Will pocket listing controversies finally be resolved next month?

by Meg White

As the Council of MLSs conducts its annual meeting this week and policy wonks gear up for discussions at the National Association of Realtors’ annual meetings next month, all eyes are on the pockets. Pocket listings, that is.

There’s been an argument for and against off-MLS listings for many years now that finally seems to be coming to a head. NAR’s Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee will take up a proposal at its next meeting in San Francisco next month known as their “Clear Cooperation Policy,” which would replace the current MLS Statement 8.0.

Writing for NAR’s Realtor Magazine, Sam DeBord, a broker from Washington state who’s been a leader at NAR in the MLS world, described the proposed national changes as “straightforward.” The idea is to resolve the issues that keep brokers from adding their listings to the MLS for reasons of privacy or listings not being ready for a full entry into the MLS. When sellers request that a listing not be blasted out to syndicators or searchable online, this policy allows for a more private marketing approach through emails or office exclusives, but still requires official entry on the MLS. In terms of listings where sellers may not be ready to show, or all the information on a listing might not be available yet (common for new construction, for example), this new policy also allows for a “coming soon” status on the MLS.   

Industry commentator Rob Hahn has posted a series of entries on this topic ahead of the meetings, even including a rebuttal from DeBord at one point, but it seems his opinion hasn’t changed from what it was months ago. “The MLS and systematic Coming Soon are incompatible. Only one or the other can survive, ultimately,” he wrote. “MLS leaders need to stop wringing their hands as if they are powerless to stop the destruction of the system from within and start taking action.”

Indeed Hahn isn’t the only one seeing off-MLS listings as a major threat. In a report titled MLS Agenda 2020, released a few weeks ago, real estate research group T360 identified pocket listings as No. 2 out of the five largest challenges facing MLSs. The authors predict that off-MLS marketing in the form of brokerage exclusives and iBuyers may quickly make these co-ops irrelevant. However, their solution focuses on incentives to bring in more data, rather the black-and-white argument Hahn makes.

One of the calls-to-action the group suggests is augmenting MLS data so that it is richer and includes more sales. In particular, they call on these organizations to “work with broker partners to determine how to record all sales, including those made through iBuyers and off MLS.”

NAR is accepting feedback on the policy ahead of the meeting, but meanwhile, MLSs from across the country are meeting in Salt Lake City to discuss the change and examine their existing rules.

Yesterday, Chicago-based Midwest Real Estate Data, LLC issued a white paper wherein they endorsed the change to NAR’s policy and explained their own approach to such off-MLS listings, while at the same time noting the controversy that erupted when the Austin Board of Realtors implemented a 14-day coming soon status in July 2016. Though showings were not permitted, the status did allow these off-MLS listings to be shared via email blasts, printed material, exported data and VOWs. The report noted that “the usage of the status continued to stir controversy in the marketplace and the [coming soon] status was discontinued in August of 2018.” While it’s uncertain whether the final policy will resemble MRED’s approach or Austin’s recent attempt to allow pocket listings, clearly all eyes will be on NAR’s MLS committee next month.

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