The Dog That Did Not Bark: NAR MLS Policy Committee Meeting


“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

Silver Blaze, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

I thought I might do a recap of the NAR San Francisco convention, but honestly, most of my time there was spent either in meetings or at bars. The proceedings of the former are confidential, and the events of the latter should be appropriately shrouded in mystery for anyone who wasn’t present. I might suggest that a bit of karaoke-ing was indulged.

The only session I attended thinking we might in fact get some interesting news from was the meeting of the MLS Policy Committee. Inman News published a good report on what happened there, so go check that out in full. The key part:

Instead of voting to tweak NAR’s classifications of “basic services,” the Multiple Listing and Policy Issues Committee sought to gather more feedback at a meeting it hosted on MLS issues at the Realtors Conference and Expo in San Francisco.

The dog did not bark. To quote Sherlock Holmes, that was the curious incident.

Expectations of Barking

I’ve written earlier about the bomb that Craig Cheatham of The Realty Alliance dropped at the CMLS conference. I’ve done a podcast on the topic with Greg Robertson and Bob Bemis. Despite the “10 day” deadline being misinterpreted, many of us thought that we might see some sort of fireworks and action at the NAR San Francisco MLS Policy Committee meeting. At a minimum, I thought we’d see MLS Policy Statement 7.57 — which allowed local MLS’s to classify public facing websites as a “basic service” — brought up for revision.

There is a precedent: the Franchise IDX brouhaha of a couple of years ago. In that one, the Franchise IDX policy had been passed by the Board of Directors at the 2010 NAR San Francisco meeting, only to have the strong resistance by big brokers — notably, HomeServices of America and the Leading RE — result in a reconsideration at NAR Midyear. Then as now, the largest brokers were very unhappy about the policy, and took steps to kill it off, even against the opposition of the major franchise companies, such as Coldwell Banker and Remax.

So one would naturally expect that The Realty Alliance, its member brokers, and the folks they have/know on the MLS Policy Committee would at least propose some changes to 7.57.

Nope. Zip. Nada. Nothing.

Curious Indeed

The key point to understand is not that the MLS Policy Committee chose not to change 7.57. The real key is that no change was even suggested. There wasn’t even a motion to change 7.57. There was, instead, a motion to send to the Advisory Board, immediately seconded, and passed on a voice vote. What the… not even a debate?

And it appears that nothing would even be proposed was known in advance. Inman News:

Cliff Niersbach, vice president of board policy and programs at NAR, said it was clear for at least a week before the conference that the committee was unlikely to hold a vote on any proposed changes to its classification guidelines for MLSs.

The MLS Technology and Emerging Issues Advisory Board needs to gather more input from industry stakeholders before it can make any recommendations for potential tweaks to Statement 7.57, according to Greg Zadel, the advisory board’s chairman.

So at least a week in advance, it was clear to at least Cliff Niersbach — which suggests that a number of others on the MLS Policy Committee — knew that there would be no vote in San Francisco.

Yet, I saw Craig Cheatham at the meeting. I saw Joe Horning of Shorewest, a key member of both The Realty Alliance and LeadingRE, at the meeting.

Four Possible Interpretations

Since the dog did not bark in the night, the mind quests for an explanation. What happened? What does it mean, if anything at all? I think there are four possible interpretations.

1. The Big Brokers Got Outmaneuvered

The first interpretation is that the big brokers simply got outmaneuvered via procedural plays. I don’t know the bylaws of the MLS Policy Committee, or its parliamentary procedures, but I suppose it is possible that despite Big Brokers wanting to put forth a motion, somehow they just got outmaneuvered.

If so, then the Big Brokers will just take its case to the Advisory Board, and go through the proper steps and channels for modifying 7.57.

Somehow, that doesn’t really seem likely to me. Remember, the Big Brokers already tried to stop 7.57 in its current form at Midyear and failed. The Realty Alliance made dire warnings back then as well.

2. The Big Brokers Won Behind the Scenes

Another possibility is that even though no action was taken in San Francisco, some sort of all-encompassing back-room deal has been struck between the Big Brokers and NAR, which makes 7.57 a non-issue. Alternatively, Big Brokers have successfully cowed all local MLS’s that are doing Stuff They Don’t Like and no longer feel the need to modify any “optional” MLS rule. (Remember that MLS public facing website being classified as “basic” is at the option of the local MLS.)

Maybe the story here is that the Big Brokers flexed their muscles, and the local MLS’s all toed the line.

Thing is, more than a few MLS CEO’s I spoke with wandering the halls sounded like anything but contrite. They thought the following was far more likely.

3. The Big Brokers Lost Through Division

The theory of the MLS community is that the Big Brokers simply did not have the unity or the numbers to make anything happen. More than one MLS CEO said that even members of The Realty Alliance are hardly united, nevermind other big brokerages and major franchises. They felt that in most markets, even the largest of brokerages simply don’t have enough market share to make any real trouble, and that whatever lobbying effort they might have undertaken to unite the brokerage community has failed.

So the reason why they made no motion, no proposal, was because the Big Brokerages knew they’d lose, and lose big.

I suppose that’s possible, but I’m not sanguine about this interpretation. Many of the men and women involved run multibillion dollar enterprises. They’re neither weak-minded nor weak-willed. Men like Bob Moline and Joe Horning just don’t strike me as the kind of people who give up that easily, you know?

4. The Big Brokers Have Given Up

My favorite interpretation is this one.

At CMLS, one of the things that Craig Cheatham mentioned several times is just how close his members were to giving up. He expressed significant frustration with “working within the system” which gave rise to the whole idea that these brokers might pull out of the MLS. The whole theme of “we’re sick and tired of trying to do it the right way” was a strong one at CMLS.

Has anything happened to change that frustration?

Indeed, if everybody involved knew at least a week ago that nothing was going to happen in San Francisco, then why bother making motions and re-arguing the case? Maybe it was a procedural outmaneuvering that happened; but that isn’t likely to keep people who are sick and tired of the system wanting to stay within that system.

A few brokers did get up at the MLS Policy Committee and made their displeasure known, but none of them were on the Committee itself. And none of the main leaders — people like Craig Cheatham, Bob Moline, and Joe Horning — spoke on the issue.

I don’t know about you, but this feels like a withdrawal. Not to regroup to try again, but to throw the towel in on the whole “peace process”.

The Silent Drums of War?

I’ve already predicted conflict and warfare with my Midyear piece. I thought perhaps San Francisco might see some action leading to re-engagement. Instead, we saw nothing. The dog did not bark.

Even if the next step is for the MLS Technology and Emerging Issues Advisory Board to spend weeks and months “gathering feedback”, it seems to me that the logical thing for the Big Brokerages to do is to do something to be taken more seriously. Whether that’s the full all-out “big initiative” that Inman News touched on, or a smaller scale shock and awe example-making campaign, at this point, I wonder if the Big Brokerages have not been pushed into a corner where they have to show their resolve.

In modern warfare, the drums of war are silent. Surprise, speed, and initiative are far more imperative.

If the curious case of the dog in the night presages open conflict, I don’t think we’ll get a warning. Warnings have been aplenty. I think we get whatever it is that’s coming.

Interesting times. Interesting times indeed.


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Rob Hahn

Managing Partner of 7DS Associates, and the grand poobah of this here blog. Once called "a revolutionary in a really nice suit", people often wonder what I do for a living because I have the temerity to not talk about my clients and my work for clients. Suffice to say that I do strategy work for some of the largest organizations and companies in real estate, as well as some of the smallest startups and agent teams, but usually only on projects that interest me with big implications for reforming this wonderful, crazy, lovable yet frustrating real estate industry of ours.

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