The largest multiple listing service in the nation last week instituted a slew of rule changes, including changes on how listing agents and brokers appear on online listing pages, elimination of a rule regarding the co-mingling of listings and stepped-up enforcement of rules regarding pocket and “coming soon” listings.
California Regional MLS, which has more than 108,000 subscribers, has updated its listing credit rule for listings distributed to agent and broker websites through Internet Data Exchange (IDX) feeds. IDX feeds pool listings from all subscribers in an MLS to allow subscribers to display a comprehensive set of listings in a market on their websites. CRMLS is calling the update its “IDX Transparency Initiative.”
Previously the rule required that “All IDX listing displays shall identify the name of the listing firm and the name of the listing agent in a manner designed to easily identify such listing firm or agent. The name of a co-listing firm and name of a co-listing agent, if any, will be displayed in a manner designed to easily identify such listing firm or agent.”
The newly updated rule now reads:
“12.16.5 Listing Credit. All Listing Brokers grant permission for any Advertising Broker to display any listings submitted to the service by the Listing Broker only if the listing display or advertisement is clear so that a reasonable real estate consumer understands:
a) Who is the Listing Agent & Broker,
b) Who is the Advertising Broker and
c) How to contact that Listing Agent or Broker.”
In an FAQ about the rule change, CRMLS said it was acting based on subscriber feedback.
“Agents and brokers presented their ideas to our Rules Committee, composed of active real estate professionals from each Association, Board, and MLS that participates in CRMLS,” the FAQ said.
“The Rules Committee distilled and refined their feedback before presenting it to the CRMLS Board of Directors, themselves working real estate professionals, who approved the rule.”
The goal of the rule is to address consumer frustrations, according to CRMLS.
“Many consumers have become frustrated at the lack of transparency on listing detail pages,” the FAQ said. “They call the phone number or click on the ‘Contact Agent’ button that they see in the advertisement for a specific listing, expecting to speak with the listing agent or broker. Instead, they are directed to the advertising broker.
“This new rule will enhance transparency for consumers. With all the information clearly displayed, the consumer can contact the most appropriate individual to discuss their needs.”
CRMLS highlighted possible benefits of the revised rule for buyer’s agents.
“The Advertising Broker may find that the time consumers spend on their website may increase, since a consumer who wants to speak with a listing agent will no longer have to leave the advertising broker’s website to obtain that information,” the FAQ said.
“The rule may also increase the level of lead quality of the consumers that contact the advertising broker, since those consumers specifically decided they wanted to speak with the advertising agent, not the listing agent.”
‘A reasonable real estate consumer’
The policy itself does not spell out exactly how to make listing attribution “clear” to a “reasonable” real estate consumer. But CRMLS’s FAQ does offer some guidance:
a. It should not take a reasonable real estate consumer longer than 5 seconds of looking at the listing detail display to be able to make the determinations required by the rule. Most consumers do not expect to see the details about the listing agent and broker as part of a list of multiple properties returning from a search or on the small cards shown on a map search results page.
b. Display the Listing Agent and Broker names, with their contact information, close to the photos, price, bed/bath, or property description.
c. If the website design team is questioning or debating if their design of the location of attribution meets the new “reasonable consumer” standard, then it probably does not.
In a statement, CRMLS CEO Art Carter said, “It shouldn’t take a consumer more than a few seconds of looking at a listing to determine who the listing agent, listing broker, and advertising broker are.”
CRMLS said it will provide examples of compliant listing credit displays “soon.” It included one such example in its educational materials regarding the change on its website. According to CRMLS, here is how listing credits appeared before the rule change:
Here is an example of how a listing credit can appear after the rule change, per CRMLS:
In its FAQ, CRMLS said that if any broker or IDX provider is unsure whether their IDX display is compliant, they can contact CRMLS’s licensing and legal teams for a review at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Our compliance department will review any alleged violation, just like we do on all reports,” Carter told Inman via email. “In addition, our licensing department responds to requests to review displays and advertisements in advance. We’ve promoted our licensing department’s availability for this matter heavily in our communications around this rule change. In both our own experience and in legal terminology, this is a simple and straightforward standard to apply.”
CRMLS has developed a new platform in order to allow brokers to control the contact information that appears on their listings, including the option to allow their individual agents to decide which contact information to display. The new rule says that CRMLS may develop business rules to create “Advertising Attribution Fields” for listing brokers that advertising brokers will be required to display and Carter confirmed that CRMLS has created these fields.
The revised rule also says CRMLS may also provide standards of practice to help its subscribers interpret the rule.
“Our Rules Committee will establish formal SOP over time as our robust community of developers create new displays, Carter said. “CRMLS created a mechanism for brokers to select a contact number or email from their roster information to appear on their listings on IDX sites. Brokers can also give their permission for their own individual listing agents to select what contact number or email they want to appear along with the attribution on their listings.
