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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?

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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.

Real Estate Associations

Here’s the nitty gritty on how to join a NAR committee

Real change begins with social activism, and being on a NAR committee is one impactful way to enact said change. It’s one thing to complain, but another to take action.

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Everyone says we all need to “raise the bar,” but many focus their efforts on just complaining on Facebook (don’t look at me like that, you know it’s true). Getting involved sometimes means dedicating your time to help the industry to change, to evolve. Realtors can join committees ranging from the diversity committee to professional standards to affordable housing.

Next month, committees will meet at Midyear (The REALTORS® Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo) which is where NAR members take an active role to advance the real estate industry, public policy and the association. REALTORS® go to Washington, DC, every May for special issues forums, committee meetings, legislative activities, and the industry trade show.

Committees help shape the direction of NAR and its policies, thus evolving the industry. If you want your voice to be heard and want to contribute to the decision-making process, NAR’s committees are a great forum for debate and discussion.

Further, experience on national committees is beneficial for those interested in seeking a future leadership role.

According to NAR, there are three main stages in the committee selection process. The first stage is the committee application period from March to May the year prior to the appointment year. A member expertise profile is required to show NAR leadership the experience you have beyond what is written in the application form.

The second stage is the selection process. State Association Executives (AEs) have an opportunity to review and rank applications and provide feedback on applications for their state. All appointments are approved by the incoming President.

The final stage is the notification process. Chairs and vice chairs receive an appointment letter between mid-July and late August. All other positions receive an appointment letter via email in early October.

Unfortunately, with only 2,500 positions available, NAR is unable to appoint everyone who submits an application. They encourage members to try again the following year if not selected. Also, potential candidates should consider committee opportunities at the state and local level to gain experience.

Many of those serving on national committees have had years of experience at the local or state level, but that doesn’t mean first timers don’t make the cut, so put your hat in the ring. It’s a much more meaningful step than just commenting on Facebook, no?

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Real Estate Associations

Why NAR’s new Realtor Safety Network is so critical [personal story]

(REAL ESTATE) NAR has launched the meaningful Realtor Safety Network – here is a personal story, and an exclusive interview with NAR CEO, Bob Goldberg.

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It was a Wednesday evening, the sun would soon be setting, and I was exhausted after pulling an all-nighter the previous night. Our study group would continue, but as a safety-conscious person, I knew it was best to head out.

I walked alone, which was normal for a college student that lived on campus. I held my pepper spray at the ready, had my keys in hand before leaving the building, and was alert. Although tired, I knew I had enough energy to go to dinner with my grandparents.

I get to the full parking garage, and halfway to my car, I hear steps behind me. I look back, and no one is there. I didn’t even see someone duck behind a car. “I’m being paranoid,” I think. “Why is no one around? It’s a full lot!”

I take a few more steps, and I am confident that I hear someone coming up behind me. I turn around, and nothing. I’m ready to use my pepper spray because there is definitely someone following me and I needed to make a decision quickly.

I had three choices – run quickly to my car where I may or may not be able to close the door fast enough, turn back and walk with authority the way I came (risking confrontation), or just straight up confrontation.

I quicken my pace, they quicken theirs, and I know what is about to happen. I turn around so I’m not blindly ambushed by someone I cannot later identify, and it is someone I recognize. Someone I had a class with. But not someone I had ever spoken with before. I hadn’t calculated how I would react in that situation and it slowed me down.

My hesitation meant he was able to shove me, and I fell backwards.

I re-calculate my choices, but this time there was no hesitation because I already knew I was in danger. As I tried to get up, he poised himself to pounce, and I used the pepper spray, knowing I’d probably get a dose, too. I missed his forehead (which is the ideal target as it drips into their eyes, extending the impact), and mostly got his mouth, but enough got into his face that it stalled him.

I rolled over before he could fall on me, and I ran. I was only yards away from a large, densely populated building.

This was nearly 20 years ago, before cell phones were mainstream, and I quickly found help from the school who called police. I won’t go into how they brushed me off and nearly refused to write a report, didn’t want to look for the guy, and so forth.

