AgentAgents/BrokersReal Estate

NAR rakes in member dues to fight DOJ

Trade group expects $160 million in operating reserves by year's end, as they step up legal fight

In the first nine months of this year the National Association of Realtors (NAR) has collected $229.6 million in membership dues from 1.542 million members, who are mostly real estate agents and brokers.

About 523,000 members have additionally donated a total of $39.5 million to the Realtors Political Action Committee.

Also, NAR forecasts to have $160 million in operating reserves at the end of 2021, a more than threefold leap from the $50 million in reserves at 2020s end.  

These revelations were released Monday at NAR’s Board of Directors meeting in San Diego, which punctuated the NAR’s six-day long annual conference.

The meeting comes as NAR is at war with the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division.

At this time last year, federal antitrust officials reached a consent decree with NAR. However, DOJ withdrew from the consent decree in July, stating it wished to pursue a broader investigation into real estate commissions. The decision infuriated NAR, which filed a petition in Washington D.C. federal court that DOJ exceeded its civil investigative demand powers.

The standoff colored a meeting of NAR’s over 800 board of directors. One board member asked how much of the dues go to legal defense.

“That’s one of the reasons we’re boosting the reserves,” responded NAR Treasurer Nancy Lane, “to fight that.”

Lane, who is a real estate agent in Brandon, Mississippi, added that what NAR is paying to specifically fight DOJ “Is not a line item in the budget.”

The Board of Directors approved measures regarding information in home listings, which were previously adopted by the Multiple Listings Services policy committee. Three of these measures – that a buyer agent’s expected compensation be disclosed, that MLS search results cannot be sorted based on commission compensation, and that buyer’s agents cannot imply they represent consumers for free – were each part of the scotched consent decree.

Though the measures passed by comfortable margins, a few board members expressed their displeasure.

“NAR is here to represent its members, not make plea deals with the Department of Justice,” said Liz Harris, an agent at Liz Harris Realty in Chandler, Arizona, generating “ooohs” from the crowd of board members and hundreds of additional agents in an amply air-conditioned hotel ballroom.

But trade group representatives said that the buyer’s agent disclosure measures were shuttled through on their own merit, noting NAR represents consumers as well as agents.

“It’s further evolution of that pro-consumer dynamic,” said Ron Phipps, a Rhode Island agent and former NAR president, in an interview before the board meeting.

Also, it’s unknown if the DOJ is focused on these consumer disclosure items, said NAR General Counsel Katie Johnson.

“We would love to know what the DOJ wants,” Johnson told HousingWire on Sunday. “We thought we knew because we spent a year-and-a-half negotiating. I couldn’t even speculate to what else they want.”

Johnson added that it was important to pass these guidelines now as, “We are waiting for the Department of Justice to get their act together.”

A message left with Monday with the Justice Department has not been returned.

The one element of the consent decree not adopted as NAR policy is temporary access to home lockboxes for agents who are showing a home, but not part of the local MLS. A plan to address lockboxes did not pass through the committee stage, Johnson said, as NAR continues to work through language toward adopting such a measure.

Also Monday, the Board passed a measure require that listings include a phone number or email associated with the listing agent’s brokerage. The policy was made partly in response to Zillow’s Premier Agent. On Zillow’s website – which has 226 million unique visitors a month – consumers get routed not to the listing agent, but an agent who paid Zillow to be the point of contact. Zillow and other MLS aggregators including Redfin do display the listing’s agents name, but not the contact information.

The Board meeting lasted four hours long and was bogged down by numerous issues with the hotel Internet, which was necessary for voting.

“Only board members use the Internet,” repeatedly implored NAR president Charlie Oppler who added, “One device per member.”

Oppler was NAR’s president for 2021. At meeting’s end, the gavel was literally handed over to Leslie Rouda Smith, incoming president, and an agent at Dave Perry-Miller Real Estate in Dallas.