rascoff-obama66Earlier today, we told you about President Barack Obama’s chat with Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff, a discussion which was anchored by video questions from average Americans about the U.S. housing market.

It was a light-hearted 25-minute discussion, used in part to elevate the president’s agenda on housing. It certainly was not a deep dive into the policy issues shaking the industry, though some substantive points were still made.

Well, as it turns out, the National Association of Realtors, the largest real estate lobbying group in the country, wasn’t too thrilled about President Obama’s appearance alongside Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff.

In a memo to members, the NAR said the chat was not a “serious public policy discussion” and that Zillow — which it repeatedly referred to as an “entertainment website” — was chosen to host simply because of a large audience that could “help the White House attract eyeballs to their live streaming event.”

“NAR has expressed serious concerns about Zillow involvement directly to the White House, and is using the opportunity to explore future events with realtor.com,” the memo said.

Seattle real estate agent Kevin Lisota posted this message on a Facebook group today about the NAR's 'childish' response.
Seattle real estate agent and Findwell founder Kevin Lisota posted this message on a Facebook group today about the NAR’s response to Obama’s chat.

Now, I am not an insider when it comes to the world of beltway politics, and I certainly don’t have any idea why this would cause such a dust up in real estate circles. Or, for that matter, why the NAR, which put out its own statement earlier today on the president’s housing policies, would even care who hosted the discussion.

But here’s the way I thought about this message when I got my hands on it today.

Imagine if the National Venture Capital Association, a lobbying group which represents the interests of venture capital firms, sending a message like to its members because an entrepreneur like Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn or Mark Zuckeberg of Facebook got a chance to interview the president. Would that ever happen? Would the NVCA, or any other trade group, protest the interview? Or call it light on substance?

Here’s what Zillow had to say about the NAR’s remarks:

Zillow exists to help people become smarter about what’s often the largest purchase of their lifetime – their home. This was an unprecedented opportunity for our users to ask their housing questions to the president of the United States.

The whole thing just seems a bit bizarre to me. Is this a bad case of sour grapes?

On Wednesday, August 7 at 10 a.m. PT, the White House will host an online forum, “A Better Bargain for Responsible Homeowners: President Obama Answers Your Questions on Housing.”

It will be live-streamed on www.whitehouse.gov/live. Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff is moderating the event.

Here are some questions you might get from members and responses for you to use with Realtors®.

Why isn’t NAR involved in this event?

• The White House wants to attract eyeballs to their live streaming site; this is not a serious public policy discussion.

• As the most influential housing lobby in Washington, NAR engages the White House regularly on issues that matter to Realtors® and the clients and customers we serve, including:

o Mortgage Interest Deduction

o Mortgage availability and affordability (GSEs, FHA)

o Flood Insurance

• Our defense of issues that directly impact Realtor® business and the ability of Americans to own and invest in real estate sometimes contrasts NAR’s positions with those of the administration.

• Because of NAR’s leadership in the advocacy arena, our sources tell us that the White House did not want to get caught in a conflict of interest with us.

• In contrast, Zillow has no such conflicts, since they are a housing entertainment website, not an influential real estate advocacy organization.

• NAR has confirmed that this event did not come from the policy side of the White House; it was organized by the White House Communications Department as a public relations opportunity to promote the administration’s positions on housing.

Why is the White House working with Zillow?

• As a popular housing entertainment website, Zillow has a large audience of people who like to look at homes and can help the White House attract eyeballs to their live streaming event.

• The White House wants to amplify a speech that President Obama is giving on Tuesday and keep the message going.

Is Zillow trying to influence public policy?

• Zillow does not engage in the public policy arena. Zillow’s website is about using housing as fodder for entertainment, which is what this event aims to do.

• Zillow’s goal is to attract eyeballs to their site; not influence public policy.

Why isn’t realtor.com involved?

• NAR has expressed serious concerns about Zillow involvement directly to the White House, and is using the opportunity to explore future events with realtor.com.

• The White House has explained that they were just looking for a “new, fresh venue.”

• We are making it clear to them that realtor.com is the logical partner for these types of events, both because of the site’s reach with consumers and its link to Realtors®’ industry insights.

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  • http://www.extendedresults.com/ Patrick Husting

    Real Estate is always full of gimmicks to grab attention. Not surprised by either party. Nothing gained in this broadcast…

    • Don’tAuditMeBro

      It’s not true that nothing was gained: now Zillow won’t have to worry about an IRS audit for at least an election cycle!

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    I worked as an intern for a lobbying group in DC in college. I won’t claim to be an expert but can share some thoughts.

