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Midyear Recap: RPPSI, Listings on Social Media, and the Franchisor IDX Policy (and Why I Will Opt In)

May 26 2011

world is a puzzle

Fair warning: Long post ahead…

Three days of mid-May were spent in Washington, D.C. attending the 2011 REALTOR® Midyear Legislative Meetings and Trade Expo (more commonly referred to as simply “Midyear”).

This promised to be a lively event as there were some major issues on the table: RPPSI, “Franchisor IDX” and “Display of listings via RSS and Social Media.”

Thoughts on RPPSI

“RPPSI” the “REALTOR® Party Political Survival Initiative” was hotly debated prior to Midyear. The overwhelming sentiment online seemed to me to be against this initiative and its $40 dues increase. Today, however, the NAR Board of Directors “overwhelmingly approved” the initiative and dues increase. This is exactly what I thought would happen when I wrote, Op-Ed: The REALTOR® Party. NAR Proposes the REALTOR® Party Political Survival InitiativeOp-Ed: The REALTOR® Party. NAR Proposes the REALTOR® Party Political Survival Initiative.

I’ve been told there was very little debate on RPPSI at the Board of Directors meeting.  I don’t know what was said there; I flew home before that meeting. What I do know is there was definitely discussion of RPPSI at Midyear. I heard it in the hallways, and had several discussions myself with several people. In addition, many Associations had discussions and round tables prior to Midyear. So the folks that are claiming the BoD and “leadership” weren’t discussing this, or that passage was “pre-arranged” or “rubber stamped” are mistaken. Still, given the scrutiny, public outcry and potential impact of this change, an open public debate and discussion at the BoD meeting seems appropriate. I know for a fact there were directors opposed to this. Why they didn’t speak up, I have no idea.

That said, I’ll stand by what I said in my original op-ed – there are a lot of REALTOR®s out there that have no clue RPPSI exists and a dues increase just happened. I’ve been in meetings prior to Midyear where the topic of RPPSI came up and there were many, MANY agents and brokers that said, “RPP what?” They’d never heard mention of it. Yes, it’s been all over the “re.net” and Twitter, and even REALTOR®.org. But as much as those of us connected online want to think it, the simple fact is a very significant proportion of real estate professionals are very disconnected from the Net and many pay little attention to communication they receive from their local, state and national associations. They will pay attention when they get the tab for 2012 dues and say, “What the heck is this forty bucks for?” Too late now to change it.

For the record (for what that it's worth), I am no fan of RPPSI.


It’s not the $40 ($80 for us, as Francy and I will both pay). It’s the fact that the NAR will be donating my money to political candidates that I may be partially or wholly opposed to. NAR’s early pat answer to that particular issue seems to be “less than 30% of the money collected” will go to individual candidates. And that, “Much more will go to mobilization, advocacy, and campaign-coordination efforts around state, local, and federal issues that affect real estate, ranging from the mortgage interest deduction to transfer taxes.”

Well, “mobilization,” “advocacy” and “campaign-coordination efforts” can all still, albeit indirectly, go to getting a candidate I do not support being elected.

In my opinion, it smacks of unionization and signifies a fundamental shift in the nature and purpose of the NAR.

But it’s a done deal, and the only choice I have if NAR gives money – directly or indirectly – to a candidate I don’t support is to give even more money to a candidate I do support.

Well, I guess we could drop out of the NAR, but for us, that would also entail dropping out of the MLS, which isn’t much of an option.


The Display of Listings via RSS and on Social Media Sites

Lost in the hubbub of RPPSI and the “Franchisor IDX” debate was a proposal made at the Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee that allowed, under certain conditions and stipulations, for listings in compliance with IDX (Internet Data Exchange) policy to be displayed via RSS and on social media sites (I’m paraphrasing here. It’s a complicated thing). I am on the MLS committee and have been on the workgroups assigned to discuss, debate and develop these policies. In fact, I’ve been on the committee and the workgroups for going on two years. Two years that we’ve tried to get this policy implemented. Today, for the third time in the last 18 months, the full Committee sent the policy back to the workgroup for further clarification.

