Sitting in his Chicago office in late April, Dale Stinton was thinking about the future—not his own but for REALTORS®. “I haven’t allowed myself to think much about what comes next,” says Stinton, who retires Aug. 1 after 36 years with the National Association of REALTORS®, the last 12 as CEO. “There are still so many important things we’re doing.”
It has been a remarkable tenure. From the advent of the internet through the boom years to the severe, prolonged downturn and the recovery that followed, Stinton has maintained his focus on a singular mission: helping REALTORS® remain squarely in charge of their own destiny. In a video announcing the appointment of NAR Senior Vice President Bob Goldberg as the next CEO, the association’s 2017 President William E. Brown thanked Stinton for his “many years of great service.” In this issue, Brown expands on that message in a recent column, commending Stinton’s “forward-thinking, strategic approach to our business.”
Steve Brown, 2014 NAR president (no relation to the current president), says, “Dale’s greatest contribution to NAR has been foreseeing the needs of the industry, even before the industry itself recognized the needs, and then having the courage and fortitude to see the implementation through to successful conclusion.”
REALTOR® Magazine: What’s the fundamental value that NAR brings to the industry?
Stinton: Besides being an advocate for our members, we’re the only organized group that speaks for private property rights. It feels like a heavy obligation to be treated carefully and respected. It’s deeper than homeownership. The country was founded on the principle of property rights, and it’s part of our organization’s DNA.
REALTOR® Magazine: What satisfies you most about your tenure as CEO?
Stinton: With the advent of the dot-coms, people predicted the disintermediation of our members. We are not only still alive but thriving and growing. The internet didn’t disintermediate us. It highlighted our value. No trade association that I know of has engaged itself in the protection of its members as we have.
Back Story: Keeping REALTORS® Central
Real estate agents remain at the heart of most residential and commercial real estate transactions. In fact, the share of homes sold without an agent is the lowest since NAR started collecting home buyer and seller data in 1981. But disintermediation remains a constant threat, Stinton says. That’s why he’s kept up a near-constant push to stay on the offensive. Under Stinton’s leadership, NAR:
- Claimed victory in the battle to keep federally insured banks out of real estate.
- Worked with Congress and U.S. agencies to blunt the impact of the 2007–2012 housing crisis on owners, sellers, buyers, and real estate practitioners.
- Greatly expanded state and local advocacy and strengthened NAR’s relationships with state and local REALTOR® associations.
- Invested in technologies to benefit members.
- Actively engaged younger members in leadership decision-making.
- Secured three top-level internet domains: .realtor, .realestate, and, along with the Canadian Real Estate Association, .mls.
- Worked closely with Move Inc.—which operates realtor.com® under an agreement with NAR—on the sale of Move to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, and joined Move in a two-year trade secrets lawsuit against rival Zillow that ended in a settlement favorable to Move and NAR.
REALTOR® Magazine: You set some big “second century” goals in 2008, the year NAR celebrated its centennial. Why?
Stinton: Before the downturn, we were approaching 1.4 million members. I felt that we had shored up the reserves to a point where we could move forward on some long-term strategic investments designed to directly benefit the members. Those are the Second Century Initiatives. I asked the board of directors to have patience; it would take years for these initiatives to mature. They did have patience, and we have seen tremendous value.
Back Story: Investing in the Future
NAR’s Second Century Initiatives paid homage to the association’s first 100 years with an eye toward the next 100. They included a major consumer outreach initiative—which launched HouseLogic.com and Real Estate Today radio—as well as REALTORS Property Resource®, a member benefit that today is integrated with 95 percent of MLSs, serving more than 1.1 million members. Now, RPR is working with a consortium of brokers and franchises to deploy Upstream, a tool that will help all brokers enhance and manage their data. Stinton also started an investment arm, Second Century Ventures, that has helped REALTORS®:
- Bring competition to the lockbox business with an investment in and eventual buyout of SentriLock International.
- Support technology partners like DocuSign, Xceligent, and zipLogix.
- Nurture startups through the REach technology accelerator.
Under Stinton’s watch, NAR upped the ante on the political front, too. The REALTOR® Party initiative was established in 2011 in response to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that loosened restrictions on election campaign spending by organizations. Acting on recommendations of a Presidential Advisory Group, Stinton asked the board of directors to approve a $40 annual member contribution to support national, state, and local candidate and issue campaigns. Critics said it was too much to ask during the worst financial crisis in generations. But Stinton prevailed, arguing that critical challenges lay ahead on tax, financing, and insurance issues. In the age of corporate advocacy, he said, depending solely on political action donations would mute the powerful Voice for Real Estate®.
REALTOR® Magazine: During the financial crisis, how did you keep NAR moving forward?
Stinton: The best we could do was communicate with our members honestly about what was happening. We also did what we could to blunt the effects. The home buyer tax credit was huge because, in that time frame, 50 percent of [home sales] were to buyers using the credit. We also applied strong moral suasion in defending Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It’s not that we oppose reform, but we have stood our ground against reforms that would discourage homeownership or reduce affordability.
Back Story: NAR’s Response to Crisis
The Great Recession of 2007–2012 hit real estate particularly hard. Among the shockers in the fall of 2008: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were placed in federal conservatorship, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection, and Congress passed the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Unemployment was on the rise, mortgage lending was severely constricted, and nearly 11 percent of homeowners were underwater on their mortgage—a number that peaked a few years later at roughly a quarter of all owners.
NAR’s response was multipronged. It worked with the Center for Responsible Lending to warn consumers about the risks of using alternative loan products and lobbied Congress to pass a temporary home buyer tax credit to help sustain sales. It worked with federal officials to create short-sale guidelines and incentives for lenders. And it shifted its consumer advertising message to raise awareness about the value of homeownership to future generations. Stinton introduced “Right Tools, Right Now,” a program that offered members education and products at low or no cost, and “Game Changers,” which provided seed money to state and local association initiatives. As the recession wore on, NAR launched an inspirational “Home Ownership Matters” bus tour, taking NAR leaders to 35 states. By 2012, the economy was recovering, but pundits were questioning the basic premise that high homeownership rates were good for the country. NAR President Moe Veissi wanted to make a symbolic gesture about the value of homeownership, and Stinton delivered. In May, 15,000 REALTORS® and more than a dozen legislators gathered at the base of the Washington Monument for the “REALTOR® Rally to Protect the American Dream.”