Rich Thau and Mindy Kaling, speakers at the NAR NXT 2023 conference in Anaheim.
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News

Hearts, minds and home: Moving topics from NAR NXT 

Conference sessions provided moments of laughter as well as insights into the future of the association — and the country — in challenging times.

November 17, 2023
4 minutes

Key points:

  • Swing state voters don’t love their choices for president, but they do appreciate Realtors.
  • Realtors got a chance to have their voices heard as NAR looks to “ignite cultural change.”
  • Writer and actor Mindy Kaling, of “The Office” fame and more, filled the main hall with laughter as she shared the true Hollywood story of her Malibu dream home.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — NAR NXT conference sessions gave Realtors a chance to be heard as the organization moves past a "moment of crisis," and to hear from experts as the country (hopefully) avoids a crisis of leadership in the next election.

Homeownership could help decide who the next president will be

Rich Thau, known as "the election whisperer," talks monthly with swing-state voters to get a read on what matters most to them — and home is right up there.

"Homeownership is about supply and it's about affordability," Thau told an audience of 500-plus Realtors attending the NAR NXT conference on Wednesday. "The candidate who is able to take that issue and run with it and make clear that there are policy solutions that can help ease that problem is going to be at a significant advantage."

But getting swing state voters to understand the issues won't be easy. Many Americans, not just swing-state voters, are under-informed, Thau said.

They're also not very excited about their leading options for president in 2024. Right now, swing state voters favor President Biden, but Robert Kennedy Jr. has their attention and could pull votes from Biden and Donald Trump. 

"We're just under a year out, with so many things yet to happen, that it's impossible to forecast what's actually going to happen," Thau said. His current thinking is that most swing voters will stick with Biden, but they're going to do it "very grudgingly."

Thau also said that most of the folks he's spoken with don't think real estate agents are overpaid. As an example, he cited this recent comment from one of his focus group participants:

"I think they're paid a fair percentage. They do a lot of work that they don't get paid for if the sale doesn't work out because they work strictly on commission. People quite often feel obligated to use an agent because it's such a complex scenario to either buy or sell a house with so much detail you have to muddle through. It's good to have an expert to do that for you."

'A valiant effort' by NAR to 'ignite cultural change'

After a devastating New York Times investigation and the resignation of NAR president Kenny Parcell in August, the association engaged Shaun Harper, "an organizational culture and crisis recovery expert."

On Wednesday, Harper heard directly from Realtors during a Member Forum on NAR Culture, exploring "what must occur to ignite cultural change that endures beyond this moment of crisis."

After the session, which was closed to the media, a significant number of attendees appeared emotional, and many who were approached did not want to comment on what had taken place.

However, one attendee, a broker/owner based in the Northeast, said NAR made "a valiant effort" to have people's voices be heard in a receptive and non-judgmental fashion.

Topics were not limited to NAR staff allegations of sexual harassment and a "culture of fear" described in the Times report, the attendee said. They declined to share additional details but said "it was a good first step."

"There's no other organization that represents homeowners," the attendee said. "This is so we can be better and protect them."

Hollywood home humor from a comedy star

Mindy Kaling, an actor and writer best known for her work on "The Office" and "The Mindy Project," brought waves of laughter to a conference that had its share of weighty topics and emotional moments.

"I think I have the dubious distinction of only making poor real estate choices," Kaling told an audience of thousands after NAR President Tracy Kasper kicked off the opening session on Tuesday. "I always buy at the height of the market. And I always go by emotion, like 'I have to have this and I'll pay whatever you want.' And then I sell at the worst end of the market."

Her best real estate decision? Buying a Malibu home that belonged to Frank Sinatra. "Before everyone gets too impressed by it, it's one of his many homes and probably least favorite."

Even though it had an "enormous amount of deferred maintenance" and is located on an eroded beach, she said she leveraged herself to the hilt and purchased the place in January 2020 for $9.55 million. And then the pandemic hit. And then?

"I'm so proud of it that I'm just gonna brag. It's doubled in value since I bought it," Kaling said, to thunderous applause. "No matter what happens … at least I have a house that I can sell or live in for the rest of my life."

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