Five Questions With National Association of Realtors CEO Bob Goldberg
John Jordan | September 17, 2020
As the real estate industry in the Hudson Valley and the New York City metro region continues to adhere to new practices and safety protocols brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, Realtors’ acceptance and adaption to new technologies have been seen by many observers as critical in preventing the sector’s economic collapse in the spring and fostering the present impressive recovery.
With that in mind, Real Estate In-Depth turned to someone who for years has been a leader in fostering change and advancing technology in real estate. In his nearly quarter century of service to the National Association of Realtors, CEO Bob Goldberg is perhaps best known for his efforts in transforming the organization into what it is today and driving technology and innovation that has led and will foster the continued evolution of residential and commercial real estate for years to come.
In addition to his many accomplishments at NAR, Goldberg has specifically emphasized the importance of staying ahead of “proptech” or “real estate- and property-focused technology.” Under his leadership, NAR launched the Strategic Business Innovation and Technology Group, designed to drive industry innovation and benefits to NAR members. The group includes an Emerging Technology team, tasked with finding partnerships with organizations, companies and institutions researching and developing new technologies. The team also launched the successful Innovation and Opportunity Investment Summit (iOi), a unique yearly gathering of real estate practitioners, technology innovators and investors to identify opportunities to work together.
In addition to his role as NAR CEO, Goldberg is president of NAR’s investment arm, Second Century Ventures, as well as the highly ranked REACH® technology accelerator. Through those entities, NAR holds positions in a range of technology companies, driving innovation for the benefit of the industry and NAR members. In addition, he is president and CEO of the REALTORS® Information Network, a for profit, wholly-owned subsidiary of NAR, where he’s responsible for oversight of the realtor.com® operating agreement with Move Inc.
Real Estate In-Depth: You have been CEO of NAR since 2017 and with the organization for nearly a quarter century, do you think this is the most challenging time the industry has faced?
Goldberg: Yes, I think it is one that none of us, honestly, have ever experienced, thank goodness. I would say it is our year of resiliency. When you think about it, I say this kiddingly, but when I came in as CEO three years ago and went through extensive interviewing as did lots of other people to be the CEO of the largest trade association in the world, that was never a question I got asked, which is: “How are you going to lead an organization through a pandemic?” And for all of us who are dealing with it every single day, I don’t want to say it’s on the job training, but good leaders and top leaders learn to lead in times of crisis like this.
So, we are clearly living through history. Everything that we are doing every single day to best serve our members from an association perspective is more intense today than ever before. We’ve had to figure out how do we better engage with our members? I always make the comment: “There is no more important time in the value of an association than now.” We have had economic crises before, we’ve had all types of issues that have happened in real estate, but there has been nothing like this before with governmental restrictions on so many things and (the question of) how do we engage with each other? The one thing I am very proud of is that not only have we risen to the challenge, we have exceeded what I think anybody would have ever imagined as an industry…
Real Estate In-Depth: Have agents permanently altered the way they conduct business as a result of COVID and/or has COVID been the catalyst for change and if so please specify?
Goldberg: I think COVID has been the catalyst for it. People always talk about “The New Normal.” It is really not the New Normal it is the “Now Normal” that’s how I refer to it because we have all been forced to accelerate how we engage in the business itself. The practitioners and our members, who may have been wary of adapting to the technologies that are out there in terms of virtual tours, open houses, electronic closings, remote online notary, these technologies are being put in the front of everything we are doing and I don’t believe as the result of the pandemic when we get to post-pandemic, hopefully sooner versus later, that these things are going to go away. It is going to be a hybrid approach as to how members are conducting business in a new and more efficient way. I think it (COVID-19) accelerated the industry to doing things that have to be done to compete in this new world that we are living in. But it won’t just suddenly go away when the pandemic ends.
The same way with NAR and how the association is engaging with its members. I think we are going to be in a hybrid world where we will be doing things in person and we will be doing things to expand NAR’s reach. I always give a good example of our legislative meetings. We usually come to Washington to lobby on Capitol Hill for our May Legislative Meetings. We get about 8,500 people for that. This year, we had 28,000-plus people for the (virtual) sessions. We had almost four-times the people and we did everything we normally do. We did Virtual Town Halls with members of Congress. We are still doing it, so it doesn’t even have to happen that week.
So, what we have found is a new foundation on which we engage people in Washington. We had a Leadership Live event with NAR’s Leadership Team with our members. We had almost 20,000 people live with us. Within two days after we had over 100,000 members view it. So, I think COVID has forced us to have to do things differently. It was going to happen invariably anyway, but now in order for us all to sustain ourselves, everyone is playing that game… We have found that even some of the smaller “Mom and Pop” shops all the way to the mega-franchises are all doing things that are more advanced today than I have ever seen in this industry.
Real Estate In-Depth: The real estate industry has bounced back quickly as COVID restrictions have been lifted. A major reason for the rapid turnaround has been the industry’s use of technology. You have been an advocate of Realtors use of technology and the founder of the Strategic Business Innovation and Technology Group. With that in mind, do you feel that further technological advances are critical to the industry’s future and are no longer a threat as some had feared?
