Editors’s note: This story has been updated to include a comment from NAR.
Realtor.com operator Move Inc. says it’s continuing its negotiations with the National Association of Realtors over the company’s 1996 agreement to operate the Web’s most popular listings search portal, and that a mediator has been involved in some sessions.
Move CEO Steve Berkowitz disclosed in May that the company was seeking additional clarity from NAR about what the agreement allows, and that Move had initiated a process spelled out in the agreement for resolving issues or questions.
In a conference call with investors Thursday, Berkowitz said that "NAR’s goals and our goals are very much aligned" and that the "conversation has been quite productive in the last few weeks."
A spokesman for NAR, Lucien Salvant, said "We want the agreement to continue," but that the agreement is in need of a "serious update" because there have been many technological changes since it was written.
Salvant said there have been a "series of negotiations" with Move over an extended period, and that NAR wants to make sure the agreement is updated "equitably and fairly."
Berkowitz has said Move wants to make sure that Realtor.com remains competitive with other listing search sites, but hasn’t publicly identified the specific issues that are being discussed.
Move has made no secret of the fact that it wants to provide consumers with more access to sold listings and off-market property data on Realtor.com, and on June 15 launched a new version of the site in beta test mode.
Berkowitz said Thursday that during the fourth quarter, Move plans to begin offering multiple listings services (MLSs) a natural language search tool, called "Find," as an incentive for them to enter into long-term agreements to provide listings and other data including expired listings to Move.
Move has described the Find tool as a sophisticated interface for mining data the company has aggregated. Berkowitz said Find will not compete with Move’s own Top Producer system, which allows real estate agents to compile local housing market reports for clients.
NAR is building its own parcel-based national property database through a subsidiary, Realtor Property Resource LLC, which is also seeking to license historical listings data from MLSs.
Some observers have speculated that Move — which was initially involved in building NAR’s property database — may find itself competing with RPR and others for historical listing data.
NAR owns both the Realtor.com trademark and website address, licensing them to Move subsidiary RealSelect under an agreement dating to 1996.
According to Move’s most recent annual report, the agreement contains restrictions on how Move operates the site. Move can enter into agreements only with the MLSs that provide it with listings on terms approved by NAR, for instance.
The agreement is perpetual, containing no provisions allowing Move to terminate it, but several that would allow NAR to do so. NAR can terminate the agreement if traffic on Realtor.com falls below 500,000 unique users per month, for example, or if there is a "substantial decrease" in the number of property listings on the site, Move said. Once notified by NAR, the agreement gives Move 30 days to cure any violations.
The Realtor.com operating agreement "remains in full force and effect," Berkowitz said Thursday.
Article 10 of the operating agreement describes a dispute resolution process which requires that disagreements be submitted for mediation if they can’t be resolved within 15 days. Both parties have an additional 15 days to agree on a mediator. If the dispute is not resolved after 30 days of mediation, the process moves to binding arbitration. Arbitration can be delayed if both parties agree to extend the 30-day mediation window.
In reporting second-quarter financial results, Move provided statistics demonstrating that Realtor.com remains the dominant listings portal on the Internet.
In June, Realtor.com and other sites in the Move network attracted 11.8 million unique users, Move said, citing statistics compiled by comScore Media Metrics. Visitors to the Move network of sites, which also includes Move.com, viewed more than 400 million pages — more than the next five competitors combined, Move said.
Move posted a $1.4 million net loss for the quarter, as revenue fell 9 percent from a year ago, to $49.7 million. But that was an improvement from the $48.6 million generated during the first quarter — the first sequential revenue increase in "many quarters," Chief Financial Officer Rob Krolik said.