In January, the owners of condo-search site CondoDomain.com overhauled their business model and launched brokerage operations.
But joining the region’s multiple listing service had the unintended consequence of knocking the company’s online search tools out of compliance with MLS rules.
To address the violations, CondoDomain.com has pulled back some of its Web site’s features behind a registration wall so that only registered members of the site can have access to them.
"We’re going to keep all of the content that we can publicly available and transparent," said Anthony Longo, who is founder, CEO and broker of record for CondoDomain. "And the things we have to put under lock and key — we will do that."
For example, the company formerly allowed all unregistered users to view information about sold properties, though that data is now only available to registered users who log in at the site.
Also, unregistered users can no longer search by address or view mapped properties at street detail or individual house detail — those tools also require that users be registered and logged in.
Among the other details that require users to register and sign in: price per square foot, year built, builder source, name of complex, number of units, heating, cooling, taxes and tax year, the company reported.
Longo said that he met with MLS Property Information Network officials last month, when he was changing the brokerage company’s name from his personal name to CondoDomain.com.
While he said he had studied the MLS guidelines "very closely" in designing the site, he also realized that "I was floating in a gray area" with some of the site’s features.
"Every feature that we’ve had will still be available once you’ve logged into the site," he said.
What is a thorn in Longo’s side is that real estate search sites that are not MLS members — he referred to them as "the ‘Trulias’ of the world" — "currently don’t have to abide by the same rules, which took me by surprise. I thought we all had to abide by the same rules."
Because CondoDomain must put some of its tools behind a registration wall, that will inevitably have a negative impact on its Google search rankings, as Google won’t be able to index some areas of the site that are closed off to unregistered users, Longo said.
Also, as a Web-based brokerage company "every bit of our marketing is online," and the MLS requirements "will hurt us immediately" and put the company "at a great disadvantage on the Web."
The company’s approach, Longo said, will be to notify consumers using the Web site that the required registration to access some property information and search features is specifically related to MLS regulations, and "is not a tactic of trying to get you to register so we can spam you. We’re going to make that crystal clear."
In a blog item at the CondoDomain site, Longo referred to the company’s rule violations as getting its "hand slapped," and noted that the MLS officials "are awesome and just doing their job. We have always had a great relationship with them. These rules and regulations don’t reflect negatively on MLS. Even though some rules I do not agree with personally, we all have to live by them and we hope other competing Web sites will do the same."
Kathleen E. Condon, president and CEO for MLS PIN, said that MLS rules have not changed recently relating to registration requirements to access property information.
Despite its Web site hiccups, Longo said the company is marching ahead with plans to expand its brokerage operations into new markets.
"We hope to see another one or two open in July," he said, and perhaps dozens more offices across the country. The Web site had previously served 33 urban market areas, he said, and is aiming to launch brokerage operations in those markets.
The company has a very specialized niche in offering flat-fee buyer’s brokerage services in downtown areas. Under the company’s flat-fee business model, CondoDomain keeps $5,000 of its commission and refunds the remainder to buyers.
CondoDomain is not the first online real estate site to launch brokerage operations: Redfin.com and RealEstate.com are among its predecessors.
What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.