BAM Key Details:

  • Membership for the National Association of Realtors (NAR) fell by more than 17,000 from November to December 2023 and ended the year with a loss of over 26,000 members—the first annual drop since 2012.

The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) lost 17,489 members from November to December 2023, ending the year with 1,554,604 members—26,367 fewer than a year ago. 

That 17,489 member drop is almost twice the sum total of all other declines in 2023 put together. And the total year-over-year exodus of 26,367 NAR members marks the Realtor association’s first annual decline since 2012.

So, why the spike in NAR departures at the end of 2023? Could be a number of things: 

  • The cumulative effect of the challenging 2023 housing market on struggling agents
  • NAR raising its dues mid-year—and adding an additional annual fee…for advertising
  • NAR’s weak defense in the Sitzer/Burnett trial
  • NAR’s damaged reputation from allegations of sexual harassment and a “culture of fear”

Could be all of the above—or none. Who’s to say? For some agents, 2023 gave them the option of leaving NAR without losing their MLS/lockbox access. 

And as the latest BAM-1000Watt agent sentiment survey reveals, 71.70% of real estate agents would not let that opportunity pass them by. 

NAR releases its membership report on a monthly basis, with a complete breakdown of membership status by state. Read on for the highlights. 

State-level changes in NAR membership

Washington State reported the largest percentage year-over-year decline in NAR membership, dropping 9.51% with a loss of 2,195 members. 

As Dave Gallagher noted in a Real Estate News article, the largest MLS in the state, Northwest Multiple Listing Service (NWMLS), is not affiliated with NAR. This means agents who rely on it don’t need NAR membership to retain MLS access. Washington is also home to Redfin, which announced its separation from NAR last October. 

Other areas reporting significant drops in NAR membership include— 

  • Washington D.C. (-8.7%)
  • Colorado (-5.8%)
  • Maryland (-5.2%)
  • California (-4.3%)
  • New Jersey (-4.08%)

Overall, 13 U.S. states reported increases in NAR membership:

  • Florida (1.1%)
  • Texas (0.24%)
  • Tennessee (2.31%)
  • Missouri (0.48%)
  • South Carolina (2.19%)
  • Indiana (1.43%)
  • Alabama (1.75%)
  • Arkansas (3.40%)
  • New Mexico (0.98%)
  • Mississippi (1.33%)
  • Montana (0.65%)
  • Maine (0.75%)
  • West Virginia (3.05%)

Puerto Rico saw the biggest year-over-year increase in NAR enrollment at +22.84%, growing from 1,007 on December 31, 2022, to 1,237 on December 31, 2023.

The grand totals for the U.S. show a year-over-year decline of 1.67% overall. 

Rising dues—and doubts—behind the spike in NAR departures

Granted, that 1.67% annual drop does not amount to a mass exodus from NAR. Not even close. 

That said, it is the first actual year-over-year decline in over a decade. And the loss of over 26,000 dues-paying members adds up. 

And with NAR facing the possibility of a devastating bill for its Sitzer/Burnett loss, assuming it either loses the appeal or can’t afford to even file one, more real estate companies may join Redfin, RE/MAX, and Anywhere in allowing agents to discontinue their NAR membership (or even requiring it, wherever possible). 

True, as long as there are agents who need NAR membership to maintain MLS/lockbox access, they’ll keep paying their annual dues. But for how much longer will those dues be enough to keep NAR going—especially as one copycat lawsuit after another is filed?

To answer that question, we need to know more about the biggest reasons real estate agents are leaving the National Association of Realtors. And for many, it comes down to one of the following reasons: 

  1. The 2023 housing market drove some struggling agents completely out of the industry
  2. NAR’s disappointing defense during the Sitzer/Burnett trial left many agents wondering if NAR has what it takes to lead and to advocate for real estate professionals. 
  3. The scandal surrounding the allegations of sexual harassment and a “culture of fear” has left some agents disinclined to continue membership if they can function without it. 
  4. Agents who saw little value in NAR membership finally had an opportunity to leave and put their money toward something they believe in more. 
  5. For all the money NAR has spent on marketing, they’ve missed the mark when it comes to communicating their value—or focusing on what members value. 

Last spring, NAR announced an increase in its annual membership dues from $150 to $156, as well as an additional $45 a year fee to fund consumer advertising. 

When they made the announcement, NAR forecasted a 15% drop in membership over the next few years. In light of that, the small 1.67% year-over-year dip is almost a win. 

Time will tell whether NAR can right the ship and end 2024 with an uptick in members rather than a continuing decline. 

There are still plenty of agents and companies that value NAR for what it brings to the table (or what it has brought). 

This year, the entire industry will be watching to see the progress NAR and its fellow defendants make in their appeal of Sitzer/Burnett along with other industry lawsuits, as well as what NAR does in the meantime to rebuild trust and show its value.