One of the most controversial Standards of Practice to come from NAR in long time, would have to be the new Standard of Practice 12-12, which became effective January 1, 2008.  Just to refresh your memory, Article 12 is known as the “truth in advertising” article.  We have come a long way from the published newspaper ad.  Years ago, that was pretty much all that was available to REALTORS to spread the word about their new listing.  Now, advertising can be instantaneous thanks to the internet.  In addition to company web-sites, many agents have their own personal website.  Some of the URLs and domain names used can be either dull or attention getters, and sometimes down right misleading.  The new Standard of Practice 12-12 states:  REALTORS shall not:  (1) use URLs or domain names that present less than a true picture, or (2) register URLs or domain names which, if used, would present less than a true picture. 

The new NAR Case Interpretation 12-20 address this new Standard of Practice.  So, here it is–you be the judge–REALTOR A, a residential broker in a major metropolitan city, spent several weeks each year in his cabin in the north woods where he planned to retire one day.  Even while at home in the city, REALTOR A stayed abreast of local news, events, and especially the local real estate market by subscribing to the print and on-line editions of the local newspaper.  He also bookmarked a number of north woods brokers’ websites to stay current with the market and to watch for potential investment opportunities.

One evening while surfing the internet, REALTOR A came across a URL he was unfamiliar with–northwoodsandlakesmls.com.  REALTOR A was pleased to see the MLS serving the area where he vacationed for so many years had created a website accessible to the public.  Clicking on the link, he was surprised to find that the website connected with REALTOR Z’s company website, not an MLS website.  Having had prior dealings with REALTOR Z, REALTOR A spent time carefully scrutinizing the site.  He noted, among other things, that the name of REALTOR Z’s firm did not include the letters MLS.  REALTOR A sent a letter to the association’s EO asking whether REALTOR Z had been authorized to use the name northwoodsandlakesmls.com and whether it presented a true picture as required by Article 12 of the Code of Ethics.  REALTOR Z filed a complaint alleging that when he clicked on what appeared to be a real estate-related URL that included the letteres “MLS” he expected to be connected with a website operated with a multile listing service.  He stated he felt that REALTOR Z’s URL was deceptive and did not meet the true picture test.

At the hearing, REALTOR Z defended his URL on a number of grounds including the fact that he was a participant in good standing in the MLS and he was authroized to display other participants’ listings  on his website under MLS rules.  “If I used `MLS’ in the name of my firm, I could see how that might be perceived as something less than a true picture,” he argued, “but by simply  using MLS in my URL I am telling consumers that they can get MLS-provided information about properties in the north woods from me.  What could be truer than that?”

How do you think the hearing panel ruled?  Do you think REALTOR Z  was found in violation of Article 12?  What do you think of the new Standard of Practice?