New scandal, same problems: NAR’s latest shakeup

Internal leadership pipeline, constant churn stifle meaningful change

New NAR Scandal, Same Problems
From left: Tracy Kasper and Kevin Sears (Getty, NAR)

Tracy Kasper stepped up to helm the National Association of Realtors with a promise of change.

She vowed to rid the organization of the complacency and neglect that led to a culture of hostility and harassment described by some of its employees. 

“We know that we have not taken the best care of our members nor the best care of our staff,” Kasper said at NAR’s annual conference in November. “We will not stand for that.”

But she wouldn’t have long to deliver on her promises: Her five-month reign abruptly ended in early January, when Kasper said she was stepping down after a blackmail threat. 

She’s just one of the senior leaders of the 1.5-million member trade group, but Kasper’s exit added to the drama that had stacked up at the trade group in recent months, with landmark commission litigation and a sexual harassment scandal that triggered the president’s elevation months ahead of schedule.

NAR is no stranger to high-level turnover, with presidents slated for single-year terms, but its recent churn of new faces renders progress difficult and often leaves the organization without a consistent leader to chart the course in troubled waters.

“There needs to be a face of our organization,” Ken Pozek, a broker and Orlando-based broker said. “We don’t know the direction they’re going and we pay dues to them every year.”

Climbing the leadership ladder

“[Kasper] is the right person at the right time,” Matt Silver, president-elect of the Illinois Realtor association, 25-year NAR member and 14-time national conference attendee, said from the event floor in November. 

But the system that landed her in the position at a critical time for the organization also served as an oft-used criticism by those who say the 100-year-old group needs to change its ways. 

The path to the NAR presidency is similar to the climb politicians make in pursuit of the United States’ top office, according to Mike Pappas, the chief executive officer of one of Florida’s largest independent brokerages. 

Members with leadership aspirations typically start with positions in their local associations before moving on to the state, regional and national levels. By the time they near consideration for the presidency, they’ve likely served the organization in some capacity for at least a decade. 

“It’s a slow process for change,” Pappas said. He added that to get to the top requires “a lot of personal sacrifice to the organization, sacrifice of family, time and effort.”

After ascending to national or regional leadership, presidential hopefuls will run for first vice president, an undertaking that includes a campaign and a one-year term if a candidate is voted into office by NAR’s nearly 1,000-person board of directors. 

The first vice president will then run for the top spot, likely unopposed, and will assume the role if their bid is confirmed by the board of directors. National leadership candidates are subject to the credentials committee, which ensures each candidate meets certain requirements set by the board.

“The organization is a very elaborate bureaucracy,” said New York-based Compass broker Jason Haber. “It’s this sprawling enterprise and you work your way through the system until you get to the presidency.”

Take Kasper’s rise. She was chosen first as the president of the Nampa Association of Realtors, then the president of the Idaho Association of Realtors. She served on the board of directors starting in 2016 and held leadership positions at the organization’s political fundraising arm called RPAC. 

In 2022, she was slated as the first vice president before she was chosen as the president-elect, a role she would leave ahead of schedule when her predecessor, Kenny Parcell, stepped down last year amid accusation of sexual harassment. 

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Culture crafted by insiders

The leadership shakeup was met with criticism that Kasper, along with Parcell, contributed to a toxic work environment at the organization. 

NAR staffers wrote a letter in September calling for the group’s top leadership, including Kasper, to resign after a leaked memo indicated that upper management failed to stop the misconduct. 

“We hear Tracy, and we also ask ourselves how she ‘missed it,’” the letter reads. “The truth however is she didn’t.”

The letter essentially read as “if you’re changing the culture, she’s the wrong person to be leading the organization,” said Haber, who founded a grassroots movement called the NAR Accountability Project, which aims to spark change at the organization or find an alternative. 

In her response to the letter, Kasper wrote that she was committed to building a “welcoming, safe, and respectful workplace” and to “taking action to strengthen our organization.” 

These steps included hiring outside counsel to review the organization’s workplace policies and complaints by members and staff, according to Kasper’s remarks at the conference. They also launched a cultural transformation committee tasked with proposing improvements to the workplace environment. 

Haber added that the project included in its initiatives a call for her resignation in part because of the feedback he received from those inside the organization. 

 “It wasn’t just that she was in some sort of leadership cabal,” Haber said. “Her own leadership style was probably not right for the moment based on what people in the building were telling us.”

NAR’s NXT up

Now it’s Kasper’s successor, president-elect Kevin Sears, who will be responsible for taking up the cultural transformation mantle. But the organization’s new president can also be considered as an insider, opening him up to some of the flack Kasper faced as a long-time leader. 

Sears is a broker and partner of Massachusetts-based brokerage Sears Real Estate. He’s been a major donor to RPAC since 2004 and has served as trustee and committee chairman. 

Like Kasper, Sears began his career in NAR leadership as the president of his local association, the Realtor Association of Pioneer Valley, before taking over as president of the Massachusetts association and as the regional head. 

His national roles include president’s liaison and vice president of government affairs. 

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Aside from the cultural challenges converging on the organization, Sears is also taking over as NAR faces several antitrust lawsuits over its broker commission policies and calls from some brokerage heads asking agents to abandon their memberships

Sears is now tasked with weathering the group through this storm, and some have already cast doubts on his — or anyone’s — ability to do so. 

“If you’re not worried yet, you have your head buried under a rock,” Haber said. “I don’t know what the future is for [NAR] to be honest.”