LAS VEGAS — The National Association of Realtors board of directors on Friday approved a provision that allows Realtor-affiliated multiple listing services to ban members’ use of the terms “MLS” and “Multiple Listing Service” in Web site addresses, company names, e-mail addresses and in other marketing materials.
A small group of MLSs has already passed such measures, and a policy adopted by the Regional MLS in Minnesota led to an antitrust lawsuit filed by several MLS members. That lawsuit was settled earlier this year.
NAR directors also approved other policies relating to information Realtors must present on their Web sites, and approved spending of up to $15 million to create a credit union for members, association and MLS staff, and their families.
In a Wednesday meeting of the association’s Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee and the MLS Forum, several audience members voiced worries about the adoption of the provision, which would not place any limitations on the use of the “MLS” and “Multiple Listing Service” terms by nonmembers of an MLS.
Summer Greene, a member of the Realtor Association of Greater Fort Lauderdale, said during the forum that she believed the provision allowing MLSs to restrict use of the terms “is way too late.”
“MLS is to real estate like Kleenex is to tissue. The American consumer has bought into what an MLS is. With this passing everyone in the free world (can use the terms) except us,” she said.
Another commenter suggested that the committee put off consideration of such a provision until the association re-branded MLS to another name.
Kevin Kirkpatrick, president of the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors, told the forum that his board had switched the name of its MLS to BLC, for Broker Listing Cooperative. “I think the MLS name has been used and abused for so long it’s been diluted. I think brokers do not understand where it came from.” He said the BLC re-branding “has been extremely well-received by the public.”
Jeff Barnett, vice chairman of the MLS Forum, said the new provision will not be without controversy. “We anticipate there to be some problems. This is voluntary to your local boards — this is not … mandatory.”
The stated rationale for the new provision, according to information presented to NAR directors, is to make it clear to consumers “that they do not receive full, direct and complete access to all information in MLS databases via participant or subscriber Web sites.”
NAR directors also approved a change to the standard of conduct for MLS participants that requires participants’ and affiliates’ Web sites to clearly state the name of the firm and the state of licensure.
Directors approved an added section to the standards of conduct providing that MLS participants may not “engage in deceptive or unauthorized framing of real estate brokerage Web sites; manipulate listing content in any way that produces a deceptive or misleading result; or deceptively use metatags, keywords or other devices/methods to direct, drive or divert Internet traffic, or to otherwise mislead consumers.”
Directors also tripled the maximum fines that MLSs can impose on participants for rule violations, from $5,000 to $15,000, adopted MLS disciplinary guidelines, and passed a new policy that authorizes MLSs to “remove listings from the MLS where the participant has repeatedly refused or failed to timely report status changes.
“Prior to the removal of any listing(s) from the MLS, the participant shall be advised of the intended removal so the participant can advise his or her client(s),” according to the new MLS policy.
Directors amended an article in the NAR Code of Ethics to state that Realtors “shall ensure that their status as real estate professionals is readily apparent in their advertising, marketing and other representations, and that the recipients of all real estate communications are, or have been, notified that those communications are from a real estate professional.”
Directors also adopted a related standard of practice stating that Realtors shall not “use URLs or domain names that present less than a true picture, or register URLs or domain names which, if used, would present less than a true picture.”
The association approved the submission of an application to form a credit union, and to pay an initial grant of $10 million and an additional grant of up to $5 million to establish that credit union.
The Internet-based virtual credit union is intended to give members, association and MLS staff and their families more favorable rates either on deposits or on their loans, said Mike Brodie, a former association treasurer, in a presentation to NAR directors.
NAR has been lobbying in Washington, D.C., for years to block federally chartered banks from engaging in real estate brokerage services, and several directors questioned during the meeting whether the creation of a credit union would compromise this stance against banks in real estate by posing competition to services that banks offer.
Brodie said, though, said, “NAR will not be starting a bank, or entering the banking business,” adding that he doesn’t believe the creation of a credit union will jeopardize the association’s lobbying efforts.
The association expects to file an application to create the credit union in December or the first quarter of 2008, with approval anticipated in mid-2008.
Directors also approved about $476,000 in legal spending for several lawsuits, including an additional contribution of about $225,000 to defend a Philadelphia-area Realtor against a patent infringement lawsuit over a mapping technology. And they approved an additional $125,000 to support Realcomp II, a Michigan MLS, in defending against antitrust charges brought by the Federal Trade Commission.