Kevin Sears Opens Up About NAR, The DOJ And A Hectic Year Of Travel

Kevin Sears Opens Up About NAR, The DOJ And A Hectic Year Of Travel

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CHICAGO — The circus-like atmosphere of the National Association of Realtors may have felt familiar to Kevin Sears, whose past experience being lit on fire on an amusement park high dive prepared him to take over at the right moment for the nation’s largest trade organization.

A collegiate-level diver at Providence College in Rhode Island, Sears worked at Riverside Park (now Six Flags New England) as a stunt diver in the 1990s before embarking on his career in real estate.

After six months as the organization’s leader, Sears is in the top spot as NAR works to put out multiple fires at once.

Sears was thrust into the role in surprise fashion on Jan. 11, following the resignation of Tracy Kasper. The abrupt appointment came as NAR and the real estate industry faced multiple challenges; in March, NAR agreed to settle ongoing litigation that threatened to bankrupt the organization.

The settlement agreement, along with enacting the sweeping changes required by the settlement, added to the already busy schedule NAR presidents face. It means Sears’ life over the past six months has been spent largely on the road.

Sears has traveled for 138 of the 174 days since he became president, according to a spreadsheet he keeps to track his journeys. He’s taken 64 flights, traveled 72,000 miles, and stayed in hotels 105 nights in that time.

That mileage has included seven trips to Washington, D.C., where he met with regulators who have their sights firmly set on NAR and the industry. He’s been to the organization’s headquarters in Chicago six times, along with trips to state and local Realtor organizations across the country.

One upcoming trip is to Las Vegas, where Sears is scheduled to speak at Inman Connect Las Vegas at the end of this month. He spoke with Inman while visiting NAR’s Chicago headquarters in July.

Below is the conversation, edited for clarity and brevity.

INMAN: You’re going to face a room of thousands of members at Inman Connect Las Vegas. What is your message? What do you tell them? 

What I’ll tell them is where we are at as of July 30 when I’m set to speak. What we need to be able to do for our 1.5 million members across the country is show them the tremendous value that they get for their couple hundred dollars’ worth of dues that they pay. And what changes we may need to make as an organization. We still need to be able to provide the products, tools, resources and especially advocacy that our members have come to expect.

If I have more details to share on July 30, I certainly will. But what I’ll tell you is we’re looking at the numbers, and we’re going to be drilling down as the days, weeks and months go on to come to a final budget that we’ll be sending to the board of directors in November. 

You were recently in D.C. meeting with Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter and others at the DOJ’s Antitrust Division. How is that going? What came out of those talks?

This was very out of the ordinary. Typically it’s lawyers talking to lawyers. I really appreciated the fact that Jonathan Kanter specifically asked to have myself and other leaders at the meeting so that we could have the conversation. 

One of the words that he used multiple times was, ‘Is there common ground?’ And that’s what we strive for. Is there a way that we can find enough in common that, despite our differences, we can come to an agreement and find some peace? 

The fact that Assistant Attorney General Kanter offered us that meeting — which was originally scheduled for 60 minutes, and we were there for an hour and 45 minutes — was very beneficial for us. Did we agree on everything? Nope. Is there work to do? Absolutely. There is a promise of more meetings. We recognize that this dialogue is very important for us. 

The DOJ has so many different inquiries. They’re looking at the different forms that are being updated. They’re trying to reopen an investigation into NAR. They’ve got what they’ve weighed in on in the different lawsuits that are ongoing. Can you shed any light on what you covered in that meeting?

We talked about a lot of those. [Kanter] promised additional conversation. We didn’t get in-depth into the impact that this could have on first-time buyers, first-generation buyers, minority homebuyers. They promised us continued conversation on that. 

The similarity we have is that we all care about the consumer. If the consumer is properly represented and we advocate for the consumer, that’s a good thing. And that’s what we feel we do as Realtors. The DOJ cares about the consumers, and they want to make sure that the consumer clearly understands through these written agreements what exactly is entailed. 

We did touch on the forms and the other things that you were talking about.

We had conversations about the settlement and the written agreements that we need to have with buyers and how it’s a negotiation between the licensee, the Realtor, and the consumer, the buyer, as to what would be an appropriate amount that the buyer’s rep will get paid. So we had a healthy conversation about how that is pro-consumer and I think we cleared up some misunderstanding or misconceptions on what it was that we haven’t come to any agreements on. But we definitely made some good inroads. 

The DOJ has indicated it doesn’t want to see offers of compensation anywhere. Did they add any clarity about advertising offers of compensation?

The only thing that I will add is that the DOJ will be closely monitoring this after Aug. 17. If they believe any salespeople/practitioners, brokers and/or brokerages are not complying with the terms of the settlement, then they will take that seriously. They, like us, want to make sure the consumer is fully informed and protected.

Can you give us an update on the organization as the changes are about to take place?

We have an awful big check that we’re going to have to write in the first quarter of next year, but then for the three years after that. How are we going to make that payment? What is the organization going to look like? Those answers I don’t have for you right now. But we’re all hands on deck, and we’re trying to figure out exactly how things will shape out. 

The budget review process will happen in September, at which point we’ll be hearing from the senior vice presidents about the budgets that they are looking at for 2025. Then in November at the NXT conference, the budget will go to the board of directors meeting for approval. The only thing that we did handle in D.C. in May was the fact that dues will be staying the same. 

You recently spoke about a new communications plan to win the hearts and minds of not just Realtors but the public. Can you give me an update on that campaign? I think you called it the surrogate campaign. Is it working? 

The media surrogate program. We’ve got over 500 Realtors across the country who have self-identified, signed up, been trained, and we are equipping them with information and tools so that they can use their local media contacts to better tell our story and to help the media get things a little more accurate. 

Because you know what? What we have seen and was very frustrating early on was, especially with the very first article that came out on March 15, with so many inaccuracies — lesser media outlets used those inaccuracies and ran with them. That was very frustrating for us on the leadership team. I know it was for the members in the street because of the confusion that it caused. 

We’re very happy with the media surrogates that we have in place. We’re looking for more because the more stories that we can have told both by members and their customers and clients about the value that we as real estate professionals bring to the transaction, the better off we’ll be in the long run.

You’re going to be president for two years. Everyone’s still getting to know you, more or less. What do members need to know about Kevin Sears? 

I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy. I am someone who, when the door closes, I look for the crack in the window. I firmly believe people ask if I consider myself a lucky man. Yes, I do. But let me give you my definition of luck. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity. If you’re prepared, opportunity will present itself. And it’s up to you to make sure that you’re lucky, right? 

I was a college diver, and I used to get lit on fire and paid for it. That was when I worked at the amusement park.

Do you have any vacations planned, or is it all on the road?

My wife and I went to Ireland for six and a half days. I had a week off there right before my middle son graduated from college. This August we’ll go away and we’ll escape to a friend’s lake house for five or six days. This past weekend, I was at Cape Cod with my wife and two of our kids for three days. 

I’m trying to find balance. It’s definitely challenging. Luckily, my wife works at a local medical center as a pharmacist in the oncology department. She’s cut back her hours and she’s able to travel with me a little bit on some of this stuff as well. We’re empty nesters, so that allows her to be able to spend a little time with me. While I might not be at home, we’re still able to be together, so that’s nice. 

Email Taylor Anderson

Join us to see Kevin Sears live at Inman Connect Las Vegas, July 30-August 1 at the Aria Resort and Casino. Reserve your spot now to gain access to real estate’s premier event.





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