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Briefing: AE news, Fall 2010

January 1, 2010

A Push to Green the MLS
There may not be a rush of home buyers asking about the “carbon footprint” of a property, which includes its water and energy usage, carbon dioxide emissions, and indoor air quality, among other things. But according to the U.S. Green Building Council and others, such information soon will be in high demand.

Green building now ac-counts for nearly one-third of new construction in the United States, according to McGraw-Hill Construction, which tracks the industry. Plus, many newer homes that incorporated environmentally sound building practices over the past three to five years have now entered the resale market. “We see sellers wanting to highlight environmental features to make their ‘green’ property stand out from the crowd,” says MetroTex Association of REALTORS® MLS Director Cindy Miller.

For MLSs across the country, the trend toward green has prompted the addition of more fields to listing data.

Portland’s Regional Multiple Listing Service (RMLS), for example, offers a drop-down menu to help REALTORS® find energy performance ratings and green home certifications for new homes, such as those -given by Energy Star, Earth Advantage, and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). REALTORS® can also search for existing homes retrofitted with energy-efficient or sustainable products, such as rain collectors and solar tubes.

Although the green movement has already caught on at several MLSs, the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®—in cooperation with the U.S. Green Building Council, the National Association of Home Builders, and EcoBroker International—recently launched an initiative to “green” MLSs nationwide. Through a new Web site, www.greenthemls.org, NAR offers a comprehensive program to help REALTORS® and MLS executives green their local MLS. Resources include a comprehensive tool kit, case studies, examples of existing green MLS data entry forms, and an online support community.

The tool kit helps MLS participants navigate everything from assembling a green initiative team at their MLS to developing green data entry forms for their specific location. The kit also includes links to additional resources, such as a publication on the “Top Ten Ways an MLS or Association Can Go Green.”

“NAR research has consistently shown that there is a considerable and growing market for green buildings. The Green MLS Tool Kit allows REALTORS® to support this growing market,” says NAR President Vicki Cox Golder. For more, visit www.greenthemls.org.

RPR Signs 100 MLS Partners, Product Begins Launch

Realtors Property Resource (RPR), NAR’s new nationwide parcel-centric property database providing REALTOR® members with data on every property in the United States, has partnered with more than 115 MLSs representing about 268,000 REALTORS® as of late September.

Version 1.0 of the RPR application, which launched on September 16, signifies the completion of beta testing in thirteen markets and marks the beginning of the phased rollout to all REALTORS® by the end of 2011.

Initially the service was made available to members of the Monroe County Association of REALTORS® (Mich.) and MLSListings Inc. (Calif.). RPR will launch multiple MLSs weekly and is “gearing up to launch to as many as 15 MLSs per week starting in November,” says Mona Steen, RPR’s senior vice president of industry relations, on the RPR blog. The MLS partners map (http://blog.narrpr.com/rpr-partners) details when RPR will launch in each MLS area. “We expect to launch all MLSs that have signed agreements as of this date during 2010,” says Steen, “and will add to the queue as new agreements are executed.” Visit with RPR staff in NAR’s Booth #1119 at the REALTORS® Conference and Expo in New Orleans, Nov. 5-8.

MLSs Bid for .MLS Domain

United in their frustration over the ubiquitous use (and misuse) of the term “MLS” online, a group of multiple listing services across the country have formed a non-profit organization called the MLS Domains Association. Their plan? To “Take Back ‘MLS,’” says chairman Bob Bemis, CEO of the Arizona Regional MLS.

Because the term “MLS” isn’t a registered trademark exclusive to REALTOR®-owned MLSs, a multitude of Web sites, such as eLookyLoo, FlatFeeListing.com, and MLSonline.com, claim to feature MLS data, diminishing the value of the term, Bemis says.

That’s why “we are taking an aggressive pursuit of the brand for ‘MLS,’” says association member Peter Shuttleworth, CEO of Metro MLS in Milwaukee. “We know it has value with consumers and we know that members pay for their continued participation to receive valuable, timely, and accurate information about the inventory of properties.”

The founders are in the fund-raising phase of the complicated and costly top-level domain application process with ICANN, the international domain registry organization. If the association wins its bid in 2011 to create and manage the .mls domain, only recognized MLSs that are members of the MLS Domains Association would be allowed to have a URL ending in .mls.
In advance of their approval, the association recently completed a preregistration period, during which MLSs that joined as founders could reserve up to 12 domain names. Midwest Real Estate Data, the multiple listing service covering northern Illinois, has already claimed the domain names Chicago.mls, ChicagoHomes.mls, and ChicagoRentals.mls. More than 120 domain names have been reserved (view the full list at www.mlsdomains.org).
More information, including policies regarding -appropriate names, contested names, and membership requirements and fees, is available on the MLS Domains Association Web site, http://www.mlsdomains.org.

