Litigation against the real estate industry was the talk in the aisles and meeting rooms at NAR NXT, The REALTOR® Experience, in Anaheim, Calif.—including at the MLS Forum, where more than 1,000 industry professionals from the brokerage, MLS and association worlds gathered Monday.
With multiple lawsuits challenging the MLS offer of compensation rule and clear cooperation policy, presenters in the MLS Forum didn’t sugarcoat the situation. But their uniform message was: Don’t waver. “Keep calm and keep serving consumers,” said Richard Gibbens, executive director of Southwest MLS. “Serving the consumer needs to be our collective North Star.”
That doesn’t mean ignoring what’s happening or the potential impact on the business, he said. Recognize the importance of transparency and disclosure, recognize that commissions are always negotiable. “And do what NAR has been saying for years,” Gibbens said. “Use buyer broker agreements. As I’ve heard it said, it’s very hard for someone to say they don’t understand how you were paid when they sign something that says how you were paid.”
An Equitable Market
What’s at stake in the litigation is an MLS marketplace that has not only brought efficiency and transparency to real estate buyers for more than 100 years but also promoted equity. Multiple listing services ensure that all buyers have equal access to the fullest range of properties for sale. When they’re used mindfully, they’re a powerful tool for fair housing, said Alexia Smokler, NAR director of fair housing policy, who led a fair housing panel during the forum.
Panelists offered ideas for incorporating equity into your real estate practice.
For Farrah Wilder, an educator and the former chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for the California Association of REALTORS®, it’s critical to think about the words and images you use in listings. “There’s not a definitive list of words you can and can’t use, but think about it this way: Could someone look at the listing description or at the pictures and feel excluded?
“MLSs have a robust search function,” she continued. “Allow the system to help you with fair housing compliance.”
Rather than getting into the trap of telling buyers which neighborhoods you think they’d like, risking the chance that your unconscious bias could impact the relationship, she said, have that initial client meeting, learn what the client is looking for, and input it into the system. “Let the buyers have the agency to decide where they want to live.”
Josh Coleman, MLS enterprise business development manager for SkySlope, talked about how the platform has built guardrails into agents’ everyday business practices—for example, making sure communication is transparent and tracked, assuring that offers have been seen, and making sure agents are armed with objective data and buyers know where they stand.
Merri Jo Cowen, CEO of Stellar MLS, urged MLS officers in the audience to think about how to create the best user experience possible for consumers. For example, Stellar incorporates a tool for helping buyers find sources of down payment assistance. And she stressed the importance of fair housing education. “Everyone on our team goes through Fairhaven, C2EX and classes that address unconscious bias,” she said.