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Picket signs. Grassroots activism. Membership cancellations. Legal action.
Insulted and newly empowered by the National Association of Realtors’ decision Thursday to leave its executive team intact in the face of seismic change, agents from every region of the country told Inman they were preparing for a week of action in response to fallout within the 1.56 million-member trade organization.
From letter-writing campaigns directed at local Realtor chapters and boycotts of upcoming conferences to far more tenuous plans for potential lawsuits and demonstrations outside NAR headquarters in Chicago, Realtors told Inman their mission would continue until top executives are replaced and significant measures are taken to illuminate the group’s secretive decision-making process.
“NAR’s top-down decision-making is completely tone-deaf,” Hope Beraka, the owner and principal broker of Think Real Estate in Portland, Oregon, told Inman, referring to an announcement released late Thursday by newly installed NAR President Tracy Kasper in support of embattled Chief Executive Officer Bob Goldberg. “We’re asking for transparency and accountability. To have leadership require cell phones to be left behind, and marshal everyone into a room and come out with a completely top-down decision about something so raw and critical feels insulting at minimum. It’s really bad faith behavior.”
Along with approximately 80 signatories, Beraka and Dwell Realty broker Shelley Zavitz on Wednesday sent a letter to Goldberg, Kasper and Oregon Realtors leaders Jenny Pakula and Grace Bergen demanding answers to eight questions about NAR’s reporting, investigation and training policy around instances of sexual harassment, including recent claims that have come to light around former President Kenny Parcell, who resigned last week.
The letter also demands information on the firm deputized to investigate the claims and how many employees have signed non-disclosure agreements as a result of sexual harassment claims.
At least one of those non-disclosure agreements belongs to Janelle Brevard, the former NAR employee whose claims of harassment against Parcell in June likely triggered the activism taken up by Realtors now. Brevard received $107,000 from NAR, according to her attorney. Settlements were also reportedly paid to other women who suffered alleged harassment at the association.
Beraka and co-signers have given leadership until Sept. 8 to respond. Beraka said she spoke to NAR Vice President of PR and Communications Strategy Mantill Williams and received a written response from Oregon Realtors CEO Jenny Pakula, who thanked Beraka and the 80 signatories for their “passion and dedication to the industry.”
In an emailed statement to Inman, Williams confirmed the conversation with Beraka. “We will respond to Hope’s letter and get back to her in a timely manner, as we do with direct member correspondence, and we will certainly do our best to meet her request for a response before September 8,” he told Inman.
Beraka echoed other Realtors who said Kasper’s statement on Thursday — not to mention the closed-door emergency meeting attended by executives — added fuel to the fire. In her statement, Kasper vowed to tap “third-party experts to carefully and comprehensively” examine NAR’s sexual harassment policy and called for “united support” of Goldberg amid criticism of his leadership.
“The disconnect is power,” she told Inman. “Many articles have been written about the quote-unquote ivory tower of the NAR headquarters. This shows how disconnected leadership is from rank-and-file members. The decision-making that is happening illustrates to me that there is absolute corruption inside of a system that may need a very hard and serious look at dismantling.”
Meanwhile, Chicago-based Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices broker Andrea Geller, who spoke to Inman on Wednesday in support of Kasper’s presidency and Goldberg’s early retirement, said her view has evolved since the president’s statement in support of Goldberg. “I was trying to give Tracy an opportunity,” Geller said. “You know, I thought it was an opportunity for her in the leadership.”
Geller said she still doesn’t support the calls to dismantle NAR or have Realtors cancel their NAR memberships. However, she said Kasper’s statement has pushed her to take more drastic action, including authoring several letters to national, state and local Realtor boards. Geller said she’s even in support of a possible upcoming demonstration at NAR headquarters led by Compass broker and NAR Accountability Project founder Jason Haber.
“I absolutely would [go],” she said of a demonstration. “There’s such a need for strong association and this is not it. There’s a lot of stuff going on in our industry and we need an open, honest ethical association. We don’t have that right now.”
Standing up and walking out
In a call with Inman, Haber said the NAR Accountability Project is exploring several courses of action, including demonstrations outside NAR headquarters or another area in Chicago. Haber declined to share specifics of the plan but said he spent Friday morning talking with people in Chicago to pin down logistics.
“We’ll have an announcement soon,” he said. “But we’re dedicated to making our point. A house is only as strong as its foundation. They could have chosen to rebuild the house of NAR. Instead, they’re patching its growing cracks.”
