HAR leaders on earning trust and competing with Zillow
“We’re trying to be an example of what an association can do,” says René Galvan, who will take over for Bob Hale as CEO in 2026.
- Longtime CEO Bob Hale announced this week that he will retire in 2026 after more than 50 years with HAR.
- The keys to a healthy association are the right staff and the respect of leadership. “They trust us,” Hale said.
- HAR thrives on competition with Zillow and wants to win by giving people choices.
Bob Hale has had an iconic run as CEO of the Houston Association of Realtors, dating back to the dawn of the internet. And now we know when it will end.
This week, as the industry continues to weather challenges that rival the world wide web in scope, Hale announced that he will step down in January of 2026, with longtime HAR exec René Galvan taking the reins.
Hale is optimistic about the future — not a surprise coming from the leader who took HAR.com from napkin-sketch plans to its place as the only real estate website to rival Zillow on the association's home turf in Houston. So is Galvan, who has been with HAR since 1996, apart from a two-year stint as CEO of another association.
The two spoke with Real Estate News just after Hale's announcement went public, sharing the keys to association success, what's next, and what they really think of Zillow. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Bob, why is now the moment to retire, and what are the joys and the hard things in that decision?
The joy is knowing that HAR is going to be in good hands with René. I've invested 50 years in this organization. My entire career has been here. I wanted to make sure that it continues on the path, and with René at the helm, it definitely will.
There's not really anything that would make me say, "Thank God, I'm not going to be doing that anymore." HAR has got the best staff in the world and great leaders. And I mean, it's just, it's a team — it runs so smoothly. Members are happy. It's just great.
You make it sound easy, but creating a healthy organization is tough! What has been the key for you?
Finding the right staff is key. Many years ago, we read the book "Good to Great," and we took it to heart. The premise of the book was you get the right people on the bus, and then you put them in the right seat once they're on the bus. Almost every senior staff member we have was not hired for the role that they're in right now. René was not hired as executive vice president because we already had one, but we got him on the bus and eventually in the right seat.
The second thing is, we have earned the respect of our leadership. They trust us, and we work together as a team. It's not "them and us," it's "us," and I think that goes a long way. In many organizations or associations, you have a really good staff or you have a really good leadership, but you don't have both. You've got to have both to make it work, and that's what we accomplished. But it took many, many years to do that.
René, what does a successful organization look like from your perspective?
A lot of times you have superstar individuals, but they can't work together as a team. That's a critical component of hiring the right people, not just the people with the right skills, but the ability and willingness to collaborate.
You don't see the kind of relationships develop between CEO and leadership that Bob has with all of our leaders. Having the opportunity to work with Bob for all these years is like having an MBA or a Ph.D. in association management. He has been the most incredible friend and mentor that you could possibly have. It's very humbling to be chosen to lead once Bob retires.
What advice do you have for NAR or other associations that may be facing challenges, and for agents and others thinking about how to constructively move forward?
René: I don't have any specific advice for NAR, but for association leaders or people who are volunteering or questioning whether they want to volunteer, I'll say that it is work. But it's worth it. We're trying to be an example of what an association can do. And you know, to the extent that that serves as a model to others, we'll collaborate with anyone who wants to do more.
Bob: I would say to do what you do best and not worry about things you can't control. We doubled down last year with helping members and consumers. I'll give you some examples: We did eight focus groups with consumers, and floor plans were the thing they wanted. So we went out and worked with ShowingTime and Cubicasa to offer free floor plans to every member for their listings. People want flood information. So we did a lot of research and created a section on HAR.com with flood information for Houston.
We found that 40% of Houstonians are Hispanic. So we made HAR.com all in Spanish. We created a way for consumers to listen to a listing in 12 different languages. We added a down payment resource to HAR.com. And we created a showing service, ShowingSmart, with 80% of our members using it, and 2.3 million showings go through that service.
So we've done a lot last year, whereas a lot of people just kind of sat on their hands and complained about the market.
You mentioned partnering with Zillow — other organizations have gone in a different direction.
Bob: We compete with Zillow on a daily basis, but we're also respectful of each other and work very well together. We've learned from them and they've learned from us, and we're not enemies in any sense of the word. We have 20% of our members using ShowingTime, and we're happy with that. We worked out a deal with them …
René, finishing the thought: … a bi-directional API, so when they make an appointment in their system or we make an appointment in our system, our systems talk to each other so there's no conflict.
Bob: If some of our members want to use their product, we want to help them offer that to our members. It's not like all or nothing. Give people a choice.
I love to win by being the best, not by preventing someone from doing something.