– The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is facing a potential decline in membership in 2024.
– The decline could be unprecedented in the history of NAR, surpassing the membership loss during the 2008 housing crisis.
– Factors contributing to the potential decline include a deep housing downturn, legal and leadership woes, and damage to the Realtor brand.
– NAR’s own membership projections and agent responses suggest that a significant number of agents may leave the organization in the coming years.
– NAR is budgeting for a decline in membership greater than 10% in 2024 and beyond.
– Membership attrition would further weaken NAR, which relies on membership dues for its financial stability.
– MLS and lockbox access are important considerations for agents when deciding whether to cancel their NAR membership.
– A survey found that 1 in 3 agents would cancel their NAR membership if they could still have MLS/lockbox access.
The National Association of Realtors may be on the verge of a bigger membership decline than it’s ever seen before — including during the 2008 housing crisis. Intel explores why that is.
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The question is a parlor game for some. But for many within the residential real estate world, the answer has big ramifications: How many members will leave the National Association of Realtors in 2024?
The final tally may be a membership decline that is unprecedented in the history of America’s largest trade group, an Intel analysis suggests.
NAR in 2023 saw its first net membership loss in over a decade as the industry continued to face a deep housing downturn and a snowballing storm of legal and leadership woes that some argue have damaged the Realtor brand. While the future is uncertain, conditions exist in 2024 for more agents to leave NAR than in any year in its 116-year history.
And a drop of that size appears to be in play — if not all at once in 2024, then possibly in the years to come.
To get an idea of how many agents might leave NAR in the year to come, Intel consulted the trade group’s own membership projections as well as the thoughts and leanings of 586 agent responses to December’s Inman Intel Index, a monthly survey that tracks the evolving sentiment of real estate practitioners across the brokerage, proptech and mortgage sectors.
Read the findings below.
What a ‘record’ would look like
The inauspicious number to beat is 140,472, according to NAR’s historical membership data.
That is how much the ranks of Realtors shrank by in 2008 as the first wave of the global financial crisis was still crashing over America’s housing landscape.
- 9.1 percent of NAR’s 1.55 million paying members would need to cancel or not renew to set this new benchmark, according to preliminary year-end data released in early January.
There’s no question that rates of attrition like this are in play at the local level, John Rainville, an independent broker with The Brokers Realty Group Limited in Pennsylvania, told Intel.
- “I know one board shared with me that of a board of about 2,200 agents, in December there were about 186 [agents]” who became inactive as members of NAR, Rainville said. “That’s about 9 percent.”
To some degree, NAR would welcome a loss that’s capped around 150,000 members. The trade group’s board of directors approved in May 2023 this year’s budget proposal, which was predicated on a membership forecast of 1.38 million Realtors. In December, NAR Treasurer Greg Hrabcak told NAR members in his final budget report announcement that the organization is still girding for the possibility of an even sharper fall than that in the months and years to come.
- “Chief Economist Lawrence Yun is still calling for a decline in membership greater than 10 percent for 2024 and beyond,” Hrabcak said in a recorded message accompanying the release. “NAR has budgeted that accordingly.”
As Intel reported in August, membership dues are NAR’s lifeblood. They aren’t enough to pay the $1.8 billion liability finding assessed in the Sitzer | Burnett case, which NAR is currently appealing, much less the $5.4 billion damages that would be awarded if the appeal fails.
But if NAR has a solvent pathway forward in the wake of Sitzer, a possible showdown with the Department of Justice, and other commission cases, heavy membership attrition will further weaken it.
What are agents planning?
NAR’s paying members went from 1.58 million at the end of October to 1.55 million in December.
That’s a monthly drop of 1.5 percent at a time of year when membership is often beginning a seasonal decline. It also tracks closely with the number of agents who responded to last month’s Triple-I survey who acknowledged in the waning days of December that they had canceled their NAR membership in the past 60 days.
- 1.1 percent of agent respondents said they had canceled their memberships over that time.
- A greater share — 4.5 percent — said that they are still members but that they “plan to leave in 2024.”
- Of the additional 6.2 percent who selected “Other,” only 1 of the 29 respondents made clear that they had no intention of leaving the organization.
- The remaining 88.2 percent of agent respondents simply stated they had not canceled their memberships.
Here’s a sampling of those “Other” responses:
- “Brokerage dropping out as of Jan 1, 2024, no way to individually opt back in without changing brokerages.”
