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NAR + IDX = FUBAR Rules

Thanks to Ryan’s earlier post, I have spent the morning digging into the NAR’s attempt to label the Google Search Engine a “scraper”.

Clearly, the intent is to stifle Realtor.com’s competition.

There is no other explanation for a rule that specifically targets SEO by dictating that we cannot put the content that consumers search for (addresses, MLS#s, the names of developments, etc.) in the places that Google looks for it (page titles, URLs, etc.), while Realtor.com continues to publish that same information in those same places.

How stupid is this? Let me count the ways:

  1. It’s legally stupid: The DOJ went after the NAR during the BUSH years and decided to settle last year. Do they really think the Obama DOJ is going to ignore such a blatantly anti-competitive (not to mention technologically indefensible) rule?Does the NAR really think the Obama DOJ would side with a cartel over the consumer when even the Bushies were like, “You know, we normally stick it to the little guy in favor of Republican donors but you guys are just ridiculous.”?

    The instant one of the boards we deal with tries to enforce this rule, I will be filing a compliant with both the FTC and the DOJ and mine will be one of many.

  2. The timing is stupid: Obviously, Real Estate is at the center of the economic storm that all Americans are weathering right now. Real Estate professionals are already distrusted (one study in the UK found that less than 10% of Britons trusted Real Estate agents).Such a ham-handed attempt to control information for their own economic benefit just feeds this perception, making the NAR (and, by extension, Realtors) an even more attractive target for the Obama DOJ.
  3. Trying to “protect” content is stupid: Ask the Recording Industry or newspapers how well clinging to an obsolete business model by “protecting” content works.Information wants to be free in a networked society. The Internet itself was built to re-route traffic around roadblocks, like a city that used to have phone lines getting nuked by the Russians.

    As roadblocks go, whatever the NAR throws up will be a joke. Ryan has already demonstrated that it takes about 2 seconds to set up an “illegal” site.

    Sure, the NAR and the MLSs can go the route of the RIAA and try to litigate the issue to death, but that will just turn into legal whack-a-mole. Not to mention the utter brilliance of the NAR suing members for advertising listings.

  4. Refusing to learn from your mistakes is stupid: The original deal the NAR did with Move Inc. was an attempt to “control” market data. Fighting the lawsuit in Austin TX that was eventually joined by the DOJ was another attempt to control market data.By the time the courts got around to hearing the case, the NAR settled with the DOJ, and why not? In the meantime, their own members went out and made the issue of controlling market data moot by giving it away to sites like Trulia.

    Consumers HATE it when web site owners put their agendas ahead of the consumer’s agenda. The NAR’s decision to pimp out Realtor.com for a profit created a user experience vacuum that companies like Trulia and Zillow were more than happy to fill.

    The irony (as Russel Shaw has pointed out) is that Trulia wouldn’t exist if Realtor.com was designed to benefit consumers instead of being designed to annoy them while extorting money from agents and brokers for “featured placement” of their listings.

    In other words, by being tone deaf, willfully ignorant, greedy, or all three the NAR created Trulia, Zillow.com and countless other aggregators and Real Estate Web site vendors (including yours truly). All of these companies would have found it much harder to gain traction if the NAR had used member’s dues to build a site designed to offer a consumer service instead of a site that is designed to offer banner ads from 1-800 Mattress.

  5. Putting NAR’s priorities ahead of its member’s priorities is stupid: There is already plenty of doubt about who the NAR really works for among brokers and agents who pay $500+ a year for the privilege of putting an “R” that means next to nothing to consumers next their names.Making it harder for Realtors to out-rank Realtor.com, and other sites whom they must pay for leads, in Google for their own listings proves to the NAR membership that, whoever the NAR works for, it sure as hell isn’t them.

    Isn’t that sort of like “taxation without representation”? Americans have a proud history of refusing to put up with that sort of thing, and this will not be any different.

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  • 23 comments

    23 Comments so far

    1. Missy Caulk May 11th, 2009 12:04 pm

      (((woot))) Well said…..

    2. Joe May 11th, 2009 12:24 pm

      Giving even more power to Trulia, Zillow, HomeGain, etc., is stupid. Nice post John.

    3. Rachelle Anselmi May 11th, 2009 1:46 pm

      I found your post to be informative, thank you. There has been alot of talk about this issue in our Austin office.

    4. Danilo Bogdanovic May 11th, 2009 1:55 pm

      Great post and points! Point 1 is the one that gets me the most because it shows a total lack of thinking things through on the part of NAR… Wouldn’t NAR’s legal department immediately say, “Ummmmm…guys…this (antitrust/anti-competitive practices) is exactly what the DOJ went after us for last time around and you’re just begging them to come after us again.”

      Did the powers-that-be at NAR that made the decision on the issue consult with even one person with any legal knowledge or intelligence?