This is disappointing in that it is a good policy, and a needed one as well. Social media isn’t going away, and policy needs to be established on how it is used in the display of IDX data. My personal opinion is this failed to pass (in a VERY close vote) for three reasons: 1) there are still many members that don’t understand the proposed policy; and 2) there are many members that are ignorant and/or afraid of social media; and 3) people are concerned about the “freshness” and accuracy of listing data on social media sites.

In what was to me a very telling indication of reason #2, one MLS committee member said, publicly, that it wasn’t their broker's job to monitor their social media sites and they wouldn’t even know how to if it was required (paraphrased again, it was a long day). Well, it IS your broker's job, and if they don’t know how to do that, they best figure it out or find another job. Social media sites can, and should be, monitored for compliance.


The issues with using RSS seem to be primarily around the fear that IDX data could be “scraped” and repurposed for nefarious deeds. Again, this shows that people don’t really understand the technology. For those bent on stealing data, HTML isn’t much more difficult to steal then the XML of an RSS feed.

With regard to “freshness,” I wondered outloud why so many seem to have concern about a social media site showing outdated info, but the same concern doesn’t come up with print advertising. MANY magazines show properties for sale that were sold months ago. The listings in the Sunday paper can easily show a list price that was reduced after the ad was printed. The responses I got were, “People know what date the paper was printed on,” or, “The Internet is permanent, newspapers are not.”

Those counter-arguments don’t fly.

1) Tweets and Facebook posts are time stamped. You know when they are posted too, just like the publication date of a newspaper.

2) Yes, the Internet is “permanent,” but the vast majority of social media posts are quite transient. If you don’t believe that, I challenge you to go try to find something that was Tweeted or Facebooked six weeks ago. Good luck finding something posted six days ago (or heck, even six hours). I can’t easily find something I posted that I *know* is there.


The argument that some poor consumer might stumble across a listing that was Tweeted last month and think that info is still current is ludicrous on two accounts:

1) No one is going to go back in time looking at old Tweets and Facebook posts; and

2) Let’s give consumers a little more credit than we are.

They know darn well whether or not they are looking at old data. After all, they’ve clicked “Older posts” or worn out the scroll button finding it.

So back to the workgroup it goes, this time with the charge to investigate creating a separate policy for social media sites. What the workgroup had done was attempt to modify the existing IDX policy to include all methods of “electronic display.” Think websites, social media sites, mobile, whatever. IDX rules require certain things to be displayed, primarily the listing broker, the MLS logo, and various other items. On “micro blogging” sites and mobile phones, there are space limitations that prevent showing all the required info. The revised policy addressed that issue by requiring a link to a fully compliant display be included.

The Franchisor IDX Policy

This was apparently a hotly debated topic at both the Executive Committee and the Board of Directors meeting. I can also personally attest that the aforementioned MLS committee workgroup I was a part of thoroughly discussed the situation as well.

In a nutshell, the “Franchisor IDX” policy was voted on back in November 2010 and became effective January 1 of this year. What it does is allow franchisors to post, and index, IDX data on their website from any MLS where they have an operating franchisee.


Or, in plain English, a real estate franchisor – say Century 21 – can put IDX listings on Century21.com from any MLS as long as they have a franchise office in that MLS. I suspect the mega-franchisors like C21, RE/MAX, Keller Williams, etc., have offices in all 900 some-odd MLSs in the country. So under this rule they can (and have already started to) display IDX listing data on their corporate sites. That means a brokerage like mine, for example, which is independent and not a franchise, could have our listings posted on Century21.com, Remax.com, etc.

Personally, I’m okay with that.

But Jay! That means some Century 21 agent might get the lead for your listing!

So what? Good!

We take listings for one purpose – to sell them. We don’t take listings to “generate leads.” If one of our listings gets posted to C21.com and a potential buyer sees it there and that buyer's info gets routed to a Century 21 agent, then that’s a GOOD THING. I don’t even want “leads” for our listings coming back to us, as personally I abhor dual agency in virtually all situations.

