Rebuilding the reputation of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is no easy feat. Yet current President, Kevin Sears, seems committed to the challenge. 

Since stepping into his role as President earlier than anticipated in January, Sears has engaged with Realtors and the public through his “On the Road” video updates. And since the news of the NAR settlement agreement broke, he has even agreed to appear on select podcasts, starting with an interview with Jared James.

This is a notable shift for NAR, which has been highly criticized over the past year for seemingly ignoring member concerns and even denying issues within the association. Remember when former CEO Bob Goldberg told The Times he “would not characterize (sexual harassment) as a problem” within NAR? Fortunately, that no longer appears to be the strategy. 

This week, Sears took the open dialogue to the next level, agreeing to an exclusive interview with BAM co-founder Byron Lazine, known for his unfiltered and direct approach. 

No questions were screened. No topics were off-limits. It wasn’t even approved by NAR staff.  Of course, Sears did note that if he could not answer a question, for legal reasons or otherwise, he would say so upfront.

Because of this, it’s a BAM interview you don’t want to miss. Watch the entire conversation on the BAM YouTube channel, and read on for the highlights.

Decision-Making within NAR

During the interview, the conversation turned to the dynamic between current interim CEO, Nykia Wright and Sears. In other words, who is making what decisions for the association? 

Sears emphasized the division of responsibilities, noting that Wright “is in charge of the staff, plain and simple. If there’s staff issues, she handles it as the CEO.” He returned to this point when asked about staff salaries, but more on that later. 

As President, Sears is the chief spokesperson for the association, which is why we see and hear from him more often than we do from Wright. Changes within the organization are a collaborative effort that includes the entire leadership team. This includes Wright, who extended her contract with NAR to stay on as CEO until the end of 2024. 

“She was from the media world,” Sears said, “but it was the Chicago Tribune. And she went in and she saved that and helped turn that around. She certainly has a skill set that was important for us.”

Navigating NAR’s Budget: Marketing, Staff Salaries & Future Member Dues

Throughout the interview, Lazine addressed questions that often appear online. More specifically, questions surrounding how NAR is spending membership dues

Marketing Budget

Lazine started by asking about payments to Havas Marketing Group, which was paid $46 million in 2021 and $45 million in 2022. Sears stated that a substantial part of the spend contributes to the creation and ad spending for “That’s Who We R” campaigns, which are aimed at enhancing public perception and understanding of Realtors. 

The effectiveness of those campaigns, however, is up for debate, as Sears noted he didn’t have any data on the commercials, and the majority of consumers still don’t know the difference between a Realtor and a real estate agent.

Staff Salaries

During the conversation, Lazine also questioned staff salaries, all of which are reported publicly. In 2022, Bob Goldberg, who was CEO at the time, was making just shy of $2.6 million. 

Sears reverted to the conversation from earlier and noted that the CEO handles all decisions regarding staff. “I’m not going to talk about staff salaries,” he said. “That’s none of my purview.”

When asked if he believes members should be part of the conversation about staffing salary, Sears responded, 

“The way that members have the conversation—we have a finance committee. We submit a budget to the board of directors, and in that budget, there is money earmarked for staff to pay them. To pay them for their professional work that they do to care for our association and the good jobs that they do. What I’ll tell you is that the professional staff that we have definitely earn their paycheck and represent us well.”

Kevin Sears

President, National Association of Realtors

Sears went on to thank the NAR staff, noting that what they do allows Realtors to go out and do their jobs. 

Member Dues and Budget Cuts

If granted final approval, part of the NAR settlement is paying out $418 million over four years. This has many agents questioning what member dues will look like in the future. 

Sears reaffirmed that member dues will not go up for the next two years, and the team is looking to “streamline” the budget in order to keep dues reasonable after that. “Last week…we had outside financial experts come in and we did a deep dive into the finances of the National Association to figure out how we are going to meet those financial obligations.”

Sears also noted that “everything is on the table,” and NAR will likely need to tap into reserves and determine what can be trimmed from the budget. 

“It’s going to be a challenge and an exercise, but we have a fiduciary duty to the members and to the association to make sure that we provide a realistic budget, and hopefully, we can streamline things, cut some costs, and be able to fulfill our financial obligation.”