    First, it’s early August in DC. Congress is in recess and August is a painfully slow time for lobbying groups. So part of this simply is the fact that people at NAR don’t have much else to do right now.

    Second, what NAR put out is really intended for its members more than anyone else. It’s pretty clearly meant to answer the angry question from its members of “why is this being done with Zillow and not you, what are we getting for our membership dues?”.

    To be fair, NAR and Realtors have had a horrible time of it. Their profession is at ground zero for the real estate crisis. Even before that they’ve been fighting to get people to understand the value of their members and profession. And things like Zillow, as far as I’m aware, are tools that further help people by-pass them and do things themselves.

    So from their point of view, I think, the administration taking to Zillow to talk about how it wants to change and improve the real estate situation is a huge slap in the face.

    The last thing I’d say is that this release has messages for the administration. Specifically that NAR views this as a hostile act (and likely one in support of policies that NAR is against as well). For a lobbying group to speak as negatively about the administration’s actions as broadly and publicly as NAR has here is essentially an announcement of open hostilities. They’re going to wait now and see what the administration does I think. Does the administration apologize and try to make nice with NAR or not? If not, expect to see NAR taking more public action against these initiatives.

  • KAJ

    John: Are you really that naïve to not understand why the NAR resents Zillow? Zillow is out to disaggregate the real estate transaction business by making information available to consumers. The last thing the NAR wants is educated consumers who know the market. Their goal is to continue to support the outrageous fee structure for real estate transactions and to keep information behind the curtain.

    • johnhcook

      Yeah, I get why they resent them, not to mention that they are competitive through the Realtor.com site. I guess I am just baffled that this is how they respond.

  • Guest

    In related news, the National Association of Travel Agents issued a press release calling Orbitz a “flash in the pan” and Expedia a “waste of time and a danger for customers.”

    Seriously, who cares what the NAR thinks? They represent a people who expect to be paid handsomely for a job that is being mechanized on a daily basis.

  • Mike Mathieu

    Can’t remember the last time that NAR wasn’t running point on a big real estate event with the White House. It speaks to Zillow’s growing strength. But also the need for NAR to reinforce their continued relevance to their Realtor members.

  • Lawrence Bell

    @Christopher Budd gets the A for today! He’s right across the board, with one exception. I actually use to lobby years ago in DC before I wised up! First…

    – Anger (rightfully so) from NAR’s members about NAR staff’s lack of leadership and foresight.
    – Zillow and similar websites are increasingly marginalizing the role of the Realtor.
    – Zillow and the Obama admin.’s partnership is a huge slap in NAR’s face (rightfully earned) and serves to expose the obvious disconnect between NAR and the Obama admin.

    The exception — though it is August in DC and Congress is recessed, NAR has plenty to do! This is the time, in DC, that lobbying groups like NAR do strategic planning to address its members issues — legislative and others. Based on what just happened, NAR needs to start with waking up and accepting the truth for its members future survival! Zillow and similar entities are the FUTURE of real estate. Period.

    Zillow sees the writing on the wall – an increasingly business savvy consumer and has thus decide to become the “voice” for that FUTURE. Instead of whining and resorting to their well known and worn strategy of bullying because they obviously dropped the ball, resulting in a Zillow coup, NAR should be developing strategies/tools to ensure their members are a part of the FUTURE structure. Because at this rate, they won’t be!

    Why NAR can’t see the writing on the wall is dumbfounding. Look at the transformation going on in the newspaper industry, with the recent purchase by Amazon, as a prime example. Digital news is the FUTURE. They got it. Change is the only sure thing. Accept it. Reorganize your business model or go out of business!

    Lastly, NAR’s response to the Obama admin. – overt hostility? Sour grapes is more like it! They missed the opportunity. They were asleep! Zillow was awake! NAR should stop whining and bullying. Its one of the many reasons they find themselves in this current position. Instead, show some true leadership.

    Plus, as far as messaging goes – from the other side – the Obama admin.’s message to NAR is very clear — you have no clout here. In other words, you’re not RELEVANT! We chose to partner with an entity that is relevant.

    End of story.

    • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

      Thanks for the A. Maybe things have changed but where I worked August was so slow that the lobbyists came in late, left early and had long lunches.

      Interesting points all of them, thank you!