      Don’t they realize how transparent their true agenda regarding their attempt to squash competitors of R.com is?

      And don’t they realize how much they just pissed off their own members, sellers/consumers and the DOJ?

    5. John Rowles May 11th, 2009 2:33 pm

      @Danilo: Unless they did think it through and decided that it was worth the hassle.

      Where is the upside? If the intent is to “assert control” over real estate information on the Web, then they clearly think that is even possible.

      Gee, now why would a bunch of lawyers talk a client into an expensive court battle that they might even win at the expense of millions of dollars and whatever shreds of goodwill the NAR has left with consumers and their own membership, against no less an opponent than the US Gov’t?

      Even then, NAR would have to believe that winning in court equates to controlling the content. Last I checked, the Pirate Bay is still open.

      It reflects a basic misunderstanding of what Google is, what it does, and of how fundamentally different a vehicle the Web is compared to the one-way print and broadcast media these guys were used to controlling.

      It’s no different than when the NYT forced people to pay to access popular content on their sites or even the WSJ’s new Micro Payment strategy.

    6. Erion Shehaj May 11th, 2009 2:56 pm

      For the record, Google can come “scrape” my site all day, every day :-)

    7. Jeff Brown May 11th, 2009 5:56 pm

      John — This is no mystery from where I sit. NAR does what NAR wants, protecting data which has always been construed by them as power with a capital P.

      You’re right, it makes no sense from our viewpoint, but then we don’t think as they do.

    8. jay seville May 11th, 2009 6:30 pm

      As I said last week on this issue:

      This policy is an outrage and even nefarious. I cannot entertain that adults with any heart for consumers would try to state with a straight face that indexing by search engines is an unethical scraping of data. How can MIBOR intentionally try to prevent search engines from indexing the IDX data? How is that serving the marketplace and consumers? Intentionally making it harder for consumers to find the homes for sale for which they are searching is anti-consumer. It is this 20th century mentality of trying to control the market and data that has damaged the reputation of realtors and brokerages in the past.

      Are you blind, MIBOR? Are you anti-consumer? Have you actually thought this out?

      And what about the sellers? You better believe they want their listing indexed by google and easily found from anywhere. How is MIBOR’s position allowing brokers to better serve their sellers? It is consciously making the broker less effective either in exposing the listings or in connecting with and forming relationships with buyers/consumers.

      What is also aggravating is that they are intentionally making it harder for agents/brokers who are modernizing their business and business models to be harmonious with the behavior and preferences of today’s consumers to connect with and serve more clients. MIBOR is intentionally penalizing those who are on the cutting edge of reaching out to serve consumers most effeciently. What is gained by this control MIBOR is trying to maintain other than a sense of controlling others’ businesses and thwarting buyers from finding what they are looking for quickly? How is this serving the marketplace MIBOR? It most decidedly is NOT.

      Mike said it well:

      “The problem is this ruling gives/ will give an unbelievable boost to lead aggregators like Trulia, Zillow, and our good friend Realtor.com. R.com aside, the lead aggregators are not members of NAR or the local boards and are not subject to the rules they are imposing on its members. So while NAR chooses to cuts its members legs out from underneath them with their archaic IDX blue laws, the national lead aggregators are the real beneficiaries here.”

      That any MLS board would endeavor to either be this backwards, controlling of their members or anti consumer is alarming and not what our country and capitalism is about. Handcuffing the most creative and entreprenurial is disgusting and depressing and is not what being a realtor or small businessman is about. Why would NAR stand for this abuse? I pay so much money so they can do what for me–handcuff my business through which I feed my 5 children?

      MIBOR supposedly is open to reviewing their policy with more input from its members and other interested parties. I hope they are sincere in saying that….Everybody is watching you MIBOR.

      And perhaps the obvious solution is that all listings should default into an IDX open to indexing by search engines when they are put into the MLS. I CANNOT IMAGINE 1 SELLER NOT WANTING THEIR LISTING TO BE INDEXED BY GOOGLE. Do you care about that MIBOR? Let’s be honest about this anti-consumer policy. If a seller does not want their home exposed on the IDX feed that can be indexed by search engines, they can opt-out when they sign the exclusive right to list contract and the listing agent can opt-out when they list the home in MLS.

      Sincerely,

      jay

    9. James Boyer May 11th, 2009 6:39 pm

      As you stated the NAR has a history of doing things that are not in their own members interests. I really do not know who the people are that are in control over at the NAR but I get the impression that they are not the best informed group. I also get the impression that they like working with the DOJ. Shall we all just start filing complaints with the DOJ now?

