Meet the reporter whose NAR story rocked the industry
New York Times journalist Debra Kamin talked to Real Estate News about the response to her investigations, why her eXp story “hit differently,” and what’s next.
- Kamin is the writer behind two major stories that exposed allegations of sexual harassment and assault at NAR and eXp.
- Women in real estate, said Kamin, are particularly vulnerable given the lack of employment-based protections.
- She believes the structure of the industry makes it “rife for corruption” and plans to dig deeper in 2024.
As a reporter for the New York Times, Debra Kamin is in a unique position. She has the time and resources to conduct lengthy investigations into the darker side of real estate — and a huge platform for sharing her stories.
Her widely read reporting on sexual assault and "bad actors" in the industry has had immediate effects, with NAR president Kenny Parcell stepping down just days after Kamin wrote about allegations against him. His departure touched off months of turmoil that have continued into this year.
Kamin spoke with Real Estate News about her path to covering real estate, her investigations into NAR and eXp, and what's on her list of story ideas for 2024. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Did you always have an interest in covering real estate?
Real estate was not a desk I thought I would end up on at the Times, yet here I am, and I love it so much. I came to real estate from travel writing, and before that, I was an entertainment writer. I actually started my career as a stringer in the Middle East covering the Israeli film and TV industry, which has nothing to do with real estate — but I did report during several wars, so perhaps in some ways, that prepared me for the stresses of reporting about real estate.
Your reporting on NAR and Kenny Parcell had an immediate impact. What was the reaction when the eXp story was published?
I don't think we've seen the end of the eXp story yet. It landed very differently than the NAR story for a number of reasons, but it hit loud, and their stock dipped, and then it was silent. A lot of that might also have to do with the timing because we ran it just before the end of the year. But until that case plays out in court, I don't think we're going to really know what the impact of that reporting is and what the end of that story is.
When you say it hit differently than the NAR story, can you tell us more about that?
If you compare my investigation into Kenny Parcell and my investigation into eXp, the two of them side-by-side are a really great case study in both the power of journalism and the limits of journalism. All I could do as a reporter is tell the story, and then if there's going to be an impact, people have to respond to the story and decide that they want to go somewhere with it. So with NAR, members almost immediately started demanding change.
With eXp it was a bit of the opposite, where their leadership didn't respond at all. I got a lot of private messages, but there were very few public calls for accountability from eXp. These stories landed differently because the response of the people who are directly affected by that news was different. As a journalist, I don't want to control that because it's not my job — and I also can't control that. I did my part with the reporting, and what happens after that is no longer up to me.
Were you as surprised as we were about Tracy Kasper's abrupt resignation from NAR?
It was a huge shock to me. I was stunned mainly because I was at NAR NXT in November, and she just stepped into that role and was clearly so exuberant to be in that role. It was something that she is talented at and had clearly been waiting for a long time to obtain. So whatever happened there must have been very significant for her to step down so quickly.
There seems to be an unsavory element in parts of the real estate world with the parties, the egos and the sheer number of people in the industry. Is it different than other industries?
I got into this specific line of reporting — focused on sexual harassment and corruption — because of a story I did back in July looking at the safety risks female Realtors face when they're selling homes alone. And that story kind of snowballed into all these other ones. But so much of the industry — especially when it comes to women — is predicated upon how you look or what your image is, and then you couple that with the fact that most agents are not full time, so they're selling homes without the protections of being on payroll or having HR or even being able to file an EEOC complaint.
Add to that the fact that most of the power and the pay in the industry belongs to men, and real estate's largest professional organization is run by a tiny group of people who all know each other and are insular. It's just rife for corruption and for so many things to go spectacularly wrong.
Your stories on NAR and eXp were eye-opening for many readers. What will you be working on in 2024?
After I wrote the NAR story, I was flooded with tips about local and state organizations that have similar or worse corruption, and I'm not sure if the answer right now is to interrogate them one by one, or to do it on a wider, more holistic level. In addition, eXp is not the only brokerage that has issues, so I want to look at other brokerages. What I've learned since July and August is that if it's happening in one corner of the industry, it's probably happening in all of the corners.
Then also there's going to be a ton of breaking news, because I don't think the story with NAR is over yet, so I have to save bandwidth for that too. No one expected Tracy Kasper to step down. We don't know if NAR is going to declare bankruptcy tomorrow. We don't know if there's going to be a new organization that's founded as a result. We don't know if Kenny Parcell is going to go totally nuclear. There's all sorts of question marks that you have to be ready to cover.