What You Need to Know About NAR, the MLS, and Public Facing Websites


Don’t ever question the value of volunteers. Noah’s Ark was built by volunteers; the Titanic was built by professionals. – Unknown

Being part of the volunteer leadership at the National Association of REALTORS is a rewarding if strenuous job. It is sometimes complicated by the reactions of people who are impacted by the changes implemented by the association, and sometimes its complicated by people who are observers of the process.  That happened this week.

The Multiple Listing Issues and Policy Committee worked diligently and efficiently at the Mid-Year meetings on recommendations made by the MLS Technology & Emerging Issues Advisory Board, who had in turn been working since last November on a revision to the categorization of services provided by Multiple Listing Services. The modification to the  categorization was needed to define the three classes of services offered by Multiple Listing Services in a manner that was both compliant with the law and reflective of the way business is done in the industry. The categories are :

  1. Core – Those services which are integral to every MLS
  2. Basic – Those services which an MLS can include as part of the bundle of services all members receive as part of the dues and fees paid by everyone
  3. Optional – Any other services which that MLS wishes to offer on a discretionary basis.

As part of the categorization, the issue of Public Facing Websites came up. These are sites operated by an MLS which are a topic of substantial debate. Many large Brokers feel that the MLS public facing web sites are competition for consumer eyes and are not beneficial to their business models. MLSs that provide them feel that they are a wonderful service for the members and a substantial part of their value proposition.

Sounds dry and uninteresting huh? Hard to believe that this topic was the source of sensational headlines and a storm of indignant tweets and accusations of mopery and dopery.  

Within a period of three days there were three articles published by Inman news with decent information but inaccurate and sensational headlines.

“NAR committee endorses public-facing MLS sites as ‘basic’ service”

“NAR may delay action on public-facing MLS sites”

“NAR will allow MLSs to charge members for public-facing websites”

As a participant in the process, it seemed measured, thoughtful , open, and transparent. An example of the democratic process at work in a large association and a shining example of how NAR, through its organization, allowed its diverse membership to have their voices heard.

For a casual observer, the headlines  painted a far different picture.

If  someone were to just review the headlines they  might believe that NAR made an implicit endorsement of public facing websites. In fact, the policy merely acknowledged and clarified the operation of those sites to make sure that they did not run afoul of any anti-trust laws. The second headline looked as if the organization was schizophrenic, reversing the position that they had taken with such vigor just a day before.The truth is that a recommendation from the committee had been neither denied nor defeated, but modified for further review. And the third headline might make one think that NAR had handed a mandate to MLSs everywhere to increase their fees, when there is in reality, no increase in fees mandated by NAR’s action, and no “national” impact on the fees charged by local MLSs.

 Here’s what actually happened;

  • In November 2012 the MLS Issues & Policy Committee determined the need for the review of the three categories I mentioned above.
  • The MLS Technology & Emerging Issues Advisory Board met briefly and informally after that meeting to discuss how and when the conversation about categorization  would be carried forward.
  • A meeting was scheduled and held in Chicago where the Advisory Board and members of staff including Laurie Janik , General Counsel for NAR (and Chief Dragon Slayer for the real estate industry) , discussed changes to recommend to the larger committee. A formal recommendation was drawn up to be presented at the Mid-Year meetings in May.
  • Over the next several months, numerous interested groups including brokers, brokerage organizations, MLSs, and organizations of MLS  corresponded with the staff. Copies of all of that correspondence was sent to the advisory board and the committee leadership for their review.
  • The leadership of the Advisory Board, MLS Issues and Policy committee  and the appropriate staff members attended several meetings at Mid-Year including a meeting of the Cove Group (the largest MLSs in the country)   and the MLS Association Executives meeting to hear from them.
  • It was determined that  the information received required another meeting of the Advisory Board to discuss the additional input, so at 8:15 in the morning, prior to the meeting of the Multiple Listing Issues and Policy Committee, the Advisory Board held another meeting to vote on slightly modified wording to the recommended changes to be presented to that committee.
  • During the committee meeting the recommendation and the reasons for the modification were discussed. There was substantial conversation from the floor about the recommendation and the changes, and the recommended changes were approved by an overwhelming majority of the committee.
  • As part of  the committee reporting process, all committees with recommended changes to policy report first to the Executive Committee. So the Chair of MLS I&P, the Vice Chair of MLS I&P (yours truly) and the Chair of the Advisory Board presented the recommendation.
  • The Executive Committee sent the recommendation to the Board of Directors suggesting that a sentence regarding public facing websites  be sent back to the Advisory Board for further review and revision. This would not have prohibited any MLS from operating a Public Facing Website, but would have merely continued keeping policy silent on that matter.
  • The Executive Committee’s action on the reports was presented to the NAR board of directors at the time the committee chairman reported to the directors.
  • The directors discussed and debated the MLS Committee’s recommendation as well as the amendment and then they  voted to pass the original recommendation, defeating the amendment proposed by the Executive Committee.

So, you can see that  what was communicated by the headlines as an agenda on the part of the organization itself was actually an open and transparent process in which volunteer leadership worked with staff and received input from a wide variety of stakeholders to develop policy applicable to hundreds of multiple listing services, each of which wants to be allowed to make as many decisions as possible on a local level .

The Web has only  one currency, and you can use any word you want for it valence,extremes,arousal,powerfullness,excitement- but it adds up to false perception – Ryan Holiday – “Trust Me; Confessions of a Media Manipulator

I don’t fault publishers for wanting headlines that grab the attention of their audience. They are the life blood of internet publishing. But we as readers, professionals, and especially as members of a large national organization, need to delve beneath the headlines. I read Inman news frequently, I have spoken for Inman several times, and I am friends with a number of their writers and staff. I like Inman news as a source in most cases.

The articles under the headlines really got it “mostly right” – and certainly the writer was diligent about updating them as she got more information. In fact, though there were a few points I disagreed with,  I think that a reader who was not biased would have certainly had some idea of what was going on at the meetings, but the headlines make being unbiased difficult.

The ability to avoid false perception is completely in your hands – if you choose to read below the headlines – to reach out to those who might have the information you seek – your association staff, volunteer leadership, or even the writer of that article – you can gain the understanding that you deserve and you need.

And if I can help – I’m easy to find.

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5 comments for “What You Need to Know About NAR, the MLS, and Public Facing Websites

  1. karenrice
    May 24, 2013 at 8:39 am

    But everyone loves DRAMA. DRAMA DRIVES THE INTERNET VIRAL WORLD. Thank you for a clear explanation of what went on.

  2. May 24, 2013 at 10:03 am

    The news: as reported by an industry insider…not by a pageview hungry headline driven media machine 🙂

  3. Rick Harris
    May 24, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    Thanks Bill. Clear, concise, accurate and not hyped. What great policy should be

  4. Peter Cimino
    June 4, 2013 at 8:19 am

    This is a great blog and really should be read by all NAR members. I received numerous emails and calls about this as the reported headlines were shocking many local members. Thanks Bill!

  5. June 4, 2013 at 10:35 am

    Thank You! For stopping by and especially for the kind words,

Comments are closed.