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Further Proof that NAR is Out of Touch

February 27, 2008

Thanks to InmanBlog, I learn that there is an ethical dilemma brewing in  It appears that NAR has promulgated a new standard

This standard falls under Article 12 in the Realtor code, which provides that Realtors “shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing and other representations.” (See Inman News article.)

A case example for this new standard, provided by the National Association of Realtors in its 2008 Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual, found that a Realtor who operated a real estate site named “” was in violation of the code and standards because “a real estate-related URL that included the letters MLS would lead reasonable consumers to conclude that the Web site would be an MLS’s, and not a broker’s Web site.”

The matter is up for local hearing panels to consider, in the event ethics complaints are filed against Realtors who operate sites with the word “MLS” in them or who are otherwise accused of using a misleading Web address.

This is tantamount to the Ford Motor Company prohibiting its dealers using a name like “Joe’s Horse and Carriage”.

With very few exceptions, MLS websites routinely suck.  Not just as “Web 2.0” sites, but as websites, period.  Here’s NJ MLS for example.  Awful site — great people they may be over there at NJ MLS, but I think they know that their consumer site is plain old bad.  Even large, powerful MLS organizations like MRIS have public websites like this.  It’s not teh good.  I mean, how many clicks before I actually get to see a listing?

In this day and age, is NAR truly concerned that some broker is going to gain an marketing advantage by including the words “MLS” in its name or URL?  As a marketer, I do believe I would have to advise my clients not to use those letters if at all possible.  In fact, if I could figure out a way to have my client’s competitors use “MLS” in their name or URL, while my client’s site remains blissfully free of the taint, that would be wonderful.

NAR needs to get with the program.  Recognize what’s important in todays so-called “Web 2.0” world, and focus on those.  Might I recommend that NAR begin with (a) understanding the Realtor brand, where it is, and how to improve it; (b) understanding the consumer’s mindset in a far stronger, clearer way, to provide guidance to its members; and (c) working on removing barriers to open and honest conversation between agents and consumers — for example, some of the overreaching provisions of the Fair Housing Act.


15 Comments leave one →
  1. March 17, 2008 10:31 pm

    Rob; Reading your blog about the case study relating to article 12 , you seem to be missing the point of the case study. As you point out, Article 12 relates to the obligation of a REALTOR to present a true picture in their advertising, marketing and other representations. Since the term MLS ,in the mind of many consumers represents an professional repository of listing information which is not related to specific real estate practitioners, luring someone to a site which is a place for a specific real estate practioner to obtain personal information from the consumer is in the mind of many people (myself included) a practice that is inappropriate- The issue here is not about any marketing advantage, its about the need to be forthright and transparent in communications with the public. To go with your auto industry analogy, a consumer that expects to find an “impartial” site like Edmonds Blue Book, shouldn’t find themselves on a ford or chevy website because someone tried to get slick with the URL- That’s decepetive marketing, and not an ethical practice.

    Marketing isn’t about misrepresentation, its about positioning a product or service for delivery to the marketplace, and properly done, doesn’t need to rely on misdirection . In fact, this case study should rate a big shout out from you since it helps NAR’s members do exactly what you suggest when you say they should be “working on removing barriers to open and honest conversation between agents and consumers ” – That’s exactly the purpose of this case study.

    And as far as the overreaching

    Finally, with all due respect to your experience in marketing and in the world of technology and electronic communciation, the members of NAR who comprise the officers, chairpeople and committees, are real estate professionals who work with consumers every day. They aren’t the enemy of the members, they are the advocates of the real estate professional, and through the Code of Ethics, advocates for the consumer as well. I would respectfully suggest that until you work with and meet with real estate consumers on a regular basis, day and day out, helping them to buy and sell homes its a little presumptuous to assume you have a clearer idea of their wants and needs then the people who do.

  2. March 18, 2008 10:43 am

    Dear Bill –

    First of all, thank you for your comments. Even if I come in for a bit o’ the old drubbing, I appreciate insightful disagreement and discussion.

    Secondly, while I don’t disagree with your characterization of Article 12, there are three issues here.