—By Judith Lindenau

South Florida REALTOR® Associations Merge

The REALTOR® Association of Greater Miami and the Beaches (RAMB) and the REALTOR® Association of Miami-Dade County completed a merger in August, making the new organization the largest local REALTOR® association in the country, surpassing the Houston Association of REALTORS® by about 1,000 members. The merged association, called the Miami Association of REALTORS®, includes 23,000 REALTORS® in South Florida. Teresa King Kinney, chief executive officer of RAMB, will serve as the CEO of the merged association.

Contributing to Communities: Fund-raising With Designed Spaces

The Winston-Salem Regional Association of REALTORS®’ annual fund-raiser for Habitat for Humanity involves REALTORS®, students, retailers, and the public to promote housing for the needy as well as environmentally and socially responsible recycling of building materials and used furniture.

In the Winston-Salem area, Habitat for Humanity runs a ReStore, which is a public resale outlet, offering reusable and surplus building materials, appliances, furniture, and home accessories. All proceeds go to Habitat for Humanity to help build more homes in the area. The association’s goal is to promote this hidden gem of a store by word-of-mouth and with an annual charity event called ReStore Spaces.

First, REALTORS® are encouraged to ask their clients to donate any unneeded furniture or materials to the ReStore. “Our members are in contact daily with people who are either moving out of a home and need to get rid of items or moving into a home and need some décor to make their house a home,” says Heather H. Miller, the association’s marketing director. “In the process of making people aware of the store, we are also able to raise funds so that Habitat can build more affordable homes in the community.”

Now in its fifth year, the ReStore Spaces event has raised more than $43,000 for the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. The event is a showcase of what local interior designers and interior design students from local colleges can do with the materials at the ReStore. The designers create a series of rooms at the ReStore warehouse, transforming the space into an interior design idea exhibit, attracting crowds every year.

WSRAR solicits sponsors (usually local home improvement retailers), receives donations, and sells tickets to the environmentally themed “green carpet” affair, which has become a well-known event in the community, according to Miller. “The rooms are unveiled on a Friday night with music, dancing, fabulous food, and spirits as people wander around the ReStore spaces.” For more information, visit http://www.restorespaces.com.

CMLS Conference Highlights Trends, Issues

A report from Rosemary Scardina, RCE, E-PRO, CAE, member of the board of directors of the Council of Multiple Listing Services and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Association of REALTORS® and Multiple Listing Service.

The Council of Multiple Listing Services (CMLS) Conference is the place to be around the first week of October each year, not only because its members represent MLS professionals from across North America, but because it provides some of the most leading-edge information available for and about multiple listing services.

This year’s conference in Chicago, Sept. 29-Oct. 2, started with leading real estate futurist Stefan Swanepoel advising MLS executives to focus on providing high-tech data and facilitating e-transactions, along with raising the bar on technology education for subscribers.

Gregg Larson, president and CEO of Clareity Consulting, presented the results of an MLS issues survey of large brokers done in cooperation with RealTrends. Of the 150 large brokers who responded, 42 percent support MLS consumer Web sites, 47 percent oppose them, and the remainder are neutral. Also, 53 percent of brokers support MLS syndication of listings to national Web portals. Most brokers indicated they were opposed to data licensing to companies, but when asked specifically about licensing to Realtors Property Resource, 42 percent said they strongly support or support it, 32 percent said they strongly oppose or oppose it, and nearly 27 percent were neutral. The survey can be found at http://www.callclareity.com/2010-MLS-Initiatives-Survey-for-Brokers.pdf.

The “Cool Stuff from MLSs” session featured several MLSs that are providing great value to subscribers and the public. RealEstate Business Intelligence (a subsidiary of Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, Rockville, Md.) offers members a wealth of easily accessible statistical information, along with videos and a blog (http://www.rbintel.com). The Minneapolis Area Association of REALTORS® has partnered with technology company 10K to bring its members a personally branded and market-specific interactive market analytics tool (http://www.10kresearch.com). The Northern Ohio Regional MLS showed off its RETS Genie, a simplified data management and data sharing platform (http://www.ronintech.org/id69.html). And Midwest Real Estate Data featured its Social Media widget.

There was also a great panel presentation on agent rating systems moderated by Larry Romito of Quality Service Certification. The panel participants strongly favored the use of ratings as a way to measure performance and hold agents accountable for client relationships, but cautioned that any rating program needs to include certain legal protections.

