The National Association of Realtors logo against a backdrop of homes and a stormy sky.
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News; Shutterstock

Mixed perspectives on NAR following Redfin’s exit 

Zillow, Windermere affirm their commitment to the association, while a top brokerage leader calls out “dysfunctionality” and a disconnect from member needs.

October 13, 2023
4 minutes

Key points:

  • Zillow joined NAR in 2020 and will continue to work for change from the inside.
  • A United Real Estate exec joins the call for separation of MLS access from association membership.
  • NAR said every Realtor association — local, state and national — must continue to communicate and provide true value to members.

On Oct. 2, Redfin made a very public declaration about its plans to withdraw from the National Association of Realtors — and its frustration about the system that makes such a move difficult.

The Seattle-based brokerage cited NAR requirements around buyer's agent fees on every listing and allegations of sexual harassment at the organization as reasons for its departure. It also asked NAR to "decouple" MLS access from association membership.

Redfin's statement garnered national media attention and touched off a range of reactions, all against the backdrop of a potentially industry-shaking trial that could change the nature of real estate transactions.

Zillow, Redfin's Seattle neighbor, has at times been at odds with NAR. But earlier this week, Zillow told The Seattle Times that the company has "worked to affect change at the local and national level" since joining NAR in 2020 and "if we determine we can no longer affect change for the good of the industry and consumers, then we will re-evaluate our approach."

Seattle-based Windermere Real Estate acknowledged the "turbulence" at NAR, with Windermere CEO Geoff Wood telling the Times: "There is no question that they need to address some very serious allegations made against the organization, as well as some potential operational issues. But abandoning ship is not the answer to us" — a move lauded by the local Realtor association. "We would rather stay and help affect the changes that need to happen to make NAR stronger," Wood said.

When association frustration hits a boiling point

Others have a more passionate perspective. Phillip Cantrell, a longtime brokerage leader who is currently CEO of Tennessee-based Benchmark Realty and EVP of Strategy for United Real Estate, took issue with NAR's "dysfunctionality" and disconnection from the needs of members that is adding fuel to a "simmering revolt."

"For the life of me I cannot fathom why we have one national association + one state association + NINE local associations in the Greater Nashville Area. Each with dues to pay, rules to join, and all with a seemingly constant bombardment of membership emails and calls that for the most part provide little to no value to our lives. Why can we not have just ONE association in each state and call it done?" he wrote on LinkedIn.

"My sole interest is elimination of the requirement of NAR membership to access the MLS. We little ones on the front lines, trying to feed our families, need to be able to earn a living without bowing down to some detached, bureaucratic organization," Cantrell added.

Since 1994, NAR policy has allowed MLSs to individually determine whether non-members of Realtor associations will be allowed to participate. 

However, Jack Miller, president and CEO of T3 Sixty, said 62% of local MLSs still require association membership — a statistic drawn from the consultancy's upcoming 2024 Swanepoel Trends Report. (Note: T3 Sixty and Real Estate News share a founder, Stefan Swanepoel.)

The benefits of real estate's association structure

Miller understands the frustration a broker feels when they need to join multiple associations to support their agents, but also sees the good in NAR and the association structure.

"There's a lot of negativity around the association space right now, and there are improvements to be made, but we think they exist for a reason and should not go away. Associations solve problems that others don't want to — or aren't able to — solve," Miller said. 

"The association structure has produced some of the most impactful homeownership programs of all time. The FHA program, the 30-year fixed mortgage, the VA programs, and a lot of advances in fair housing have come out of NAR lobbying," Miller added.

To those achievements, NAR would add networking, standard forms, dispute resolution, training and adherence to its Code of Ethics.

Said NAR spokesperson Mantill Williams: "It is incumbent on every Realtor association — local, state and national — to continue to communicate and provide true value to our members. If these brokers continue to find value in belonging to the association, then they will choose to belong."

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