It Seems So Simple
When we become REALTORS, we’re supposed to subscribe to a Code of Ethics. Subscribe to as opposed to be restricted by . I always thought it was a good thing. Something to be proud of. A higher standard that we’re willing to be held to.
There’s only 17 articles in the Code of Ethics. Only one of them deals with money disputes (the last one, Article 17 – ) so that leaves 16 Articles to define our ethical practices as real estate professionals.
One of the core articles is Article 12 of the code which states “quote the article here”.
So Why Don’t People Get it?
Lisa Sanderson wrote a post here a couple of days ago about the ability of members to influence associations through their participation. In the comments, a discussion started about the dispute between Mark Rasmussen and the Sarasota Association of REALTORS. This post was originally going to be a comment there, but the more comments I read, the more depressed I got because there seemed to be so many practicing ethical REALTORS responding who just completely misunderstand the issues.
(Caveat; I am reproducing the facts as I found them in various Blog Posts and sites regarding these issues. Because so many people have written about this, and so much of the information they provide is conflicting, I’m giving you my understanding of the facts – and only the facts – not opinions)
The Short Version
- A REALTOR named mark Rasmussen owned and used SarasotaMLS.com as a domain name. Over a period of years, he enjoyed a high SERP through the use of that name.
- A complaint was filed with the Sarasota Association of REALTORS, and an ethics hearing was held. The findings of Ethics hearings are not to be revealed to the public, so I cannot, with any authority tell you what happened there.
- A hearing was held before ICANN who found that “(1) the domain name registered by the Respondent is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the Complainant has rights; (2) the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name; and (3) the domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.” (So it was the organization that monitors and adjudicates such things that made this decision not the Association)
- The Association is a non-profit organization that is not a competitor of Mark Rasmussen and gains no commercial advantage in owning the domain name, other than to prevent its use by a member or non-member which might be detrimental to the entire membership of the Association.
- Mark Rasmussen is currently suing the Association to be allowed to use the domain name. His use of that domain name would prohibit anyone else from using the name, even if they may have the same or superior entitlement to use the name.
Its Not About the Letters MLS
I don’t know Mark Rasmussen nor do I know any member of SAR (at least I don’t think I do – if there is someone I have met who does belong to SAR, I’m sorry I didn’t remember your Association affiliation).
And there seems to be a lot of discussion about the letters MLS instead of what I think are the actual issues here.
- The findings of the Ethics hearing are a result of a specific hearing panel. One of the reasons such findings are not published is a fear that people might look to earlier panels findings and give the weight as establishing precedents, instead of allowing each new hearing to create its own set of findings
- I think the domain name sarasotamls.com is misleading. A reasonable consumer, clicking on a such a link, might reasonably conclude that they were going to an organizational website rather than a commercial website.
- In fairness I would note that Mr. Rasmussen had disclaimers added to his site at some point to let people know that it was not an MLS site – but these would have been unnecessary if the consumer had not been mislead in the first place – making the point that somewhere along the line he realized that he was misleading people and wished to stop misleading them when he had accomplished his objective of obtaining web traffic.
- The fact that Mr. Rasmussen had invested money or spent time utilizing this site before there was clarification that such a misleading action might be unethical does not create some sort of exception to the ethical issue posed. In fact, if someone is doing something unethical (unknowingly) and it was not done in bad faith, wouldn’t they stop doing it when the ethical issue is raised?
- As a second note, it might be asked if the issue here is merely one of the time and effort spent by Mr. Rasmussen to promote the sarasotamls.com shouldn’t he be able to duplicate his efforts with an equal amount of success? While I sympathize with the amount of additional time and effort that might have to be spent to acquire the same position for his new site, doing things ethically is certainly worth it.
It Is Not David Vs. Goliath Here
So I thought I would see what happens when I typed the offending terms – and hgere is what I found.
So what’s the harm here? No competitor of Rasmussen is being aggrandized at his expense. All of the people who might comprise what the public understands as the sarasota mls are here.
Then, since part of the issue is the damage that Mr. Rasmussen might suffer to his business, I tried a few other common search terms – for example “Sarasota real estate”;
Oddly enough, Mr. Rasmussen is still #1 and there’s a guy named Michael Saunders (about whom I have read nothing) who is number 2 – Watch this guy – we’ll see him again.
S0 then I checked out ‘ sarasota homes” Rasmussen #1 Michael Saunders #2
And then “Sarasota Properties” Rasmussen #4, Michael Saunders now #3
I could keep doing this but I think you get the idea. If people find you that easily on searching area, homes, properties and area real estate, why do you need the organizational URL with MLS in it? If people are looking for a real estate professional then these three phrases are probably among the best – in fact here is a Google Keyword Search which indicates that Sarasota MLS is the thrid ranked of these four searchs, coming in a bad third after “sarasota real estate” and “sarasota homes” as you can see below;
So let’s we get some focus on this issue – its not free speech, its not restraint of trade, the guy is still high ranking on Google, and obviously is not being hurt by the loss of this domain. In fact, his competitor Michael Saunders seems to get great placement without all the hearings and litigation.
So can we agree that if ICANN – who is not a real estate related entity and has no allegiance to NAR or SAR, believes this type of URL is confusing to the public, it just might be confusing to the public? I understand that we don’t like to give up what we have worked on, or to find out that we are going down the wrong road in our marketing efforts, but Isn’t it still important to do the right thing?