Of the People, By the People, For the People, A Response to Rob Hahn

If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor- Albert Einstein

I love talking with Rob Hahn, even when we disagree. But having an online conversation with him can be frustrating. Rob is an artist with words – but in many works of art,  reality is sacrificed for the sake of beauty. His last response in our ongoing conversation about the future of NAR is an example. Rob talks about a disagreement we had online about a post he wrote, saying;

 During that debate, I suggested that Bill was simply defending the status quo to the hilt since his first post was nothing but a robust defense of all things NAR. Since he said that he has many ideas for change at NAR, that he wasn’t happy with everything at NAR, I asked him to lay out some reforms he’d like to see.”

In fact, Rob accused me of being a defender of the status quo when I pointed out that his basic premise ignored the actual structure of NAR. My response to him was that I was not defending the status quo, I was merely explaining the nature of the organization, and that I was in fact, an advocate of change. Rob then challenged me to come up with a vision of a better NAR. I told him I would. My first postwas to layout the actual parameters within which we work, by explaining the structure of NAR and what actually happens there. I didn’t realize that making statements of fact amounted to a “robust defense of all things NAR”. However, Rob has wandered far from his initial post in making his response. According to Rob’s initial post, NAR needed to do three things:

First, rediscover your souls. Rediscover your very heritage, dating from that day in 1908: “effectively exerting a combined influence upon matters affecting real estate interests.” Second, having rediscovered your core mission, start purging. Third, this does mean that dues have to go up and that programs have to be transferred. 

The first statement is patronizing and ill-informed. I have known and worked with a number of NAR Presidents, volunteer leaders from across the country, and many members of local, state and national staff. They are, as a group, dedicated to making the real estate industry better. I can tell you that overwhelmingly, from personal experience  they are dedicated individuals, who have made a huge commitment of their time and energy  to “effectively exerting a combined influence upon matters affecting real estate interests” for many years. Without them and people like them, we would not have a real estate industry that is a magnet for real estate professionals from all over the world, who come to our annual meetings to observe our industry. The second statement sounds like it comes from the Josef Stalin School of Association Membership – really? Fire members because they don’t understand what the association does for them? Why not create an environment for them where they are motivated to educate themselves about the organization and the industry. Not to mention the fact that this contradicts his first stated goal of “rediscovering our soul”. The pre 1908 real estate industry had local Boards of real estate professionals scattered across the country that found that their passionate desire to improve the industry was limited by the small size of the organization, That is why they met to create the larger organization that we have today. The third statement is what pushed me in the direction I took when Rob asked me to dream up an alternative to his suggestions. Rob’s post suggests that higher dues are fine, pointing out that NAR’s dues are only $120 a year as opposed to the $420 a year charged by the AMA. I just went one step further. Increase the dues, but credit the members for every association event or activity they are involved in, providing them with a simple, tangible benefit to participation in making their industry better. In practical application, anyone who was involved in the slightest way at their local, state or national associations, would not experience any actual increase in expense, they would merely have an increase in their association interaction.

Thomas Gray said “”Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.”

Rob’s initial post and subsequent presentation at RETSO had at is heart a vision of a smaller elitist organization that is not representative of the real estate industry, cannot claim to be the voice of real estate, would be unable to accommodate the support currently provided for practitioners of real estate specialities. It is an impossible future, because it ignores the very structure of our trade association, and the fact that change has to be initiated by the members of the organization. Everything we are today has been created of members, by members and for members, with the help of some outstanding association professionals.

Rob then misstated my position saying “Bill’s first argument amounts to, “What’s wrong with NAR is its members.”

I never said that , nor anything remotely like that. Rob’s argument talked about the members that felt that they were not part of the organization. In fact, the crux of his argument was the that members  joined because they were told they had to, and many of them do not perceive value in their membership in NAR, the State Associations of REALTORS, and the local Associations.   I believe that these people don’t care because they aren’t involved enough to understand what these Associations are all about. They see the dues, but not the  homes that State Associations built in the aftermath of Katrina. They see the RPAC solicitations, but don’t get the bullets that they dodged because of the results of those donations. They talk about making the industry better, but they don’t recognize that NAR is the only organization in the country  that is dedicated to that very goal.  Any other group that has the betterment of the industry anywhere in its agenda has it there only as a side effect of their true agenda,  whether that be selling franchises, educational seminars or real estate specific software. When I say that, I mean no disrespect to any other business, it’s just that their commercial agendas, do, and should, come before any altruistic motivation. When real estate professionals are more active in their local state and national trade association, they are generally better informed and feel a closer bond to the group, therefore it would be in the best interest of the members and the organization to increase participation by those members. Unlike Rob’s vision of a smaller, more pretentious group, I don’t want NAR to just give up on  being the” voice of real estate” and representing the largest  group of members. Rob doesn’t agree. In fact he criticizes my that idea saying;

The reform that Bill proposes comes down not to fixing what might be problematic in the organization, but fixing what’s problematic in the “membership”.

Again, not a position I took or a statement I made. But it does beg a larger question. What exactly is problematic in the organization?  Rob claims that members are divided into three classes – Consumerists, who want to get something from belonging ,  Activists – who want to do something by belonging and , Unionists,  who belong because they need to. While he and I disagree about these groups and his definition of them, we need to acknowledge them to understand Rob’s logic.   He went on to describe that problem ;

Well, NAR today is a house divided against itself, with Activists bemoaning the lack of involvement by the Consumerists who in turn chafe that they are forced to join NAR at all and then get lectured at by Unionists who believe that there is something immoral about selling real estate without being part of the House of R

So  according to Rob,  what is problematic with the Association is whats problematic with the members – a disconnect between those he calls the “consumerists”, the other member groups he defined (Activists and Unionists)  and the associations they belong to.  My suggestion is aimed at fixing what’s problematic with the relationship of the association and some of its members. You can’t do that without involving people and educating them. It seems to me that this comment is just sophistry – sort of form over substance. Rob then goes on to say:

“What I don’t quite understand here is how “people that don’t serve or attend” is a “member” of an organization at all.”

Members are members because they joined an organization,for whatever reason. They are not members by virtue of their actions after they join, just as citizens are citizens because they are born here, whether they are politically active, contribute to the community, or do nothing at all. Should we revoke the citizenship of every American citizen who fails to vote in every national election? Should people be asked to leave town if they don’t vote in their local election? Should they be exempt from paying taxes or obeying laws because they don’t like the local, state or national government? The core to my message, and the point that Rob missed, or chose to ignore, is that WE are NAR. The solution to a disconnect between the members and the organization is not to fire the members, it is to help them engage with the organization. Don’t like it? Change it. Don’t like the people in power? Work to replace them. Want to see the organization change? Become agent of change. This conversation started with a partial quote from JFK’s 1961 inaugural speech – but the 60s was a decade of substantial change, so let me close it with a quote from one of those forces of change – Eldridge Cleaver’s  1968 presidential campaign -, “you’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem. “ I know what I want to be. How about you?

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