New NAR, Move deal sets stage for Realtor.com changes

Move gets more leeway to redesign real estate search site

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Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to note that NAR must grant its approval before Move would be allowed to display Realtor productivity statistics such as active listing counts and sold transactions on Realtor.com.

Realtor.com operator Move Inc. and the National Association of Realtors have updated the 14-year-old agreement governing the operation of the Internet’s most popular real estate portal with the goal of allowing more rapid innovation of the site.

Formal negotiations over the 1996 Realtor.com operating agreement, which were initiated by Move in May and ultimately involved a mediator, led to a lengthy amendment that took effect Sept. 10 — the first change to the agreement in more than 11 years.

The amendment to the agreement gives Move more leeway to make changes to the features, design and layout of the site and its user interface without obtaining prior approval from NAR, which owns the Realtor.com domain and Realtor trademark.

"Our ability to create a much more competitive look and feel around all the pages on the site is dramatically improved," said Move CEO Steve Berkowitz. The amended agreement "allows us to focus on getting features and functions out dramatically faster … and move much faster to innovate based on what we think the opportunities are."

For issues that require its approval, NAR must respond within 10 days.

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Provisions were also added to the agreement to "ensure that brokers and multiple listing services (MLSs) remain in control of their proprietary listing data and related information that displays on Realtor.com," NAR CEO Dale Stinton said in a press release.

Separately, Move also got permission to syndicate listings data to third parties such as online portals, real estate listing sites and other "designated destinations," if instructed to do so by the MLS or broker supplying the listings.

Listings syndication is one of the most cost-efficient tools brokers have to gain exposure for their listings, said Move spokeswoman Julie Reynolds, but many haven’t found a syndication service that maintains the integrity of their data while making sure it remains accurate, fresh and reliable.

Although Move is not yet offering to syndicate listings, "We see (listings syndication) as consistent with our core competencies, and now we are in a position that we can pursue that," Reynolds said.

On Realtor.com, Move has been providing consumers with more access to sold listings and off-market property data it receives from MLSs in more than 50 markets.

Move has been beta-testing new capabilities that allow consumers to see the selling price of properties and view who represented both the buyer and seller.

The amended agreement could eventually allow Move to display Realtor productivity statistics such as active listing counts and sold transactions, but only when listing brokers permit. NAR would have to sign off on adding that capability to the "Find a Realtor" tool. Display of consumer evaluations or ratings of Realtors would also require NAR’s approval.

When the Houston Association of Realtors allowed consumers to search for Realtors by the number of listings or sold transactions in a given area, many members objected, and the feature was pulled from HAR’s public-facing search site. HAR continues to provide consumer ratings when agents opt in to the association’s rating system.

The amended agreement includes a general exemption stipulating that any content appearing on Realtor.com before Sept. 10 is deemed to have been approved by NAR. But the exemption does not apply to a new version of the site, launched in beta test mode on June 15.

Move is specifically barred from displaying for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) listings on Realtor.com, or revealing details about properties such as the owner’s name and whether the property is occupied or vacant.

The amended agreement also bars Move from displaying property-value estimates using its own automated valuation models (AVMs), although valuations generated by unspecified third-party AVMs will be permitted.

The amendment also stipulates that Realtor.com will link to two sites maintained by NAR — Houselogic.com and Realtors Property Resource — and vice versa.

While Houselogic.com is geared toward consumers, NAR maintains that RPR — a national property database now in beta testing that combines property tax records and listings data — will be off-limits to consumers.

Some provisions of the amendment are unclear, as language was omitted from the copy submitted to financial regulators for public display. Move has applied to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for confidential treatment of those passages.

One such section stipulates that Move must provide an unspecified service to listing brokers at no cost if it chooses to add content to listings data that is not supplied by MLSs or expressly approved by NAR.

The unspecified service is to be provided on "an unbundled basis" and "as soon as technically possible" on a listing by listing basis.

Berkowitz said the intent of the language is to formalize Move’s current practice of giving agents and brokers the ability to opt out of certain content that’s tied to listings, such as AVMs.

Usually, when there is a large disparity between a listing’s asking price and an AVM estimate, it’s the AVM that’s at fault, he said.

"With AVMs, (agents and brokers) feel that if they are not accurate, they can be distracting to the listing," Berkowitz said.

"It doesn’t mean you can’t have (AVMs) on the site — we will." But the amended agreement stipulates that agents and brokers will have the ability to opt out of having an AVM or other content attached to their listings.

Berkowitz noted that while a mediator was involved, the negotiations did not require arbitration.

"A lot of these were their (NAR’s) ideas," he said. "They have been pushing us to innovate. These were not battles."

There were certain issues, like agent reviews, that NAR was very concerned about. "We said, ‘Great, we will work with you on that,’ " he said.

"I don’t think the relationship (between Move and NAR) has been better than in the last 10 years," Berkowitz said.

"We’re going to spend a lot more time together" working on strategic rather than operational issues. "We’re trying to move the relationship to where it should have been all along."


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