In today’s news…

> This from the Chicago Trib: Should you buy or should you hold off?

> This from Inman: Realtors question Web site name restrictions, about concerns some are raising about a new Code of Ethics standard of practice that says REALTORS shall not “use URLs or domain names that present less than a true picture.” The new SOP, approved last November, is the result of the use, by some members, of domain names that suggest that the REALTOR is actually the MLS (for instance, a broker whose website is “VirginiaMLS.com”). Seems to me such usages are misleading at best…and therefore the new NAR SOP is appropriate. Or in other words, just because it’s legal and you own it doesn’t mean it’s ethical. What do you think?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to In today’s news…

  1. An ethical standard should be higher than a legal standard. REALTORS are obligated to avoid misrepresentation to the public…therefore using MLS in a URL or domain name is misrepresentation. It is common sense.

  2. Jay Thompson says:

    So, if it’s wrong (or unethical) to use “MLS” in a domain name, does that mean it’s wrong (or unethical) to use the text “Search the MLS” in the body of a web page? Is it wrong to put “MLS” in meta tags?

    Where does the line get drawn?

    And what is to be done about non-Realtors using the term MLS? (Hint, I don’t think there is a darn thing that can be done.)

    Forbidding Realtors from using it gives a competitive advantage to non-Realtors, does it not?

  3. Scott Brunner says:

    Jay — Good points. It’s a difficult issue. I think it possibly could put REALTORS at a competitive disadvantage – depends on how it’s done and what disclosures are made – but I think the “true picture” argument should prevail. Ethics and integrity, it seems to me, mean doing nothing that might mislead, confuse or inveigle (did I spell that correctly?) a client or customer. You can’t very well say you live by the Code of Ethics in all your business practices if your website purposely sets itself up to look like something it’s not, is is not exactly. Now, that said, with appropriate (and prominent) disclaimers and disclosure on the site, I think you can resolve the ethical dilemma. But many who are doing this kind of trickery are not providing such disclaimers, and so consumers believe they’re getting the local MLS website. And to me, that’s unethical.

  4. Jay Thompson says:

    Scott – agreed. Using the term MLS (appropriately disclosed) and abusing the term are two different things. The problem of course lies in the interpretation of “use” and “abuse”. Different people will interpret it differently. Unfortunately that sometimes leads to the easiest solution — just ban the use entirely.

    It is indeed a tricky issue…

  5. Win Singleton says:

    I have been a REALTOR for 33 years, a 10 year member and 3 time Chair of our Grievance Committee as well as a past member of our Professional Standards Committee at the Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS, an early adopter of the Internet by having my own web site on the World Wide Web in 1995, and finally a web designer now at http://www.summitweb.com for over 12 years – primarily designing sites for real estate agents and brokerage firms. I find this Standard of Practice as interpreted in accompanying Case Study 12-20 shows a complete lack of understanding of how the consumer utilizes and searches the World Wide Web!

    1. Many of the Domain Names in question that include the acronym “MLS” were registered and put into use by NAR members long before any NAR policy or Code of Ethics interpretation was ever published by our national association. 13 to 14 years after the first real estate web sites appeared and after many thousands of dollars in marketing and promotion were spent by some of our members, for NAR to now say in January, 2008 that these REALTORS are now being “unethical” is beyond my understanding. In my opinion, this sounds more like a case of “sour grapes” from other NAR members who wanted to register one of those domain names, but when finding them already taken, and are now seeking to “level the playing field” by stripping away any edge or advantage from a competitor who was smart enough to get there ahead of them.

    2. MLS means many different things other than Multiple Listing Service. A search of the United States Patent and Trademark Office web site – http://www.uspto.gov/ – shows 291 registered Trademarks containing “MLS” and includes other instances such as –

    MLS – Major League Softball
    MLS – Major League Soccer

    In fact, many of these trademarks are owned by non-REALTORS.

    3. Look at our common real estate term, “Listing”. By it’s very name, it implies being put on a list somewhere. The proper term is “marketing agreement”, such as Exclusive Right To Sell Marketing Agreement or Exclusive Agency Marketing Agreement. Not just a “Listing”. But this crept into our real estate vernacular decades ago because we were going to enter their property into some Listing Service or even put their property merely onto a list in our own offices at the front desk. Soon, we just started shortening the phrase to “listing” – “When you list with me” or “I’m going to put your listing into…” We are the ones guilty of educating our consumers to ask to see homes from the MLS or type in the term “MLS” when performing a search on the Web. They have been trained by us to want to see virtually all of the available properties on the market. “MLS” has now become today’s “Kleenex” when someone wants a tissue, or “Xerox” when you want to photocopy a document. To try to put “that horse back into the barn” after we have educated the consumer to use the term is now penalizing our members who have been merely trying to prominently show the consumer that their web site offers that kind of search ability and not merely their personal or firm’s properties for sale. “Come find virtually all of the properties for sale!”

    4. Countless thousands of REALTOR web sites utilize a navigation button or text hyperlink that displays, “Search the MLS” in some fashion as a cryptic way of letting the web visitor know where to go or click on to search for current properties for sale. Is this deceptive too? Does the visitor really think that this web site IS the MLS? No! How silly! If NAR thinks so today, then they really have their work cut out for them to get thousands of REALTOR web site owners to redesign their sites.

    5. Look at the Case Study where it says, “REALTOR A… alleging in his complaint that when he clicked on what appeared to be a real estate-related URL that included the letters ‘MLS’ he expected to be connected with a website operated by a multiple listing service.” That is merely his expectation, but certainly not shared by everyone. And it certainly doesn’t mean he is or should be considered correct in making his assumption! As a matter of fact, unless REALTOR A is finally getting out to the World Wide Web for the very first time after well over a decade, he is in an extremely small minority who would share his view. Are we to “legislate” for every person’s stupidity or false assumption?

    Web-savvy searchers know far better than that… and NAR is not giving them any credit for their intelligence! (You know, it actually takes a modest level of intelligence to even be able to “surf the Web”.) If designed properly, no consumer is confused when visiting an agent or brokerage web site into thinking this IS the Multiple Listing Service’s web site – since it should be displaying the agent’s and brokerage firm information as required in Article 12, Standard of Practice 12-5 (adopted in 11/86)! They can readily tell in a matter of seconds. If a consumer really is confused because it is not readily apparent who is bringing the visitor this information, the Professional Standards Committee already has a Standard to look at to insure clarity in advertising. NAR even amended it in 1/07 to now include “any medium” which I am sure includes web sites!

    I, for one, hope that NAR’s Professional Standards Committee will remove this Case Study. There are far worse examples of misleading URLs than using the term “MLS” as part of a domain name.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *