Missed out on your preferred site address under the .com domain? Real estate agents and brokers now have the opportunity to buy a new home on the Web under a domain that could instantly clue consumers in to what they do: .homes.

  • For $150 per year, agents and brokers can buy a .homes website domain to make plain to online consumers what they offer.
  • The company says it will build trust with consumers and search engines by offering only home-related content on sites with .homes URLs.
  • The .homes domain could be more attractive to agents, brokers, associations and MLSs than the new .realtor domain, which has more restrictive registration rules.

Missed out on your preferred site address under the .com domain? Real estate agents and brokers now have the opportunity to buy a new home on the Web under a domain that could instantly clue consumers in to what they do: .homes.

Agents and brokerages will also have the opportunity to stake a claim on geographic names, like Houston.homes or NYC.homes, which could turn out to be very lucrative digital real estate.

The new Web domain also represents an alternative for Realtor associations and MLSs locked out of the new .realtor and .MLS domains.

‘Sunrise’ period open now

Dominion Enterprises, the parent company of Homes.com, is now offering URLs with the .homes domain exclusively to purveyors of residential real estate services. For now, real estate professionals or companies with their own registered trademark get first dibs during a “sunrise” period. The domain opens to all eligible real estate pros on May 12.

“.Homes offers a memorable option for real estate professionals that instantly conveys trust and builds credibility with consumers that the site is focused on finding homes or home-related services,” Patty McNease, Homes.com spokeswoman, told Inman via email.

“Purchasing a .Homes domain finally offers those that missed out on the dot-com boom a ground floor opportunity to buy their name, business name, niche market or local area to help them stand out from their competition.”

She noted that Google has stated they will treat new domains (formally known as generic top-level domains or gTLDs) the same as existing TLDs (.com, .org, etc).

“A .Homes domain will offer no better or worse results than a similar .com. If you’re starting from scratch with a new site, any domain will start in the same place,” she said.

Cost

The annual cost of a “non-premium” .homes domain will be $150. By contrast, a .realtor domain runs at $39.95 for one year. These are costs for just a domain, not the website itself.

When asked about the difference, McNease said, “Comparing the price of a .Homes domain to a .Realtor domain is apples to oranges. NAR purchased .realtor as a member benefit and is not charging for the first year with the waived pricing ending at the end of 2016.”

A .com domain typically runs at around $10 or less annually. Costs of more restrictive domains vary. For instance, a .edu domain costs $40 annually and a .gov domain costs $125 annually.

“Premium” domain names — including geographic names such as SanFrancisco.homes — will be allocated via a request for proposal process after the general availability launch on May 12. Such names could be more expensive — perhaps by a lot — than non-premium names, but their cost is yet unknown. The cost structure and application process for premium domains has not yet been finalized, McNease said.

“Premium names are domain names that have a higher value and greater significance than a standard name,” she said.

“Similar to real estate, domain names have values based on several factors. One of those factors is demand. If a set of keywords has a high search volume and a domain name matches that keyword search, that would indicate high demand.

“For example, www.Dream.Homes is a premium domain name.  There are thousands of searches for ‘Dream Homes’ each month and billions of search results.”

Screenshot of Haunted.Homes, created as part of a Halloween promotion by Homes.com

Screenshot of Haunted.Homes, created as part of a Halloween promotion by Homes.com

‘More inclusive’ than .realtor

The National Association of Realtors won the rights to operate new .realtor and .realestate domains in 2014.

The .realtor domain is restricted to those affiliated with NAR, specifically:

  • provisional and active Realtors members (agents and brokers) including International Realtor members and members of The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA)
  • Realtor member firms
  • state, provincial and local Realtor member boards
  • Realtor-owned MLSs
  • NAR affiliated institutes, societies and councils
  • other NAR business partners.

The .homes domain, on the other hand, “offers the real estate industry a more inclusive real estate community,” McNease said.

Applicants do not have to be NAR members, though only businesses that provide products or services to the residential real estate community are eligible to use a .homes domain. This includes:

  • real estate agents
  • real estate brokers
  • mortgage professionals
  • property managers
  • builders
  • property appraisers
  • property inspectors
  • property insurance providers
  • multiple listing services
  • real estate associations

Dominion Registries, which manages Dominion Enterprises’ new domains (.autos and .boats also among them), will review applicants for the .homes domain based on relevant license or certification, tax or business ID, and existing website to confirm that they meet eligibility requirements, McNease said.