I simply don’t understand the somewhat pervasive attitude of, “If our listings show up on site X, Y, or Z then we may not get the leads.”


How does this conversation pan out?

Joe REALTOR®: Now I could set your listing up to be shown on national real estate franchisor sites like Century21.com, Remax.com, and KellerWilliams.com. But I’m not going to do that.

Sally Seller: Uhm, why not? Wouldn’t that get more exposure for my home? Isn’t exposure on the Internet a good thing?

Joe REALTOR®: Well, yes, that is all true. But, you see, if I put your listing on those sites, I may not get any leads that might be generated from exposure on those sites.

Sally Seller: Oh, but I thought your job was to sell my home, not generate leads.

What does Joe REALTOR® say now???

I have no idea, but I certainly don’t want to be a part of that conversation. Sally Seller deserves to have her home listed on as many sites as possible that may attract the eyes of potential buyers.

Some folks are saying that if we (“we” collectively as in the NAR membership) open up the ability for real estate franchisors to display IDX listings than that opens the door to third-party sites such as Zillow and Trulia (national listing aggregator sites) and Facebook and Google to “get the information too.” I suppose that would be true if those sites decided to abandon their business models and become real estate franchisors – and open real estate franchise brokerage offices all across the country.

Personally, I can’t see that happening.


Besides, Zillow and Trulia already display listings, primarily from brokers syndicating their listings to them. If you don’t want your listings displayed on the “Truzillias” of the world, the solution is simple – don’t syndicate your listings to those sites. Google is full of hundreds of thousands of search results that lead to listing information. Uhm, good. That’s how many buyers find homes to purchase. Facebook? Meh, I’m not convinced that people go to Facebook to search for homes, but if they do, I certainly don’t care if they find our listings there.

Yes, yes, I understand that brokers “own the data.” And, of course, it’s critical that listing data be accurate. That is exactly why the workgroup put into the policy that any IDX display on social media sites, RSS, and franchisor websites be linked to the original page – which is updated from the MLS on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding out there about what this policy says, and what has gone into developing it. A significant contingent wanted the policy repealed at Midyear. The MLS Committee voted to suspend the Franchisor IDX provisions, and form a workgroup to further review the policy and bring recommendations to NAR’s Annual meeting in November. This went to the Executive Committee, which elected to keep the policy in affect, but allow a broker to “opt out” of displaying listing data on franchisor sites. When the Board of Directors took the matter under consideration, they ultimately passed a motion that kept the policy in place and provided brokers the opportunity to “opt in” to display.

I’ll take that opportunity. Others likely will not.


Unless brokerages and the NAR want to just outright ban listing data displays across the Internet in its entirety, there is no way to ensure that data won’t be used by evildoers, stolen, manipulated or be incorrect. Data is entered by humans, and humans make mistakes. The Internet isn’t going away. We can set policy that limits and restricts what NAR members can do with IDX listing data, but we have zero control over what third parties do. The IDX policies developed by the workgroup and proposed to the MLS committee are an attempt to control what can be controlled, limit potential of abuse and errors, and allow the NAR membership to compete with third-party sources. That’s good for brokers, good for agents, and most importantly, good for potential home buyers and sellers.

2,401 words. Good grief. If you’ve read this far, congratulations! If you’ve read this far and are still confused, that’s understandable. It’s complicated stuff to grasp and not easy to explain. For more reading on the background of these issues and what happened at Midyear, I recommend these articles:

Rob Hahn:
Midyear Reports: Breaking News from MLS Policy Committee Meetings
Midyear Reports: On the Franchise IDX Decision
Midyear Report: First Take on Board of Directors Votes

NAR:
RPPSI – Board of Directors Update
RPPSI FAQ – You May Not Like It, But ‘Politics as Usual’ Have ChangedYou May Not Like It, But ‘Politics as Usual’ Have Changed
NAR Internal News Service on Board of Director ActionsNAR Internal News Service on Board of Director Actions

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