Recent court cases are giving REALTORS® reason to be optimistic in their efforts to curb the unauthorized use of their MLS data.
Two weeks ago the Key West Association of REALTORS® scored a major victory when a U.S. district court judge in Florida levied a $2.7 million fine against a businessman named Robert Allen, whose KeyWestMLS.com and other websites were found to be using the association’s listing data in violation of copyright laws. The large fine is attention-getting, and that was the point, according to the judge, Justice Lawrence King, in his May 22 decision.
“Awarding a lesser amount of damages would not serve the purpose of the Copyright Act in deterrence of further wrongful conduct by Defendant,” the judge wrote. “Absent the maximum statutory award of damages, future potential infringers of Plaintiff’s MLS copyrights will only see the potential benefit of high commissions from ill-gotten leads. As such, the maximum statutory damage amount is necessitated to deter the future conduct of Defendant Allen and others.”
Similar cases are pending in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland and in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. It’s not clear when the judges will issue rulings on them but in a positive development last week, a judge has dealt a setback to the defendant that’s the subject of both cases.
The company is American Home Realty Network (AHRN) and it was sued last year by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (MRIS) for using its MLS listing data without authorization on its website, NeighborCity.com, and then by the St. Paul, Minnesota-based Regional Multiple Listing Service of Minnesota Inc. (NorthstarMLS) on similar grounds.
After the cases were filed, AHRN tried to turn the tables on the two MLSs by filing a counterclaim in each case alleging that the MLSs violated antitrust and other laws in an effort to drive the company out of business. In the Maryland case AHRN also named NAR as a defendant in its counterclaim, asserting that NAR participated in the alleged conspiracy to discourage participation with AHRN.
There were seven counts in AHRN’s counterclaim, and last week in the Maryland case the Court dismissed all of them, although it left the door open for the company to amend three of its those counts and resubmit them for further consideration. The company has until the end of next week to do so, but even if it does it faces a steep hurdle based on some of the language the judge used in his June 10 order. “In light of the deficiencies identified herein,” Justice Alexander Williams, Jr., said, “ the Court has serious reservations about AHRN’s ability to set forth a cognizable [unfair competition] claim against” the MLSs.
It remains to be seen what will ultimately happen with the MLSs’ cases against the company for copyright infringement, but the positive outcomes of this ruling is an encouraging development for MLSs as they try to maintain control of where their listing data is displayed on the Internet.
At the Joint Meeting of the Multiple Listing Service Forum and Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee Thursday, all things MLS were on the table. In fact, even items that weren’t on the MLS were up for discussion–specifically, so-called “pocket listings.”
“Clearly they’re not ‘off the market,’ nor are they in your pocket. They’re not on the MLS,” clarified Robert Bailey, 2013 chair of MLSlistings Inc. in California. Bailey presented attendees with research on the growing number of homes for sale in his local area that never make it to the MLS at the REALTORS® Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo.
In a study comparing public records with MLS listings in the California communities of Monterey, San Benito, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz, Bailey found that off-MLS listings increased from 12 percent in 2011 to 15 percent in 2012 to 26 percent of the market in the first quarter of 2013.
Supporters of pocket listing practices often cite situations where sellers are seeking privacy or are concerned about having strangers view their homes. Bailey said such desires are valid, but the numbers indicate a growing trend.
“Clearly they’re more concerned about privacy and security now that the market has gotten better,” Bailey said, drawing a collective chuckle from the crowd. Continue reading »
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) released a white paper on Wednesday calling for an overhaul of the system by which residential appraisals are determined. The group made a number of recommendations, some of which members of the National Association of REALTORS® have supported in the past, including the implementation of licensing and certification standards as well as minimum education requirements. However, another in their list of recommendations could have serious consequences for the role of the multiple listing service (MLS) in home sales.
A section of the white paper focused on data technology criticizes local MLSs for becoming “less reliable” in recent years. The solution to this, and the more general problem of a lack of data standards that apply across the country, is what NAHB refers to as “the development of a real estate superhighway.” The group proposed creating this in four sections:
- Terra.gov – NAHB proposed “a national real property registry… with access by all stakeholders.” They named this as the site of an “official record of the factual details of both the structure and the regulatory constraints on the land.” Some of the specific items mentioned as included in such a database were time stamped photographs, satellite images, and floor plans. As of Friday afternoon, the Terra.gov domain name remained unregistered according to WhoIs.com. Continue reading »
Chances are, you have heard of the Realtors Property Resource® (RPR) by now. But what is it, exactly, and how can it benefit you?
More than four years ago, the idea of a nationwide online database of comprehensive, high-value property information was conceived from an idea that came out of NAR’s Second Century Ventures (SCV) initiative. A plan was developed and approved by National Association of REALTORS® leadership to provide this as a benefit to members, and a very knowledgeable team was organized to execute the initiative.
During the past couple of years, RPR has partnered with about 440 multiple listing services throughout the United States. With those partnerships, about two-thirds of all REALTORS® are able to access RPR as of mid-October, 2012.
