On July 24, 2013, 625 (out of 756) NAR Directors met in Chicago and approved recommendations from the RIN Board to amend the lengthy Operating Agreement between NAR and Move/Real Select. The amendment allows Realtor.com the leeway to expand its base of aggregated listings beyond those supplied by REALTOR-owned and controlled sources. Questions still abound as to the impact of the NAR decision, although news articles over the last week shed more light on the decision and what to expect in coming months.
An article in NAR’s REALTOR Magazine noted that 1999 NAR President Sharon Millett, who was “there at the creation” of realtor.com, spoke persuasively in favor of all the requested changes. “There was a time when restricting the site to only REALTOR® listings was appropriate,” she said, “but that time has passed.” Now, it’s time to compete head-to-head and give consumers what they clearly want: an accurate, comprehensive site, she said.
NAR President Gary Thomas stated that expanding realtor.com’s base of listings is critical to maintaining its competitiveness in the world of listing aggregation. And the REALTOR® brand will continue to be preeminent, not just in the domain name but in every aspect of the site, its mobile apps, and its public relations.
“When the changes are implemented, the site will continue to clearly distinguish REALTOR®-represented listings and will use language that more prominently emphasizes the difference between REALTORS® and non-REALTORS®,” said RIN President and CEO Bob Goldberg.
With respect to the number of negative comments about the NAR Director action, editor-in-chief Stacey Moncrieff said “The concerns and protests expressed here are easily understood. However, I think this change will be an opportunity to make the REALTOR brand even more distinctive – because every property that is listed by a REALTOR will be identified as such – and the Code of Ethics will be reinforced every time someone views a REALTOR listing.”
NAR published in Question and Answer format a number of issues and concerns that have surfaced over the new freedom offered realtor.com to remain competitive in the online real estate space. The article points out that some REALTOR® MLSs already accept listings from practitioners who are not REALTORS®. As a result, since its inception, realtor.com® has displayed listings from non-members who were participants in REALTOR® MLSs that chose to include those listings in their data feeds.
As for the operating agreement, “Among the other provisions, the agreement prohibits certain advertising, such as liquor ads and political ads. There is also an exclusivity clause: RIN and NAR can’t have a consumer property-listing site without RealSelect and Move, and RealSelect/Move can’t have one without RIN/NAR.
Addressing the issue of benefit to REALTORS, “When realtor.com® has the resources and flexibility to give consumers what they want—an accurate, credible, and comprehensive source of market data—that helps create a strong tie between consumers and REALTORS® as the source of that data. The other huge benefit: A competitive realtor.com® attracts more consumers to the site and therefore more traffic to REALTORS®’ listings and helps consumers understand the value of working with a REALTOR® and the work that NAR does on their behalf to protect homeownership.”
An article on NAR’s member site realtor.org, revealed some of the discussions that took place shortly before the vote of the Directors. There was an opening video montage on the early days of RIN – one of the clips featured comments by Saul Klein, the first Realtor.com Evangelist, 1993 NAR President Bill Chee, and San Francisco Association CEO, Walt Baczkowski.
Speaking on the importance of the REALTOR brand (valued at $4.5 Billion by NAR’s CEO Dale Stinton) was 1000 Watt’s Brian Boero, well-respected industry consultant. According to Brian, “realtor.com is more than a technology partner. It is a brand partner. It is an instrument of the REALTOR® brand, generating 450 million brand impressions every month through its website, mobile apps, and social media. Brand equals meaning, and real estate today equals REALTORS®. It’s in consumers’ minds. What’s happening here today is deepening that.”
Curt Beardsley, vice president of business development for realtor.com, then showed practices that demonstrate Zillow’s attitude toward the industry. The site, he said, leaves the real estate practitioner out of its advertising; puts inaccurate Zestimates next to list prices; encourages consumers to sell without an agent; posts inaccurate, out-of-date information; and buries basic listings behind pages of “featured” (paid) listings.
