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The nice thing about making the rules is … you get to interpret them the way you want!

Kevin Boer, Broker Owner, 3 Oceans Real Estate, Inc. ()

October 22nd, 2006 · 10 Comments

Late Friday afternoon, I heard back from our local MLS about realtor.com’s displaying of sold data on their web site. Their interpretation is that Realtor.com is not breaking any rules after all because…their sold data comes from a 3rd party aggregator, not the MLS.

So let’s follow a home’s journey on realtor.com from when it’s first listed to after it’s sold. The following simple diagram will help:


  1. The listing agent uploads the property into the local MLS, which in turn feeds the property into Realtor.com.
  2. The property sells. Poof! The listing disappears (temporarily) from Realtor.com because it’s not allowed to display sold listings if the source is the MLS.
  3. When the property closes escrow, the escrow officer submits the paperwork to the county.
  4. A county employee enters the data into its system.
  5. Onboard, a real estate services provider, sucks the data in from the county records.
  6. Realtor.com sucks the data in from Onboard. Voila! The property appears again.

Hmm…let’s look at the rules again. Our local MLS has the following regulation [sic]:

[I assume the first line is supposed to say, "No one may display the following...]
So if the data on a sold listing comes from some place other than the MLS, then it’s no longer considered a sold listing? Seems kind of shady to me…

Again, don’t get me wrong. I think the prohibition on displaying sold data is a silly anachronism, and I certainly don’t begrudge Realtor.com a little bit of enterpreneurialism. I just think it should be a level playing field for everyone. Based on my past experience, if I were to bend the rules like that, I suspect I’d be called to task pretty quickly.

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Tags: MLS · Real estate · Real estate data · Realtor.com

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Real Central VA - Tracking the Charlottesville and Central VA real estate market and more » Monday links 10-23-2006 // Oct 23, 2006 at 5:18 am

    [...] This post is indicative of why Three Oceans has quickly become “required reading.” Realtor.com circumnavigates the rules. [...]

  • 2 EndTable20 // Oct 23, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    I’m a little confused. The NAR rule that you cite explains itself as a “policy governing the Internet display of all property information originating from multiple listing services (MLSs) owned and operated by REALTOR® organizations.” Since Realtor.com is not an MLS, and the sold data it displays did not come from an MLS, how is this rule at all relevant to Realtor.com’s display of sold data?

    The sold data in question came from public county records across the country? Is someone trying to suggest that the NAR has the authority to prohibit the Internet display of public government-recorded data?

  • 3 Kevin Boer, Alain Pinel Realtors // Oct 23, 2006 at 2:36 pm

    It is indeed a confusing topic because of the numerous self-governing bodies involved — NAR, our local Realtor association (SILVAR), and our local MLS (REInfoLink aka REIL). The most relevant body for this discussion would be REIL. While NAR obviously doesn’t have authority to prevent people from displaying publicly-available government data on their web site, REIL has pretty clear rules that, I believe, apply to all subscribers and users of the data on not being able to display data on sold listings. If you get data from REIL, you’re required to adhere to these rules.

    Per the above screenshot, the relevant rule says, “No one may [display] the following kinds of information available for search or display on the Internet: a) expired, withdrawn, pending/do not show, or sold listings…”

    I would interpret the above to mean, quite simply, you can’t display information about sold properties. Nowhere does it provide an exemption if the source of information of said properties is a non-MLS source.

    A more split-the-hair interpretation might be that because the sold data does not come from the MLS, it’s not a “listing” as such and hence is exempt from the rule. That doesn’t pass the sniff test, however. If I display the fact that 123 Main Street sold for $1 million, and I get that information from the MLS, then it’s a “sold listing” and I can’t display it. If I display the exact same fact, but my source is _not_ the MLS, then all of the sudden it’s not a “sold listing”?

    Using the same logic, I could get a data feed from REIL and display current listings on my web site. Then, from a different party, I could find out the owner’s name and phone number and put that up as well, despite the fact that REIL expressly (and wisely) prohibits the display of owner’s names and phone numbers. My argument? Quite simple. The rule only prohibits me displaying names and phone numbers if I got that information from the MLS. I got it from somewhere else…ergo I can put it up.

    I may be missing something, and if so, let me know.

  • 4 EndTable20 // Oct 23, 2006 at 4:07 pm

    I still see the same issue. The NAR is attempting to regulate display of data originating from MLSs. Data acquired from other sources would seem outside of this statement, and, quite frankly, outside of the NAR’s presumed authority.

  • 5 Kevin Boer, Alain Pinel Realtors // Oct 23, 2006 at 5:12 pm

    In the bigger scheme of things, the regulation prohibiting the display of sold data is a silly and anachronistic throwback to the pre-Internet days when you could actually control the data and hence the market. Now that so much of this data is in the public domain, I believe we should all be allowed to compete on whatever value-add we want to put into the mix. On that level, I completely agree with you.

