Spring meetings for member-brokers of Northwest Multiple Listing Service departed from the usual in-person gatherings and pre-announced agenda, shifting to a webinar format, and adding updates on the industry responses to the coronavirus pandemic.
In opening comments, Tom Hurdelbrink, president and CEO at NWMLS, described the ever-changing situation as “the most frenetic pace” he has witnessed during more than 30 years in the business. He assured members the MLS is committed to tracking the latest guidelines from public health and government officials and communicating information to the membership as updates become available.
Despite these “unprecedented times,” Hurdelbrink said the MLS had a business continuity plan in place, which included the ability for staff to work remotely in order to provide uninterrupted customer support and other services to the members, including:
• Customer and tech support via phone during regular business hours, 7 days a week;
• Listing Input services, also available 7 days a week during regular business hours; and
• Training via remote one-on-one sessions and live webinars.
Hurdelbrink also reviewed the array of communications the MLS has circulated since March 5th until Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” proclamation effective March 25. NWMLS has been working closely with Washington REALTORS® and the governor’s liaison to the real estate industry to disseminate accurate information as directives and guidelines change.
Justin Haag, general counsel for NWMLS, outlined various implications of the governor’s order while reminding the audience the purpose of the order is to stay home to help slow the spread of the virus. “We recognize this is a massive disruption to daily lives and how you conduct business,” he said, but assured members the MLS endeavors to provide the best information available to help with business decision-making. He urged brokers to check their inboxes and the NWMLS website for updates, particularly pertaining to the FAQs document.
At the time of the online meeting (3/27), Haag said about 30 states had stay-at-home orders, with about half those states deeming real estate an essential business, and half classifying them as non-essential.
“Creative interpretations” of the guidelines are discouraged, Haag emphasized, adding the order was very clear, and licensees who flout it not only put themselves and others at risk, but they could also be subject to license law violations and a gross misdemeanor criminal charge.
Haag then reviewed what was permissible under the “stay home” order, and what was allowed. (Subsequent to the meeting, Gov. Inslee modified the order, and NWMLS updated its FAQ, best practices for showings and in-person interactions, and other resources for industry professionals.) These documents were a collaborative effort involving Washington Realtors and an industry attorney group.
Several other issues were discussed by Haag ranging from the keybox system, new listings, how the “stay home” order affects third party service providers such as sign installers, photographers, stagers and movers, and “rumors/bad information.”
Addressing “Days on Market” was described as a “tough issue” that was heavily researched. Several possible alterations were considered, with many deemed to be not feasible. “There is no perfect solution” Haag stated, so the board decided to make no changes – a decision that is consistent with what many other multiple listing services are doing.
Under “good news,” Haag noted the governor issued an emergency order with provisions for remote notary services to be effective immediately.
Also discussed was new form 22FM for Force Majeure clauses to allocate risks between parties if performance of the contract becomes impossible or impracticable due to events beyond the control of the parties, such as acts of nature or epidemics like coronavirus.
Following the segment devoted to coronavirus concerns, the speakers provided updates on systems and services, along with a recap of state legislative priorities and national issues.
Tara Marino, the NWMLS director of communications and training, reviewed several updates, including:
- Major enhancements to Homesnap Pro including the ability to view off-market properties, additional property history, homeowner profiles, condominium building pages, neighborhood heatmaps that can be overlayed with property filters, “likelihood to list scores,” and more. Brokerage firms can also add their website link to Homesnap.
NWMLS Business Analyst Devin Bacon discussed Realist 2020, InfoSparks with Fast Stats, and Matrix.
InfoSparks with FastStats now enables customized charts and client-friendly statistical reports. New Metrics have also been added.
In response to membership feedback, various changes and additions have been made to Matrix fields.
The tax database has been upgraded with several new features, including a predictive tool that shows an owner’s likelihood of selling.
Many of the new features are highlighted in new “how to” videos (view via nwmls.com). The enhanced system has a similar look and feel as its predecessor, but it will no longer be Adobe Flash dependent. It continues to be compatible with all popular browsers and mobile devices, and NWMLS is offering webinar training.
Bacon also conducted a couple of instant polls with webinar participants to gather feedback on listing input questions. The questions pertained to interest in expanding marketing remarks and agent remarks, and whether to remove the map & grid (map book coordinates) on the listing form.
Justin Haag returned as the speaker to discuss Washington Realtors’ 2020 legislative priorities and major issues nationally.
The state association’s emphasis included:
- Expanding the local housing supply efforts;
- Extending the multi-family tax exemption;
- Protecting brokers’ independent contractor status; and
- Maintaining the current agency law structure.
At the national level, some of the major issues included class action lawsuits concerning commissions and the Department of Justice investigation. He noted that NWMLS’s changes made last October to modernize selling office commissions were a positive step for the industry.
Haag also reported on actions by the Consumer Federation of America, which has taken a special interest in the real estate industry. Another national issue pertains to Fair Housing and a comprehensive, three-year undercover report by Newsday, which analyzed 5,763 home listings and their real estate agents, concluding there was widespread evidence of unequal treatment of potential homebuyers based on race. He encouraged brokers to review the report.
To conclude the spring meeting with brokers, Tara Marino gave a quick preview of forthcoming updates, classes and special events, including new dates in the fall for NWMLS EXPOsed to be held in Lynnwood, Tacoma, and Wenatchee.
Brokers were invited to submit questions via email, which MLS staff will review and address.