“REALTORS® have invested a lot of time and millions of dollars in building information technology to give consumers online access to real estate information, and we know that consumer demand for all things ‘home’ has never been greater,” said NAR President Gary Thomas, broker-owner of Evergreen Realty in Villa Park, Calif. “We want realtor.com to have the resources and flexibility it needs to give consumers what they want while ensuring that today’s buyers and sellers can continue to rely on REALTORS® for the most accurate, credible market data. We think the proposed changes achieve both goals.”
Before the proposal was put before the board, realtor.com® President Errol Samuelson took the stage to show how realtor.com® is incorporating the brand into its listings, mobile apps, and advertising, and he shared some of the innovation that’s underway. Following the near unanimous vote, Samuelson said: “Today’s historic and collaborative recommendation by the NAR board empowers us to further expand and enrich the consumer experience on realtor.com and its mobile applications with greater breadth of content, and to do so with our continuing commitment to the highest level of quality and accuracy for both the real estate community and consumers.” Samuelson said changes will happen at “Internet speed.”
The last series of quotes comes from an article by Andrea Brambila, Associate Editor at Inman News. Andrea, as well as staff writer Paul Hagey for Inman News, consistently report quality pieces on current happenings in the real estate industry. Andrea solicited a number of pertinent statements from Move CEO Steve Berkowitz as to the new direction for realtor.com and its impact on NAR members and non-members.
Move CEO Steve Berkowitz sought to allay Realtors’ concerns about maintaining realtor.com’s accuracy. “Comprehensiveness does not come at the cost of accuracy. What our goal in this process and in everything we’re trying to do is to allow the consumer to not only see a comprehensive set of data but also identify the difference between the data that has been delivered with authority (by) Realtors,” he told Inman News. “We don’t take the ‘what’s for sale’ listings from just anybody,” he added. Listing information will be sourced from “authoritative sources.”
For-sale homes data will continue to be sourced primarily from brokers and multiple listing services, Realtor-affiliated or not, he said, and new-homes data will come from BDX, a consortium of top homebuilders that also powers New Home Source, of which Move owns 51 percent. Consumers will not be allowed to upload listings. “The focus on accuracy is absolutely core to everything that we do. (Sourcing from MLSs is) almost a guarantee of accuracy because listings are required by their MLSs to be accurate,” Berkowitz said.
“We believe the MLSs are the best source of information about homes for sale and that’s why we’ve spent 14 years building those relationships. The MLSs are very important to the process,” he added. He said the changes would actually bring more accuracy to the site by identifying the source of a listing and designating when it has been provided by a Realtor.
“The definition of data accuracy is not only that the data is accurate but that the consumer knows where the data comes from,” Berkowitz said. Identifying Realtor-represented listings as such amid those from other sources will actually strengthen the Realtor brand, he said. “It’s best to have a home listed with a Realtor and buy a home with a Realtor but not every home is listed with a Realtor and it’s important to know that to have your Realtor ask the questions they need to ask,” he said. Realtor.com will inform consumers that the best professional to work with is a Realtor, Berkowitz said. This will include outlining the advantages of working with a Realtor, the Realtor code of ethics, and what Realtors do to support homeownership.
“Our job as a business is to build the brand and to build the consumers’ relationship with that brand, and that’s a foundation built on trust, which is built around education, awareness and accuracy,” he said. “If we walk out of this with one thing we’re going to accomplish, it’s we’ve built the trust in the Realtor brand,” he added.
Move said it was still evaluating its content sources “within the realtor.com accuracy proposition” and would include criteria regarding how often a source updates its content. The site will continue to show the last time a listing was updated. While 90 percent of realtor.com’s listings are currently updated every 15 minutes, Berkowitz said he was unsure whether Move would require sources of new homes and rental listings to update that often. “I know we have the single most accurate source of new-homes data. We already have the spec homes where builders built it and put it in the MLS — this (change) is about new-home communities where the inventory is about how many lots are available,” he said.
Will realtor.com be able to regain its No. 1 position? More important, will they be able to rally the support of REALTORS behind NAR efforts to make realtor.com more competitive, the goal being to attract more consumer traffic to REALTORS listings and helping consumers understand the value of working with a REALTOR.
Time will tell.