Real Estate’s Deep Dark Secret: NAR (and Many Brokers) Don’t Want You the Public to See the Data

avatarthumbnail.jpgNot so long ago, a couple of years max, one of my colleagues with many more years in the business than I said he often wished all of the home data could be removed from the Internet and once again become the sole domain of the real estate brokerage offices.

He wasn’t entirely serious but he was serious enough. And if you spend enough time following the rules of the National Association of REALTORs and the interpretation of those rules you’ll come to discover his somewhat wistful view isn’t unique. In fact, it seems that even now in 2009 NAR is having trouble deciding what to do with technology.

Take the case of Paula Henry, a real estate agent in Indianapolis. Her local board recently issued a cease and desist order because the listings on her site were being indexed by Google. The justification for the C&D was NAR’s Center for Real Estate Technology’s informed decision that Google is fundamentally no different than one of thousands of so-called scraper sites – automated websites that blatantly steal content from legitimate sources.

This rule essentially requires agents to do all they can to protect the MLS data, which us agents disseminate through a setup called IDX, so that the data does not appear on these bottom-feeding sites. Fair enough. But to make the leap of logic and equate Google to one of these sites – in other words, to tell agents to use the IDX but make sure that Google doesn’t crawl the site and index the data – smells of protectionism of the highest order.

It’s a ruling as illogical as it is misguided. Misguided because this data already is being placed in the public domain by third-party aggregators such as Trulia and Zillow. The difference is NAR holds no jurisdiction, holds no hammer over sites that aren’t members of the collective. And so it turns on its own dues paying member to support an antiquated notion – that access to data needs to be severely limited.

Please don’t mistake this for a call for a national or open MLS, ideas I’ve opposed here and elsewhere multiple times the past several years. The various multiple listing services constitute an open system, as long as you have a license and pay your dues. But it would stand to reason than paying your dues and the local boards’ creation of an IDX feed for use of its agents would allow you to utilize that feed.

Except there’s a large portion of the agent population that doesn’t want this information to be widely disseminated. These are the folks who believe the public should come cowering hat in hand to learn the asking price of a home – assuming the agents deign to answer their own telephones. These are the folks who call me on weekends asking for the availability on properties they find on my site because they’re too a) lazy or b) inept to log in to the MLS.

Given that NAR already has watched the horse bolt from the barn by not building a better site and leaving the innovations to start-ups like Zillow and Trulia, it would seem that the organization would be best served by working in the public’s interest and promoting the use of IDX.

One of the flaws of the aggregator sites is that the data’s usually woefully incomplete compared to what can be found through an IDX feed. Serve the public good and give the surfing public a place (or multiple places) to find the more complete data set, help drive traffic and consumers to your members and everyone wins.

The problem is such an idea requires forward thinking, which never has been the strong suit of an organization that was expecting its membership to rally in pride with swelled chests as we watched an NAR float in the Rose Bowl Parade.

Developers are pushing the envelope with the IDX data provided by the local boards, finding ways to provide the same information in more useful forms. For instance, one of my clients loves Diverse Solutions’ addition of price per square foot to the general IDX form – a piece of data not provided via IDX (or even in the general MLS.)

Whatever encourages potential buyer to become actual buyer ought to be encouraged. But it’s not. Instead, it’s punished via a cease and desist order because some other agent would rather cry to mom than try and figure out how to complete here on the Internet.

It’s the oldest paradigm colliding with the new – when you can’t compete, find a reason to prevent your competition from outworking you.

Sad, really. But also not at all surprising.

[tags]Phoenix real estate[/tags]

About Jonathan

Jonathan Dalton is a 30-plus-year resident of the Valley and has been helping folks buy and sell homes since 2004. He can be reached at 602-502-9693 or info at allphoenixrealestate.com.