A Look at Rules on Permission, Attribution & Accuracy
Recently, Bea Lueck of Rox Real Estate in Casa Grande noticed one of her pending listings advertised on Craigslist. Another agent was using her MLS photos and description—with incorrect seller carry terms—to draw buyer clients. Nowhere did the Craigslist post mention that Bea’s firm was the listing broker. A little digging on Craigslist turned up plenty of variations of listings posted by someone other than the listing agent/broker. “Is this allowed?” she wondered.
“It’s free advertising for your listing. Just be grateful!” hollered some. “It’s against the rules. Turn them in!” yelled others. But who’s right? And who decides? There are at least three entities that weigh in on how agents should handle advertising of listings: the multiple listing service, the Arizona Department of Real Estate and the REALTOR® association. Let’s take a look at what these three entities will consider when reviewing a complaint.
Multiple Listing Service (MLS)
If a complaint is filed with an MLS about a Craigslist post, the MLS will first determine if the post comes from one of its subscribers. If it does, the MLS will review the complaint against its own rules and regulations to determine if a violation has occurred. In Bea’s case, the MLS with jurisdiction is ARMLS. Here’s what the ARMLS Rules & Regulations have to say:
10.11. ADVERTISING OF LISTINGS FILED WITH ARMLS. A Listing shall not be advertised by any Subscriber, other than the Listing Subscriber/Subscriber, in any medium whatsoever, without prior consent of the Listing Subscriber.
21.5. A Participant shall cause any listing that is displayed on his or her website or in other advertising media to identify the name of the listing firm or the listing firm and agent in a readily visible color, in a reasonably prominent location, and in typeface not smaller than the median typeface used in the display of listing data.
“You cannot just post listings on Craigslist,” says ARMLS Interim CEO Matt Consalvo. “You must have proper attribution, and you must have permission to do it.” However, points out Consalvo, there is one complicating factor about attribution. This May, the Technology & Emerging Issues Subcommittee to NAR’s Multiple Listing Issues & Policies Committee adopted new language in the Internet Data Exchange (IDX) Policy as follows:
When displaying listing content, a participant’s or user’s IDX display site must clearly identify the name of the brokerage firm under which they operate in a readily visible color and typeface. This policy acknowledges that certain required disclosures may not be possible in displays of minimal information (e.g. “thumbnails”, text messages, “tweets”, etc., of 200 characters or less). Such displays are exempt from the disclosure requirements established in this policy but only when linked directly to a display that includes all required disclosures.
A Craigslist post is not limited to 200 characters or less (as a tweet on Twitter would be), so would it meet the threshold for “minimal information”? If Craigslist does meet that threshold, identification of the listing firm might not be required, but a link back to an IDX feed with “all required disclosures” certainly would be.
Arizona Department of Real Estate
If a complaint about the Craigslist post is submitted to the Department of Real Estate, it is evaluated against the relevant sections of the Arizona Administrative Code – State Real Estate Department. The code states:
R4-28-502. Advertising by a Licensee
C. A salesperson or broker shall ensure that all advertising contains accurate claims and representations, and fully states factual material relating to the information advertised. A salesperson or broker shall not misrepresent the facts or create misleading impressions.
A licensee must fully state factual material and must avoid creating a misleading impression. If the non-listing agent posts the property on Craigslist but makes changes to the listing (examples may include: indicating the property is available for lease when the property is offered for sale; changing the home’s features; misstating material information relative to the property), the non-listing agent has misrepresented the facts or created a misleading impression.
The code also states:
F. A licensee who advertises property that is the subject of another person’s real estate employment agreement shall display the name of the listing broker in a clear and prominent manner.
A simple statement in the Craigslist post, such as “Listing courtesy of XYZ Brokerage Firm,” would likely satisfy this provision.
A REALTOR® in Arizona may submit a complaint alleging a violation of the Code of Ethics against a fellow REALTOR®. The Arizona Association of REALTORS® handles ethics enforcement in Arizona for all local associations with the exception of SEVRAR, which manages its own ethics enforcement. Professional standards REALTOR® volunteers would evaluate the complaint.
Article 12 of the Code of Ethics states:
REALTORS® shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations.
Does the Craigslist post present a true picture if the home is no longer active or if the description contains inaccurate information?
Under the Standards of Practice for Article 12, the code also states:
Standard of Practice 12-4
REALTORS® shall not offer for sale/lease or advertise property without authority. When acting as listing brokers or as subagents, REALTORS® shall not quote a price different from that agreed upon with the seller/landlord. (Amended 1/93)
Does the agent posting on Craigslist have the authority to post the listing?
Finally, the code states:
Standard of Practice 12-5
REALTORS® shall not advertise nor permit any person employed by or affiliated with them to advertise real estate services or listed property in any medium (e.g., electronically, print, radio, television, etc.) without disclosing the name of that REALTOR®’s firm in a reasonable and readily apparent manner. This Standard of Practice acknowledges that disclosing the name of the firm may not be practical in electronic displays of limited information (e.g., “thumbnails”, text messages, “tweets”, etc.). Such displays are exempt from the disclosure requirement established in this Standard of Practice, but only when linked to a display that includes all required disclosures. (Adopted 11/86, Amended 1/11)
This standard closely tracks the language included in the Internet Data Exchange (IDX) Policy referenced above under the MLS section. Is a Craigslist post exempt from this disclosure requirement? If so, is there a link back to the required disclosures?
If you are a listing agent or broker, you might consider regularly checking Craigslist for your listings. (This will not only alert you to these posts and help you uncover incorrect information that might be included in them, but it might also lead you to discover scam artists posting the home for lease in order to collect “rental deposits.”) If you find an agent posting your listings without proper permission, attribution or accuracy, talk with your broker about contacting the other agent and/or broker. If you decide to file a complaint with one of the entities above against an agent advertising on Craigslist, be sure to take a screenshot of the post to include with your complaint.
If you are an agent who wishes to advertise another firm’s listing on Craigslist, your safest course of action would be to:
- Ask permission of the listing brokerage.
- Include the name of the listing brokerage in the Craigslist post in a readily apparent manner.
- If you include a link back to an IDX-enabled website, make sure you are abiding by all IDX rules.
- Regularly review your Craigslist post for accuracy and remove it if the home is sold during the post’s active life on Craigslist.
Alternatively, you might choose to include only your own listings (or only listings within your brokerage, with your broker’s permission) on Craigslist.