    One, the notion that putting “MLS” into your URL is deceptive marketing depends on the assumption that consumers think of MLS as being somehow free from the taint of marketing. I think you know as well as I do that such is simply not the case. The MLS is not an objective repository of listings/house data — it’s a marketing vehicle, used by RE professionals to market to other RE professionals. I know of no consumer (even assuming they know what an MLS is) who believes that data they find on an MLS is “true and objective” while the data they get on a broker website is “filled with marketing fluff”.

    The auto industry analogy breaks down precisely at this point. Edmunds is run by a private third party company that conducts its own reviews, its own factfinding, and describes the vehicles objectively. If there were such an organization within RE, that would change things, and Article 12 would apply with full force. The MLS is not that organization.

    Two, my point was that MLS websites in general are singularly bad from a user experience standpoint. Some exceptions exist — comes to mind — but generally speaking, every major brokerage site I have seen beats the living daylights out of any public-facing MLS site. So why any broker would want to associate his brand and his website with the uniformly horrid “MLS” web experience is beyond me.

    Three, if we assume that Article 12 means what you believe it says — that Realtors need to be transparent and forthright in communication and present a true picture — then I submit to you that there are far, far bigger fish to fry than websites with the three forbidden letters in them. That the RE industry suffers from a general perception of lack of candor cannot be debated. That we have a looong way to go before earning the consumer’s trust is indisputable. If Realtors were allowed to speak frankly about dangerous neighborhoods, crummy schools, and flaws in the house itself, that is the transparency, forthrightness, and truthfulness that they need. I submit that going after websites with “MLS” in the URL is just about at the bottom of the list of things NAR needs to do to advance forthrightness, truthfulness, and transparency.

    Finally, with respect to your personal criticism, I wholeheartedly and without reservation embrace it. 🙂 I’m not a broker. Not a realtor. Never have been, and never want to represent myself as one. That I am presumptuous in a blog post is something I am fully willing to concede. You are surely correct that the members of NAR are not the enemy of the members. I do not go so far as to presume bad faith on their part.

    However, I disagree that only people who have done real estate brokerage know what the industry needs. In fact, I would propose that those who are experts, those who are in the daily grind of a business, often are the last to see what is obvious to an outsider.

    My expertise is in marketing, branding, and technology. What I see is a Realtor brand that is at the very bottom of the barrel in terms of respect in the eyes of the consumer. What I see is a NAR whose leadership may have the best interests of the members at heart, but cannot see the forest for the trees. What I see is an organization obsessed with the minutiae — such as websites with MLS in the ULR — that it can’t see the very real damage that its rules for controlling information and its inability to force true professionalism on its members are doing to the Realtor brand.

    I would actually submit that if you were to round up some of the leading bloggers on the subject of Web 2.0 or interactive marketing and convened a frank and open roundtable discussion on the state of the Realtor brand and what needs to be done by NAR to help bring this industry into the 21st century, you would gain some incredible insights from people who have never made a single listings presentation or showed a house to buyers.



  3. March 18, 2008 12:00 pm

    Ok Rob, now we really have a problem – I like to articulate manner in which you responded to me earlier post and now I want to buy you lunch, and I think you made some really good points, but I also think you might have missed a couple. And before I go any farther, I want you to know that if my comments seemed to be some personal crticism, I apologize for suh was not my intent – but I wanted to seperate your opinion from your expertise – I might want to be crtical of your opinion or your stamenet but never of you as an individual- and I appreciate your well spoken and gentlemanly response if I did not make that clear-
    First, being a REALTOR is not as much about being a brand as it is about being a trade association devoted to the improvement of the industry and its practitioners. As a franchisee of a large nationl real estate brand, the difference is obvious to me, and with your marketing knowledge, I think it is to you as well – but I do agree that outside input is invaluable because our (industry participants) have our own perception colored by our expereinces as does everyone else – What I was trying to point out was that we might have a clearer idea of what the consumer wants since we meet them and deal with them every day- when they’re happy becasue the transaction went well, when they’re stressed ecause its just taking too long, and when they’re crushed because a problem has developed that has not been overcome. I do unerstand that as a marketing epxert, much of your discussion regarindg brand and positioning hs validity.

    I also agree with you that we have a long way to go to grow in the consumer’s perception,, but we have come an incredibly long way since we began- I know that you’re not a great fan of NAR but if you took the time to read their Centennial book and saw where the group started, and how it has moved forward through immense changes, it might help you with an appreciation of the Association’s willingness to change and the ability of its members to make those changes.

