Realtors versus the MLS and the Real Estate Board

(Click through to see the video)

What’s a Realtor to do when the sellers’ best interests conflict with MLS rules and/or Virginia Real Estate Board regulations?

As noted in 2007,

For a web site, either the firm or the licensee must include disclosure of their status as a real estate licensee in a prominent place, or have an easily identified link to such a disclosure if the firm or licensee owns the webpage or controls its content.

For emails, blogs, and bulletin boards, disclosure should be provided at the beginning or the end of the email.

The Code of Virginia reads in part:

“Advertising” means all forms of representation, promotion and solicitation disseminated in any manner and by any means of communication to consumers for any purpose related to licensed real estate activity.

“Disclosure” in the context of online advertising means (i) advertising that contains the firm’s licensed name, the city and state in which the firm’s main office is located and the jurisdiction in which the firm holds a license or (ii) advertising that contains the licensee name, the name of the firm with which the licensee is active, the city and state in which the licensee’s office is located and the jurisdiction in which the licensee holds a license. “Disclosure” in the context of other advertising means (a) advertising by the firm that contains the firm’s licensed name and the firm’s address or (b) advertising by an affiliated licensee that contains the licensee’s name, the name of the firm with which the licensee is active and the firm’s address.

The Charlottesville MLS rules state:

No URLs (branded or unbranded) will be allowed in fields viewable by the public.

But what about real estate video? (note: this is an “unbranded” video”) As far as I know, MLS’ aren’t in the business of hosting video … so we’re left to the vendors to fill the need. But we can’t post video in the MLS if the video has branding. So … if we post an unbranded video, aren’t we violating the Code of Virginia?

What about single property websites with more information than the MLS allows?

Here’s the thing – I (and a lot of other Realtors) *want* to provide more information in the MLS – more maps, more descriptions, more any links to schools, parks, neighborhood blogs, HOA information, GIS maps, bike routes, bus lines, but I cannot because the MLS is predicated on keeping the information limited. Sure, we have the best and most comprehensive database of property information, and the National Association of Realtors is readying their “Real Property Resource” but we need to empower the public – let them interact with the property.

The Charlottesville MLS rules, in line with many other MLS’ around the country, prevents “branding” within the MLS – meaning that single property websites, chock full of information

Real-estate brochures often fail to highlight your home’s best features. They’re created by a rushed real-estate agent who has never lived in your house. By contrast, Hobby’s home-sale site is filled with great hyperlinked information (schools, nearby restaurants, a Google map, etc.). It offers more photos and text than you could find in other sources.

The internet is about more, yet MLS’ haven’t yet recognized or accepted this.

Example: The Charlottesville MLS limits the public remarks to 500 characters. 500 characters! In the age of the long-tail and the insatiable urge and demand for more information, we’re limiting the description of the properties we are marketing to 500 characters of text – no links, just text. (text is boring and so 1999)

For now, the best we can do is try to educate the public to do their due diligence … tell them to Google the address … and do our very best to ensure that one of our pages comes up … in this case, the number one result is Trulia (get that, MLS committees? We’re driving people away from our interface!) Luckily, my site comes up #2 and Nest Realty’s site #3 …

My personal philosophy when marketing properties is to put everything out there for the world to see – Buyers want information and transparency and Sellers want buyers to see why their house different and better. It’s in our Sellers’ best interests to provide as much information as possible, but we can’t. That hamstringing will come back to bite Realtors.

Takeaways:

Realtors – let’s expand our worldview a bit – more information is good.

Consumers/buyers/sellers – educate yourselves on how best to search for homes and please understand the limited frameworks under which we are operating. A lot of us are doing the very best that we can.

**Note: RSS subscribers, please click through to see the video. I am testing out some formatting options with my theme.

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14 Comments

  1. Matthew Rathbun April 28, 2009 at 11:47

    Sigh…. Has anyone ever asked why Realtor.com doesn’t come up in a Google search? Relevance…

    The MLS’s and R.com simply aren’t coming up with workable solutions to face the reality in that the internet is THE definitive source of consumer interaction.

    I would argue that the host site for the video (i.e. MLS IDX) should hold the disclosures that the agent is licensed, etc… The issue is the webpage where the agent actually created the video, such as Vimeo or YouTube. If it’s not attached to a page, than I think the same disclosures required in 18VAC135-20-190 would need to be there as well -or- the video needs to be private.

    I understand the resolution of the MLS to keep agents from making the promotion about them – and not about the property. I understand (because of my disdain for dual-agency) the limitation of using the MLS to solicit buyers and use the listing as buyer-bait.

    However neither of these reasons should be justification for an agent not being able to do everything in their power to promote the property.

    Personally, I’m a big fan of Trulia and I think that if MLS don’t start doing a better job of catching the eye of the consumer; than agents are going to start abandoning MLS and use the more effective and free venues.

    MLS’s should stop thinking of the agent as the consumer and start thinking of the consumer, as the consumer.

    In the end – I think that if the host site (the MLS) has the disclosures you’re probably ok. But I also don’t think that the agent talking about the house is self promotion. The agent talking about the agent, would be.

    You may have just created a whole new category of offenses for agents that no one will every write a complaint about; but will gripe about in the office.

