It didn’t take long once the pressure was on to shut down Realtor-complaints.com. The Web site was misusing the REALTOR® trademark, posting false complaints about real estate practitioners, and demanding money to have the complaints removed from the site.
On Jan. 10, I wrote a post about the site and more than two dozen readers responded. Many recounted their stories of finding their name on Realtor-complaints.com and being asked to pay to have the complaint removed. NAR and many state associations were working in concert to end the misuse of the trademark. Yesterday, a page appeared indicating that the site had been sold and that it would be re-launching May 1. Today, the site is simply a page of links operated by one of the advertising sites.
The WHOIS record indicates that the site is suspended. “That is encouraging,” says National Association of REALTORS® attorney Mike Thiel, “but we are trying to find out what that means going forward.”
One thing’s for sure: The closure of Realtor-complaints.com isn’t the end of such Internet scams. My Jan. 10 post included simple steps you can take to manage your own reputation online. But there’s one step you should never have to take: paying money to have false information removed from a site.
A Web site of suspicious origin is misusing the REALTOR® trademark in what seems to be an attempt to get money from real estate practitioners.
The site, Realtor-complaints.com, supposedly publishes consumer complaints about real estate agents. However, an investigation by the New Jersey association of REALTORS® showed a string of complaints against its members, all using similar phrasing. “This leads to suspicion that these are not all public-submitted complaints,” says Lauren Castellano, director of communications for the New Jersey Association of REALTORS®.
Not only that, when agents who have been the subject of a complaint attempt to make contact, the site offers them the “opportunity” to pay to have the complaint and their name removed from the site, says Michael Thiel, an attorney for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. NAR legal staff checked the WHOIS record for the site and discovered it’s hosted on servers located in the Seychelles. “It’s recorded as having been initially registered on Jan. 1, 2013,” Thiel says, ”which makes the site’s claim of having been around since 2002 very suspect.”
Thiel’s office has received a number of calls from members who’ve been informed, via e-mail, that their name is listed at the site. NAR attorneys are investigating and, if necessary, will take steps to have the site shut down. [Jan. 23 Update: Wendy Legerton below asks why NAR isn't taking more aggressive action. In response, NAR Associate General Counsel Ralph Holmen offers this: "This site does not have authority to use the term REALTOR®, and NAR has taken action to stop them from using it. That action does not (yet) involve litigation, but the possibility of initiating suit remains if our efforts are not successful.”] But it’s important to approach with caution any service that claims to either track or burnish your reputation. Online reputation management—and reputation trashing—is a growing enterprise, and there are simple steps you can take to manage your own reputation online:
- Make sure all of your profiles (on social media sites, at REALTOR.com, and so on) are complete, up to date, and consistent.
- Be proactive in asking customers for reviews in legitimate forums, such as Yelp and LinkedIn.
- Search Google and Yahoo for your name and your company’s name. Save each search as a browser favorite and check them daily.
- Sign up for Google Alerts so that you’re notified when your name appears in a search. Also set up alerts for variations of your name, your company name, and other keywords.
- Ask your customers where they’ve gone to search for information about real estate and other professionals.
- Correct errors quickly. Immediately contact the Web site and be willing to prove your case with information from your MLS or other sources. But don’t be tempted to pay to have information removed. “It’s hard to imagine a legitimate site requiring you to pay to take down false information,” Thiel says.
By Todd Carpenter, Social Media Manager, National Association of REALTORS®
The National Association of REALTORS® believes in the value of making its mark remarkable. This mandate comes from REALTORS® who regularly report misuse.
Earlier this spring, we received several complaints about Jonathan Rivera’s use of the trademark in his custom URL (facebook.com/socialrealtor) for The Official Real Estate Referral Group. As is often the case Jonathan (a REALTOR® himself) simply didn’t realize this was a misuse and worked with NAR’s legal department to get the URL changed to something that didn’t violate the REALTOR® trademark.
Last week, Facebook responded to Rivera and NAR’s request for a URL change by deleting his 47,000+ member page. Fortunately, Facebook eventually reinstated the page with a new URL, but things could have easily gone the other way. It’s a great reminder that while social networks are free, the blood, sweat, and tears that go into building them up is not.
Here are three important lessons learned from all of this: Continue reading »
By Stacey Moncrieff, Editor in Chief, REALTOR® Magazine
Often, we aren’t aware of the people who are positively influencing our life and work. In the past two days, I learned of the death of two such people: Mal Sherman of Baltimore and Thomas J. Graff of Oakland, Calif.
Sherman was a real estate broker, who—in the early 1960s—took the moral high ground and become a vocal supporter of equal housing opportunity. This despite his attorney’s warning that he was committing “business suicide.” The attorney was wrong; Sherman remained a successful broker and was asked to head President John F. Kennedy’s National Committee for Equal Opportunity in Housing. I learned his story thanks to Damian Da Costa, who profiled Sherman for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ centennial book.