Goldberg: I think that question is spot-on. I think it is something that will continue to accelerate. Our Emerging Technology group really encompasses what we are doing in our Second Century Ventures and our Reach (technology) accelerator program. People don’t realize this, we have over 100 technology companies of which we have an equity investment in to advance the industry. We were one of the first investors in DocuSign, for example. Now everybody does e-signatures. We have two remote notary companies that we are equity owners of. We have over 100 of those and they stand in both the residential and commercial arenas.
I look at the fact that we were doing this in the last 10 years and really pushed hard to make sure that Realtors had a voice in what was happening in technology. My biggest fear and I used to run this (initiative) before I became CEO for NAR, was that companies that are in the technology field—these small start-ups that had no legacy handcuffs on them are in the best position to disintermediate our members because they are just out there doing their thing. We felt that if we participated by having an equity investment in those companies that we have a chance to influence those companies so they become Realtor advocates and not Realtor adversaries. And, that is something that I think will continue… We are also one of the top technology accelerators in the world, not just in real estate, but in the world period. So, the fact that we have an opportunity with such a dominant foundation here allows us to continue to build relationships with these companies that are innovating every day and bring solutions to our members to help them improve their ROI (return on investment).
Real Estate In-Depth: With the recent civil unrest in Minneapolis, Kenosha and elsewhere, and with President Trump’s recent decision to repeal the affirmative further fair housing regulation, is the association undertaking any further actions to promote fair housing?
Goldberg: Yes, the center of the lane we play in is fair housing. I am pleased to say that even as early as January before even the mess that was occurring up in Long Island with the Newsday reports, we doubled down as a Leadership Team with regards to Fair Housing. President Vince (Malta) coming in, John Smaby (2019 President) last year and Charlie Oppler (2020 President-Elect) coming in, felt that we should be doing more in this arena. So, we hired a Director of Fair Housing, a gentleman named Bryan Greene. He came from HUD and was responsible for Fair Housing at HUD and we said why don’t we bring him on board with us and develop programs. This was very much pre-Long Island and was pre the situation that occurred with the unfortunate death of George Floyd. We were already saying that ‘You know what with fairness and justice, we need to be the player in housing to show what we are all about. And so, we brought Bryan on and developed the ACT (Accountability, Culture Change and Training) program, which I am sure Bryan talked to you about. (Editor’s Note: HGAR held a webinar featuring NAR Director of Fair Housing Greene earlier this year) …
We did an Implicit Bias video, which I am very proud of as an association, which is about a 45-minute video. I think every member should be watching that. We are also asking our employees at NAR to make sure they are looking at it as well. We just converted many of our ads in our consumer ad program to Fair Housing ads. We have been running full-page ads in both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal about NAR’s commitment to Fair Housing. I think as you have seen with the programming we did at Leadership Summit and what we also did at the Mid-Year Legislative meetings, we have substantially increased and improved (the promotion of) more conversations and open dialogue about what we need to do in the Fair Housing arena and we have really expanded our outreach to the multi-cultural groups that are involved in housing as well and to say that we all need to do more to ensure that housing truly is fair and equitable and we as an industry need to do a better job…
Real Estate In-Depth: Besides COVID-19, what are the key impediments to growth in the real estate industry for the remainder of 2020 and for 2021?
Goldberg: You know it is interesting because home sales are booming, except for the fact that the impediment, which is the lack of inventory. In the new home arena where we are a partner with the National Association of Home Builders and working very closely with them with what they are doing to help increase more housing inventory, what has happened is as we all know, lumber prices have skyrocketed, so therefore entry-level, first-time buyer homes are hard to come by. So, we keep working and pushing with them to see if there are things that can be done to increase that. With interest rates so low, which is a good thing, we have to encourage more people to feel confident that if they were to put their home up for sale in a hot market that there is an opportunity for them to move up in other homes. The problem is people don’t feel confident that if I go to sell my house, is there something affordable that I can move up to?
The last thing I would want to say in terms of a possible impediment is what is still going to happen with this pandemic. We are still in the heart of everything that is going on—the negatives, such as the infection rates fluctuating with rates going up in certain markets. They are talking about if there is going to be a second wave (of COVID-19). I don’t know what the definition of that is because there are some areas that are just skyrocketing in numbers while others have ebbed a bit. So, I think it is just a matter of if it turns south again and government has to go back into pulling back with greater restrictions, and some areas have done that and some have backed off on where they were before, that could be a huge impediment to the growth that we are seeing.
I think the good news to those impediments is that our members have been able to show, certainly since we pushed hard and worked very closely with our state associations to make sure that real estate was deemed as an essential service, that real estate can still be conducted if done safely and done the right way. Consumers demand it, our members know what to do. They don’t want to put consumers in harm’s way. So, I am hopeful that even if government were to be more restrictive again, that real estate would be left out of those restrictions because I think we as an industry have been able to show that based on the sales volume and in how busy it is, that we have been able to conduct our industry as a fair and safe haven for potential buyers and sellers… So, I think that whatever impediments are there, I think we can certainly overcome them as an industry.