    Reply
  2. Daniel April 28, 2009 at 12:36

    Don’t even get me started on the MLS on single-property websites. It was like pulling teeth trying to get my house’s website not taken down (http://www.503rialto.com) (#1 result in Google, BTW).

    As a tech-savy real estate consumer (not an agent), I was appalled at the way the MLS wanted to present my home (crappy resolution photos, short description, no links, no maps, no features, no blog… but the agent phone # was there!).

    ps. The #2 google result for my address is the Bubble Blog… so the internet battle rages on…

    Reply
  3. Jim Duncan April 29, 2009 at 09:59

    Matthew –

    Thanks for the comment. Unless we collectively change our thinking, we are doomed by, not necessarily Trulia and Zillow, but the Trulias and Zillows that are out to eat our selfish lunches.

    Daniel –

    Amen, and frankly, that’s why Nest is doing our signs the way we are – the marketing should be about the property, not the agent.

    Reply
  4. JF.sellsius April 29, 2009 at 19:27

    The statute (VA Code) should legally trump the MLS rules. The solution is actually pretty simple. Get a letter (or citation) from your MLS saying you are in violation of their rules and subject to legal action. Take that to an attorney (one who does constitutional law would be best) and ask him or her to file an action for “declaratory judgment” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaratory_judgment to declare the rights of the parties. You must show a threat by the MLS, so that you establish a real controversy for the Court to rule on (just saying there is a conflict is not enough). The Court will issue a judgment telling you which has precedence. Then you can do your video with your contact info embedded (and the MLS will have to find another way to stick it to you. )
    PS: Sometimes law firms will do these cases pro bono (for free) because important issues are at stake.

    Reply
  5. Danilo Bogdanovic April 30, 2009 at 10:37

    I’m definitely with you on this one! The MLS doesn’t allow for much of anything in the way of marketing anything but boring property information that isn’t close to being as relevant as the information it doesn NOT allow.

    Here’s something to think about…the MRIS (DC/VA/MD area MLS) says you can’t put in URL’s, but it doesn’t say anything about not being to put something such as “Google 21377 Scara Place for more info” in the agent or public/internet remarks (try Googling that address and see what happens)

    Reply
  6. Daniel April 30, 2009 at 10:46

    To my knowledge, the CAAR MLS doesn’t explicitly forbid phrases like “Google 503 Rialto” for more info – but I got in trouble for that nonetheless.

    Reply
  7. Jim Duncan April 30, 2009 at 11:22

    I had “Google the address” in a listing last week and got reported within hours for directing people to a site outside the MLS.

    But now, I assume that any consumer is going to be googling addresses anyway.

    Reply
  8. Tony Arko April 30, 2009 at 17:48

    Imagine if the tech savvy, transparent and open minded agents all bought the single property web addresses for all our listings. And then at the end of the transaction asked the new homeowners to update that web address with all the information regarding their home including the tax record, a copy of the deed, the survey, pictures of renovations, in essence creating an entire story and history about the home. Then when it came time to sell it you didn’t need to stick it into an MLS controlled by idiots, you could just put up a post saying you are selling the home and here is the price and contact the listing agent. No more MLS. That would be great.

    By the way, the Washington Post uses Trulia for their listings database and cancelled the contract with MRIS. I wonder why?

    Reply
  9. Pavel May 1, 2009 at 06:15

    Jim said: “But we can’t post video in the MLS if the video has branding. So … if we post an unbranded video, aren’t we violating the Code of Virginia?” How is posting a non-branded video any different from a non-branded virtual tour? A non-branded VT is not in violation of the Code of Virginia if it’s linked to from MLS.

    Reply
    1. Jim Duncan May 2, 2009 at 08:15

      Pavel –

      But … if that video is hosted elsewhere, say on Viddler, Youtube, Vimeo, Vidlisting, etc. etc. etc. then that “unbranded” video there that is not linked through the MLS would be in violation, no?

      If that’s the case, would the MLS be justified in preventing Realtors from doing what’s in the clients’ best interests, ie. marketing the property as effectively as possible?

      *I’m trying out the new “threaded comments” in the new version of this theme.

      Reply
  10. Danilo Bogdanovic May 1, 2009 at 19:00

    Pavel – It may have something to do with the MLS being the creator (and owner) of the virtual tour, not the agent/broker. My local MLS (MRIS) creates a virtual tour from the photos we upload – it’s not something that we create and have hosted externally and then link to.

    The MLS could argue that it doesn’t violate the Code of VA because it’s created by the MLS and is directly linked to from the MLS listing which clearly shows the name of the agent’s brokerage firm, contact info, etc.

    I’m not defending the MLS (I actually think that most are in it for the money and not the agent whatsoever) – just thinking out loud about the arguement they may use.

    Reply
  11. Pavel May 3, 2009 at 21:29

    Jim, I hear you. I guess if you apply the same argument to the way all CAARMLS members host their current Virtual Tours (Danilo, it’s a link out to an external host in our case) we are all in violation of the Code of VA if a consumer stumbles upon the unbranded page hosted by one of our Virtual Tour providers.

    Reply
  12. Matthew Rathbun May 4, 2009 at 06:14

    On any video hosting site that I’ve used, there has been a place for a “bio”. Why not just make your disclosures in the bio? I think that using reasonable efforts to be in compliance would be a good defence to a challenge.

    Reply
  13. Pingback: Property Videos - What do Buyers Want? | Real Central VA

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