    10. Jim Whatley May 11th, 2009 8:20 pm

      NAR is run for Big Realty. They actually do not want independent brokers doing independent marketing. Why do you think we pay for Realtor.org so they can sell us Realtor.com. I want Google to help me market my Properties. Most brokers do not get it. The internet is Real estate. Location, location, location. How will not letting Google help you market your properties. Google helps you sell Real Estate. I want Google giving me credit for my idx feed.

    11. Paula Henry May 11th, 2009 8:44 pm

      And still……..today, my board stands by it’s last decision to classify Google a scraper site and enforce their latest sanction against my website – ah the utter lunacy of it all!

      Paula,

      Thank you for your email. The MIBOR Policy Committee did review this topic last week, at this time the BLC® listing service is obligated to enforce the policy as written and interpreted by the National Association of REALTORS®

    12. Paula Henry May 11th, 2009 8:48 pm

      Jay – Who told you MIBOR is open to reviewing this policy? Not according to the email I received today. On the bright side, we did hear from three other brokers (one big dog)who will be fighting MIBOR’s ruling along with us.

    13. Sue Zanzonico May 11th, 2009 8:53 pm

      I think its all been said…I am quite stunned by this really. I’m not sure if its more ignorance, a control issue or a little of both. Its stifling to smart creative minds and progress.

      John, thank you for writing this post.

    14. [...] Posted an item Joe Spake: BloodhoundBlog.com | NAR + IDX = FUBAR Rules [...]

    15. Ki May 12th, 2009 2:38 am

      I just hope this is a temporary brain fart by NAR. Maybe they were not aware of the issues at hand and kind of sided with a board by default. If this goes through what happens to realtor.com. I assume the ruling will have to apply to them as well.

    16. John Rowles May 12th, 2009 7:00 am

      Thanks, everyone.

      @ Joe, Jay S: You are dead right that making this rule the norm would have the direct effect of boosting the aggregators that the NAR created with their inept execution of Realtor.com.

      @ Ki: My understanding of it, and this comes from people who have been at this a lot longer than I have, is that Realtor.com does not get its data under an “IDX agreement”.

      Technically, the feed (a flat file sent by FTP on a schedule) is probably the exact same thing, but its a separate mechanism – basically its an individual broker opt-in feed delivered at the MLS level.

      The very fact that they aren’t importing data for Realtor.com under the same rules that they impose on the rest of us is what makes it possible for NAR to use their control over IDX rule interpretation to hobble IDX-powered Web sites in a way that benefits Realtor.com.

      That it also directly benefits sites that get their data outside of the MLS system does not seem to bother them, or maybe they didn’t think that part through.

      But what difference does it make if the organization you support with your dues is malicious or just plain ignorant?

    17. Curtis Reddehase May 12th, 2009 1:03 pm

      It is good to be outraged. That is the first step. We took the second step, a step that gives us power. this is the kind of action that gets people attention.

      http://skyrealtyaustin.com/blog/why-we-no-longer-syndicate-our-listings.html

      We are just doing our part

    18. Gene Urban May 12th, 2009 1:52 pm

      John,

      Thanks for the good research and well written commentary. Exposing the hypocrasy is a big step. NAR has a Facebook page now where we can post comments… could be fun boys and girls.

    19. Louise Scoggins May 12th, 2009 7:04 pm

      This is an explosive topic in many senses…I am following along with agent outrage on a few different sites. Surely NAR won’t / can’t get away with this. Good post, I will be reading along…

    20. [...] Posted an item Joe Spake: BloodhoundBlog.com | NAR + IDX = FUBAR Rules [...]

    21. Cal Carter May 13th, 2009 12:22 pm

      LOL – Look at all the knowledge and control that was lost thanks to Gutenberg!

      Paula should ask that the R.com feed from MIBOR Cease and Desist until this matter is resolved since the indexing of the data is contrary to policy.

      I would suggest that other MLS members advocate that their systems kill the feeds to R.com too, except for one thing, it wouldn’t be in the best interest of seller clients.

      It totally blows my mind that the REALTOR name is utilized by a for profit entity instead of for the benefit of REALTORS at large.

      It has been hinted that R.com is a seperate issue and should not distort the conversation, but in reality it often seems that there is a bit of a conflict of interest in the relationship and also that the cozy relationship could ultimately drive decisions and policy to the detriment of the REALTOR membership.

    22. MIBOR resources May 14th, 2009 10:34 am

      [...] MIBOR and NAR hurting their membership Was MIBOR’s ruling asinine Free IDX from realtor.com NAR + IDX = FUBAR Rules Does NAR think Google is an [...]

    23. The Power of Social Media May 22nd, 2009 7:28 pm

      [...] MIBOR and NAR hurting their membership Was MIBOR’s ruling asinine Free IDX from realtor.com NAR + IDX = FUBAR Rules Does NAR think Google is an Enemy Google Is A Scraper Site, Says National Association Of Realtors [...]