NAR Lobbyists Keep Long-Term Focus in Shadow of Settlement

Attendees walk past the REALTOR® logo Sunday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington D.C.

Three months ago, NextHome CEO James Dwiggins, speaking on an RISMedia webinar, took a forceful—and somewhat unexpected position—on controversies and questions currently dogging the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). A vocal critic of the organization, Dwiggins took a step back and urged the industry to accept that regardless of any mistakes or missteps, NAR is the only entity capable of influencing government policy to secure the future of real estate.

“Period, end of story,” he said.

For a couple thousand REALTORS® gathered this weekend at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington D.C., that appeared to be the prevailing sentiment, as many real estate luminaries seemed ready to put their heads down and push forward behind the NAR lobbying machine—even as the organization emphasizes the urgency of the next phase of advocacy and looks to the horizon.

“We’ve had briefings with members of key (Congressional) committees, with members of leadership and others,” said Shannon McGahn, chief advocacy officer for NAR, speaking on a panel Sunday. “And they ask, ‘Well, what is happening with the settlement agreement?’ And we get support throughout, on both sides of the aisle.”

As the ever-workmanlike crowd shifted through the wide passages of the convention center, with the usual chatter about deals, old colleagues and whose makeup has held up best under the harsh stage lights, NAR was clearly trying to remind its members what Dwiggins put so bluntly before the settlement. Projected on the massive screens of the ballroom where McGahn and others spoke was a looping montage of photos depicting NAR lobbyists with Washington insiders, and behind-the-scenes shots of congressional testimony.

Lobbyists also sought to highlight past victories for agents and brokers won by NAR, and announced the launch of an advocacy podcast (the title of the first episode, “What Has NAR Advocacy Done For Me Lately?” falling squarely into that effort). 

That doesn’t necessarily mean NAR is not making any changes to its advocacy efforts. The organization spent $14.7 million in the first quarter of this year, according to MarketWatch, more than in any other Q1.

NAR has an uncertain, but seemingly not an impassable road ahead. As the specific consequences of the settlement are still being processed, maybe the biggest policy hurdle is one that NAR has been hesitant to tackle broadly—allowing buyer agent commissions to be financed through a mortgage.

Shortly before the Burnett trial, NAR said it explicitly did not support that arrangement—though a lot has changed since then (to say the least).

As part of McGahn’s “Advocacy Scoop,” which served as somewhat of a keynote overview of policy priorities, NAR lobbyists instead honed in on one type of loan that the organization hopes will prove fruitful.

“We have long held policy on this issue for many years because Veterans Affairs have a handbook that references, if you are going to use a VA loan and you are the buyer, you cannot use the services of professional representation,” McGahn said. “And that has been kind of a cloudy gray area.”

If there is a significant decrease in sellers offering cooperative compensation in the wake of the settlement, VA buyers would be disadvantaged in the homebuying process, McGahn argued. NAR lobbyists have gotten “great traction” so far, McGahn said, without providing further specifics.

The audience seemed most interested in hearing about NAR lobbying wins and efforts, with the loudest round of applause coming after McGahn revealed her team had meetings scheduled with 98% of Congress.

A reference to the significant number of voters who dislike both 2024 presidential candidates also earned some hooting and hollering from the crowd.

For the most part, though, the focus was on long-standing issues unrelated to the settlement and commission lawsuits. With a decade-spanning struggle against low housing inventory and affordability, McGahn highlighted specific initiatives and bills, including the More Homes on the Market Act, which would lower capital gains taxes on the sale of primary residences, and the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act, which would seek to incentivize renovations and rebuilding in low-income areas.

Also seemingly as part of NAR’s focus on the long game, McGahn leaked that several members of Congress will soon be announcing the formation of a “real estate caucus,” made up of members who have a history or strong interest in real estate.

“These are members of Congress who may have a background in real estate, maybe they were a REALTOR® or worked in development or some area of the real estate ecosystem. And they feel very strongly that there is an important story to be told about the importance of real estate on the economy and the very complex policy issues,” McGahn said.

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Despite all the recent upheaval, most of the issues and strategy put forward by NAR seemed more of the evergreen variety—something McGahn and others readily acknowledged. With how slow the wheels of government turn, there was not a sense that the organization was pivoting hard to focus on issues brought up by the settlement, instead explicitly pressing forward on goals that remain years down the line. 

NAR Vice President of Political Advocacy Jon Waclawski cited a recent survey that shows that housing and real estate issues have become an area where the political sentiment has grown more balanced, with voters across the spectrum increasingly interested in solutions while not overly sour on either party’s approach to the issue.

“They’re paying more and more attention to housing issues, but they’re not blaming Republicans or Democrats one way or the other,” Waclawski said. “And they’re aligning, both Republicans and Democrats equally are sharing and invested in the issue. That’s an amazing place for us and what we do.”

But what about this year? Besides the VA loan issue, another example of what McGahn called “the urgent before the important” is flood insurance, which was included in a government funding bill passed in late March. NAR is touting that as a major victory, one that underscores the year-round work the organization does in Washington—as well as the importance of the mobilization of REALTORS® in an advocacy effort.

“We had somewhere near 20,000 contacts within 24 hours to Capitol Hill over a weekend. You guys are busy on Saturday mornings,” McGahn quipped.

Something else ostensibly unrelated to the settlement, but a more recent concern is the independent contractor status of real estate agents. Across the country, states have sought to narrow the definition of what an independent contractor is, mostly focused on providing protections and security for gig workers like rideshare drivers.

But McGahn said even that is “potentially under attack,” with a new “troublesome” Department of Labor (DOL) rule that could change how real estate agents are classified as far as workers, at least in some states. Another rule that the DOL rescinded last year has already narrowed the definition of independent contractor, although that did not appear to affect real estate, as IRS tax code explicitly grants agents that status.

“So 89% of REALTORS® are independent contractors who choose to be so, and choose this because it may be the best career move for their family and for themselves personally,” McGahn said.

Something else that was perhaps more notable due to a lack of mention—protecting LGBTQ buyers and sellers. Advocates have pushed NAR to take a more aggressive stance and withhold campaign contributions from politicians who support laws that discriminate against transgender people or other members of the LGBTQ community.

While most of these laws have been passed at the state level, and the focus of McGahn’s panel at least was on federal advocacy, there was only a passing mention of fighting for LGBTQ issues, with McGahn saying NAR is “looking at” protections.

Further ahead on the calendar was the issue of taxes, which NAR advocates also spent a significant time discussing. A major 2017 tax law is expiring at the end of 2025—on the other side of a major election, with congress and the presidency potentially falling to either party before then.

The degree to which the expiration, renewal or modification of this bill will affect real estate agents is uncertain, but NAR advocates said that it is likely there will be some appetite on both sides of the aisle to salvage at least some parts of that law. 

Stay tuned for more updates from the NAR Legislative Meetings in Washington, D.C. this week, as well as from RISMedia’s Power Broker Forum at Midyear, taking place on Tuesday, May 7 at 10:30 am at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

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