I've been attending the NAR Convention in Washington for 15 years now. Other than the weather being the worst has ever been, I was struck by two pervasive sentiments underlying the entire convention; deep concern with members over the future of NAR, and the role technology is playing in disintermediating the consumer from the real estate professional.
The DocuSign IPO has been the water cooler conversation for weeks now, but the staying power of the issue has a different source: Uncertainty with the motives of the National Association of Realtors.
I honestly believe that the current leadership team of NAR has intentionally chosen a different path from the excesses of the Stinton years and I am sure that, for them, the change has felt both difficult and borderline extreme. Let's face it, structurally, membership Associations are just not built to change quickly and there is significant, entrenched opposition to change from anyone who was a part of the status quo - which was pretty much everyone. So, I admire the fact that Bob, Elizabeth, and the rest of the staff and volunteer leaders are pushing change, but as the continued fury over the dues increase attests, it may not be fast enough.
It's All About the Money
Membership discontent with decisions made by NAR has found a focus on the dues increase and the IPO because under Dale Stinton, NAR made so many really questionable financial decisions - so much so, that they were faced with an historic shortfall of no more than 4 months of operating reserves before approving the dues increase. Mistakes like RPR, AMP, Upstream, the federal credit union, Realtor University and RAMCO, cannot be undone by simply waving the Realtor flag and demanding loyalty to the cause. The legacy of their failure has a stranglehold on the capability of NAR because their failures caused a financial drain that has both critically limited funds and overwhelmed any other vision. You know, just at the most important time in NAR's history.
NAR must recognize, analyze, accept responsibility for, accept criticism about, and foster an open dialogue on the future of these programs or risk continued rebellions at every new vision or dues increase. The fact is, for them to survive as a relevant feature of the real estate landscape it needs both a new vision and the resources necessary to capitalize on it.
Technology is Convenience in Wolf's Clothing
This might be my worst sub-heading to date, but my point is that while everyone's talking about technology as being so disruptive, they're not talking about what's driving the technology - convenience. It's the single greatest consumer motivator and with a few exceptions like Redfin, OpenDoor, and a handful of others, we as an industry are so busy looking at the effects, we've neglected to look at the cause.
How did Amazon reach global dominance in such a short time when they were a humble book reseller not so long ago? They recognized that consumers were relentlessly chasing convenience - and would pay for it. Want baby wipes, a lawn mower, and a plumber tomorrow? Sure, we can do that.
Realtors are concentrating so hard on what they think their role should be (i.e., the consumer needs to recognize that the Realtor is the expert and they should listen to our advice), that they're missing that consumer motivation has evolved. The consumer's path to the Realtor used to be one of convenience because they couldn't get information anywhere else as quickly. Now that this is no longer true, consumers will go wherever their convenience gets facilitated. Brokerage models and agents that don't evolve to facilitate consumer convenience will find cold comfort in their ivory tower of "expertise." Remember, this is not to say that Realtors aren't the experts they think they are, it's to say that, increasingly, consumers value convenience more.