Haber rattling: The Compass agent coming for NAR
Jason Haber got his start in politics. His taste for disruption is coming in handy with his pitch for a new force in residential real estate
When external pressure and internal turmoil came to a head last year for the largest authority in residential real estate, one relatively unknown Compass agent was in a unique position to be a face of the calls for change.
A spur-of-the-moment decision last summer to start a petition calling for the resignation of National Association of Realtors’ then-President Kenny Parcell plunged the broker into the center of the sector’s national reckoning.
“I don’t think I’d ever done that before,” said Haber on starting the Change.org petition calling for Parcell’s ousting. “What I can say is, after he resigned, I was done. I did my thing, got someone out, I’m sure they’ll make changes, blah blah blah.”
But the winds of change wouldn’t let Haber go quietly back to selling luxury real estate in New York and Florida.
The petition made the rounds and encouraged dozens of women to reach out to him with stories about sexual harassment at NAR. He started a group called the NAR Accountability Project and posted a second petition, setting him up as an oft-quoted critic as NAR hit turbulence.
The support he’s garnered sounding off on the group has pushed him beyond just outside commentary. Haber and Agency CEO Mauricio Umansky, announced in January the American Real Estate Association, which they have grand designs to grow into a rival that could supplant NAR as the industry’s premier trade group.
The group is looking to raise a $50 million to $100 million war chest, and somehow unfasten NAR’s viselike grip on Multiple Listing Services, its golden ticket to vast membership numbers, and by extension, dues.
From D.C. to Douglas Elliman
A Long Island native who majored in political communications at George Washington University, Haber’s resume is made up of close brushes with history.
His career started as a political organizer in Washington, D.C., and more recently as an advisor to New York City political veteran Scott Stringer, who claims he’s known Haber “longer than anybody professionally.”
“This was always going to be what he was going to do,” said Stringer, who with Haber’s help ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2021 against Eric Adams. “He didn’t know it yet, but we all knew he was going to do big things.”
In 1998, as a student at GW, Haber interned for City Council member Harold Brazil’s mayoral campaign, taking over late in the cycle as press secretary. Brazil lost, but maintained his position as an at-large council member, with Haber as communications director.
Haber inched closer to the political action when he was recommended as an assistant to lawyer and political operator Lanny Davis, who was taking a teaching job at George Washington and was in tow when Davis was brought in as White House special counsel in then-President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial.
At the time, Haber thought the allegations against the president were “tawdry … sort of partisan and personal.” His stance has since changed.
“That kind of behavior today I think would not be tolerated in the way it was tolerated then,” he said. “I think a lot of us look at it differently now than we did then.”
Haber had met Clinton the year before at an event for the Balanced Budget Act, driving to the press conference in a car at the back of the presidential motorcade. Clinton was at the time using crutches to recover from a fall.
“I was really hungry so I threw a pretzel in my mouth,” he said. “I’m chewing a pretzel as I go up to Clinton and I go ‘Hi Mr. President, it’s an honor to meet you’ and I spit a piece of the pretzel onto his tie. He can’t get it off because he’s on crutches so I have to like, flick my finger to get the piece of pretzel. It was so embarrassing.”
After he graduated, Davis introduced him to journalist Gail Sheehy, who was working on a biography of Hillary Clinton. Haber moved to New York to work for her as an editorial assistant.
In 2001, at the age of 23, he ran for City Council. He lost in the primary, something he attributes in part to the events of 9/11.
But he caught Stringer’s eye.
“I remember Jason getting up to speak and he was so smart, so forward-thinking that I turned to the person next to me and said ‘this is someone we have to bring into the club’,” said Stringer, who hired Haber as a district coordinator and eventually as an executive director.
Haber, who would go on to get a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University, has been a close friend and advisor to Stringer ever since. Stringer was a New York State Assemblyman for 13 years before becoming Manhattan Borough President in 2005 and later was elected New York City Comptroller in 2013.
“If I had won for mayor, I think he would have played a key role as to policy in the mayor’s office,” said Stringer, who recently announced an exploratory committee to potentially challenge Mayor Eric Adams a second time, after having been soundly defeated four years ago. “He may yet play that role if things work out, but that’s for another day.”
(Stringer ended a previous bid of New York City mayor after sexual misconduct allegations raised in 2021 by two women, one of which alleged he made unwanted sexual advances while they worked for him at a restaurant in the 1990s and the other on his campaign in 2001. Stringer has vigorously denied the allegations and sued one of the women for defamation.)
Stringer became Manhattan borough president in 2005, around the time Haber decided he didn’t want his career to be solely in government bureaucracy. He started teaching at John Jay College and got his real estate license before his aunt recruited him to her Douglas Elliman team.
A “formative moment” for Haber came in 2009, when he says he refused to rent a townhouse to Muammar Qadaffi unless the bomber responsible for the attack on Pan-Am Flight 103 was returned to prison. (The Libyans decided to rent elsewhere, with Qadaffi landing in the middle of a failed deal to rent at Donald Trump’s Seven Springs upstate property.)
Haber said the run-in led him to found Rubicon Properties to tie his social activism into his business. Money from sales by the company, which bills itself as the “first and only social entrepreneurial real estate firm” went to funding clean water wells in developing countries in Africa.
Haber sold Rubicon to Warburg Realty in 2014, which in turn sold to Coldwell Banker in 2021, the same year he joined Compass.
“What’s standing up to a trade association when you’ve stood up to Muammar Qadaffi?” Haber said.
Making the change official
Haber and Umansky announced their new group with a spread in the New York Times, one day before taking the stage at an Inman industry event in Midtown Manhattan. Their pitch got an early trial in the court of public opinion during a panel when publisher Brad Inman asked the room if a NAR challenger was feasible. The crowd was mostly supportive, Haber said.
The details are scant. The group is raising seed money and identifying equity partners. Haber said at a fireside event in Los Angeles last month the group has set no deadline to wrap up launch efforts, with a business plan and surveying possible members for top priorities still in the works.
Though brokers and entire firms have become more vocal about breaking up with the long-running trade group, NAR’s iron grip on the industry lies in its control of MLSs that require membership for access.
To that end, Haber and Umansky are shoring up their pitch for an alternative with the National Listing Service.
The NLS is a revamped version of a platform launched in 2017, under the name Property Listing Service. Built by Umansky and the Agency’s Chris Dyson, the goal is to grow it into a single, national MLS — something that Haber expects will generate pushback from companies like Zillow.
Using the NLS is free, which Dyson hopes will encourage widespread adoption. He said over 20,000 agents have joined the platform, with a surge in membership since the announcement.
Haber has also been criss-crossing the country to generate support for the new group, boarding six flights in two weeks to meet with agents in Los Angeles and in various South Florida cities.
Spencer Krull, a managing broker for Side, was in the audience for the Jan. 30 meet-and-greet with Haber and Umansky in Los Angeles. Krull said he submitted his name to the group’s mailing list because he wanted to support a group with the potential to shake things up.
“They’re putting the most pressure on NAR,” Krull said. “You could be grumbling in a back room or you could be grumbling with people trying to make a difference.”