Come May 7, U.S. and Canadian brokerages and associations who want to make sure their home on the Web reflects their Realtor affiliation will be able to claim their own .realtor URL.
But associations won’t be able to link to or display property listings at that URL — something many, if not most, currently do on their websites.
That’s because a noncompete clause in the realtor.com operating agreement between Move Inc. and the National Association of Realtors prohibits NAR from directly or indirectly engaging in the electronic display of listings to the public.
That restriction and others may limit the appeal of the new .realtor domain for NAR’s 1,400 or so local and state associations, some of which have their property search function front and center on their current website.
Unlike associations, brokerages may display listings on their .realtor websites. But if the brokerage is controlled by an entity whose main business is displaying property ads, the brokerage’s domain name cannot be “substantially similar” to the name of that entity’s property ad business.
The .realtor domain has so far fetched only about 96,000 registrations from individual Realtors, according to ntldstats.com. NAR has offered to give 500,000 such domains away to members, though it would take nearly two decades to hand out that many at the current pace of registration.
One reason for that gap could be the business rules drawn up by NAR governing the use of the domains — including a requirement that members’ first, last or full names must be part of the domain (SueSmith.realtor, for example).
Realtors — individuals, brokerages and associations — may also not register a .realtor domain solely comprised of a geographic location, such as Houston.realtor.
This is where a separate agreement between NAR and Move may come in. A top-level domain agreement with Move granted Move “certain rights” over the assignment of .realtor domains, according to a lawsuit NAR filed against Move in November.
Move began to raise concerns about how the .realtor domain name might affect the business of realtor.com after NAR applied to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which manages the Internet’s domain name system, to manage the .realtor domain in 2012, according to the complaint.
NAR’s attorneys said Move “was concerned that so-called ‘geographical’ domains, such as ‘Chicago.Realtor’ or ‘California.Realtor,’ could affect realtor.com’s placement in search results from search engines” and therefore affect realtor.com’s traffic.
In the end, “in light of their long-standing relationship with Move,” NAR voluntarily agreed to a top-level domain agreement with Move, which became effective June 24, 2013, the complaint said.
The agreement provided Move with “certain rights” concerning NAR’s Realtor Domain Names Program, but it is unclear what those rights are. NAR declined to comment on whether the restriction on geographic-only .realtor domains had to do with the agreement, citing confidentiality.
Such domains “are being reserved for future use to benefit the entire industry, such as the Find a Realtor directory, or to search listings on realtor.com, etc.,” said NAR spokeswoman Jane Dollinger in an email.
Members who sign up for a .realtor domain are not prohibited from including geographic terms in the URL, but must include their name in the domain as well, i.e.ChicagoJDoe.realtor. Members have the option, but are not required, to direct their .realtor domain to their realtor.com profile page.
Associations must choose a name connected with their association: the full name of the association, an abbreviation of the name of the association or an acronym, Dollinger said. Examples include LosAlamosBOR.realtor or LABOR.realtor for the Los Alamos Board of Realtors.
Similarly, brokerages must use a domain name in connection with the name under which the company provides real estate services to clients and consumers. Team names are not permitted.
ICANN awarded NAR the right to manage .realtor domains last summer. The trade group began offering .realtor domains to individual U.S. and Canadian Realtors on Oct. 23.
Examples of commonly used top-level domains include “.com” and “.org.” ICANN has already assigned hundreds of new top-level domains and says it could assign some 1,300 over the next few years.
As the Internet begins to divide into industry-specific categories, it’s important for the Realtor community to carve out a recognizable and exclusive “namespace” for itself, NAR said in an announcement.
“Early adoption of new technology is a vital part of how Realtors conduct business, and NAR is committed to staying on the forefront of the latest online tools,” said NAR President Chris Polychron in a statement.
“We hope associations and brokerages can take advantage of the .realtor domain to create an online space where home buyers, sellers and investors, as well as Realtors, can go to find the most trustworthy, reliable real estate services and resources.”
NAR has also won the rights to manage the .realestate domain, though no launch date has been set for that domain, Dollinger said.
In December, with backing from NAR and U.S. multiple listing services, the Canadian Real Estate Association emerged victorious in a bidding war that drove up the price of owning and managing a new “.MLS” top-level domain to $3.36 million.
But at the time NAR said it had no plans to allow use of the .MLS domain in the U.S., choosing instead to focus on .realtor and .realestate.
Realtor-owned and operated MLSs won’t be able to claim a .realtor domain until the next phase of the .realtor rollout, likely in the fourth quarter, Dollinger said.
State and local Realtor associations that have completed a marketing program to promote the .realtor domain to their members by April 30 will receive a free .realtor domain for up to five years. (Realtor-affiliated MLSs get the same offer.)
Associations that do not participate in the marketing program will be charged $99 per year. Discounts are available for multiple domains purchased and/or for multiple years, according to NAR’s .realtor website.
For brokerages, a .realtor domain will cost $79 per year with a 50 percent discount for the first 60 days and additional volume discounts available.