Kevin Sears

President, National Association of Realtors

Member Dues At Work

While specific numbers for NAR’s marketing spend and staff salaries can stir up strong emotions, Sears pointed to perhaps the biggest benefit NAR members receive: advocacy. 

NAR’s advocacy efforts aim to influence policy beneficial to the real estate sector. “We’ve got a great team in Washington D.C. with Shannon McGahn as our senior vice president, our chief advocacy officer. And she’s got great relationships on the Hill,” he said, pointing out the strategic importance of maintaining strong, ongoing relationships with policymakers. These relationships are crucial for ensuring that the voices of Realtors are heard—especially right now, with “the poor media coverage” on industry lawsuits and discussions surrounding agent commissions. 

In a couple of weeks, NAR will have Realtors Legislative meetings on Capitol Hill. This year, NAR has two main focuses to discuss:

  1. Tax incentives for home and property ownership
  2. Equal access to professional representation for all consumers (buyers and sellers) and protecting fair housing

For more information on NAR’s Legislative Priorities, visit flyin.realtor

Where do things stand with the NAR Settlement, the DOJ & the Tie-In Agreement? 

The conversation with Sears would not be complete without updates on the NAR settlement and what’s next for the industry. News had just come out that the NAR settlement received preliminary approval on the day of recording the interview. 

However, NAR was unable to reach an agreement that covered all brokerages named as defendants. Over 90 brokerages had over $2 billion in sales in 2022, and now they must decide how to move forward, whether through a preset formula, non-binding mediation, or a different route. 

“My hope is that at the end of the day, when they look at this as a business transaction, that they’re able to still say there is a benefit to continuing to belong to the National Association of Realtors. Because we’re going to be better off and stronger together than we would ever be separate.”

Kevin Sears

President, National Association of Realtors

As a national settlement, this could eliminate all copycat lawsuits for NAR, as long as final approval is reached. But the Department of Justice’s investigation of NAR is another story.

Recently, a three-judge panel ruled in favor of the DOJ, allowing it to reopen its investigation on NAR rules surrounding commissions. “Ultimately with the rule changes that we’re going to be making, it resolves a lot of what (the DOJ) previously were talking about looking at. But who knows what stone they’re going to overturn to try and find something,” Sears said. 

The DOJ also filed a briefing in the MLS Pin case, outlining exactly what it is looking for. “They went to the extreme of completely decoupling cooperative compensation and saying it shouldn’t be allowed,” Sears explained. In that case, it will be the judge’s decision on whether or not the settlement terms are enough for the plaintiffs. 

At this point, Lazine turned to something Sears said on stage at the T3 Leadership Summit about the tie-in agreement, which is between local, state and national associations. When he mentioned the MLS, Sears was quick to say that the agreement “has nothing to do with the MLS.”

Lazine pointed out that in many areas, including Connecticut where his team is based, you cannot have access to the MLS without being part of the local board. And to be a part of the local board, agents must also be part of NAR. “Is that changing?” Lazine asked. “Is that fair?”

Sears responded by saying that he had not been a part of those conversations. “I don’t see anything changing in the immediate future,” Sears said. 

The tie-in agreement could affect agent count. While membership has always fluctuated, especially during challenging markets, there’s a question as to how many agents would leave NAR if it wasn’t directly tied to their MLS. This led Lazine to ask why membership data has been removed from the NAR website. Sears was unable to answer. 

Final Thoughts from Kevin Sears

To wrap up the 60-minute conversation, Sears shared some final words for the industry:

“The room for improvement—that’s the biggest room in the world…. The reality is that…I know that we can be better. And so stick with us, join with us, participate, be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

“I think back to something that James Wiggins said to me. He was very critical of my very first video that I did after I became president…but he just said… ‘You need to pick this (phone) up. You need to talk to the members.’ 

“And that’s how the ‘On the Road’ videos came about. And it’s my message to the members, but we need you all more today, more than ever. Because moving forward, in order for us to be successful, we have to stick together. And I do see brighter days on the horizon for us.”

Kevin Sears

President, National Association of Realtors

Watch the full BAM Interview here.