Real estate brokers who operate virtual offices are celebrating this week. That’s because Internet-based realtors will finally get access to the coveted Multiple Listing Service, or MLS.
But South Florida brokers who work for more traditional brokerage firms have more mixed reactions to the decision, from dismissing the importance of the decision to pointing out how it could be harmful.
On Tuesday, the National Association of Realtors reached a settlement with the Department of Justice in an antitrust suit that accused the association of withholding member listings from online competitors. NAR policies prevented consumers from receiving the full benefits of competition, discouraged discounting, and threatened to lock in outmoded business models, the DOJ said. The lawsuit was scheduled to go to trial in July.
“It doesn’t scare me at all,” said David Nguah, a broker who specializes in luxury homes and condominiums in Miami and the Beaches. “In this market you are with a lot smarter buyers, a lot more educated and a lot more cautious buyers. At the end of the day, most people want to walk into an office and deal with somebody who knows what they are talking about, and especially in this market.”
Under the terms of the settlement, NAR guarantees Internet-based brokerages will not be treated differently than traditional brokers. Brokers participating in a NAR-affiliated MLS will not be permitted to withhold their listings from brokers who serve customers through password-protected virtual office websites (VWOs). What’s more, brokers will be able to use VOWs to educate consumers, make referrals, and conduct brokerage services, and will not be excluded from MLS membership based on their business model.
Samir Patel, a broker at Miami Condo Realty in Miami Beach, welcomes the settlement. As he sees it, opening the MLS makes information more accessible. “There are buyers who are going to look on websites to find information, but many buyers are going to have their own broker representing them,” he says. “I’m not too concerned.”
But not everybody is happy with the settlement. David Serle, vice president and managing broker of RE/MAX Services in Boca Raton, is not pleased that his NAR membership dues are indirectly paying for the cost of MLS data to be shared with Internet brokerage firms. Serle’s main issue is potential public misperception. NAR members, he argues, will still have more tools to help consumers than Internet companies, and will provide better service.
“The public will see that the NAR lost the decision, and has to allow any Internet company access to the MLS. In reality, however, they will have to be approved on an individual basis, and will only receive limited information, and only active listings,” Serle says.
“Internet companies will not have access to off-market listings. However, public perception is a reality in our business. We take it very seriously and strive every day to live up to the public’s expectations,” he said.