And finally, here are some cool new sites to check out that MLS execs were buzzing about: Yammer, Vyoo.it, ListGlobally, Dropbox, Reinvigorate, KissInsights, Factual, Opzi, and CampaignMonitor. Don’t miss next’s year’s conference in Tucson. Stay tuned to http://www.councilofmls.com for details.

California Mega MLSs Agree to Merge

The California Association of REALTORS®’ subsidiary California MLS (doing business as calREDD®) and the Multi-Regional Multiple Listing Service (MRMLS) signed an agreement in August to merge. The new, yet-to-be-named entity will serve more than 33,000 real estate professionals and 25 REALTOR® associations throughout California.

“The signing of this agreement signifies a historic and positive step forward for our members, and opens up new opportunities to provide choice, efficiencies, and new technology opportunities to real estate professionals throughout the state,” says CAR President Steve Goddard. “This new structure combines the strengths and resources of calREDD® and MRMLS, while supporting the principles that have guided CAR’s efforts to create a statewide MLS.”

Brooklyn Completes MLS Merger

Brooklyn’s last two remaining multiple listing services, the Brooklyn New York MLS and the smaller Brooklyn MLS (also known as the Bay Ridge/Bensonhurst MLS), officially merged in July, creating one borough-wide MLS. The new system, which will be known as the Brooklyn New York MLS, has a membership of nearly 3,000 practitioners in 303 offices with 4,000 listings, according to Gerard Longo, president of the new organization.

Vt. MLS Acquisition Creates Statewide Platform

The Northern New England Real Estate Network (NNEREN) in April purchased the multiple listing service assets of Vermont Real Estate Information Network (VREIN), creating a statewide MLS organization for Vermont real estate professionals. With the addition of the region historically covered by VREIN, NNEREN will provide statewide MLS services in both New Hampshire and Vermont, along with parts of Maine and Massachusetts.

MLS Data Standards Updated:
Introducing RETS v.1.8, Commercial RETS

RESO, the Real Estate Standards Organization, which works to establish and maintain a data standard for exchanging listings with MLSs, has been busy in 2010 updating RETS (the Real Estate Transaction Standard all MLSs must comply with) and establishing a standards work group for the commercial real estate sector.

Commercial RETS

Under the direction of a new executive, -Travis Wright, who was appointed in January, the organization has expanded its focus to include creating data standards for commercial properties.

“Data integrity is the currency of residential and commercial transactions,” says Wright, “and we are now committed to developing data standards to support the success of commercial real estate professionals, including brokers, lenders, investors and other parties to those transactions.”

RESO’s new commercial real estate work group, comprised of key industry leaders including commercial real estate professionals, Commercial Information Ex--change providers, ap-praisers and software de-velopers, will establish a set of fields that commonly identify commercial property and that are universally accepted by stakeholders.

“Developing standards that enable data to be transferred consistently and efficiently is essential to driving new technology and business models, as well as lowering costs for the industry. NAR is confident the commercial real estate workgroup will deliver new standards that will ultimately enhance the commercial real estate industry,” said
NAR President Vicki Cox Golder.

Revised RETS v.1.8

In March, RESO approved a revised list of residential real estate standard data names, which now includes more “green” property features, as well as standard data names for short sales, REOs, and foreclosures in an MLS. These data names are integrated into the current version of RETS and will carry through to the new version.

“RESO has listened and responded to our industry stakeholders by voting to approve an updated list of standard names that are in use with more than 20 of the largest multiple listing services in the country,” said RESO chair Pat Bybee, president and CEO of Metrolist MLS Inc., Denver. “We feel this is one more positive step toward standardization that will ultimately move the industry forward.”

At its September 2010 conference, the organization approved 22 changes to RETS that will appear in version 1.8 of the standard, due out this spring. “Overall the changes will foster technology innovation through information sharing and standardization, and make it easier for vendors to build and market new tools for real estate practitioners,” says Wright.

The new RETS v.1.8 also will provide a standardized way for brokers to load listings directly into the MLS (this feature is optional). The new version will officially be voted on in March 2011 and, if approved, all MLSs must comply with the news rules within a year.

RESO will present its annual update at the REALTORS® Conference & Expo, Nov. 7. Look for the draft RETS 1.8 online at www.reso.org in the coming weeks. For more, contact Travis Wright, 281-217-2789, twright@reso.org.

HR Tips with Donna Garcia, NAR’s director of HR Services
How to Reduce Staff’s Hours

“I’ve been receiving quite a few calls lately from AEs who are considering reducing staff hours. Here are three points to keep in mind to make the process legal, fair, and as pain free as possible.

