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.
For 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.