NAR pushes party line at annual conference

Execs at NAR NXT reassure members after scandal, mounting litigation

Antitrust Lawsuits Star At NAR NXT
NAR's Tracy Kasper (Tracy Kasper, Getty)

Tracy Kasper was the first to “Own the Moment.” 

Clad in black pants and a knee-length red jacket, the National Association of Realtors president strolled onto the stage in Hall D of the Anaheim Convention Center, apparently bound to honor the tagline for this year’s NAR NXT conference. 

“Let’s start with what’s at the forefront of everyone’s minds,” she began. “And that’s the legal cases that NAR is a party to.”

Kasper’s speech kicked off the three-day event, where 12,000 attendees gathered after a turbulent year of a sexual harassment scandal, executive shake-ups and landmark litigation with no end in sight has set off what some describe as a crisis of confidence in the powerful industry group. 

Less than two weeks after a jury found NAR and two brokerages guilty in a landmark antitrust case over broker commissions, members of NAR leadership doubled down on its message to members in committee meetings, networking and professional development events. 

“We’re not done,” Kasper told the audience during her kick-off address. “We will be appealing this. It’s far from over.”

The legal action was the most recent addition to tumult centered on the group, which Kasper told attendees was reevaluating its culture in the wake of the sexual harassment scandal that led to her expedited appointment to the position. 

“We know that we have not taken the best care of our members nor the best care of our staff,” Kasper said. “While it hurts, we are hearing about the harassment, the bullying, retaliation — and we will not stand for that.”

Leaders hold to the party line

The event’s agenda added a little variety to the expected faces, like an event at Angel Stadium and talks hosted by former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner and actress, writer and producer Mindy Kaling. 

But NAR’s lineup was consistent. 

At a forum on the residential market, chief economist Lawrence Yun lamented about the dangers of altering existing commission structures, claiming disruption to the decades-old system would hurt first-time buyers and that consumers were generally supportive of the current compensation model.

“Consumers are happy,” Yun said. “[Then] lawyers come in, and they’re trying to mess up the system.”

In an MLS committee meeting, NAR’s general counsel Charlie Lee also pushed back against the jury’s verdict, even claiming that the plaintiffs “presented no evidence or testimony to support allegations of antitrust violations.” 

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He urged members to “double down and maximize transparency” and directed them to a website detailing the organization’s arguments against the allegations made by the plaintiffs with infographics explaining the homebuying process under the current rules. 

While leadership pounded the party line inside the convention center, news from the outside world trickled in, detailing the continued fallout from the verdict. 

On Wednesday, two Texas-based companies sued over two dozen local Realtor associations and teams under a similar argument to the plaintiffs in the Sitzer/Burnett case. That same day, Keller Williams – one of the brokerages named in the Sitzer/Burnett suit — onboarded a new CEO, Mark Willis, to lead the Austin-based firm. 

But many of the group’s members at the conference said the recent upheaval has done little to shake their confidence, and many parroted the same talking points offered by NAR’s leadership. 

Matt Silver — president-elect of the Illinois Realtor association, 25-year NAR member and 14-time national conference attendee — said he believes the organization’s value lies largely in its national advocacy, which he claimed had prevented Congress from passing legislation that would have harmed the industry.

Silver’s home state is facing the next round of litigation to head to trial, including a case known as Moehrl v. NAR. The lawsuit is similar to the Missouri case, though the damages are estimated to reach double-digit billions. 

Silver said he’s concerned about the lawsuit, but doesn’t “think it’s something that’s going to be some tragic end.”

Silver also threw his support behind Kasper, calling her “the right person at the right time.”

But in her short tenure, Kasper has already faced her fair share of criticism. In September, NAR staff members called for the removal of Kasper and then-CEO Bob Goldberg amid news of the organization’s failure to address the harassment accusations despite their knowledge of the alleged misconduct. 

But the uncertainty around the organization in recent months was far from the expo floor, where some members dismissed the idea that the verdict and pending litigation would have a meaningful impact on their business. 

“We just need to keep an eye on what’s going on,” said Lynne Creasy, a 24-year NAR member and president-elect of her Realtor association in central Virginia. “But currently, I don’t think it’s going to change much about how we do business.”

Missouri-based agent Ashleigh Stundebeck said it hasn’t been so easy to ignore concerns about the lawsuit’s fallout as the trial unfolded right in her backyard. The verdict came as a surprise to her and the agents in her circle — all of whom, she said, were diligent in explaining commissions to their clients. 

Regardless of her concerns, Stundebeck said NAR has been proactive and thorough in its communication with members about the lawsuit, but the group hasn’t made it clear whether members should expect any financial impact to the organization as a result of the litigation — just another question hanging in the balance as cases proceed. 

“Despite some of the challenges we’re having, I think out of it, the phoenix shall rise,” Silver said. 

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