    I also agree with you that Article 12 addresses much larger issues than just the MLS, and I even agree with you that I wouldn’t use that phrase from a marketing perspective even if I didn’t feel that there was a misrepresentation in its use. And I may not have been clear when I mentioned the Edmonds analogy, but the MLS is a disinterested 3rd party that is not involved in the marketing efforts of the various participants. I don’t think that the consumer envisions this so much as providing them with really objective information, I just think they believe that this is a website where no one is going to sell them something as opposed to the site that is created to obtain information from consumer and begin to aggresively (or assertively) market to them. Again , it really is not about whether the agent is a bad guy, but that the consumer didn;t end up where they thought they were going to go- The whole point of the case study however is to help provide a guideline regarding how the members use technology appropriately so that they don’t end up with unitended consequences, for example a consumer who is annoyed that when they tried to go one place they ended up in anopther place because someone mislabeled the map. And Article 12 is a very valuable and powerful part of the Code which is frequently a part of professional standards cases when a REALTOR fails in their obligation to provide a true picture.

    Fianlly while I can empathize with the restraints placed upon us by the various legislations designed to benefit “protected classes” of people, I can understand the value of such things in diminsihing racism, sexism, and any other number of nasty “isms” that are far worse then my inability to provide som information which the consumer can find for themselves in many instances- and I have to point out that such laws started with Federal Law in 1866, and are enacted through Federal,State, and local Law to protect classes of people that have been identified by those governements as needing that protection.

    In any case, I have to go back to work, even though this is wayyyyy more fun – Thanks for listening and I look foward to the next post or comment – I onmly hoe it has been as good for you as it has been for me ! 🙂

  4. March 18, 2008 1:29 pm

    Bill –

    First of all, no worries at all. I took precisely ZERO offense at what you wrote. Because it’s correct. You’re right to call me out on that. I know I’m being presumptuous, even. I just think that outsiders often have insights that insiders lack. Some of my best insights into marketing, into real estate, have come from my experiences in selling men’s clothing, or from the law firm environment, or from running an online gaming clan. 🙂

    Therefore, there is absolutely no apology necessary.

    Having said that… while I agree that NAR is a trade association, I guess where I stand is that the primary mission of NAR is to benefit its members. Absolutely the most important, in my view, of such a benefit is the REALTOR brand. That ranks far above anything else NAR might do via lobbying or education or researching web technology.

    If I seem overly critical of NAR, it’s because I’ve met so many wonderful people during my time in this industry. These are men and women who have created enormous value, enormous companies, out of thin air. There’s one guy I can’t forget who started out with a young wife, an infant child, and about $50 in his pocket when he was discharged from the Marines. He busted his hump for the last thirty years building one of the most successful real estate brokerages in his area, and is enjoying financial success today. But that didn’t come easy; it didn’t come cheap; and I can’t help but have endless admiration and respect for such entrepreneurship.

    It bothers me that associations such as NAR, or even large franchise networks, do things that not only don’t help him, but actually hurt him. He himself is an honest, honorable man of real integrity — and he enforces that in his offices with his people. But he can’t help that “real estate agents” in general, and REALTOR specifically, are being vilified by the same broad brush in the popular mind.

    And things like Article 12 don’t help him. They don’t help the average hardworking honest real estate professional. I know it’s well-intentioned, but I just don’t think that’s where the priority needs to be.

    You know what would help my friend in real estate? If NAR were to purge the ranks of REALTORS of those who give the rest of the industry a bad name. If NAR were to focus on winning back the public’s trust, and burnishing the REALTOR brand to where he could wear it proudly and know that it helps him.

    Now… having said that, you’re 100% correct that I lack perspective. Perhaps NAR has come a very long way indeed. And with the right people such as yourself involved in NAR, it will continue to evolve. I’m just impatient. 🙂 And as a self-appointed gadfly and commentariat, I suppose it’s my role to be a bit of a pain in the ass. Hopefully, I’m not just criticizing, but also offering suggestions and solutions to move things forward.

    This was extremely fun, and educational — and what more can you ask for from the 🙂 Thank you for that.


  5. outsider222 permalink
    April 1, 2008 6:56 pm

    They’re only out of touch with humanity.

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