It was an honor to be nominated to the Board of Directors of the National Association of Realtors last fall. Accepting the role of Director was a decision I considered deeply before agreeing. One major reason I said, “Yes,” is that the NAR represents the sale of real estate across the globe. Real property is the foundation and hallmark of what made, and continues to make America great. It holds the promise to do the same everywhere given the right conditions. To be a part of an organization pushing these concepts forward is meaningful and significant.
Historically the ability of the private citizen to own a piece of dirt and call it their own, is revolutionary. It has only become the “norm” worldwide in the past couple hundred years. For the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson rephrased Thomas Locke’s “Life, Liberty and Property” into:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Locke’s “Property” became Jefferson’s “Pursuit of Happiness.” But to the Founding Fathers, real property ownership was front and center, and the tangible foundation in that pursuit of happiness.
Private ownership of property is a relatively new concept, taking root in the 1600’s philosophically. Then in the 1700’s vast areas of land were settled and titled to new owners establishing a wide base of private property ownership. The transition wasn’t easy, or even always peaceful, but allowing private ownership of real property had a powerful transformative effect on society creating a middle class and wealth and prosperity never before seen by so many.
Despite the economic success proven in the great private property experiment, some countries of the world still do not permit private property ownership. But that is changing as the proof of the concept prevails. As recently as 2015, Vietnam opened its markets for private property ownership by foreigners marking a recognition that economic success and property ownership rights are intimately linked.
Yet, having title and the benefits of ownership remain elusive, even in countries that allow private property. Hernando de Soto, in his fabulous book the “Mystery of Capital,” discusses why so many people are locked out of real property ownership and how this affects economic development adversely. De Soto describes people who “possess” a home or property, sometimes for generations, building up a home slowly, by investing hundreds, and even a few thousand dollars, year in and year out. They may “occupy” an investment worth $10,000, $20,000, or even more, but they have no title to the property.
Lack of title prevents real ownership, precludes borrowing that uses the property as collateral, and denies the long term security a title to the property provides. In De Soto’s estimates, over $10 Trillion of land is possessed by individuals worldwide who have no title. This capital is locked up. It is invisible and “useless” in the capitalist system, all for lack of a title.
The great American experiment began as a dream of possibility, where common men could own property, build a home, start a business, and create long term value that established stability and worth. The National Association of Realtors is the foundational advocacy group for these rights and private property ownership in its pure economic form. Sure, philosophically the Heritage Foundation, CATO and others argue at an ethereal level for these rights. But day in, day out, it’s the men and women in the trenches, Realtors helping clients to buy and sell properties that protect, preserve and promote this basic right in its most profound form.
Napoleon Hill once said, “Action is the true measure of intelligence.” At the heart of the National Association of Realtors are 1.2 million members taking action every day to perpetuate, these rights, preserving them in action, and in deed (pun intended) for the good of the individual and America as a whole. But even more, the NAR is engaged worldwide to promote the adoption of modern titling systems to unlock the capital and entrepreneurial potential of that latent capital that De Soto talks about.
The NAR represents our rights as people to be property owners, the foundation of all we hold dear as a nation, and the hope of billions around the world to be lifted out of poverty through the benefits of property ownership combined with human initiative. The NAR and its members preserve the economic freedom and perpetuate commercial activity which has produced a bountiful abundance for us to enjoy today and long into the future.
It is for these reasons that I am proud to serve on the board of the NAR. This service reaches to the core and the deepest, most meaningful level of our economic wellbeing. Helping the NAR expand its global reach to deliver the benefits of private property ownership to many nations where the positive effects are yet to be felt, where abundance still lags, this is why I said yes.
As Bob Buford talks about in is poignant work, “Halftime,” significance is the pinnacle of service. Working alongside the 1.2M members every day, enhancing the reality of property ownership globally, is powerfully significant and intensely rewarding. I am grateful I was given the opportunity to serve.
Michael K. Cobb is the CEO and co-founder of ECI Developments which has properties throughout Latin America. He speaks all over the world on international real estate and is a board member of the National Association of Realtors.
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