President Kevin Sears Pulls Back Curtain On Changes Ahead For NAR

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National Association of Realtors President Kevin Sears on Tuesday said he’s looking forward — not back — as he leads the 1.56-million member organization across tricky terrain in the aftermath of its $418 million commission settlement.

Sears joined NextHome CEO James Dwiggins and Chief Strategic Officer Keith Robinson on Tuesday’s episode of the “Real Estate Insiders Unfiltered” podcast to shed light on NAR at a chaotic moment for the real estate industry. In the episode, Sears conceded NAR could have done better to communicate its value to members and the public, though he expressed little concern over a new group, the American Real Estate Association, competing for members.

“I’m always a look-out-at-the-horizon kind of guy,” said Sears, who added that, currently, NAR executives are combing through finances to narrow in on a plan to pay the hefty settlement. “I am encouraged by where I think we can get to through all of this.”

In October, NAR assembled a Culture Transformation Commission made up of Realtors, staff, and state and local members charged with issuing recommendations for changes within the organization in the coming months, Sears said during the podcast. Those recommendations will likely be used to prevent a repeat of 2023, when several leaders resigned over allegations of workplace misbehavior highlighted in an internal probe into recent indiscretions.

Sears also opened up about his rapid ascent into the presidency, after Tracy Kasper stepped down abruptly in January. Sears, who was president-elect and next in line to replace Kasper, recalled telling his wife that the moment could come as early as the next day.

The next day, after he was notified that Kasper resigned, and Sears would fill her place, his wife called. “She says, ‘How are you feeling?’ I said, ‘Right now I don’t know if I’m going to vomit or have an accident in my pants.’”

But that feeling was fleeting, he said.

“My mentality just shifted instantly,” Sears said, adding, “‘OK, now there’s stuff that has to get done.’”

In the three months after becoming president, Sears said he’s been focused on relying on NAR staff to deliver value to members and creating stability for the organization.

“I’m empowering staff to do their job,” Sears said. “It’s their job to do, not mine.” 

Sears said he asked Nykia Wright to stay on as interim CEO through the end of the year. NAR hadn’t previously publicly put an end date on Wright’s contract, saying only in its November announcement she would serve while the group conducted a nationwide search for a permanent CEO.

Sears said there was a vacuum within the organization’s communications team, noting that it didn’t have a communications director in the fall.

“Where there’s a void, it gets filled, and it’s not always filled with truths,” Sears said. “I said we need to do a better job of communicating with not only our members but with consumers, with the media and with interested parties.”

Sears also opened up about how news of the proposed NAR settlement was made public on March 15, and he suggested plaintiffs’ attorneys leaked the news to The New York Times, which broke the news about an hour before the parties had agreed to an embargo.

“We had a comms plan for the settlement,” Sears said. “We had an embargoed press release … And we were abiding by what was agreed to in the settlement.”

“We had to call an audible,” Sears said of the communications plan. “So that put us on the defensive.” 

NAR agreed to pay $418 million to settle lawsuits that largely alleged it was at the center of an illegal conspiracy to inflate commissions for real estate agents. In attempting to settle the case, NAR also protected over 1 million of its members, Sears said.

Now it’s taking steps to see where it’s going to come up with the money. NAR is working with financial experts to examine its own finances “to figure out how exactly we’re going to meet our financial obligation for this settlement,” Sears said.

He didn’t suggest NAR was unable to pay, and he didn’t say whether members would face higher dues next year as the organization pays for its settlement over the ensuing years.

“Will there be some changes in the association? We don’t know yet,” Sears said. “Will there be some streamlining? Probably, but we don’t know yet.”

“We’re going to have to look at that and carefully say where do we take from and how can we make sure that the association can continue to provide the resources, tools, programs and advocacy that our members have come to expect,” he added. 

Sears revealed NAR always knew it might settle the case and in fact was discussing the possibility of a settlement while it was publicly saying otherwise.

“There were settlement conversations before the trial, during the trial and after the trial,” he said.

Sears took the opportunity to throw shade at an upstart challenger to NAR, which is calling itself the American Real Estate Association. The new trade group is being led by Compass agent Jason Haber and Mauricio Umansky, CEO of The Agency.

“One of the things I actually love about that thought process is, first of all, I don’t think they’d be able to compete with us on just the advocacy alone,” Sears said of the new group. “But competition makes us better. On a daily basis we’re interacting with our competitors and it makes us better. So any opportunity for us to get better, I welcome it.”

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