Core Standards: What’s New & Why

After taking a long look at what worked and what didn’t during the first round of the National Association of REALTORS®’ Core Standards program, a workgroup of AEs proposed some changes, which were approved by the NAR Board of Directors in May.

“Overall, the changes clarify not only the requirements but also the intent behind them,” says Travis Kessler, RCE, CAE, CEO of the Texas Association of REALTORS® and chair of the workgroup that recommended the changes. “There were also some new requirements added to raise the bar a little bit more for local associations and enhance their viability. The Core Standards strengthen the value of what the associations provide to the membership.”

More advocacy activities are now required, along with new activities regarding REALTOR® safety, professional development opportunities for members, and leadership development for elected association leaders. The required association strategic plans must now have an implementation component, and compliance cycle deadlines have changed to a calendar year (January to December) starting with the commencement of the third compliance cycle, July 1, 2016. This means associations have until Dec. 31, 2017, to complete the requirements for the third cycle.

Kessler says there are no plans to routinely increase the number of Core Standards requirements, but adds: “You don’t want a stagnant program; you want it to grow. I hope there will be a periodic review of what’s working and what’s not to make it an effective program that will evolve as our working environment evolves.”
Enhancements to the electronic compliance certification tool are also planned.

Key clarifications and additions

Many of the changes to the Core Standards reorganize and categorize requirements to make them easier to follow.

“Most of the confusion nationwide was over which activities fulfill which requirements, particularly regarding advocacy and consumer outreach,” says Kessler.

Because there was an advocacy activity option under consumer outreach, some associations wanted to use the same activity for both requirements, says Kessler. Now all advocacy requirements are under the advocacy section of the policy, and six activities are required under three categories: vote, act, and invest. Associations must conduct two “vote” activities, such as encouraging members to register to vote or to vote on a particular ballot initiative; two “act” activities, such as organizing an association visit with local or state elected officials or having members testify on proposed real estate–related legislation or regulation; and two “invest” activities, such as holding an RPAC fundraising event or hosting an association RPAC phone bank.

In addition to the advocacy activities above, previous RPAC activities (sections A–D in the standards) remain, including the optional RPAC contribution on dues billing, promoting the value of RPAC, and promoting and participating in state and national calls for action.

NAR has a menu of sample advocacy activities to meet the needs of every association large or small, experienced in advocacy or not.* Modifications to the online compliance tool will include drop-down menus that list qualifying options under each requirement.

Clarity to ​outreach

Four consumer outreach activities are still required, but the type of activities that qualify is now more specific.
Associations must demonstrate consumer engagement through two “Voice for Real Estate” activities, such as releasing local housing statistics or writing real estate columns in local publications and two involvement and/or investment activities, such as participating in a Habitat for Humanity build or raising money for a local charity. The advocacy option previously under this category has been moved to the advocacy section.

Help raise professionalism among members and leaders

A new requirement under Unification Efforts and Support of the REALTOR® Organization (Section 4 in the Core Standards) is designed to recognize and promote the importance of professional development for members, says Kessler.

Now, associations will need to promote or provide at least one professional development opportunity for their members. “That does not mean that all associations have to provide a course,” Kessler says. “They could promote the education course calendar of the state association or the online courses offered by NAR.”

The point of promoting professional development, Kessler continues, is that “there is so much members could benefit from if they just knew when and where some of these opportunities were being offered.”

Similarly, associations must now also promote leadership education opportunities for their elected REALTOR® leaders. This requirement could be fulfilled by promoting leadership education that the state or national association offers. The aim is to raise the bar for leadership and focus attention on the importance of cultivating the leadership process within associations, says Kessler.

The importance of member safety

Another new requirement states that associations must conduct or promote an activity promoting REALTOR® safety, such as hosting a personal safety class. Just like the requirements with professionalism and leadership education, an association can either promote outside offerings, conduct a safety activity, or partner with several associations to offer a joint member safety activity.

Better strategy plans

Some outcomes of the first-round Core Standards couldn’t have been predicted but can now be fixed, says Kessler. For example, some association strategic plans didn’t include action or implementation steps.

“There were many variations in the types of plans that were approved by NAR,” says Kessler. “Many of them were very comprehensive with timelines and accountability standards, including who was going to perform what duties and when, but some were simple statements of the association’s priorities and goals without a plan to get there.

“The strategic plan requirement was one of the key success of the Core Standards and have added strength to local associations,” says Kessler. “The plans help associations define what their priorities should be and how they will achieve them.”

Associations with strategic or business plans that do not include actionable steps will need to certify that their plans have been amended or clarified to include the actionable details and to certify that the association leadership has reviewed them.

AE performance review to define expectations

Because the Core Standards add duties and responsibilities to an AE’s role, it became clear, when reviewing the first cycle’s outcomes, that many AEs did not have clearly defined duties within their organizations, says Kessler.

“Many AEs didn’t have a job description —or one that had been updated in years—and many had never had a performance review,” says Kessler. 

The new AE performance review requirement will help strengthen the AE’s role, Kessler adds. It stipulates that associations with paid staff not only must adopt policies and procedures for conducting annual performance reviews but must have conducted that review by the certification deadline. Sample performance review policies and procedures are online at

To learn more about the Core Standards revisions for 2017, including the revised audit threshold and changes to the noncompliance appeal procedure, visit Kessler will present a Core Standards segment at the NAR Leadership Summit, Aug. 22–23, in Chicago, and Core Standards training webinars are also planned.

* For guidance on advocacy activities and examples of initiatives that satisfy this requirement, visit the Core Standards Frequently Asked Questions at and the REALTOR® Party Resource Guide or contact Susan W. Helm, RCE, VP for advocacy operations & communications at

This article appears in the Summer 2016: Bring New Ideas to the Table edition of REALTOR® AE Magazine.

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