Wednesday
July 23, 2014

NAR Directors 'Green Light' Realtor.com® Expansion

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NAR Directors 'Green Light' Realtor.com® Expansion

Presented with the facts, the National Association of REALTORS®' board of directors saw past personal issues and fears, making a historic decision Wednesday to enable realtor.com® to compete more directly with third-party aggregators, particularly Zillow and Trulia.

The board recommended amending restrictions to the agreement that governs the site’s operation in order to enable realtor.com® to:

  • Display unlisted new homes and new-home communities.
  • Display unlisted rentals.
  • Obtain listings from entities that are not REALTOR®-owned and controlled, as well as from brokers who are not REALTORS®.
  • Identify properties where a notice of default has been recorded, auctions of distressed properties, short sales, foreclosures, and bank-owned properties. (Listing brokers will have the option to opt out by calling the realtor.com® customer care center.)

Individual consumer FSBOs remain precluded from the site, and the changes will be implemented in a way that preserves realtor.com®’s accuracy advantage, according to Move executives.

There was no shortage of unease about the changes, particularly those that would allow listings from brokers who are not REALTORS®. But when NAR and realtor.com® executives presented a comprehensive look at the history of the site and the inroads third-party aggregators had been making since 2010, the recommendations passed overwhelmingly on a voice vote.

Of note, 1999 NAR President Sharon Millett, who was “there at the creation” of realtor.com®, spoke persuasively in favor of all the requested changes. “There was a time when restricting the site to only REALTOR® listings was appropriate,” she said, “but that time has passed.” Now, it’s time to compete head-to-head and give consumers what they clearly want: an accurate, comprehensive site, she said.

The operating agreement that allows San Jose, Calif.-based Move Inc. to operate realtor.com® is actually an agreement between subsidiaries of NAR (the REALTORS® Information Network, or RIN) and Move (RealSelect). After the NAR board meeting,  the RIN board met and approved the recommendations.

Errol Samuelson, president of realtor.com® and chief strategy officer for Move Inc., said the changes would happen “at Internet speed.”

Because Move is a publicly traded company, NAR maintained silence before yesterday’s meeting about the proposed changes, providing board members with only general meeting information in advance. Board members were required to check their smartphones at the door to avoid having the proposal broadcast and debated via social media before the vote. Security guards were posted outside the closed-door meeting to prevent journalists from entering.

Since the announcement Wednesday, the social sphere has been buzzing with talk and questions about the decision. Of note, members who read stories on realtor.org, Inman News, and elsewhere were asking:

What is the relationship between Move Inc. and NAR? Although NAR owns the domain realtor.com, the site is operated by Move. NAR owns a small share of Move, in the neighborhood of 2.5 percent to 3 percent, and has never owned more than 5 percent of the company. That said, Move/Real Select is a brand partner, “an instrument of the REALTOR® brand, generating 450 million brand impressions every month through its Web site, mobile apps, and social media,” said Brian Boero during the meeting Wednesday. Boero is a consultant with 1000 Watt Consulting.

Who is on the board of directors? There are 756 members of the NAR board, representing the nation’s 1 million REALTORS®. Six-hundred-and-twenty-five directors attended Wednesday’s meeting  in Chicago, the first special meeting of the board since 1996, when the original operating agreement was executed between RIN and RealSelect. Board members represent all regions of the country and include independent and franchise brokers and agents. A complete explanation of how board positions are allocated is included in the NAR Constitution.

Won’t these changes erode the REALTOR® brand? Consumer demand for property information has never been greater, said NAR President Gary Thomas in a prepared statement after the meeting. Expanding realtor.com®’s base of listings is critical to maintaining its competitiveness in the world of listing aggregation. And the REALTOR® brand will continue to be preeminent, not just in the domain name but in every aspect of the site, its mobile apps, and its public relations. “When the changes are implemented, the site will continue to clearly distinguish REALTOR®-represented listings and will use language that more prominently emphasizes the difference between REALTORS® and non-REALTORS®,” said RIN President and CEO Bob Goldberg.

Will consumers be able to directly input listings? No. Consumer for-sale-by-owners are still precluded from realtor.com®.

Who profits from the revenue generated when agents spend money to upgrade listings or advertise on the site? Member dues do not go to the operation of realtor.com®, and NAR does not collect revenue when members purchase realtor.com® products and services.

Will non-REALTORS® get leads from realtor.com®? Many directors also expressed concern about this issue, and the members of the RIN board said they’d be addressing the issue.

Read more about the decision on realtor.org. And watch for additional coverage in the September/October issue of REALTOR® Magazine.

— By Stacey Moncrieff, REALTOR® Magazine