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NAR’s settlement with the DOJ expires this year – what’s next?

(REAL ESTATE) Ten years ago, the U.S. Justice Department struck a deal with the NAR to establish limits on anti-competitive practices but will the decree hold, or will it expire?

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Once upon a time, when the real estate market was just getting familiar with internet technology, prospective Realtors® dreamt of using the new technology to both excel and fine-tune their craft. One Realtor®, Aaron Farmer, thought about offering his services based on “per task” scale, rather than the standard 6 percent fee. Not long after he considered this scale, the Texas Real Estate Commission passed rules establishing what they termed “minimum levels of service” that real estate agents had to meet (effectively making Farmer’s idea of a fee scale, illegal).

Since Farmer’s idea was in line with the beginning of the internet boom, he felt as though TREC’s rules were unfair. In 2002, he decided to sue them for restricting his trade and was assisted, astonishingly, by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Surprisingly, the government was investigating the real estate industry already, mainly claims that new players to the real estate game were not afforded the same opportunities as vested professionals. In many instances, veteran professionals were blocking or restricting access of the newer agents (particularly it seemed those agents who had an eye for the budding technology that was/is the internet).

After years of back and forth debates, the DOJ came to an agreement with the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). This settlement, set forth in 2008, outlined and limited anti-competitive practices, as well as situations where agents were denied access to listing data.

The decree specifically outlines acceptable and prohibited conduct for Realtors® and brokers. The decree clearly states how VOWs (Virtual Office Websites) should operate. In essence, since the internet was just getting started, VOWs were the primary way technologically-minded brokerages presented their information to consumers.

Nowadays, these VOWs are commonplace through multi-state online brokerages like Redfin, Compass, and Zillow, as well as, smaller, local brokerages which allow customers to search for homes currently on the market in any given location.

Here’s the issue: The “VOW policy” imposed restrictions on how brokers could access listings from the MLS across the US, but simultaneously exempted other “traditional” brokers (those who weren’t using VOWs, but were instead keeping to the “old school” principles of using mail, faxes, paper, or postcard to deliver their information).

Given this inequity, the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation and began to conclude that the playing field wasn’t equal, and was in fact, violating antitrust laws. Thus, why they interceded and why the decree to block their current VOW policies was created and put into effect. The decree basically states play nicely and everyone should have a fair shot at accessing MLS data and sharing it, regardless of whether or not you share this data through traditional “old school” means, or the new online method.

The decree stated that the NAR shall not adopt, maintain, or enforce any rule, or enter into, or enforce any agreement or practice that directly or indirectly prohibits a Broker from using a VOW (Virtual Office Website).

VOW includes all of the listing information that a Broker is permitted to provide to customers by hand, mail, facsimile, electronic mail, or any other delivery methods. It also stated the NAR® cannot unreasonably discriminate against a Broker who uses a VOW to provide customers all listing information.

It also details the required conduct expected from the NAR. The original decree states, that within five business days, the following actions are expected: the NAR shall repeal the policy and implement the new VOW policy; NAR shall not change the new policy; the NAR shall direct each coveted entity to adopt the new VOW policy; NAR will notify the DOJ if the coveted entities do not comply, the NAR shall notify the DOJ if any member board violates the new VOW rules after notifying that member to cease; NAR will furnish the DOJ copies of communication with any person that alleges a member boards’ noncompliance or failure to enforce the new rules.

In order to ensure the NAR complied, authorized DOJ representatives would inspect and copy records, including books, ledgers, accounts, records, data, and documents. They are also allowed to interview NAR® officers, employees, or agents and more.

The decree is set to expire on November 18th of this year.

The industry is already beginning to assess what will happen. Already, two members of Congress have written to the DOJ and asked them to consider extending the 10-year decree. It is possible the decree could be extended, but both the DOJ and the FTC may hold hearings to determine the continued validity of the decree.

If the decree is not renewed, the NAR and MLS will no longer be required to support VOWs. While I don’t expect they will go back to the “old school” methods, it does beg the question, will they restrict current brokerage services?

The bigger question seems to be, not if the decree will be extended or not, but rather, since the internet has become such an incredibly integral part of our lives, is the decree even valid any longer? To clarify, aren’t VOWs a common practice now? Would extending the decree change anything? Instead of worrying about whether or not the NAR and their associates will revert to practices that kept individuals like Farmer from operating, perhaps our government should be looking at the bigger picture: is the decree even valid in this technologically-driven age?

Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

National Association of Realtors

The more communicative you are, the more you’re apt to earn

Communication is key in any relationship, but even more so when it’s the Realtor/Client relationship. Here’s why.

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In our fast-paced, technology-driven world, Realtors need to be able to engage clients quickly and in a way that allows them to be both personable and professional. Celeste Starchild, Vice President of Move and General Manager at ListHub, gives a bit of insight on how Realtors can tap into the online market more efficiently.

One of the first thing Starchild suggests is maximizing your online presence with search engine optimization or SEO; effectively using SEO will boost targeted advertising to reach consumers when they are most likely to be ready to buy or sell a home.

She states, “search engine marketing drives high quality and high volume leads. If you have the budget, you can pay for the right to have your name and business visible to practically all consumers looking for an agent in a specific location.”

Consumers want immediate responses

This is especially important given the majority of consumers in today’s market are “digital natives.” These “digital natives” are millennials or Gen X-ers who have been around technology so long, they can’t remember a time when the Internet wasn’t at their disposal. Due to this, they tend to go online to do research because they are not familiar with doing business in-person. They also expect an immediate response, as they are used to texting and email, not phone calls and letters.

Starchild states, “consumers want immediate responses from their friends and family via email and texting. Realtors risk missing an opportunity with this demographic if they aren’t responding in a timely, informative, and personable manner.” This includes areas such as social media.

