Much has been written about the current lawsuit that the Department of Justice filed against the NAR. A search on a multitude of blogs will reveal that agents across the country are outraged. The lawsuit has agents on both sides of the issues flaming each other. Business models are being scrutinized with most people claiming their way is the high road.
Bitter acromony has caused friends to become foes.
The lawsuit was announced with a press release that impart read, “WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division today filed a lawsuit against the National Association of Realtors (NAR), challenging a policy that obstructs real estate brokers who use innovative Internet-based tools to offer better services and lower costs to consumers. The Department said that NAR’s policy prevents consumers from receiving the full benefits of competition and threatens to lock in outmoded business models and discourage discounting.”
For just a few minutes, can you set aside your thoughts regarding the merits of the lawsuit? There is a deeper issue that I have not seen addressed. I am not all seeing, but everything that I have read has dealt with either “how dare they” or “it’s about time they stepped in.” There are times, when I support the impetus of the action and there are times when I feel like “Aren’t there other issues that may need the attention of the Department of Justice?”
Let’s go back to the beginning. Let’s go back to life before the lawsuit. The industry was changing. There were new business models and practices once thought permanent were being revised. Since the inception of brokerage, the amount charged to a consumer has been negotiable. Nothing is sacrosanct. Nothing is written in stone. The fact that decades went by one after another with little, if any, change to the amount the majority of brokers charged did not mean that the amount was law. It just happened to be the way things were done.
Remember, until very recently (when one considers real estate law in this country is only a little over 200 years old.), everything was on paper. The contracts were on paper. The listings were on paper. It was not that long ago that each broker maintained their own listings in their own office. The NAR is only 100 years old.
Then things begin to change. The advent of the world wide web opened doors that did not exist before. There became new ways to practice our craft. There became new ways to advertise our services. Being enteprenuers, some members seized them and a new breed of agent was born.
Multiple models were developed and the competition for business became mult-faceted.
Little pocket wars flared up in different markets. Sides were taken and no one stepped in to assist in resolving the differences.
Enter the Department of Justice.
OK, well, where was the NAR? Why did differences reach the level that created the need for the Department of Justice to step in? The Department of Justice got involved with the murders of civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The Department of Justice developed a case against the Watergate conspirators. The Department of Justice deals with crimelords. The Department of Justice does not get involved until the appearence of impropriety is over whelming.
What the hell was going on at the NAR? Who was in charge of taking the pulse of our community and dealing with differences. Why was the increased usage of the internet such a shock? If agents across the country saw the many uses of the world wide web, how could those that represent us be so unaware of the evolution of the practice of real estate and marketing of that practice?
The people that we are paying hard earned money in the form of dues, have been working hard to come up with a policy about who and who can not use the word “Realtor”. They have developed regulations regarding the comparative font size to use with your phone number and your broker’s phone number. They have decided that having the fair housing symbol has to be on your website. The list of do’s and don’ts gets longer every day.
We still go sued (that’s right, we are the NAR).
Rather than explain to the membership, the reason behind their apparent incompetence; they have chosen to rally the troops around “why are you picking on us?” They have chosen to obfuscate their culpability. It would seem that it is much easier to point the accusatory finger at the Department of Justice than it would be to explain to us……….HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
We do not operate in a vacuum. The newest of rookies can tell you about the different models that exist. Any agent in an active market can tell you about the arguments on both sides of the “discount” pricing. Major brokerages have scripts to defend their side of the equation. Why was the NAR out of the loop?
The internet is not going away. New and inventive methods of using it to advertise, support and in some cases manage a business are being developed everyday. Everyone in the damn free world knows that. Is it too much to expect a major trade organization might be aware of it as well???
Who was asleep at the wheel? We are just paying dues and we are just along for the ride. The problem is that whatever is decided by the lawsuit, will impact each of us.
The prisons across this country are filled with people that :
- claim they are innocent, or
- feel that the got a bum trial, or
- are awaiting the results of an appeal.
There are not many of them that are surprised that their apparent behavior brought the attention of the authorities. They do not argue that “it wasn’t really tax evasion it was just creative book keeping” or “well, nobody told me that I could not use corporate funds in that fashion” or “no one said I couldn’t just take the money.” Most of them were aware that their behavior would bring the scrutiny of the authorities. If un-educated criminals are aware of the legal system, shouldn’t the high profile attorneys working for the NAR be a little bit aware of actions that might bring the scrutiny of the Department of Justice?
The NAR fights the lawsuit with their number one tool……..the spin doctor. They share the case is without merit. They do this while associations across the country are settling with the authorities and changing rules daily.
The NAR should have seen the problems as they arose and dealt with them swiftly. It is a new day and we, as members expect that the organization that represents us will be proactive and ahead of the curve as our industry morphs into the 21st century models. Technology is changing rapidly and old school paralysis by analysis is doomed to fail.
Rather than continue with press releases about the horror’s of being scrutinized, I want the NAR to deal with today…today and understand we must also be ready for tomorrow….today.
I think they were asleep at the wheel and I want to know what they have done to rectify that operating procedure. Wouldn’t you like to know that you are paying dues to an association that is at least functional?
or……….are you just along for the ride?