National REIA: Then and Now

Pioneers of Investor Meet-Ups

Robert Allen and Albert Lowry were both riding a wave in the late 1970s. Both men were real estate investors and authors. Like other legendary speakers including Jimmy Napier, John Schaub, and Jack Miller, they traveled the country conducting real estate seminars. Attendees could learn the business of investing in real estate from the experts rather than from expensive mistakes.

The seminars were packed. 

By the end of the 1970s the real estate market was going wild in America.  With a little cash, some rehabbing skills and a few creative financing techniques under their belt, a person could buy a small investment property and make big bucks. Government loans were still easy to obtain.  Double-digit inflation made it almost impossible not to make money. Tax advantages were very favorable. Suddenly real estate investing was accessible to “the little guy,” and new real estate millionaires from all walks of life were popping up everywhere.

The typical seminar speaker traveled from town to town, spending a weekend in each location before moving on.  But Allen and Lowry recognized a need.  Graduates of their programs gained knowledge and were motivated and optimistic about investing.  They were encouraged to increase their knowledge and maintain their momentum by meeting regularly with others who shared their goals and interests.  All around the country, investors began holding monthly meetings to network and to hear new information from each other, as well as local and national experts.  The local investor meet-up and real estate investor association were born.

Learning from Each Other

As the local investor groups became more organized, many incorporated, elected boards of directors, became politically active, and negotiated on behalf of their members for vendor discounts. Some even spun off other groups. 

By the mid 1980s, 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 addressing common problems within their groups with varying degrees of success. Some excelled at recruitment, but couldn’t figure out how to retain old members.  Others retained members for years, but didn’t know how to get discounts on products their members wanted. Some groups had dozens of vendor discounts, but did not know how to fight City Hall.

From his perch as President of the New Orleans REIA, Tom Hennigan had seen his REIA grow from 35 members to over 800 by the 1985.   But Hennigan sensed that a nationwide network of groups could help each other become larger, more successful, and more influential.   As he traveled the country attending seminars and conference, he met fellow REIA leaders who shared his vision.

Hennigan and the New Orleans REIA hosted a meeting of association leaders on October 17, 1985 at the New Orleans Marriott.  The attendees were all leaders of other local real estate investor groups:

  • 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 stated mission of the meeting was simple: exchange ideas for the betterment of all of the groups.  Through the synergy of the assembled leaders, many of the problems faced by local associations were overcome. Ideas were traded day and night and every leader went home with new strategies to grow and improve their groups.   But the meeting produced another result: the framework for a national association.

Tom and Peggy Hennigan created the first National Leadership Conference (NLC) at a meeting in Orlando in January 1986. The event, which  drew 65 local REIA leaders from across the nation, was so successful that it was decided that a similar conference should be held each year.

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 would be renamed the Real Estate Leadership Association of America (RELAA), and continue to  hold an annual winter leadership conference in Orlando.  Soon, it would begin holding mid-year regional conferences. These meetings continued to promote fellowship, the sharing of ideas, and the training of leaders.  Sessions 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 late 1980’s caused the bottom to drop out of the real estate market in many areas.

In 1994,  RELAA was renamed again.  This time it would be called  the National Real Estate Investor’s Association. National REIA continued and expanded the mission of teaching leaders how to lead.  Soon, the annual National REIA conference was attracting an average of 100 leaders from over 40 groups around the country. 

In 1997, the Board of Directors of National REIA moved the annual 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 Caribbean. The cruise conference quickly became popular, becoming an annual event attended by over 350 people. In 2019 National REIA added a fall Alaskan cruise conference which was well attended and received.

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

In recent years, National REIA has expanded its services and benefits to its members. In addition to providing investor education and association management support to local REIAs, National REIA has enhanced its advocacy programs and become the voice for real estate investors on Capitol Hill, in state capitols, and city halls though out the United States.

From the birth of investor meet-ups in the 1970s to today’s network of REIAs, the education and support of investors has been driven by visionary leaders in the field.  Their contribution to the creation of the National REIA is recognized as we continue our mission to promote, protect, and educate investors.