Have you notices Facebook actual lists a response time on business pages now? They do. Most businesses strive to answer messages within an hour, or risk losing business.

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot

Facebook can be an extremely successful and cost-effective marketing tactic for Realtors by using predictive advertising. With this, you can target scenarios such as job relocation, marriage, child birth, and divorce, as purchase drivers and your ad will appear alongside a potential buyer’s Facebook page. This is one of the most powerful and effective ways to reach consumers, according to Starchild, as you are reaching out to them at the critical moment of decision.

Practically every interested buyer or seller will search online for information about a Realtor and read reviews about them before contacting them. This is another area Starchild suggests you examine: “It doesn’t matter where on a search list a Realtor shows up if they don’t have an updated profile with a professional headshot, listed contact information, and a few client recommendations. Failing to do [this] will ultimately lead to missed business;” and no one wants that to happen. So, take a few moments and ensure your contact information is updated and readily available as a search result so you do not miss a potential client.

Improve earnings by being communicative

Once a client messages you, you should aim to respond in the first five minutes, even if your response is automated with a promise to follow-up quickly. As long as you’re reaching out, you can increase your contact rates exponentially.

“Consumers are looking for facts and they want them now. How you respond and interact with them influences their decision on whether or not they’re your client forever, or they’re on to the next one,” says Starchild.

No one wants to miss business, simply because they forgot to respond. Automate responses, use social media, and update your Realtor profile and you’ll be on your way to maximizing your contact rates and client satisfaction.

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Real Estate Associations

NAR Board approves major MLS rule changes to take effect in January

The NAR Board has approved new MLS rules to improve transparency for consumers, all set to take effect in just a few weeks.

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To improve transparency in a time where forces are pushing to muddy waters, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) announced today that proposed changes to its guidance for local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) broker marketplaces have been approved by a Board of Directors vote.

The changes seek to “ensure disclosure of compensation offered to buyer agents, ensure listings are not excluded from search results based on the amount of compensation offered to buyer agents, and reinforce that local real estate agents do not represent brokerage services as free,” according to a NAR statement.

The following changes are set to take effect Jan. 1, 2022 (per NAR):

  • (1) Reinforce that local marketplace participants do not represent brokerage services as free. While Realtors® always have been required to advertise their services accurately and truthfully, this change creates a bright line rule on the use of the word “free” that is easy to follow and enforce.
  • (2) Ensure disclosure of compensation offered to buyer agents. The change bolsters transparency and Realtors®’ existing duties and practices to talk with their clients about what services they provide and how they are compensated.
  • (3) Ensure listings aren’t excluded from search results based on the amount of compensation offered to buyer agents. This changes wording to reiterate Realtors®’ existing duty to inform clients about all relevant properties meeting their criteria.

“Grounded in our commitment to act in the best interests of buyers and sellers, we regularly review and update our guidance for local broker marketplaces to continue to advance efficient, equitable and transparent practices,” said NAR President Charlie Oppler.

“These latest changes more explicitly state what is already the spirit and intent of the NAR Code of Ethics and local broker marketplace guidance regarding consumer transparency and broker participation,” Oppler noted.

Brokers we spoke with for this story unanimously agreed that this rule update simply codifies what was already what they believe to be the modern practice of real estate.

He added, “This is another example of NAR constantly evolving to ensure pro-consumer, pro-competitive marketplaces for buyers and sellers, and brokers. NAR is proud to be affiliated with the hundreds of local broker marketplaces around the country and will continue to tirelessly pursue changes that improve the real estate experience for all Americans.”

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Real Estate Associations

You know there’s a national real estate mentorship program, right?

(REAL ESTATE) It’s been a long time coming, but the call for mentorship in real estate has been realized thanks to the new NAR program. Here’s how to sign up.

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Mentor speaking with his mentee over mentorship video.

A mentor can help you grow and develop your knowledge and skills. Unfortunately, in the real estate industry, “being thrown into the deep end”, without proper mentoring, has become the norm. For years, we’ve said this shouldn’t be the case and those Realtors should be mentored so they can be set up for success. Now, the National Association of Realtors® has finally heard our cry for mentorship.

The NAR has a mentorship program that is “designed to help budding professionals in underserved areas thrive in a real estate career”. Named NAR Spire, the program will match mentees from “historically marginalized communities” with seasoned Realtors.

Those in the program will not just be exposed to the day-to-day business operations, but will also receive insights into marketing, appraisal, IT, and financing aspects of real estate. Along with that, they will be given educational opportunities, be able to attend business-related events, have one-on-one mentorship meetings, and have access to an online platform designed specifically for the program.

“NAR Spire is a groundbreaking new initiative designed and developed to drive inclusivity in the real estate industry,” said NAR CEO Bob Goldberg.

“We’ve reached beyond NAR’s walls to collaborate with partners across a number of industries,” Goldberg adds, “and we’re confident this program will help Realtors® enhance their reputation as invested, engaged and integral members of every U.S. community.”

You can join the program by completing an application form to become either a Mentor or Mentee.

After you’ve submitted your form, a program coordinator will evaluate your information to conduct a matching process. Your educational and professional background, experience, time availability, and location will all be taken into account to make a match.

When a match has been made, the Program Coordinator will provide you with your mentor/mentee contact details and make an introduction. Then, you will fill out an agreement, review guidelines, and complete an action plan.

Afterward, it’s up to the mentor and mentee to start the mentoring process.

According to the NAR website, the mentorship experience provides opportunities for both the mentor and the mentee, and I think we can agree that is true. For mentors, they will have the opportunity to coach the new kids to help them reach their full potential and also learn a thing or two in the process. For mentees, well, they will finally get the guidance they need to learn the ropes and thrive in their careers.

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