Virtual Realty Group’s Michael Lissack on NAR’s business model

This episode of HousingWire Daily features Michael Lissack who was a managing director for 15 years at then-mega Wall Street investor Smith Barney. In the mid-90s, Lissack blew the whistle on how dozens of investment firms priced municipal bonds, a move that led to a Securities and Exchange Commission probe, a $120 million settlement against the investigated companies and Lissack’s exile from Wall Street.

Since then Lissack has pursued a variety of projects. One consistent thread is his work as both a real estate agent and managing broker for Virtual Realty Group. Lissack has now spent two decades in real estate. In this episode of “Houses of Motion,” he describes working within real estate’s present dealmaking structure, while also wanting that structure to radically change.

For example, one idea we debated was whether the U.S.’s almost two million real estate agents would be better served by a labor union than the National Association of Realtors, a group that represents both workers and employers.

Here is a small preview of our interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

Matthew Blake: It seems to me that if workers are collectively bargaining for rights, they are asking for minimal guarantees, especially if you’re an agent whose livelihood is entirely dependent on their commission. I would imagine that they’re asking for some type of safety net, and that would seem to maybe return to more of an employee model for brokerage, which I know existed 40 or 50 years ago, but except for Redfin, and a couple of other shops, no longer does. Is that something you like to see — the return of an employee model?

Michael Lissack: The independent contractor model as it presently exists does not lend itself to the kind of apprenticeship and professionalization and training that’s demanded if we are going to properly serve our clients. What it does is cut overhead and allows the big shops to spend less on overhead.

And that’s great, but it’s short sighted. The people that are getting hurt here are the consumers, and the extra million or so people that claim to be real estate agents are no different than the underpaid Uber drivers who are maybe getting paid for their time but not for their car. 

So, I do think that going to some kind of a hybrid model would work better. I do think that the junior people would be better off if they were not strictly dependent on commissions. 

HousingWire Daily examines the most compelling articles reported across HW Media. Each afternoon, we provide our listeners with a deeper look into the stories coming across our newsrooms that are helping Move Markets Forward. Hosted by the HW team and produced by Alcynna Lloyd and Elissa Branch. If you have a pitch or an inquiry relating to podcasts, you can reach our team at

Below is the transcription of the interview. These transcriptions, powered by Speechpad, have been lightly edited and may contain small errors from reproduction:

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    HousingWire Daily

    Hosted by the journalists behind the headlines, HousingWire Daily examines the most compelling mortgage, real estate, and fintech articles reported from the HousingWire newsroom.

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