Back in June when Zillow launched their “Coming Soon” listing feature, we pointed out here that you wouldn’t be likely to see “Coming Soon” listings in the Seattle area due to an explicit NWMLS rule forbidding member agents from “promoting or advertising any property in any manner whatsoever” before entering the home’s listing into the NWMLS.
Despite this, a few week later when we shared some early adoption numbers on the feature, there were two Seattle-area “Coming Soon” listings on Zillow (both were removed later in the day).
I commented at the time that I was “a bit surprised to see [agents] openly flout the rules like this, given how fine-happy the NWMLS has been in the past.”
While I find it somewhat odd that a blogger who has never been a member of the NWMLS (or even a real estate agent at all) would know more about NWMLS rules than member agents, apparently ignorance of the rules is exactly what’s going on. I received this email last week from a local real estate agent who shared their experience with “Coming Soon” and the NWMLS:
Within a matter of days of the “Coming Soon” feature having come online with Zillow, I posted a listing that I would soon be actively marketing on the NWMLS (within 5-7 days or so). As I am an active user for certain market territories, I wanted to try it out.
To make a long story short, someone red flagged the property I posted as coming soon, reported me to the NWMLS. At the request of our Managing Broker, even before having received the complaint from the NWMLS, I removed the property from Zillow altogether and thought that was the end of it. Within a matter of hours of removing it from Zillow, our office received notice of the infraction along with a request for an immediate explanation of my wrongdoing.
Our office responded, including a response from me, and we waited. Waited and waited… until last week. $5,000 fine! Half of which was suspended on the assumption that I made no further wrongdoing of any kind for one year.
I got my hand caught in the cookie jar. That’s fine, and certainly not something that I’m arguing. My issue at hand is that the NWMLS is on a “money grab”, if you will. That fine is massive in comparison to just about any other infraction in the traditional legal system (e.g. traffic infractions, DUI’s, assault, etc.).
I’m actively proceeding with an appeal to the MLS, even after having been warned that by simply appealing my penalty – and that costs another $500 to do that – could in fact increase the $5,000 figure that was levied.
The agent asked to remain anonymous since their appeal is yet to be heard by the NWMLS board, but I will say that they are not one of the agents that I called out in my July post.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median earnings of a real estate agent is only $42,000. I’m sure it’s higher here in the Seattle area with our higher home prices, but I suspect $5,000 (or even $2,500) is a non-trivial sum relative to what most agents’ earn in a year.
The NWMLS is a private organization, and obviously they can enforce whatever rules and fines they choose, but given that they essentially have a local monopoly, it seems valid to question whether their fines are reasonable and fair. I think agents using Zillow’s “Coming Soon” feature are doing their customers a disservice, but what exactly does the NWMLS accomplish by levying $5,000 fines against agents who are ignorant of the NWMLS rules forbidding its use?