National REIA: The Beginning

The History, The Necessity

Picture, if you will, the United States in the mid and late 1970s. A former peanut farmer sat in the oval office.  Platform shoes and leisure suits ruled the fashion runways.  Disco music was everywhere; gasoline was difficult to come by. Leonardo DiCaprio was still chewing on strained carrots. And the real estate market was going wild.

All at once, anyone with a little cash, some rehabbing skills and a few creative financing techniques under their belt could buy a small investment property and make big bucks. FHA and VA loans were still freely assumable, double-digit inflation made it almost impossible not to make money, and the tax advantages were spectacular. Suddenly, real estate investment was accessible to “the little guy’, not just to the wealthy. And the little guy took big advantage of this new opportunity. New real estate millionaires from all walks of life were popping up everywhere.

Also popping up everywhere were real estate seminars. Taught by legendary speakers like Jimmy Napier, John Schaub, Jack Miller, and numerous others, these seminars were valuable in that they allowed students to learn the business from experts rather than from expensive mistakes. Many of these speakers traveled from town to town, spending a weekend in each location and then moving on. Back then two notable speakers, Robert Allen and Albert Lowry, were probably more than any other speakers responsible for setting up groups and real estate investments associations all over the nation.

Students left the seminars with tons of great information, but more importantly, they left with a motivated, optimistic attitude about real estate investing. The more enlightened new investors in each city realized that the only way to continue to increase their knowledge and stay “pumped” about their business was to meet regularly with others who shared their goals, dreams, and interests. These leaders gathered others who came together on a monthly basis to network and to hear new information from local and national experts. As time passed, these groups became more and more organized; many incorporated, elected boards of directors became politically active, negotiated on behalf of their members for vendor discounts, and even spun off other groups. Still, something was missing.

By the time the mid-80’s rolled around, these scattered groups were becoming more aware of each other. As leaders of local associations met at various conferences and events, they realized that they were each fighting the problems within their groups with varying degrees of success. Group “A” was be great at recruitment, but couldn’t figure out how to retain old members. Group “B” retained members on their roles for years, but didn’t know how to get discounts on products those members wanted. Group “C” had dozens of vendor discounts, but wasn’t sure how to fight city hall. And on it went. These leaders, being the forward thinking individuals that they were, quickly realized that a nationwide network of groups existed that could help each other become larger, more successful, more influential organizations.

In the mid 1980s, a visionary leader named Tom Hennigan called a meeting of association leaders sponsored and promoted by New Orleans REIA on October 17,1985 at the New Orleans Marriott Hotel. The first few Directors of other associations that attended were:

  • Gordon Catts, Atlanta, GA
  • Marc Goodfriend, Chicago, IL
  • Al Abramson, New Orleans, LA
  • Melanie Sullivan, New Orleans, LA
  • June McCarthy, Minneapolis, MN
  • Terry Roberts, Seattle, WA
  • David Gangalino, Chattanooga, TN
  • Steve Masey, Orlando, FL
  • Harold Baber, Huntsville, AL

The objective of this meeting was simply to exchange ideas for the betterment of all of the groups. The results, however, were awesome. Through the synergy of the group, many of the “insurmountable” problems faced by some local associations were overcome. Ideas were traded day and night, and every leader went home with great new plans and strategies to grow and improve their groups. It was at this meeting that they discussed the need for a national organization. One of the attendees, Marc Goodfriend contacted the Haroldson group. The Haroldson group ran a major convention in Orlando Florida in January ’86 and in conjunction with this convention Tom and Peggy Hennigan created the first National Leadership Conference (predecessor of National REIA). The event drew 65 leaders from all over the nation.  The meeting was so successful that it was decided that a similar conference should be held each year, and so the concept of a national real estate investors association was born.

The Birth of National REIA

While the mission of local associations is to educate members to become better real estate investors, the national association’s vision was something altogether different.  From the very beginning, the national group’s objective was to teach leaders how to make this educational mission happen.

The National Leadership Conference (NLC) was the first incarnation of National REIA. Its successor organizations, Real Estate Leadership Association of America (RELAA), continued with the annual Orlando winter leadership conference and instituted mid-year regional conferences. These meetings continued to promote friendship, sharing of ideas, and training of leaders. Even though the RELAA conference was held in one of the nation’s top vacation spots, this was no time for fun in the sun! Meetings were held from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., then the leaders spent the evenings together networking and sharing some more. Topics like “the value of a member”, recruitment and publicity, dealing with vendors, how to maintain a lending library, publishing excellent newsletters, and others added to each groups’ arsenal of ideas. Local associations who sent representatives to these conferences prospered and grew, even as the economy and new regulations of the mid and late 80’s caused the bottom to drop out of the real estate market in many areas.

In 1994,  RELAA became National REIA, the National Real Estate Investor’s Association. National REIA continued and expanded the mission of teaching leaders how to lead.  Most member groups sent only 1 or 2 directors to the conferences, but many groups helped defray the cost to the attendee because of the amazing volume of great information they brought home. By the early 1990s, the annual National REIA conference was attracting an average of 100 leaders from 40+ groups around the country. With the addition of new groups, the body of knowledge from which leaders could draw expanded until it seemed there was no problem that a group couldn’t solve by simply bringing it to the attention of others.

In 1997, the board of directors of National REIA took the bold and controversial step of moving the winter leadership conference from its traditional Florida home to the open sea. The first National REIA cruise combined the usual leadership training with down-to-earth real estate education by some of the top speakers in the United States. Over 200 association directors, investors, and their families enjoyed seven days of fun and education in the Eastern Caribbean. So well received was the ’98 cruise that over 350 people attend now and it has become an annual event, and will no doubt continue each year for the foreseeable future.

For those leaders that can’t attend the cruise, National REIA re-instituted the practice of holding a mid-year land-based conference in 1998. The three-day format allows ample time for networking, training, and taking in the sights.

From a history by Michael Rodetsky and Tom Hennigan, revised by Jane Garvey