REALTOR® Influence; This is for effect


Rumor has it that Pierre L’Enfant designed Washington D.C.’s network of streets to disorient foreign leaders (or their troops) as they moved throughout the city. Of course, once they got to the Capitol, there were all those stairs to walk up as well. This is for effect. By the time a foreign leader has made his or her way to the offices of a senator or house rep, the city and its buildings have already begun to influence, impress, or even intimidate that leader.

tcardcFor years, the National Association of REALTORS® rented an office on K Street to accommodate their government advocacy staff. This neighborhood is where most lobbyists can be found, so it made sense at the time. But NAR wanted to own, and they also wanted to build a landmark that would give NAR a higher profile and better visibility (literally) from the halls of Congress. They eventually found a small, triangular lot by the intersection of New Jersey Avenue and First Street. The location is literally steps from the Capitol. So close in fact, that the Secret Service has closed the office’s roof deck during high profile events.

D.C. has various building codes that limit the height of office buildings, essentially guaranteeing that the Capitol overshadows all. NAR built right up to the limit. In addition the primary conference/event room within the building is located on the top floor, facing the Capitol. When you walk into this room it actually feels like you are looking down on the Capitol. The first time I saw it, I couldn’t help thinking,

“this is for effect.”

NAR hosts networking parties and meetings in this space all the time. Members of congress often attend. When the conference table is set up, those congressmen and women have seats reserved that face the window. Imagine sitting in NAR’s office and looking down on your own. It’s all very impressive, but a member of congress doesn’t even have to visit the building to be impressed by it. It’s so close that you can see it from the grounds of the Capitol. NAR discreetly etched the block R into the glass of the building. There is no doubt who owns it.

All of this to leave one very deliberate impression: We are here.

The building is a symbol of NAR’s commitment to defending the agenda of homeowners and the real estate industry. Want to advance a bill that cuts the MID? We’re here to talk to you about that. Want to impede on homeowner property rights? We’re here for that too. Want to talk about GSE reform? You whoo, we’re right over here. Every day, NAR’s government affairs team meets with congressional leaders and executive administration staff. Most of what they do is behind the scenes, but don’t mistake it for doing nothing. Because NAR’s agenda is bipartisan, they find themselves aligning with different sides of the aisle at different times. Grandstanding about a bill they just killed is not an option when they know they will need to work with the sponsors of that bill in the future.

Because they don’t talk about this stuff, they get more done. Unfortunately, the lack of communication about NAR’s lobbying activities also leads members and industry pundits to question the association’s effectiveness. This criticism has come to a boil of late as Zillow has made some very impressive moves in the public sector.

I think it’s awesome that Zillow is doing events like these. It’s one of those differentiating factors that separates them from their competition. But the competition is Trulia, not NAR. Zillow is doing a public service by hosting these events, but don’t mistake the events as a serious policy discussion. Serious policy discussions never happen in public. I hope Zillow continues to hold these events, but I also hope NAR continues to do the heavy lifting, even if it is behind the scenes.

20 thoughts on “REALTOR® Influence; This is for effect

  1. Judith Lindenau

    On the other hand, good association managers know that there’s a delicate balance between ‘behind the scenes heavy lifting’ and ‘keeping members informed about what you are doing on their behalf.’ NAR needs a marketing lesson, methinks.

      1. Bob Bemis

        You are absolutely right that this is a complex and challenging issue for NAR. They must feel they are competing with Zillow to some extent, at least in the minds of their membership, or else they would not have deemed it necessary to issue the Special Report about why the interview with the President Obama was nothing more than an entertaining fluff piece and not a real policy discussion. NAR’s quandary of course is trying to influence policy quietly in the halls of Congress while at the same time publicly reinforcing to its members the good work they do in the background. Tough assignment.
        It’s interesting that the YouTube video has fewer than 600 views (no way to know how many watched it directly on the Zillow site). The news coverage of the recording probably got more attention than the actual program, pointing to the excellent PR work by the Z-Team and confirming your theory that the general public really doesn’t care that much about housing policy (at least until it hits them in the pocket book).

  2. Andrea Geller

    There is a difference between lobbying in the traditional sense that NAR does and reaching the public which is what Zillow is doing. It is not a fight of NAR vs. Zillow. One is not exclusive of the other. I think what we are learning that through the events of the last few months. Politicians figured that one out as well.

  3. Kerry melcher

    It’s a not so sexy thing lobbying in the small rooms (damn sexy from the conference room described here) but for my money, literally, I’m most grateful for NAR at the tables In the policy rooms and decision making corridors. This is the heavy lifting in my opinion and where we see (and mostly don’t see) the pay off in our daily work life and in policies that affect our clients. Well said Todd.

