A Northern Virginia real estate broker who set up an online networking group for Northern Virginia Realtors to talk shop has shut down that group at the request of a local Realtor association.
Frank Borges LLosa, broker for Frankly Real Estate Inc., in Alexandria, Va., said he was surprised that the "NVAR (unofficial)" group that he created at the Facebook social networking site drew fire from the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, a local Realtor trade group.
"I wasn’t trying to pull a fast one. I wasn’t trying to cause trouble by creating an unofficial NVAR group," he said, adding that the intent was to create an online group for members of the association to connect.
Christine Todd, CEO for the Realtor group, and Sarah L. Petcher, general counsel for the group, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
LLosa said he set up the Facebook group about four months ago, and he received communications from Petcher stating that he "cannot use the name of the association, its initials or logo without permission," and requesting that he ensure that all members the group are Realtors before referring to group members as "Realtors in Northern Virginia," for example.
"Please confirm with me when you have changed the name of your Facebook page," Petcher stated in an e-mail communication.
LLosa also suggested that NVAR could take over the Facebook group, but the association declined the offer. Facebook does not allow name changes for groups, so LLosa shut down the NVAR unofficial group and launched a Northern Virginia agents Facebook group to comply with the association’s request.
The National Association of Realtors has policies to protect its trademark from improper use by Realtor members, and Petcher sent LLosa a link to online information about accepted and improper uses of the "Realtor" term.
There have been other run-ins by Realtors with NAR restrictions on use of the "Realtor" term at online sites, and some MLSs have also adopted policies that place restrictions on use of the terms "multiple listing service" and "MLS."
While the national Realtor group would permit a real estate company titled Genius Realty to create a GeniusRealtyRealtors.com Web site, for example, or for a Realtor named Bob Genius to have a GeniusRealtor.com Web site, the use of a descriptive term or phrase with the "Realtor" term is not appropriate under NAR guidelines.
"NAR does not have a policy exception for social networking sites," said Lucien Salvant, an NAR spokesman. "Realtor is a trademarked term and belongs to NAR, which has exclusive right to the term."
State and local Realtor associations affiliated with NAR have more flexibility than members in using "Realtor" and related terms online. The Virginia Association of Realtors has set up a Facebook group that has 105 members, for example, and the local Fredericksburg Area Association of Realtors in Virginia has set up a group that has 18 members.
Meanwhile, an individual Realtor in Ohio created a Facebook group titled "Realtor" that has gained more than 800 members since its launch last year.
Jason Ross, a Realtor for Real Solutions Inc. in Ohio, said he hasn’t received any complaints about improper use of Realtor in the title of his Facebook group, though "there’s no way to confirm every member of that group is a Realtor."
The group description does state that members of the group "must be a licensed Realtor and a member of the NAR or (Canadian Real Estate Association) to join this group."
Ross said that he believes his Facebook Realtor group is "for the good" of NAR, and is "not demeaning or taking away from the name." Ross said he has received a few requests to capitalize the word "Realtor" in the group title, though it would not be possible to change the name without shutting down the existing group, and he has not seen any policies that mandate capitalization of the word.
In a December 2007 online article at the NAR Web site, Realtor.org, about social networking, the association promotes several ways that Realtors can use Facebook. "Not only can you connect with friends, past clients and peers, the ability to create or actively participate in groups such as ‘Indianapolis Homebuyers,’ ‘First Time Homebuyers,’ or ‘Chicago Real Estate’ can help expand your group of contacts."
It’s understandable that NAR wants to protect its trademark, LLosa said. "It’s not a no-brainer. You have to walk this delicate line of enforcing your trademark while not being overly burdensome. It’s tough for them."
But he said he believes the crackdown on the title of his Facebook group is overly restrictive. In an e-mail message to NVAR’s CEO, he stated, "I don’t see why a group of people can’t say that they are all NVAR members and have an unofficial discussion about Realtor needs and opinions."
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