Haber, who gained national attention last week for his Change.org petition demanding Parcell’s resignation, said the NAR Accountability Project ballooned from 50 members on Tuesday to more than 1,000 members on Thursday. He said the project spawned from dozens of unsolicited communications from alleged survivors of sexual harassment at NAR in the wake of his petition.
“I started to get phone calls, private messages, messages on secure messaging apps from victims,” Haber said. “First, it was five, 10, 15. I’m at over 35 phone calls at this point. I couldn’t believe it. It was overwhelming.”
“That changed my intention here because suddenly I was a voice for those who couldn’t speak,” he added. “They couldn’t speak, either because they had a job and they were afraid to lose it, or they signed an NDA and couldn’t speak.
Haber said he launched the NAR Accountability Project with a woman well-known in the industry who is not a Realtor and who prefers anonymity. Its first task was to send an open letter to NAR’s Executive Committee, which held a meeting Thursday to determine how to respond to the growing scandal.
“News of the last week has made it impossible for NAR to focus on its mission,” states the letter, which was published online. “Its membership is outraged and are calling for change. There is no longer a question about the rampant sexual harassment and toxic culture that has permeated both NAR, its state and territory affiliates, local association and boards (collectively, ‘NAR Affiliates’) and our entire industry. The only question now is, what to do about it?”
The letter asked NAR to replace the entire leadership team including Goldberg; release all former employees from non-trade secret non-disclosure agreements; retain an independent law firm “with no prior ties with NAR, NAR Affiliates or companies that hire or contract with NAR members” to conduct a comprehensive internal investigation; the creation of a third-party human resources reporting system; and the creation of a confidential hotline for NAR employees, affiliates and individual members to report sexual harassment.
Haber clarified the leadership demands and said he was referring to NAR Chief Legal Officer Katie Johnson and NAR’s head of human resources, Donna Gland, not volunteer leaders such as newly installed president Tracy Kasper.
“Across this country, agents are angry,” he added. “They’re not just angry at the sexual harassment — they’re angry at the organization in its totality. They’re questioning things like, ‘Where’s our money? What’s it being spent on? What’s the point of the organization?’ We don’t know where the money goes. There’s no financial reporting on what payments have been made to settle claims.”
The pressure is on
Beraka said she hopes NAR’s final response to her letter will go beyond the milquetoast platitudes that have come out since Parcell’s resignation on Aug. 28.
“We feel stuck and beholden to an organization that isn’t holding itself to the standards that it requires of its mandatory dues-paying members,” she told Inman on Sunday. “Why not release a redacted version of the report? Why not release a redacted version of the executive committee meeting? Why not host a town hall? We need more from leadership.”
If NAR fails to respond, Beraka said she’s prepared to take more drastic measures, including drafting a class-action lawsuit against the organization.
“If we’re required to pay dues and have no options, the bottom line is the legal course,” she said, adding that many members are still unaware of the drama enveloping the organization, in part due to children starting a new school year.
Haber, meanwhile, said all options are on the table for the NAR Accountability Project, including boycotting upcoming conferences and pressuring headlining speakers to back out. Haber took credit for Future Today Institute founder and CEO Amy Webb’s noted absence at NAR’s tech conference, iOi Summit. Webb was expected to deliver the keynote address on Aug. 30 in Miami.
In emails sent to two representatives and provided to Inman, Haber urged Webb to back out of speaking and to stand with “brave women” who had come forward with accounts of “sexual assault, harassment, and verbal abuse in a highly toxic corporate culture.” He said Webb’s NAR appearance would “damage her brand.”
Future Today Institute Chief of Staff Cheryl Cooney told Inman Webb’s absence was due to “a last-minute change of plans.” Cooney said the company did not know Haber and had not been in contact with him. She declined to respond when asked if his emails or allegations against NAR shaped Webb’s decision.
Haber has also contacted pro athletes Kurt Warner and David Robinson, both of whom have keynotes at two upcoming NAR events. “Both are men of faith. Both are men of family values,” he told Inman. “I don’t think that they should be speaking, given the circumstances, and I think if they withdrew, that would send a huge statement that this kind of behavior is unacceptable and not tolerated.”
Real estate strategist and former Real Brokerage Chief Culture Officer Erinn Nobel said she’s aware of “well-known and highly networked” women in the industry bombarding state and local associations with letters and calls. She said a few people have even gone so far as to pull their association memberships.
“They do not see any value in the association at this point, or they don’t want to be aligned with the association anymore,” she said. “That’s how serious they are about creating change. NAR needs to clean house.”