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

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!”

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

  1. I think the reason they are doing that is to prevent the public from thinking that they have access to the MLS. Every so often someone from the publis sues an association or board demanding access to the MLS as it is construed to be public data given out by the MLS. That means that we Realtors would be paying to maintain the system and every tom dick and harry would be able to look at the data. Just a thought.


  2. I am FOR the new MLS Rules. In case you havn’t noticed… Realtors have been losing their link to buyers and sellers, due to the internet as a search tool (as well as an MLS listing tool through $299+ listing companies… irregardless of the new minimum service rules)

    Bringing back the Iconic Term “MLS” into the Realtors hands is a step in the right direction….


    the Board had better plan on assinging a full time team as well as an attorney or 2 on retainer to work the over 2 million MLS references in Google…etc…

    Do it right or don’t do it!

  3. It’s been 2 months mow and still in Google and Yahoo there are MILLIONS of “Search the MLS in Austin Texas” references. The Board is not doing a thing to enforce this rule…allowing the 3rd party sites to gather most of the buyer leads and SELL THEM BACK TO THE REALTORS.

    THERE IS ONLY, AND ONLY ONE WAY FOR THE BOARD TO ACT: Increase the fine to $1,000 AND actually enforce the rule… AND fine agents buying ad space/links from the 3rd party companies that continue to use the “Search the MLS” terms.


  4. The Chicagoland area just started implementing this rule September 15th and plan to charge graduated fines and eventually take away your access if you fail to comply. I have had my site operational since 2003 with the term ‘mls’ in the domain name. Unless it’s a company site previously registered as the brokers site, you have 6-months to swap out the URL and during that time you must do a redirect using a blank homepage on the offending site with specific verbiage and a link to the new URL.

    With over 20,000 links pointing at my site and being #1 on Google for local area search terms including Northern Illinois as well as Lake County, it would be impossible to achieve that rank in 6-months! I have asked them to show me where I can find the term MLS copyrighted or trademarked by them but they won’t respond. I have also asked them if they claim ownership to the term MLS, why does Homegain operate http://www.MLS.com and http://www.MultipleListingService.com but again, no response. They may have registered MLSNI but that is a totally different set of letters. I can’t believe that others with MLS in their URL’s haven’t put up a fight since shutting sites down with new ‘sandboxed’ URL’s interferes with our livelihoods and income. Due to my sites ranking, I also have links paying me a monthly or annual fee just to appear on my site. This would also be lost income with a sandboxed site. Consumers are clicking on my site because of the ranking and the sites title and description, not because it has MLS in the domain name and I feel it should be grandfathered in since it was in existence long before the recent rule change. Nothing in the new rule objects to ‘keywords’ bieing used for ‘search the mls’ or simply ‘mls listings’, etc. which is why you will still see thousands of sites in the search results.

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  6. Well, after further consideration along with several emails from myself included, our local MLS decided to back off on their strict guidelines regarding the use of MLS in domain names. They even backed off to the point where they are ONLY protecting THEIR name which is MLSNI. I questioned them on what authority they had to penalize agents who use a term that THEY do not own (read my prevous post that shows Homegain is using it!) Below is their latest BOD decision:

    Rules Revision regarding the use of “MLS” on Web Sites
    The MLSNI Board of Directors revised Section 38 Use of the term “MLS” at the September 12th BOD meeting.

    They amended Section 38 to allow the use of the term “multiple listing service”, the acronym “MLS”, or any derivatives in Domain Names, web addresses, and URL’s, provided that the name does not imply and/or infer that the web site is associated with, or operated by Multiple Listing
    Service of Northern Illinois (MLSNI).

    For a copy of the complete rule please login to http://www.mlsni.com & go to Tools and Resources – Rules and Regs – rules 9-12-07.

    Round One goes to the agents in Chicagoland!


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