    But on the issue of the rules as they stand today, I have to disagree. If REIL licenses data to Realtor.com under the same arrangements under which it licenses data to all of the rest of us, then REIL gets to make the rules, however silly they are. It’s not a question of REIL trying to control data that doesn’t originate with them; it’s more an issue of REIL having the right to dictate what can and can’t be done with their data. In this case, one of the “can’t’s” [sp?] is that you “can’t display sold data.”

    Analogy — you make movies, I have a movie theatre. I license the movies from you to show in my theatre. We sign a contract, one of whose clauses is, “These movies may not be shown in theatres which have previously shown an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.” Silly rule. But — we signed a contract, and that was one of the clauses. Are you trying to control what I can do with content from another source? In some sense, yes. More accurately, though, you’re simply trying to control what I do with your content, and in this case, for whatever reason, one of the things you _don’t_ want me to do with your content is commingle it with Arnold Schwarzenegger content.

    You have the right to make that silly rule, and I have the right to think its silly, but if we signed a contract in which we both agreed to that silly rule, then don’t we have to follow it?

    The _really_ ironic thing is that REIL themselves have told me that they don’t think it’s a violation. You have to use a hair-splitting standard of interpretation to come to that conclusion, and reading between the lines, I think REIL also thinks it’s a silly rule — likely imposed on it by their Realtor board owners.

    EndTable20 — do you have any specific thoughts about my analogy in my first comment about displaying homeowner’s names and phone numbers? You’ll probably agree with me that it wouldn’t be a smart move, but the question here is whether it would or wouldn’t be in line with the data licensing regulations.

  • 6 Todd Tarson // Oct 24, 2006 at 10:10 am

    Hmm… most interesting topic. The new Data Exchange (formerly know as MLS) is negotiating with realtor.com right now (in fact I think we just ended negotiations).

    There is much concern on this topic from all sides of the spectrum. I too don’t really have a problem allowing sold data appearing on public use sites.

    I could though see that if this ticks off REIL enough, then they can just not renew their license with realtor.com for the listing information.

    At some point the folks that are on the Board of Directors of these organizations have to take a stand one way or another on behalf of their members. All too often these Member organizations are getting played. As a Realtor myself, I consider myself a professional negotiator for terms on an agreement. So why can’t we play hardball. Our data is more valuable than the position we negotiate from. We say it is extremely valuable data, but we get played far too much.

    I’m not on the side of protecting the data for the Members, yet when I see a Member organization get played I want to be on that side. But then again, any downfall is on the leaders of those organizations.

  • 7 EndTable20 // Oct 24, 2006 at 12:54 pm


    I see your analogy, and that would be a much closer analogy to what’s apparently being discussed; that the NAR/MLS can dictate what *other* conditions would apply to a given site in order for that site to use and display that MLS’s data — however silly those conditions might be.

    I suppose I’d have to see more of the actual text of the rules in question to understand if this analogy actually applies, as I was under the impression that the restrictions were only intended to apply to usage of the MLS’s data, which Realtor.com is not using in any way related to the display of sold data. Reaching beyond that — dictating what *else* an MLS-data-using site is allowed to do — would strike me as a somewhat dangerously overbearing stance to take. (Not that the NAR hasn’t shown willingness to take such stances before…)

  • 8 Kevin Boer, Alain Pinel Realtors // Oct 25, 2006 at 10:26 am

    It’s a big mess, that’s for sure. Every one of the ~900 (as I understand it) MLS’s in the US probably have slightly different rules. Our’s here in the Bay Area prohibits the display of sold listings; I understand the one in the Pacific Northwest (NWMLS), on the other hand, _allows_ the display of sold listings. I’ll put up another post shortly with more specifics of our local rules.

  • 9 at Three Oceans Real Estate — Insights from a Wired Bay Area Realtor // Oct 25, 2006 at 11:16 am

    [...] My previous post about Realtor.com displaying sold listings led to a stimulating converation with a reader named “Endtable20″, who challenged me on my assertion that Realtor.com is going against our local MLS rules in doing so. I’ll be the first to admit I could be wrong, but here’s more evidence. You decide! [...]

  • 10 We’ve seen the fireworks; now let’s see the substance… at Three Oceans Real Estate — Insights from a Wired Bay Area Realtor // Oct 30, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    [...] The problem? Many MLS’s, including our own in Silicon Valley, REIL, prohibit the display of sold listings. Realtor.com has had access to sold data for eons but, bound by NAR’s paranoid “keep the data under lock and key” restrictions, it hasn’t been able to…until recently…and then only by disingenuous subterfuge. Possibly related posts [...]

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