Recently I received a "cease & desist" letter from my local real estate board. I received copies of my offending real estate web site pages that have links titled "MLS Search". Now our National Association of REALTORS (NAR) has made an addition to our Code of Ethics preventing us from using the term on our sites. A majority of agents don't really understand the big picture because many do not have web sites and for many that do, they don't understand that having a web site is one thing, having an Internet presence is quite another.
How do we achieve an Internet presence? By doing search engine optimization to allow our sites to appear at the top of search engines when people search specific real estate terms, or keywords, like Orland Park MLS or Homer Glen homes for sale. By appearing in the top of search engines such as Google, we have the benefit of finding buyers and sellers looking to purchase and/or sell a home in the areas we work in as real estate agents. It is a very important part of marketing as around 82% of buyers search the Internet before ever looking at a property. Most of my business this year was because of my Internet presence.
Those of us who know the importance of having a web presence for specific related keywords are incensed about this addition to NAR's Code of Ethics because as dues paying members we are the ones being penalized by this but non-members cannot be. Non-member third party sites such as Homegain - a real estate portal that collects buyer and seller leads and sells them back to real estate agents (for a large chunk of change) can continue using the term MLS in their site because NAR cannot touch them. My own board was going to charge me penalties if I did not remove the offending links that they pointed out to me. I also pay dues to this local real estate board. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!
Homegain, Trulia, Zillow and other such portals can pretty much do whatever they want and use the term MLS on their sites. They do not pay dues to NAR or any real estate boards. Only those of us that are dues paying members are affected.
There are many blog posts out there and even a petition (for NAR members only) about this newest rule. I don't understand why our associations are trying to penalize their own members.
The gist of their reasoning is that we are not being truthful to the public by stating we are giving them direct MLS access, or full MLS access. On my sites I was very specific in stating that I am offering every active MLS listing, which I am. I pay extra for this service, called VOW. This does not allow for brokers that have opted-out of the other MLS resource, which is IDX (for some reason many Northern IL brokers opted out making our IDX only a portion of all active listings on MLSNI). Consumers have to register to utilize the VOW on my web site. IDX does not require registration (and doesn't give every active listing). So if you're using a so-called MLS search on another site without having to register, then you are only receiving a portion of all active listings.
I don't understand what NAR means that we are not being truthful to consumers. The listings I provide with my MLS search are directly from the multiple listing service. They are not from Realtor.com or some other real estate portal - they are listings directly from the Northern IL MLS. Only active listings are provided, not sold and closed or expired listings, for example. I am trying to get as many buyers to reach my web site for areas that I work in. More consumers are aware of the generic term MLS search now than ever before.
But according to my local board and NAR, I cannot explain to consumers that I am offering all active Northern IL MLS listings if they register to use my VOW. But the other non-member, non-dues paying real estate portals will now be allowed to do whatever they want. For the first time in 24 years in the business I'm questioning my membership in my local board and NAR.