Listings allowed under .homes

Some in the industry may also find the registration rules for .homes less restrictive than for .realtor. For example, even though Realtor associations can use a .realtor domain, they are not allowed to display listings under the domain due to a non-compete clause in the realtor.com operating agreement between Move Inc. and NAR. This impediment does not exist for .homes. (Brokerages, unlike associations, can display listings on .realtor sites.)

Realtors — individuals, brokerages and associations — may also not register a .realtor domain solely comprised of a geographic location, such as Houston.realtor, according to the .realtor business rules. This is likely also due to an agreement between NAR and Move granting Move “certain rights” over the assignment of .realtor domains, according to a lawsuit NAR filed against Move in November 2014 that has since settled.

Once .homes becomes generally available on May 12, Dominion Registries will post a request for proposal (RFP) for domains primarily representing a geographic and place name, i.e. Cincinnati.Homes, according to McNease.

“Registrants will have the opportunity to submit a response for the names they are interested in registering,” she said.

“Dominion Registries will award names based on a number of criteria, with a strong emphasis on the proposed use of the name and the value that it will bring to the .Homes community. Anyone interested in learning more, should contact us at Domains.Homes.”

An RFP is not required, and a domain can be bought outright starting May 12 if the desired .homes URL includes a geographic or place name and a company name — i.e., ActionRealtyAtlanta.Homes, McNease said.

May interest MLSs operating listing sites

The .homes domain may be of interest to MLSs that currently operate their own consumer listing sites. Such MLSs, even if they are Realtor-owned, cannot use the .realtor domain for that purpose. They also cannot use another new domain controlled by NAR: .MLS. For reasons that remain unclear, the million-member trade group prohibits U.S.-based MLSs from using that new domain.

“A .Homes domain offers new opportunities for MLSs to leverage their collective scale in developing local broker-centric real estate portals,” McNease said.

“In many cases, the .com names preferred by local MLSs are held by industry outsiders. .Homes provides MLSs with the opportunity to leverage their brand in developing a local search portal to benefit their brokers and agents.”

As for the new .realestate domain, also operated by NAR, McNease said that it is still unknown when it will become available, but pointed out that the domain is “five characters longer than .Homes, which may cause concerns with someone thinking about purchasing as longer domain names can potentially have a negative impact on consumer usage, especially on mobile devices.”

Will consumers trust .homes?

Owners of .homes domains “will become part of an exclusive, verified, online residential real estate community, which over time will signal consumers it’s a trusted space for home related services,” McNease said.

Whether the new domain will gain trust among consumers is an open question, however.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has so far approved some 900 new top-level domains to offer more alternatives to the ubiquitous .com. But more than half of consumers (52 percent) are uncomfortable visiting websites with the new domains, up from 49 percent last year, according to a report from cyber security firm NCC Group released last week.

“Trust in the new domain endings is getting worse,” said Rob Cotton, the firm’s CEO, in a statement.

“This will put organizations off from moving on from legacy domains which is a problem for registries whose businesses hinge on selling them. If the new endings are to be successful they need to somehow establish a reputation of trustworthiness.”

Sites with URLs ending in .homes will always provide home-related content, and that’s how they will build trust with consumers and search engines over time, McNease said.

“A great example of this is .edu. When you see a .edu website, you instantly know it belongs to a university or college,” she said.

“The inclusive community environment of .Homes domains and its verification process will build similar consumer trust within the home service sector, and at the same time will help eliminate fraudulent activity.

“Thinking about existing domain options for a real estate professional, we believe JimDavis.Homes instantly builds credibility that the site is about home related services compared to JimDavis.com. It’s also shorter than JimDavisHomes.com. This also assumes a similar .com name is even an option.”

Handling ‘inappropriate content’

Applicants will have to adhere to an acceptable use and anti-abuse policy that prohibits actions such as redirecting Internet users to fraudulent sites and tricking users into divulging sensitive data.

Dominion Registries will randomly sample websites in the .homes domain for content that may be perceived as inappropriate, McNease said. Site visitors will also be able to report domains “they believe have a detrimental impact on the real estate industry” through abuse@dominionregistries.com, she added.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional comments from Homes.com about “premium” domain names.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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