  4. Tina Merritt

    Todd, thank you for sharing the awesome presence (and effect) NAR has in Washington. The challenge for NAR is somehow being able to relay this information to the lowest common denominator in the Association; the member who doesn’t pay attention to the industry on a national level. Whether that member’s complacency is due to a lack of time, lack of drive or lack of education, they hold us down as an industry and an Association. I fear if the national, state and local Realtor® associations don’t do more to reach these members (or figure a way to remove them from our membership), we will never move forward.

  5. Coral Gundlach

    Todd, thank you. I never knew where their building was located, or that it was so impressive, and I live just outside DC. When you do Google searches on NAR, not much comes up about DC. For example, you type in National Association of Realtors DC office, the prominent results are about Chicago. You have to really look to see that they even have a presence in DC. There’s a PDF from what appears to be their builder or architect and then Wikipedia mentions it. I do think that NAR should just help its members a tiny bit more in being aware that they are in DC and what they are doing. I’ve always thought it odd that a lobbying group is mostly in Chicago. Agree that the policy actions are behind closed doors, but a basic internet search should at least pop up their K Street address and office building and a synopsis of why they are there. It seems deliberately hidden.

    1. Todd Carpenter Post author


      Many national associations are located in Chicago because the city has always served as a central transportation hub for the entire country. Just as O’Hare is one of the busiest airports in the country today, Chicago’s Union Station was a national rail hub in the past. About two thirds of NAR’s staff resides in Chicago.

  6. Jim Duncan

    I love this post.

    But. I’m conflicted.

    One question – who is Zillow’s audience?

    NAR has tremendous influence in DC in large part because they have “one million members” right? What if Z leverages somehow their tens of millions of visitors? I wouldn’t think Z would be interested in lobbying but having prominent interviews certainly gives them a big bump.

    Zillow and the NAR are both playing the long con game … Z seems to be playing smarter right now (and have been for years).

    All that being said, the video has 570 views as of right now …

    Much ado about nothing?

    1. Todd Carpenter Post author

      Jim, I think that Zillow may discover what NAR already knows, the public in general just doesn’t care about housing policy. Still, I’m glad they are playing in this arena. IMO, Zillow raising public awareness of housing issues is a net plus for REALTORS®

  7. Michelle Poccia

    Todd, great piece. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I know that many members of NAR love to focus on what they think they are missing…constantly crying and questioning the value of being a member of NAR. So many think that it is just something they have to belong to in order to gain access to their MLS system. Sigh!
    I think NAR could do a better job of communicating with their membership.
    I think a piece like this one should be shared virally among our NAR membership. I will be sharing it on my local level. Thanks!

  8. Billy Jalbert

    Todd – Excellent post and I agree to a degree. NAR is a very powerful lobbyist. However, I still strongly believe that NAR has several major issues that it must address to earn more respect from the consumer (and many agents) 1. Lobby to raise the standards / requirements for licensing in real estate. Really make it a profession. 2. Clarify and improve the consistency of Agency laws across the states (dare I say push abolish dual agency). 3. Streamline and improve communications both to consumers and Realtors…I could probably add many more to the list with a some more thinking…

  9. Debbie Kirkland

    I always enjoy your posts, even if they make me “think differently.” What I do think about the latest with Zillow is that I am hoping that NAR is listening. Members want to not only know what NAR is doing, we want to see it, we want the public to see it and we want homeowners to “get it” about what we do. I have no more patience for the watering down of a 100 year old profession that has helped to shape this country. I’d like NAR to do more to restore their member’s confidence, plain and simple. It’s not a new, novel thought. As you know it’s been circulating and percolating for quite some time, and there is more restlessness than ever as local Associations are struggling to retain and recite value of the Realtor members. Advocacy and Awareness could not be be more important for members to see and to feel coming from our Association and that really nice building on the hill. NAR could really use some help within the Association. what Billy Jalbert said above.

  10. Matt Stigliano

    Hey Todd, you might want to check your source code for this page. Every time I land on it, I am auto-downloading a file called “widgets-tweet_button.html.torrent”

    Just thought I’d let you know.

  11. Roberta Murphy

    Thanks for a very informative article, Todd! Your last paragraph, though, strikes home when you say T is Z’s competition. Both Zillow and Trulia need us–and NAR–far more than we need them to survive. It is our collective advertising dollars that keep them afloat.


Leave a Reply