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Many Lessons Learned from NAR Mid-Year Meetings

The National Association of REALTORS® Mid-Year Meeting is usually one marked by successful meetings with our elected leaders to make sure the REALTOR® voice is heard in Washington, D.C.  It is also a time when the NAR Board of Directors (hundreds of people from across the country) meets to discuss items that will impact the industry.  Many of these items can be somewhat “inside baseball” and would be rather mundane to outsiders. The 2013 NAR Mid-Year Meeting that just wrapped had nothing mundane about it.

One of the biggest issues that was discussed involved the ability of an MLS to operate and promote a public-facing website for its members’ listings.  A proposal was offered at the MLS Policy Committee meeting to make operating a public-facing website an optional service, which would require an MLS to charge an additional fee for that service above and beyond the fees charged for the services defined as “basic.”

The MLS Policy Committee agreed to add “promote” to the language.  Then, someone suggested moving the operation and promotion of a public-facing website from “optional” to the “basic” category of services.  This is how the policy looked when it left the Committee, as a “basic” service for all MLS members.

The next day, the NAR Executive Committee, whose job it is to make recommendations to the full NAR Board of Directors, struck the line that mentioned public MLS websites and referred it back to the MLS Policy Committee for further input. That left no mention of operating and/or promoting a public MLS website under the services an MLS could provide. Essentially, this would have left in limbo whether HAR.com and any other public-facing MLS site in the country was in fact a “basic” service or an “optional” service of the MLS.

According to published news reports, the “big brokers” wanted to eliminate MLSs from operating public websites as a “basic” service because they felt that they were competing with their own sites. This is not the first time that argument has been made, but the facts and numbers don’t bear that out. In markets that don’t have an HAR.com, the online real estate market is dominated by the national websites like Zillow, Yahoo! Homes and Trulia.  REALTOR.com® also ranks highly but more on that in a bit. Broker websites don’t appear on the traffic reports of the top 100 major markets the vast majority of the time. Instead, the consumers are going to third-party aggregator sites. During March 2013, HAR.com provided 58,000 referrals to member websites (value of $290,000 using Google figures) and 53,000 leads to HAR brokers and agents (value of more than $1 million, using an average $20 cost per lead). These numbers do not include leads and referrals from HAR.com mobile apps, which are now close to the same traffic generated from desktop visitors.

After the NAR Executive Committee made its recommendation, the Texas delegations rallied the troops and gathered support for the policy the way it emerged from the MLS Policy Committee.  On Saturday, May 18, the full Board of Directors of the National Association of REALTORS® approved the policy that allows MLSs to operate and promote public-facing MLS websites as a “basic” service, included in the fees you already pay. It is interesting to note that had the NAR Executive Committee’s recommendation passed, HAR would have had to start charging members for HAR.com, even though when you combine MLS subscriber fees and HAR dues, you actually pay five percent less than you would have paid in 1997, which is when HAR.com was launched. That means that you aren’t paying any more today than you were back then and you still have HAR.com and all of the other incredible tools and services that have been developed since then.

Fortunately, there were many people who fought hard to make sure public MLS sites remain. TAR Chairman Shad Bogany, HAR Chair-Elect Chaille Ralph, HAR Secretary/Treasurer Cindy Hamann and I all spoke about the benefits of the sites and tried our best to represent the interests of the REALTORS® in Houston and the entire state. HAR President and CEO Bob Hale was hailed (no pun intended) as an industry hero by many who were in attendance and has been cited in virtually every industry news or blogging story about the issue. The fact that you still have HAR.com showing your listings to 1.5 million consumers each month is due in large part to these people. Thank them the next time you see one of them.

Now, another hot item of discussion was REALTOR.com®. The site is the “Official Website of the National Association of REALTORS®” but is actually owned and operated by Move, Inc., which is a publicly-traded company (NASDAQ: MOVE).  NAR retains significant control over what REALTOR.com® is allowed to display on the site, and some have criticized this control as not allowing REALTOR.com® to sufficiently compete with other national real estate websites.

Prior to the NAR Mid-Year meetings, NAR President and CEO Dale Stinton said that the leaders of NAR were “ready to get into trouble” by discussing somewhat controversial positions, including the idea of modifying how NAR and REALTOR.com® work together. There was a suggestion of taking back REALTOR.com®, which was popular, according to an Inman News report. Depending on your interpretation of “taking back,” what ended up happening was quite the opposite.

The NAR Board of Directors approved scheduling a special Board meeting to be held in July to consider options regarding REALTOR.com® and third-party aggregation sites. The overarching sentiment expressed during the full Board of Directors meeting was, as I put it during my remarks, to “Cut the chains. Let them soar.”

REALTOR.com® was the dominant national real estate site for many years until the other sites came along and “gave consumers what they wanted” without the constraints NAR imposed on REALTOR.com®.

It is important to remember that, while REALTOR.com® is operated to make money, it is also the most REALTOR®-friendly site among the national real estate websites. HAR has a great relationship with the REALTOR.com® executives who frequently speak at various HAR events.
In our view, what is good for REALTOR.com® is good for REALTORS®.

For online version, link to:
Prominent real estate blogger Rob Hahn (Notorious R.O.B.) gave his view on what happened at the NAR meetings: http://www.notorious-rob.com/2013/05/19/nar-mid-year-cry-havoc-and-let-slip-the-dogs-of-war/

Inman News reported on all of the goings-on along the way, but here are the final two regarding these topics:
http://www.inman.com/2013/05/18/nar-will-allow-mlss-to-charge-members-for-public-facing-websites/

http://www.inman.com/2013/05/18/nar-may-give-realtor-com-more-leeway-to-compete-with-rivals/

Another prominent blogger Greg Robertson from VendorAlley.com wrote about Bob Hale’s leadership on the public-facing website issue:
http://www.vendoralley.com/2013/05/20/the-passion-of-bob-hale/

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