  • Chad McBain

    @lawrencebell:disqus and @ChristopherBudd:disqus…..Nicely written but I think both of you have missed one key point. Realtors are not being disintermediated by Zillow! They (the tens of thousands who pay to use Z) are being disenfranchised. Zillow has a host symbiant relationship with the realtor. Zillow attracts the traffic which creates the leads….the agents who pay to advertise on Z get these leads. Z also has a whole host of products designed to help agents such as wordpress websites and back office contact management software that it provides it’s clients ie agents who pay the bills lol. How do you think Z makes money? Certainly not from any consumer but rather 25,000 paying Realtor clients….and growing. Z is actually causing issues for NAR in the wort possible place which is not in online traffic wars but rather Realtor loyalty. If Z attracts the eyeballs and the Realtor gets the benefit of the mass exposure to the consumer plus business tools to service the consumer better…… then what exactly do Realtors really need NAR for???? That is the real worry that NAR has and that is why they have come out swinging, to justify their existence to their members. I actually don’t care either way as I am a Canadian realtor and we do not have Zillow or Trulia or anything like it. But I keep a close eye on things here and Zillow is for now the brightest kid in school….real estate school 101 in 2013 :)

    • Lawrence Bell

      @Chad McBain Good point! Question is does the NAR understand all of the nuances presented by your assessment? Particularly your statement, “If Z attracts the eyeballs and the Realtor gets the benefit of the mass exposure to the consumer plus business tools to service the consumer better…… then what exactly do Realtors really need NAR for????” Another good point!

      Reading NAR’s knee jerk response statement it articulates its mission focus, in regards to its members, as a legislative policy maker. While clearly maintaining that Zillow is not. If so, then why all the protest from NAR? Obviously, the NAR feels more than a bit threatens by this so-called entertainment website. In fact, if Zillow is an entertainment website, then what does that make NAR’s website, Realtor.com? That seems to be the “elephant in the room” question for NAR — its relevancy across the board. At the very least, its time for NAR to reassess its Realtor.com website.

      • Chad McBain

        @lawrencebell:disqus Ahh that is the elephant in the room. NAR really doesn’t own Realtor.com which could be a massive issue on its own. They license the name to Move inc. which owns Realtor.com as well as a whole host of other real estate related sites and products for both the consumer and realtor. Move inc is in the same business as Zillow while NAR is obviously conflicted as it is a trade association but also a partner with Move inc in the “real estate entertainment business”. Me thinks in their fear and haste to rally their members they now are speaking with two faces :) The games are getting interesting indeed.

        • Lawrence Bell

          @Chad McBain Thanks for clarification! You’ve hit the nail squarely on its head… the games are getting interesting indeed!

        • Lawrence Bell

          @Chad McBain In the interest of expanding my knowledge about NAR’s positioning, took a read of NAR’s Realtor.org website and thought I’d share with everyone. According to the information there, NAR indicates that it does indeed own Realtor.com. It states…

          “Key Provisions in the Operating Agreement

          The operating agreement negotiated more than eight years ago contained a number of important provisions ensuring NAR’s control over the content and operations of the site. Those provisions remain in full force today and continue to guide the relationship between NAR and Homestore (NASDAQ: HOMS), which owns RealSelect.

          1. The National Association of REALTORS® owns and controls REALTOR.com. NAR’s subsidiary, RIN, also owns approximately 4% of Homestore’s stock, and maintains two seats on the Real Select board, and one seat on the Homestore board. In addition to their fiduciary responsibilities to those entities, the NAR appointees also:

          4. NAR remains the sole owner of the REALTOR.com site and trademark.

          • Chad McBain

            @lawrencebell:disqus thanks for the clarification back Lol. I should be more selective with my words :) Yes they indeed own the name Realtor.com but my point was that Move Inc is the company that runs the site as well as a large suite of services and products associated around the Real Estate industry much like a Zillow. Check their site or wikipedia page if you are bored and or curious it is quite the array of companies and sites. Therefore NAR shouldn’t critique Z imho for being entertainment when they also help run a similar and competing site. By the way

          • Chad McBain

            Bye the way nothing lol…run on fingers sorry.

        • http://blog.findwell.com Kevin Lisota

          Seattle is one of the only major urban markets where the MLS is not controlled by NAR. In most locations, you have to join to get MLS access. It’s an all or nothing affair where everyone in the office has to join and pay the hefty dues.

          Interestingly, something like half of our local real estate agents are not members of NAR. All of the big offices are, but most independents are not. It is simply too expensive for no tangible benefits. Also proof that you don’t need NAR membership to have a vibrant real estate market.

          NAR is as big as they are because they are a “forced membership” group in the industry. Untie MLS access and the membership would flee because there is little measurable benefit to the membership itself.

          BTW, I think NAR does technically have some ownership stake in Move, though I haven’t checked what it is.

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