Board OKs Exploration of World-Class Headquarters
The NAR Board of Directors at its meeting in San Francisco today unanimously approved an ambitious project to be undertaken with a major partner that would turn the association’s headquarters into a world-class property that is intended to become the next destination building in the iconic Chicago skyline.
While details of the project remain to be worked out and the decision to carry out the development is not final, the board vote enables exploration to move forward. The property would replace NAR's 50-year-old, class B+ property with a significant REALTOR®-branded, 1-2-million-square-foot Class A+ building and plaza that would include a 5-star hotel, condominiums, office space, and ground-level retail. Under preliminary plans subject to final agreement with the partner, REALTORS® would own a planned 180,000 square feet of the building plus a percentage of the overall project.
The Board took up a number of key matters at its meeting, which closed out the 2013 REALTORS® Conference & Expo. The conference attracted 22,500 members and guests for five days of education sessions, meetings, and the expo.
Among its main decisions, the Board adopted a policy position opposing the use of eminent domain by localities to take mortgages of home owners facing hardship so they can be modified. Under the policy statement, NAR says it understands the need to help struggling home owners, but taking mortgages hurts the availability and affordability of financing for borrowers because of the uncertainty it creates for lenders and investors.
In a related matter, the Board authorized the distribution of $485,000 in funds from NAR's Issues Mobilization program to the West Contra Costa, Calif., Association of REALTORS® to help it fight the use of eminent domain to seize mortgages in Richmond, Calif.
Discrimination, disparate impact
The Delegate Body, approving a Board of Director’s action from earlier this year, added a policy opposing gender-identity discrimination to its statement of Fair Housing Policy.
In addition, the Board adopted a new policy on disparate impact. The new policy makes clear NAR’s support for Fair Housing but also takes the position that REALTORS® shouldn't be penalized when practices with a legitimate business intent unintentionally have a disparate impact on a protected class. An example would be an owner’s policy to screen out drug criminals from a rental property. Under the policy, the burden should fall on organizations alleging disparate impact to show the owner had a discriminatory intent. Neither should the owner be required to make unreasonable and burdensome changes in practice to reduce the disparate impact if there was no discriminatory intent.
On membership issues, the Board modified a policy change approved earlier this year that required one year of national service as a condition of becoming a REALTOR® Emeritus member. Under the modification, the Board is phasing in the requirement, allowing candidates for emeritus status to meet their requirement with a year of service on a state or local committee or other specified role. The modification is scheduled to sunset in five years, after which the one-year of service will have to be in a national role.
In several changes to the association’s dues, the Board created an exception to how dues are calculated for members who engage exclusively in mortgage loan origination, an exception that applies exclusively to California because of a unique licensing requirement there. The exception will be tracked and administered in similar fashion to referral licensees.
Separately, the Board approved dues amounts of $500 for the National Affiliate member category (which applies to members of affiliated organizations), $200 for the Academic Category, and $105 for the Institute Affiliate category, up from $75, with $35 each going to the national, state, and local levels.
The Board amended Interpretation No. 32 of Article I, Section 2, of the NAR Bylaws to clarify that the cost of lockbox services, where it is a service of the local association, may, at the association’s discretion, be included in association dues.
The Board took a number of actions to enhance the industry’s professional standards.
To ensure practitioners are qualified and have access to the information needed to do broker price opinions (BPO) properly and to require disclosures when they’re doing them for others, the Board made changes to Standard of Practice 11-1, including requiring REALTORS® doing a BPO to be knowledgeable about the property type and area.
To ensure that only individuals and not companies, associations, or other entities can file ethics complaints, the Board clarified that “person” in the Code of Ethics means “natural person.”
The Board amended Section 22(a), Decision of Hearing Panel, in the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual to direct hearing panels to consider a respondent’s prior violations, among other things, when determining how to discipline a member.
To help advance the industry’s interests in the legal arena, the Board allocated $363,667.55 to help with legal costs in six cases, including Minnesota and Florida cases involving copyright infringement by website operators using MLS data without authorization, a trademark dispute in California, and an issue involving the duty to arbitrate in New York, among others.
The Board recommended, and the Delegate Body later approved, a constitutional amendment to limit the NAR treasurer to a single two-year term, although in cases of a vacancy, former treasurers can be appointed by the Board to step in. Separately, the Board approved changes to create parity between how past treasurers and other past national officers are treated. Among other things, past treasurers will be designated ex officio members of the Board of Directors.
Among a handful of changes to some NAR committee structures, the board renamed the Strategic Planning Committee the Strategic Thinking Advisory Committee and expanded its focus to include trends affecting real estate consumers.
Later in the meeting, the Board approved a three-year strategic plan presented to it by the Strategic Planning Committee. The plan emphasizes innovation and transformation in the way the association undertakes its planning. The plan was developed after a 15-month process called REThink, which sought input from members in sessions around the country and online.
Property lot descriptions
In a public policy action, the Board adopted a policy on Interstate Land Sales Act disclosures to pave the way for NAR to support legislation preventing buyers from using a disclosure technicality to back out of condo purchases. Primarily in areas with once-hot condo markets, buyers who bought units before they were developed, when prices were high, have been getting out of contracts by charging developers with not fully describing lots in disclosure documents. The tactic penalizes developers, because full descriptions are typically not possible until after project completion. Legislation in Congress would address this by imposing the same reporting requirements on projects under construction that apply to projects already completed.
Board approval of Independent expenditures
To accommodate states that require the NAR Board of Directors to approve the use of funds before they can use independent expenditures for advocacy purposes, the Board granted blanket approval of the funds as long as the funds are used in accordance with the policies and procedures adopted by the REALTOR® Party Trustees for Campaign Services Committee as part of the NAR State and Local Independent Expenditure Program.
Contributions to the REALTORS® Political Action Committee this year reached $24,700,946, including $8,111,081 for national advocacy efforts. That's 11 percent more than was raised last year, reported Michael Ford, RPAC Trustees Fundraising Committee chair. In all, 261,000 members invested in RPAC this year, including 4,718 major investors and 602 President’s Circle members.
REALTORS® Relief Foundation
The REALTORS® Relief Foundation generated more than $55,000 in proceeds from its first online auction, which attracted bids, both on-site and online, from 1,000 participants. Since 2001, the Foundation has distributed $22 million in assistance to REALTORS® and others hit by disasters.
Distinguished Service Award
The Board recognized the two 2013 Distinguished Service Award winners, Mary Frances Burleson of Dallas, Texas, and Marbury Little of Metarie, La.
Steve Harding, CEO of the Tennessee Association of REALTORS®, was named the 2013 recipient of the William R. Magel Award of Excellence.
Directors heard a report from realtor.com® President Errol Samuelson on its success in boosting traffic since a special meeting this summer in which the Board gave increased flexibility to the website to feature more new-home, rental, and non-MLS listings. Among other things, the site now has some 250,000 rental listings and is on track to increase that to 450,000 early next year, making it the leader in rental listings among national listing aggregation sites.
The Board also heard a report on the success of NAR’s consumer advertising campaign, now in its 15th year. Just under 70 percent of consumers now recognize NAR as the sponsor of the campaign ads, the highest degree of recognition since the program started, and 92 percent say REALTORS® can help consumers find a home that’s right for them, another high.
And the Board heard about the new .realtor™ high-level domain that is slated to be available in early 2014. Over the course of the conference, some 12,000 members pre-registered to use the new domain in their business.