Even with that high level of access, as a member benefit, part of RPR’s core mission is to deliver this technology to all of NAR’s 1,000,000 REALTORS®. This is important because it allows “all members to take advantage of RPR’s high value tools, features and reporting capabilities,” says Dale Ross, CEO of RPR. To that end, RPR has announced that they are making the system available to all REALTORS® on Nov. 1, 2012.
“The RPR team is very excited about the opportunity to bring RPR to markets which have been waiting for access to the system,” adds Jeff Young, RPR senior vice president of operations. “We’ve been telling members for months that the wait is almost over.”
So what can RPR do for REALTORS®? Here are just three advantages it can provide:
1. Generate data-rich reports: RPR collects loads of data on individual properties and their surrounding communities. You can use the system to generate custom reports that can include as much of this information as your clients want. “I have never heard of any buyers and sellers who do not like the reports,” Ross says.
2. Connect with younger consumers: Homebuyers and sellers from generations X and Y are doing the majority of their property researching online, often before they contact a real estate practitioner. When they do reach out to agents, these consumers expect them to be able to immediately provide even more valuable information on certain homes. With its extensive yet user-friendly database, RPR allows REALTORS® to do just that. “REALTORS® who use RPR will certainly have more information on properties than consumers who do research online,” Ross says.
3. Provide insight into property values: With the fluctuating housing market during the past few years, it is often difficult to get a handle on a home’s value at any given time. But with RPR’s Realtor Valuation Model® (RVM), users of this system will have an authoritative source with which to provide information about property values using tax information, sale history, and comparables and other data sets. “RPR’s RVM offers best-in-class automated valuations which REALTORS® can refine with their local market knowledge to make it even more accurate,” Ross says.
Want to learn more about how RPR can benefit your business? Go to http://blog.narrpr.com/national-launch. Also, be sure to register for a free REALTOR® Magazine webinar, “A Look Ahead: RPR’s Launch to All REALTORS®,” taking place this Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012.
UPDATE: The webinar is now archived. Go here to download or playback the event recording.
By Brian Summerfield, Online Editor, REALTOR® Magazine
If you’re wondering when we’re going to get to the era of mobile, you’re contemplating the wrong question, says Bob Hale, CEO of the Houston Association of REALTORS®. Instead, you should be thinking about how to optimally deliver your content via mobile devices right now.
“It’s here. There’s no question that we’re at a critical mass,” said Hale, in remarks about where multiple listing services (MLS) are headed last week at the Xplode conference in Chicago.
Speaking on a panel moderated by National Association of REALTORS® Director of Digital Engagement Todd Carpenter, both Hale and Midwest Real Estate Data (MRED) CEO Russ Bergeron said they’re taking steps to accommodate mobile users.
MRED now offers what Bergeron termed “public-service apps,” such as resources from Fannie Mae on short sales and downpayment assistance. Also, the organization is developing apps that can be branded by brokers and individual agents as their own, Bergeron said. HAR is also rolling out new apps, targeted at both members (for searching the MLS and editing listings) and consumers (using geolocation to search for nearby listings and opens). Continue reading »
By Stacey Moncrieff, Editor in Chief, REALTOR® Magazine
Nearly 800 people attended REALTOR® Magazine’s October 28 webinar regarding recent foreclosure freezes by several national lenders. Since that session, media attention on the freeze has waned a bit. However, delays and buyer concerns continue. We didn’t have time— or answers—for all the questions posed during the 60-minute webinar. So senior editor Rob Freedman and I followed up with our speakers:
· NAR Associate General Counsel Ralph Holmen
· American Land Title Association Counsel Steve Gottheim
· NAR Managing Director of Regulatory Policy Jeff Lischer
They provided critical answers on liability, title insurance, disclosure to buyers, and more. When an answer was provided by a single speaker, we noted it.
One issue that wasn’t settled at NAR’s Midyear Legislative Meetings was the question of what constitutes a “recognized search engine.”
In November, the NAR board of directors approved a policy change clarifying that the indexing of listing data from a real estate broker’s Web site by recognized search engines, such as Google and Yahoo, did not constitute scraping—a practice prohibited under NAR’s Internet Data Exchange (IDX) policy.
Now, Realogy, the Parsippany, N.J., company that owns several major franchise brands, including Century 21 and Coldwell Banker, wants its franchises included in the category of recognized search engines. On Wednesday, Realogy Chairman Alex Perrielo brought a proposal to NAR’s Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee, which referred the request to a work group for further study.
Stay tuned . . .
By Brian Summerfield, Online Editor, REALTOR® Magazine
What makes REALTORS® relevant in the real estate industry? In a word, information. That’s why the REALTORS Property Resource™ is so important, Dale Ross, RPR’s CEO, told NAR’s Board of Directors Saturday at the 2010 Midyear Legislative Meetings in Washington, D.C.
“As REALTORS®, we have to know more about properties than anyone else,” Ross said. “Whatever has to do with that property, we need to have that info.”
The REALTORS Property Resource™, a database that will eventually cover every property in the United States, will pull in data from public records, prior transactions, MLSs, transfer taxes, and other relevant sources. It is one of NAR’s Second Century Initiatives.
In his update to the board, Ross said Continue reading »