1. There are no federal laws that say you can’t reduce an employee's hours, but always check state law, as well. If there’s an employment contract, it can be amended if mutually agreed upon. It’s likely that AEs or any contracted employees would prefer to have their hours and salary reduced rather than lose their job.

2. When identifying whose hours to reduce, evaluate all staff fairly. Whether it’s by lowest seniority, poorest performance (be sure to have documentation), or some other measure, choose a method and stick with it. The key is to ensure that there’s a business necessity behind the decision.

3. Check your benefit plans to determine the minimum number of hours needed to be eligible for benefits. If employees were eligible for medical before and are no longer eligible, they may qualify for COBRA or state continuation coverage. Typically, you can’t change your benefit plans mid-year and changing the benefit plans to cover part-time workers would typically mean an increase in your premiums.

If you have HR questions, send them to dgarcia@realtors.org.

REALTORS® Federal Credit Union Wants to Partner with You

EALTOR® Associations that join the REALTORS® Federal Credit Union’s Partner Program are eligible to receive special rewards and financial incentives, including higher certificate rates, for promoting the benefit of the credit union to their membership. Incentives are based on the percentage of credit union members who join from each organization. REALTOR® FCU provides free marketing tools to help AEs spread the word to members.

Launched in May 2009, REALTORS® FCU, which is exclusively online, now has more than 5,700 members and offers traditional and money market savings accounts, certificates with highly competitive interest rates, no-fee eChecking with debit card, personal loans and lines of credit, and home and auto loans, and will continue to introduce additional consumer and business products and services.

“REALTORS® FCU understands the nature of associations and the fact that most REALTORS® are independent contractors or small business owners,” says Christine Todd, CEO of the Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS®. “We don’t need to go through a lengthy explanation of who we are and what we do every time we want to do business.”

The Maryland Association of REALTORS® is a credit union partner and relies on REALTORS® FCU for highly competitive rates on investment products. “We will likely be looking for a business loan in the future, plus we want to support this as a member benefit. Being a member and partner of the credit union is a win-win for us and our members,” says Mary Antoun, association CEO.

REALTORS® are still struggling just to make ends meet yet they’re turning the corner in the market, notes Todd. “It’s great to have a credit union that can offer our members the help they may need to finance a new car, a computer, or fix up their office. It’s a great comfort to our members.”
For partner program details, e-mail partnerprogram@realtorsfcu.org or visit http://www.realtorsfcu.org.

Participate in NAR’s Home Ownership Campaign

NAR has launched a comprehensive “Home Ownership Matters” campaign to reinforce the benefits of home ownership to individuals, communities, and the nation’s economy, and to combat critics who are trying to call these values into question. The national association has integrated efforts across media outreach, paid advertising, direct-to-consumer communications, legislative and regulatory initiatives, grassroots organizing, and member resources, bringing all of the association’s resources to bear against this challenge.

Local associations are encouraged to participate by linking to, posting, and publishing positive stories and research about home ownership. Find resources at REALTOR.org/homeownership. For ready-to-use consumer articles for your Web site, blog, or e--newletter, including “It Pays to Support Respon-sible Home Ownership,” “Mortgage Interest Deduction Vital to Housing Market,” and “Show Your Support for FHA,” visit http://www.HouseLogic.com.

Right Tools, Right Now Coming to an End

The Right Tools, Right Now initiative, which started in 2009 to help members and associations succeed in the down market, will end Dec. 31, 2010. Tell members to take advantage of free resources and program discounts now, before RTRN draws to a close. Visit http://www.REALTOR.org/righttools for more information.

For AEs, the end of this initiative means that NAR will no longer offer stipends for attending the AE Institute or the Leadership Summit (two-night accommodations for AEs and incoming presidents at the summit will continue to be free) or grants for conducting the Foreclosure Prevention and Response Program, among other programs. Even though Right Tools, Right Now ends in 2010, be sure to visit http://www.REALTOR.org/Store in 2011 for new products and discounts.

NAR Offers Group Dental Insurance to AEs, REALTORS®

REALTORS® Dental Insurance is a custom-designed, affordable large group dental insurance benefit that is now available to both NAR members and their families, as well as REALTOR® AEs and their association staff. The nationwide benefit, with guaranteed acceptance, offers four plans to cover preventive, basic, and/or major dental expenses, including orthodontia and/or professional whitening.

Plans are currently available in every state (plus Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam) except New Hampshire, where state law prohibits it. It is also not yet available in North Carolina, where the plan is pending approval by the state’s Department of Insurance.

To learn more, review plan options, and obtain a free quote, visit http://www.RealtorsDentalInsurance.com/AE or call 877-267-3752 and provide your NAR Membership (NRDS) ID number.