In news first broken by local REALTOR® Marlow Harris, the NWMLS will apparently be adding two new ways to fine their members via a pair of new fields on the listing input sheets. In essence, new checkboxes have been added to the listing sheet: “buzz off Zillow” and “beat it bloggers.”
What this means is that sellers are now given the option of whether or not Zillow estimates will be allowed to appear on their listings that are posted on NWMLS member sites, and also the option of whether or not NWMLS members are permitted to blog about their listing. For the full official description of the two new listing parameters hit Marlow’s September 25th post for an excerpt from the NWMLS bulletin.
Obviously the point of the first one is obvious. Giving the potential seller an option to prevent Zillow and other “automatic valuation model” price estimates from appearing next to their listing is no doubt something that some sellers and agents have wished for for some time. Despite the fact that Zillow is a completely automated system based on sometimes incorrect inputs, and the company openly admits that their estimates should not be treated as a gold standard, some sellers and seller’s agents have convinced themselves that if a Zillow estimate displayed on the same page as their listing is lower than their asking price, it’s Zillow’s fault if nobody wants to buy their house.
The second option is actually opening up their rules just slightly, as they previously had a blanket prohibition on NWMLS member agents blogging about any listings that were not your own. That’s what the $50,000 fine slapped on Redfin in 2007 was all about. With this new checkbox, sellers will now be able to “opt-in” to blogging.
Not surprisingly, the anti-Zillow move has stirred up some in the industry, especially among those that have had it in for Zillow since day one. Since Zillow is not a member of the NWMLS themselves, insiders there insist that the new rule will have little effect on their business. I have pointed this out when people have asked in the past, but this is a prime example of why I have no interest in Seattle Bubble becoming a member of the NWMLS, even though it would gain me direct access to their database for some prime number-crunching.
In an amusing twist on the whole thing, Marlow followed up her post on these new rules with another angle on the subject yesterday: Can new technology make some MLS rules unenforceable?
It could be that technology will trump all of these new NWMLS rules, and blogging/comments/AVM restrictions will become ineffective and impossible to enforce with the new Google Toolbar application called Sidewiki.
…anyone who installs the Sidewiki will be able to add comments to your real estate webpage, including individual property pages that you may have created to help market your properties.
There is no “opt-out” tab, no way to eliminate the sidebar comments, no way to edit out objectionable material, porn, spam links, comments on the personal character of the sellers or the agent or the home or the neighborhood.
It seems to me that the NWMLS rules are set up to attempt to restrict and stifle as much conversation about listings as possible in a misguided attempt to give the seller absolute control over how their home is “marketed.” Unfortunately for the NWMLS, fancy technology or not, people are free to talk about home listings in real life in whatever way they choose.
If I wanted to start a weekly tour of the most overpriced homes in Seattle, where we drive around town and gather outside homes for sale through the NWMLS and mock the granite countertops and other such faux-luxury “upgrades,” the NWMLS can’t stop me. And once you move the conversation online, it becomes even less possible to control it.
If I wanted to start a website that provided a searchable map of every house for sale on the market, linked to open forum threads on every house where people could say whatever they want about the agent or the home or the neighborhood—again, the NWMLS couldn’t do a thing about it.
The NWMLS can certainly exert control over their members by levying ridiculously large fines for seemingly innocuous conversations, but in my opinion, the more they attempt to stifle and restrict the free flow of information and ideas relating to their precious listings, the more they will encourage another, more open competitor to step up and make their entire system obsolete.