“We have provided tips and guidance to the IDX vendor community on this matter. We have also conducted several informative webinars for CRMLS brokers, office managers, and agents.”
Inman reached out to Zillow and Redfin, who operate two of the nation’s most popular listing sites. In an emailed statement, a Zillow spokesperson said, “As part of our switch to IDX feeds and becoming CRMLS participants earlier this year, we agreed to comply with all CRMLS rules and regulations, which includes adhering to listing credit and display rules — such as the updates that went into effect this month.
“One of our core values is to empower consumers and increase transparency in real estate, which includes efforts to give shoppers the information they need to connect with listing agents. For more than a decade, our philosophy of ‘turning on the lights’ for consumers has meant that we’ve consistently displayed listing agents’ names and contact information, something not done on all IDX sites today.”
Here is an example of how a for-sale listing currently looks on Zillow, a week after the rule change:
Here is how that same listing looks on Redfin on the same date:
Redfin did not respond to a request for comment by publication time. CRMLS did not respond to Inman’s request for comment on whether these displays are compliant. We will update this story if and when we hear back.
No more business days, tougher enforcement, and co-mingling rule goes bye bye
Four months after declaring Saturday a business day, CRMLS has eliminated use of the term “business days” from its rules, except for its Clear Cooperation Policy. The Clear Cooperation Policy, which was instituted by the National Association of Realtors and went into effect last year, requires listing brokers to submit a listing to their MLS within one business day of marketing a property to the public.
Save for the CCP, all references to “days” in CRMLS rules will now refer to calendar days, the MLS said on its website.
CRMLS has also revised its rules to make violations of the CCP no longer eligible for a warning before a citation is issued.
“The Clear Cooperation Policy has now been in effect for over a year,” Carter said. “Our compliance department determined that any violations now are intentional, rather than because of a lack of knowledge about the rule.
“In the early stages of enforcing new rules, we issue warnings until we are confident that our community of professionals is aware and understands the rule. In the case of the CCP, we collected evidence indicating that violators of this rule were choosing to violate the policy until another professional reported them. Only once we contacted them with a warning would they correct the violation.”
Citing CRMLS’s Citation Policy, Carter added that CCP violations carry citations “amounting to ‘1% of list price, no less than $500 and not to exceed $2,500.'”
Per the rule changes, subscribers who fail to obtain a “Coming Soon” form before submitting a listing in that status will also no longer receive a warning before they get a citation, along with a $750 fine.
“We have had the Coming Soon form rule since we launched the status in 2020,” Carter said. “To make things easier on our users, we did not issue any fine for a violation in the first year. Agents and brokers using Coming Soon now are fully aware of rules around the status and should understand them well.
“We’ve made a major effort to create written documentation, videos, live webinars, and more — including outreach to local Associations and brokerages – to raise awareness of Coming Soon rules. The CRMLS Rules Committee, composed of 40 CRMLS real estate professional users from our member Associations, recommended that our compliance department start issuing fines for violations.”
Other rule changes clarified requirements regarding truthful representation in media, such as photos, submitted to the MLS and the prohibition of branded media in the MLS, including any images that include identification of the listing broker or agent or their contact information. Violation of these rules are also not eligible for a warning before a fine is issued. Carter said rules committee recommended the changes so the rules would be easier to understand.
A rule regarding neighborhood market reports now allows the inclusion of buyer’s agent compensation in the reports. CRMLS began allowing the display of buyer agent commissions on IDX websites in February.
“The purpose of Neighborhood Market Reports has always been to provide a printed document offering some of the same benefits as advertising another agent’s listing on IDX,” Carter said. “Since CRMLS added the Buyer’s Compensation to the IDX feed, we decided to also allow it in the Neighborhood Market Reports to keep both advertising opportunities consistent.”
Lastly, CRMLS elected to eliminate a rule that allowed subscribers to co-mingle CRMLS listings with listings from other MLS sources in their IDX displays. Co-mingling of listings has recently gained renewed attention in the industry because discount brokerage REX Real Estate has sued NAR and Zillow over an optional rule that allows MLSs to require that listings from the MLS and listings from non-MLS sources be displayed separately.
“When our Rules Committee convened, CRMLS informed them that we had neither received a report nor engaged in any enforcement actions on the Co-Mingling rule,” Carter said. “The NAR Co-Mingling rule was optional, so our Rules Committee decided not to continue with this rule.”
“By eliminating that rule, CRMLS now has no limitations or regulations related to the ability to co-mingle MLS listings with any other information on a broker’s website,” Carter added.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional comments from CRMLS CEO Art Carter.