAR (or even the state associations) is amazing and they’ve worked hard to fight for the rights of land owners and real estate agents.

    I am in a similar situation on the local level and realized I am not “fighting” city hall anymore (spent 1-1/2 years on the board of directors, created a Web site, new logo all of which were “not” good enough). I’m moving my membership to another local organization that is forward thinking and interested in being proactive. I’m probably lucky.

  8. Bob

    February 3, 2010 at 11:54 am

    “Should every member have an equal voice?”

    Bill, that very question illustrates the cluelessness with NAR and many of you sitting in your ivory towers. If they pay the same dues, then they have the same voice.

    And who is to say who has a better command of the issues? You?

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