Realtor.com is the official listing site of the 1.5 million-member National Association of Realtors. The site was born in 1994 from a controversial NAR project and for-profit subsidiary, the Realtors Information Network, which was a computer network that promised to link Realtors and to promote home listings on the World Wide Web.
But by 1996, the project had run out of money and, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, went in search of deep-pocketed technology partners who would be able to make the site competitive.
RIN found those partners and together they formed a joint venture called RealSelect, which was partially owned by NAR. In 1999, RealSelect went public and changed its name to Homestore.com with RealSelect as a subsidiary. In 2001, Homestore bought a site called Move.com from Realogy predecessor Cendant. After a financial scandal that saw former Homestore executives convicted of securities fraud and head to prison, Homestore changed its name to Move Inc. in 2006.
Move Inc.operates Realtor.com under the terms of a 1996 operating agreement between RIN and RealSelect that has been re-negotiated multiple times since then. Under that agreement, NAR does not pay Move anything to operate the site; on the contrary, Move pays NAR around $2 million in royalties annually for the use of the Realtor.com trademark. The license fee payments are set to the annual Consumer Price Index. According to NAR, those funds go into enforcing NAR rules on the site.
The agreement does not allow Move to charge data content providers — most of whom are Realtor-affiliated multiple listing services — for collecting and distributing basic listing information, but it does allow Move to make money through advertising and “content or services accessed by the public” through the site, according to NAR.
The agreement includes a noncompete clause that prevents NAR from directly or indirectly engaging in the electronic display of real property ads or helping a third party to do so.
In 2010, the agreement was amended in part to give Move more leeway to make changes to the features, design and layout of the site and its user interface without obtaining prior approval from NAR.
For years, Realtor.com was the no. 1 most-visited online real estate listing site, but started losing its grip on that title in 2010, and in 2012 was surpassed by Zillow and Trulia in rankings maintained by Experian Hitwise.
In March 2013, Realtor.com rebranded as realtor.com with a new logo, slogan and website design that downplayed its ties to NAR.
In July 2013, NAR’s board approved major changes to realtor.com’s operating agreement designed to make the site more competitive against rivals Zillow and Trulia. The changes gave Move more flexibility to publish listings from sources beyond those provided by Realtors, including additional new homes and rental properties, but the site has never been allowed to display for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) properties.
In November 2014, News Corp. acquired Move with NAR’s blessing. To allow the deal to go through, NAR tendered its Move shares and gave up its seat on Move’s board of directors in favor of having two seats on Move’s nine-member advisory board. The Realtor.com operating agreement giving Move “the exclusive and perpetual right to operate” the site remained in place, according to News Corp. CEO Robert Thomson.
Email Andrea V. Brambila.