- “MLS and Forms Access prevent this. Thanks Indiana!”
- “NAR is a hot mess.”
- “I’m on the fence. Waiting to see if they practice what they preach and hold the big brokers accountable for their shady dealings.”
- “I’d love to but my board & MLS require membership with NAR.”
- “I really want to, but cannot get answers from [California Association of Realtors] and [Greater Los Angeles Realtors Association].”
The crucial question: MLS access
Buried within some of these answers are what many believe are the most important pieces of NAR membership and part of what the DOJ deems worthy of an antitrust lawsuit: MLS and lockbox access.
It is only possible to obtain full MLS access if you are a licensed Realtor or a brokerage that is an NAR member. The trade group argues that, in this way, sensitive information can be protected, such as the personal data of both the seller and prospective buyer, as well as security-related information, such as access codes and showing times.
Similarly, NAR and its members have adopted a policy and practice that limits access to lockboxes to member brokers of NAR and NAR-affiliated MLSs.
After asking about NAR membership cancellation, December’s Triple-I survey posed a hypothetical follow-up. “Would you cancel your NAR membership if you could still have MLS/lockbox access?”
- A full 1 in 3 agent respondents said they would cancel.
- Another 16 percent chose “Other” — with most of these either expressing openness to canceling or clarifying they were unsure what they would do.
Methodology notes: This month’s Inman Intel Index survey poll was conducted Dec. 21-31, 2023. The entire Inman reader community was invited to participate, and Intel received a total of 808 responses. Respondents for this survey were directed to the SurveyMonkey platform, where they self-identified their profiles within the residential real estate market. Respondents were limited to one response per device, but there was no limitation to IP addresses. Once a profile (residential real estate agent, mortgage broker/banker, corporate executive/investor/proptech, or other) was selected, respondents answered a unique set of questions for that specific profile. Because the survey did not request demographic information for age, gender, or geography, there was no data weighting. This survey will be conducted monthly, with both recurring and unique questions for each profile type.
Andrea Brambila and Taylor Anderson contributed to this report.
Property Chomp's Take:
The National Association of Realtors (NAR) is facing the possibility of a significant decline in membership, potentially surpassing the decline it experienced during the 2008 housing crisis. This decline could have far-reaching consequences for the real estate industry. Intel, the data and research arm of Inman, explores the reasons behind this potential membership decline.
In 2023, NAR experienced its first net membership loss in over a decade. This can be attributed to the deep housing downturn and the growing legal and leadership challenges that have tarnished the Realtor brand. Looking ahead to 2024, conditions are ripe for even more agents to leave NAR than ever before.
To gauge the potential scale of this membership decline, Intel analyzed NAR's own membership projections and surveyed 586 agents as part of the Inman Intel Index. The findings suggest that a membership decline of unprecedented proportions is in play. To set a new benchmark, NAR would need to see a decline of 140,472 members, which is equivalent to 9.1% of its current membership.
According to John Rainville, an independent broker with The Brokers Realty Group Limited in Pennsylvania, local boards are already experiencing attrition rates similar to those seen during the 2008 crisis. For example, one board reported that 9% of its agents became inactive members in December. This indicates that a decline of the projected size is feasible.
However, NAR has already budgeted for a decline in membership greater than 10% for 2024 and beyond, according to NAR Treasurer Greg Hrabcak. While membership dues are crucial for NAR's financial stability, heavy attrition will weaken the organization further, especially in light of ongoing legal challenges.
The survey of agents conducted by Inman also shed light on why agents are considering leaving NAR. Many agents expressed frustration with NAR's practices and the lack of accountability for big brokers. Others cited difficulties in obtaining MLS and lockbox access without NAR membership. In fact, one-third of agent respondents said they would cancel their membership if they could still have MLS and lockbox access.
These findings highlight the importance of MLS and lockbox access in the decision to remain or leave NAR. The Department of Justice has identified these access limitations as potential antitrust concerns. If agents can access MLS and lockboxes without NAR membership, it could lead to a significant decline in membership.
In conclusion, the National Association of Realtors may be on the verge of a membership decline larger than it has ever seen before. The combination of a housing downturn, legal challenges, and frustrations with NAR's practices could lead to a significant exodus of members. The impact of this decline on NAR's financial stability and industry influence remains to be seen.