The $15 increase on subscriber fees will fund an expanded advertising budget, new tech development and increased costs associated with website security and mapping fees.

The Houston Association of Realtors announced Thursday it will increase MLS agent subscriber fees for the first time in 20 years. The $15 increase will go into effect at the beginning of the second quarter, bringing the total monthly fee to $35.

The monthly broker subscriber fee will remain unchanged at $85.

“No one likes to pay more, but the costs of operating MLS and HAR.com have increased substantially,” the multiple listing service said in a written statement. “We have reached a point where we can no longer continue with the status quo or we will fall behind other portals and major entities that are spending billions of dollars on advertising and technology meant to change the competitive environment.”

HAR’s proposed budget for 2020 through 2022.

HAR’s elected officers and board of directors unanimously approved the $15 increase as part of the 2020 budget, which includes a nearly $2 million advertising budget. More than half of the $2 million will go toward advertising to promote HAR.com ($600,000), and advertising and lead qualification for HAR members ($650,000). Meanwhile, another $600,000 will fund upgrades to HAR’s CRM and marketing platforms and recommendation engine.

“Competition for consumer traffic has become fierce, with Zillow spending $177 million on advertising and $389 million on research and development in 2018 alone,” HAR continued. “HAR must increase its current investment in advertising and product development to remain the No. 1 lead generation portal for HAR subscribers.”

In addition to an expanded advertising and technology budget, HAR said the $15 hike will help the association cover increased website security and mapping fees, which will cost a total of $1.35 million over the next three years.

Even with the increase, HAR said its fees are still $3 below the national average for local realtor associations, $1 less than the Greater Dallas Association of Realtors, $9 less than the Austin Board of Realtors, and $18 less than the San Antonio Board of Realtors.

“The elected officers and boards of directors did not take this decision lightly when they unanimously passed the 2020 budgets, which included this MLS fee increase,” the announcement concluded. “In order to remain competitive and continue to be the best, we must make sure we are positioned for the future.”

In 2018, HAR made headlines for its near-unanimous opposition of the National Association of Realtors dues increases, which included a one-time $30 increase in 2019 and an annual 2.5 percent increase starting in 2020.

Although the 2.5 percent annual increase was ultimately canned, HAR called for greater transparency regarding budget changes and better financial stewardship with the additional funds NAR already received through a series of hikes that caused dues to rise from $85 in 2006 to $155 in 2018.

Email Marian McPherson

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