The new policy is a response to limited-exposure and “coming soon” marketing practices and would require agents to share exclusive listings with MLS members.

The National Association of Realtors is exploring a new policy that would require agents who are members of a multiple listing service (MLS) to share their listings with other MLS members, theoretically limiting the use of “exclusive” or so-called “pocket listing” marketing strategies.

The “Clear Cooperation Policy” was announced Friday and would require agents and brokers to share any listings that “are being publicly marketed” with other members of their MLS, according to a NAR statement. Every listing wouldn’t have to end up in any given MLS’s IDX feed. But the listings would at least have to be “available” somehow “so that other participant brokers have access to them and can bring potential buyers.”

At this point, the rule is still merely under consideration and has not yet become policy, with NAR currently seeking feedback from its membership. A NAR committee plans to further address the issue during the trade group’s conference in November.

However, if it were to be adopted, the policy could significantly impact some agents’ marketing practices. In its statement on the policy, NAR says that advertising a property as “coming soon” has become a popular tactic. The trade group has consequently fielded questions from real estate professionals on how such marketing should actually be used, and thus felt the need to “codify the responsibilities” that agents have.

NAR doesn’t mention the phrase “pocket listing” in its announcement of the proposed policy, but it is effectively describing the same thing: The practice of withholding a listing from the broader market and MLS while at the same time sharing it in some more exclusive venue, such as a website or email list. Pocket listings have in the past attracted the attention of federal regulators, as well as some criticism from industry leaders, all while becoming a popular way to tease a property and generate buzz.

In its explanation of the proposed policy, NAR argues that agents would still be able to tease properties as “coming soon.” However, in the interest of cooperation, such listings would also have to be available to other agents.

“MLSs can employ rules allowing a broker to list a property within the MLS and have a time period where showings are restricted until the property is ready to become ‘active,'” NAR explains in it statement. “Whether this is an official ‘coming soon’ status in the MLS or a set of policies defining options for this restricted showing period, the ‘coming soon’ tactic can be employed while simultaneously reinforcing the responsibilities of participants to one another and consumers.”

NAR also believes that it has addressed privacy concerns related to sellers, such as celebrities, who may not want their listings shared widely.

“If the client has privacy concerns, office-exclusive listings are an option within the proposal,” NAR states. “These listings are shared between brokers and agents within a single brokerage and their clients. But if the listing is marketed to the public in any way, the need for an exclusion based on privacy is removed, according to the proposal.”

The proposal could potentially have a major impact on, among others, some of real estate’s most buzzed-about companies. Perhaps most notably, Compass has deployed pocket listing-type strategies at a massive scale, with some observers arguing that exclusive content — such as listings that are only available on Compass.com — is a key to the company’s success.

Compass CEO Robert Reffkin also stated in a strategy memo earlier this year that one of the company’s goals for 2019 was to be “the single place that buyers go to search for real estate.”

“Key result: 80 percent of active buyers start their home searches on Compass.com because of listings only available on Compass,” Reffkin wrote of his companies goals.

A search of the Los Angeles area on Compass’ website shows numerous listings that are marketed as “coming soon.” | Credit: Compass

The NAR rule would presumably impact Compass’ strategy, though it’s not entirely obvious how; the company declined to comment for this story, and it’s unclear if Compass could somehow give other agents access to listings while still maintaining an exclusive online search environment for consumers.

A “coming soon” listing from Phoenix that on Monday appeared to be available only on Redfin. | Credit: Redfin

Either way, though, Compass is not the only big company that teases listings. For example, Redfin also has “coming soon” listings in some markets. And based on an Inman search Monday, at least some of those “coming soon” listings appear to be exclusive to Redfin’s website.

Redfin did not immediately tell Inman Monday where it stands on the proposed new rule, but its exclusive listings do appear to be what the rule is targeting; such properties are clearly being marketed to the public, but are apparently not available anywhere outside of the listing firm’s website.

NAR didn’t say Monday if it has been in touch with major real estate companies like Compass or Redfin to talk about the proposed rule, but in any case the trade group does argue in its statement that setting down some ground rules would ultimately be a good thing for the industry.

“Reinforcing the responsibilities of MLS participants strengthens the value that real estate professionals can deliver to consumers on a daily basis,” NAR said in its statement. “In the current legal and regulatory environment, codifying a greater commitment to the consumer benefit of cooperation is both strategic and necessary.”

Email Jim Dalrymple II

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