But I notified my professor as to why I couldn’t possibly go to class the next day. She was the one who insisted the University get involved, and the city police take action. She knew his name and gave it to all entities. And she was the one who never made me step foot in that classroom again, just in case. I got a restraining order, and it apparently scared him enough to stay away, but I knew he could violate it at any moment, so I remained on alert. I’m still on alert today. For him or others that think I might be an easy target.

I later learned he had stalked dozens of students, and attacked several before and after he tried to get to me. He has been in and out of jail since then.

But I always had a nagging thought… what of the other potential victims? Back then, the schools didn’t have any sort of alert system (for school closings or mass shootings). An alert system of systemic attackers could have saved others from being harmed.

It is for this very personal reason that I was moved to hear of the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) new Realtor Safety Network, which was inspired by a Realtor’s child going missing (who is now safe).

NAR CEO, Bob Goldberg took the time to talk me through what the network does – it’s not a pointless group where people whine about missing pets, no, it is activated when there is a potential safety issue, be it physical or online.

NAR is now able to gather information about potential safety issues and either issue a national alert, or share the information through local and state associations via social media, email, and text where applicable.

At this time, it is not set up like an Amber Alert where you can opt in for texts (although I do hope this is ultimately an option), so we encourage members to read any email that is sent to them as an alert, and follow the social media hashtag, #realtorsafetynetwork.

They do have criteria that must be followed prior to a Realtor Safety Network alert being sent out by NAR. It must be a widespread threat impacting Realtors. Qualifying incidents include a pattern of assaults on Realtors, a Realtor or immediate family member going missing (and there is an open police investigation, and the family asks for NAR’s aide), or an association name is being used fraudulently to scam members out of money or identifying information.

Members and Association Executives can fill out a simple incident form, and Goldberg notes there is dedicated staff ready to respond.

While they are going to “continue to perfect” the program, it can be invoked immediately. Goldberg says that members are “our family,” and that the goal is to coordinate with local authorities to keep members safe physically, and keep their identities secured.

Goldberg notes that they intend on using the network sparingly, which makes perfect sense – remember when car alarms came out and you’d jump when one went off, but now you ignore all car alarms as a nuisance? The association has long offered Realtor Safety reports and statistics, as well as safety guidance and classes, but to see this meaningful step taken is one worthy of applause.

My inner 18 year old that still remembers the heart-in-my-throat fear of an impending attack thanks NAR. Truly.

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Real Estate Associations

NAR adds sharp new execs to expanding team

(ASSOCIATION NEWS) NAR is in the middle of a massive restructuring, and any rebuilding means attracting new executive talent. Here’s what you need to know about the two newest executive additions.

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Starting today, two new hires will join the National Association of Realtors with the goal of enhancing the association’s relationship with consumers and members.

This move is part of NAR CEO, Bob Goldberg‘s vision for restructuring the association, and comes on the heels of NAR’s major ad campaign announcement.

Susan Welter is NAR’s new VP of Creative and Content Strategy and brings 25 years of experience and publishing in marketing, and over a decade of working with over 50 associations on their communications and non-dues revenue growth. Welter most recently consulted with associations on content strategies and programming designed to increase member acquisition, engagement, and retention.

“Having served the association market for most of my career, I’m excited to put that collective experience to use at NAR to better engage with our members and deepen our relationships with our industry partners, providing an exceptional experience for all,” said Welter.

Mantill Williams is NAR’s new VP of PR and Communication Strategy, and has over two decades of media relations, speechwriting, and advocacy communications experience. For the last 12 years, Williams served as director of advocacy communications for the American Public Transportation Association, and previously led the communications team for AAA. His role will be to develop strategic communications campaigns at NAR.

“I am thrilled to begin this new role at NAR using my previous association experience to enhance the ways in which we reach and connect with our current and prospective members,” said Williams. “I look forward to promoting the value and services offered to our members and advancing NAR’s position as the leading voice in the real estate industry.”

Both will report to NAR Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Victoria Gillespie.

“Mantill and Susan bring more than 40 years’ combined experience developing and executing major marketing and communications campaigns both within the real estate industry and for other professional associations,” said Goldberg. “They will elevate member communications and help us tell more creative and compelling stories about Realtors® and property owners.”

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