National Association of Realtors logo and silhouettes of business people
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News; Shutterstock

Will NAR ‘become a shadow of its current self’ in 2 years? 

The association reported a fourth month of membership declines, with membership falling below 1.5 million for the first time in nearly three years.

March 12, 2024
4 minutes

Key points:

  • Membership dropped by 19,000 in February to end the month at 1.496 million, with a net decline of 81,000 members since October.
  • NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said membership has remained resilient year-over-year, but “further membership declines should be anticipated.”
  • One real estate analyst believes membership could fall to 300,000 in the next few years: “The housing market is probably ‘OK,’ but NAR is not ‘OK.’”

For the fourth month in a row, NAR reported a net decline in membership. 

Given seasonal fluctuations, it's too soon to say if this signals a trend — but as agents struggle to find listings, and the organization continues to grapple with ongoing litigation and reputational challenges, a more substantial falloff in membership could be coming.

Membership slides again, but still largely resilient 

According to the latest membership report, NAR ended February with 1.496 million members, a drop of over 19,000 members from the previous month. Since October, NAR has reported a net loss in membership each month, adding up to roughly 81,000 members over the four-month period.

However, membership has remained resilient compared to the same period a year ago, NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun told Real Estate News, despite existing home inventory remaining incredibly tight.

"I'm quite surprised — I thought that we would see around a 10% year-over-year decline, but so far, it has been only a 2% year-over-year decline," Yun said of the February membership numbers. "I think there are many Realtors around the country who would like to see massive reduction in other Realtors, but that's not happening."

While member count remained near the 1.5 million mark, "further membership declines should be anticipated, given the reduction in business opportunities over the past two years," Yun wrote in the February membership report, adding that local state and regional MLSs should also prepare for "further membership declines over the next 24 months based on the lag effects of past housing cycles."

A significant drop in NAR participation?

Could the past four months of membership declines be the start of something bigger? New York-based real estate analyst, appraiser and adjunct associate professor at Columbia University Jonathan Miller believes so. 

"It is reasonable to assume that NAR will become a shadow of its current self as a trade group in a few years," Miller wrote in his blog, Housing Notes, this month. "I've made a wild guess that NAR membership will be reduced to 300K members in 2-3 years from its current 1.6 million members — about 20% of the industry, much like doctors, lawyers, and appraisers."

"In other words, the housing market is probably 'OK,' but NAR is not 'OK,'" he added.

Miller said his prediction is based on several factors, such as tough market conditions, the bevy of class action lawsuits entangling the association, the challenges NAR faces internally, and emerging competitor associations within the industry. He also said it's likely that NAR membership will eventually reflect other large, national trade associations where only 20-30% of licensed professionals are members.

NAR 'here to serve members,' but needs to show its value

If more big brokerages and local MLSs no longer mandate NAR membership — or if the outcome from litigation prohibits brokerage and MLS leaders from requiring NAR membership for licensed agents — NAR's issue will be selling its value to individual real estate professionals.

"It may not change overnight, but basic economics, plus services rendered, the reputation, and the toxic culture that has emerged there because there is no competition or hasn't been, just doesn't look that sustainable," Miller told Real Estate News. "I think that in a space that has never had competition, all bets are off — when competitors appear, we can't write them off."

But Yun told Real Estate News that NAR is "here to serve members, whether it's a half a million or one and a half million" professionals, adding that he was less concerned about the total membership count than what an end to non-cooperative commissions could mean for consumers.

"I just see a very bad scenario for first-generation buyers who tend to be more minority: Hispanic, African American, and Asians," he said. "They will be in a very difficult struggle based on how this lawsuit is playing out."

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