A group of business people walks away from another group of business people
Illustration by Lanette Behiry/Real Estate News; Shutterstock

Emerging agent association sees opportunity following NAR deal 

NAR’s settlement — and the emotions surrounding it — could lead more agents to consider trading in their membership for something new.

March 22, 2024
4 minutes

Key points:

  • Some agents are channeling anger and frustration toward NAR into action, American Real Estate Association co-founder Jason Haber tells Real Estate News.
  • The upstart association, which launched in January, has added 600 new members in the past week, he said.
  • “As competitors appear, we can't write them off,” one housing analyst and Columbia University professor told Real Estate News.

The residential real estate industry is still reeling a week after the bombshell NAR settlement was announced last Friday. And NAR's 1.5 million members are still sorting out not only what the planned rule changes mean to their business, but how they personally feel about the terms of the agreement. 

"I think there are a lot of problems with the settlement for the agent community," New York real estate agent and co-founder of the upstart American Real Estate Association Jason Haber told Real Estate News this week.

"A lot of this feels self-serving, that they were looking for self preservation. The question is: Are the members best served by this? The trade association is best served, but are the members best served by this? I think that's why you're seeing so much anger out there."

Channeling anger into action — and growing membership

Haber touched on the strong reactions being shared in recent days, which include a sense of frustration and anger toward NAR from the agent community for a perceived failure to lead. 

And for some agents, that frustration is prompting them to make a change. Haber told Real Estate News that his organization has seen 600 new members sign up since the settlement announcement. Currently, he said, the organization has roughly 4,000 members.  

Haber launched the American Real Estate Association in January with Mauricio Umansky, CEO and co-founder of The Agency. The two are still working on governance, Haber said, with hopes to hire an executive director and political director later this year. The pair are also navigating a trademark dispute — at launch, the co-founders dubbed the organization AREA for short, but Haber said that they are no longer using the acronym. 

Trademark issues aside, Haber said the association isn't just reactionary. "It's not enough to be against something," he said. "If you're looking to join an anti-NAR organization, we're not the place for you. I believe we're going to be for something, which is for the agent community."

And the new association has other opportunities to lead and advocate in this moment, Haber said, such as sending letters to Fannie Mae, FHA and HUD about understanding particulars for buyers and whether or not buyer commissions could still be folded into their financing.

Does an association challenger have a real shot?

Don't write off newcomers, New York housing analyst, appraiser and adjunct associate professor at Columbia University Jonathan Miller told Real Estate News. 

"I think that in a space that has never had competition, all bets are off. I think what we can be sure of is that as competitors appear, we can't write them off because brokers and agents have never had that chance or opportunity [to join a competing association] until now."

Miller said from his perspective, NAR has been "largely irrelevant for more than a decade," and suggested it "doesn't appear that their lobbying has been effective." Miller predicts NAR will see its membership plummet in coming years, potentially falling to below 500,000 members. 

A significant drop in NAR membership could be even more likely if the DOJ decides the organization can no longer require licensed professionals to be members, Haber believes. He said membership in the American Real Estate Association will always be optional "because we have to work constantly to show value."

NAR at risk of defections if members don't see its value

One early member of Haber and Umansky's association is Alyssa Soto Brody, co-founder of the Development Marketing Team, a firm which specializes in new construction developments in Miami and New York. Brody told Real Estate News she doesn't see value in NAR membership.

"With regards to NAR, it's an antiquated advocacy group," she said. "I've been in the industry for 12 years and quite frankly, I couldn't even speak as to what they do for us and what their role and purpose is."

Mantill Williams, NAR's VP of public relations and communication strategy, has previously said the association delivers "unmatched value to our members, including by providing industry leadership, innovative tools, educational opportunities, leading economic research, national property data, and other benefits." 

But Brody said she was looking to be involved in a group that was focused more on full-time, professional real estate agents and shared her desire to "elevate" the industry.

"For me, community-building in our industry is also something that's relatively new — our industry wasn't always collaborative the way that it is," she explained. "But I also think sometimes less is more. There are too many agents out there for not enough transactions and this is a career that does require a certain level of professionalism."

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