Dumb Rules Realtors Have to Live By – Now we can’t say “MLS”

by Steve Crossland, REALTOR in Austin TX on January 31, 2006 · 7 comments

Starting tomorrow, Feb 1st, the Austin Board of Realtors will start assessing fines to agents who use the phrase “search Austin MLS” or anything similar on websites. This is another example of what I consider to be poor leadership and shortsighted thinking in our industry, and by Realtor Associations in particular. A quick Google search reveals that if ABOR wishes to strictly enforce this new rule, and assess $100 fines to its members for mentioning “MLS search” on websites, it could be a new profit center for the association. There are still plenty of websites using this terminology (Not mine, I’ve removed the offending language since I don’t like paying fines). Am I the only one who finds this absurd?

The rationale for this new rule is that consumers will mistakenly think they are connected to the actual MLS when viewing listings via web portals, which are in fact MLS feeds of most listings found in the MLS, with certain bits of data (such as days on Market) removed. The official justification offered by abor.com is as follows:

“Because information accessible on participant Web sites is not the ACTRIS MLS system, and non-participants do not have access to such information, participants may not in any way indicate that the public is accessing or searching ‘the MLS.’”

Sorry, but this is just plain dumb. The rule directs MLS participants to change phrases such as “Search the MLS” to “Search for Homes” or something comparable. A Google search for “Austin MLS” reveals over 2.5 million results. Yahoo finds 2.8 million results for the search term “Austin MLS”. At Overture/Yahoo pay-per-click service, the top bid for “Austin MLS” is $1.00 per click.

Google Adwords doesn’t show competitor bid amounts, but it’s safe to say people are paying a hefty sum to capture any search traffic that includes the term “{City} + MLS”.

Note to Realtor Industry leaders: people use the term ‘MLS’ a whole bunch when searching for homes and real estate information in general, and real estate companies pay a lot of money trying to capture those potential customers.

People want to see real estate listings online – with pictures and maps – and they use the term ‘MLS’ to find said listings in web searches. Real Estate Website Owners like me try to figure out what search terms people use to look for real estate services online, and we try to make sure those search terms exist in abundance in the written copy on our websites so that we have a better chance of being found in the vast sea of real estate websites. Those of us who are good or lucky enough to figure out the search terms most commonly used are rewarded with traffic to our websites, which results in a steady stream of customers.

How silly is it that as a website owner and designer, I am now prohibited from using one of the most highly used real estate search phrases on my own real estate website?

Obviously the term ‘MLS’ is firmly planted in the lexicon of the American real estate consumer, yet the Realtor Industry continues to demonstrate just how out of step it is with the world we all live in by ordering that Realtors not reference “search the MLS” on websites. Next thing you know, they’ll tell us we can no longer call a house a “home”, since it could possibly in fact not be the “home” of the owner.

Sure, the industry has come a long way and it’s easier than ever for consumers to access MLS listings and search for properties online. But this is largely in spite of, not because of the Realtor industry. Thank goodness for judges who have more common sense than the old fogies who come up with this stuff in the name of “protecting the consumer”.

I remember back in the 90’s when our board of Realtors in Austin foolishly tried to sue a Houston Broker for displaying MLS listings online. The Broker was a visionary and a pioneer and had developed an online search tool for listings that made our clunky MLS system look like something from the dark ages – which it was. I remember thinking our board would get spanked in court over the issue, and in fact they were. The courts ruled that showing a customer listings on a website was basically no different than handing them a flyer or a printed MLS listing, which of course was and still is common practice.

So, as a Realtor trying to make a living in a very tough business, I see Realtor Associations around the country doing things that make my job harder, not easier. They seem to think they can fight progress and technology. Somebody better start thinking outside the box or monopoly MLS systems will go the way of the Travel Agent. And these petty rules don’t benefit agents or the public in any way. Did you know we are not even allowed to display the original list price on our Pending or Sold listings anymore? As John Stossel would say, “give me a break!”

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