In a surprise message to employees today, Glenn Kelman, founder of portal giant Redfin, announced that his company is seeking to “end our support of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR),” citing both recent sexual harassment scandals and the “all-or-nothing choice” of practicing real estate under the 1.56-million member real estate trade organization’s rules.
According to Kelman, Redfin has already resigned from NAR’s board and will begin requiring its agents and brokers to leave NAR “everywhere we can.”
“We’ve had many meetings with NAR execs to explore compromises on the policies that would let us continue our support,” he wrote in the letter, which was co-signed by Chief Technology Officer Bridget Frey and Senior Vice President of Real Estate Operations Jason Aleem, among others. “We’ll now explore other ways to advance those goals.”
At the same time, Kelman claimed Redfin will “continue our full support of the MLS” and that the company will “remain friends with the many fine people working at NAR and its local affiliates on economics, diversity and pro-housing policies.”
In a statement provided to RISMedia, NAR VP of Communications Mantill Williams said that the REALTOR® association had known that Redfin was planning to pull away since June, and that NAR “respect(s) their choice.”
“The U.S. model of local MLS broker marketplaces has long been—and still is—considered the best value in the world,” Williams said. “NAR stands by its pro-consumer, pro-competitive guidance for affiliated local broker marketplaces that ensure equity, efficiency, transparency and market-driven pricing options for homebuyers and sellers.”
Kelman, who is known for his straightforward and often brusque commentary in “open letters” to the industry, as well as speaking to investors on public earnings calls, was blunt in his explanation for why the portal had chosen to cease supporting NAR.
“NAR rules require us to leave local and state associations even when our only beef is with the national association,” he wrote. “This is like eating at a restaurant that requires you to buy food for your entire family even when you come in alone, and that also says no family member can dine there if you ever stop dining there too. The painful choice is to stop patronizing that restaurant altogether.”
Kelman added that Redfin, which joined NAR in 2017, has “paid more than $13 million in dues, in an effort to influence NAR to advocate for an open, technology-driven marketplace that would benefit consumers.
Additionally, “we’d already been uncomfortable with the NAR’s positions on commissions when we read reports of sexist behavior and sexual harassment, by the NAR’s president and others, based on interviews with 29 former NAR employees. NAR was aware of the allegations for months and, in some cases, years, but reacted only when those allegations became public, and only after the CEO said there wasn’t a problem.”
In an email to RISMedia, Redfin addressed two questions regarding its plans.
Is Redfin requiring all licensed real estate professionals who work for the company to cease being members of NAR?
No. We will have to remain members in many markets where MLS access is tied to NAR membership. We won’t be ending membership for all lead agents immediately, but have started the process of withdrawing everywhere we can. We employ approximately 1,800 agents and brokers. There are also NAR members in our support organization, which includes transaction and tour coordinators, who will be withdrawing from NAR along with agents, depending on the market.
Has Redfin had any conversations with MLSs about “decoupling” from NAR? Is there any other info you can provide as far as what that would look like?
We’re in regular communication with our partners at MLSs on a range of issues, but we don’t have anything more to share on that right now.