New MLS fees policy on the horizon

QUESTION: I have a question about MLS fees.  Let’s say REALTOR® Alvarez is affiliated with Apex Realty and participates in the MLS that is owned and operated by the association where the firm’s offices are located, which is the Tall Trees Association of REALTORS®.  All of Apex’s agents are affiliated with the Tall Trees MLS. If REALTOR® Alvarez wants to belong to another MLS operated by the Short Hills Association of REALTORS®, must all other brokers with Apex Realty also belong to the Short Hills MLS?

ANSWER: First of all, understand that a broker can’t be forced to join any MLS if they don’t want to.  Having said that, under existing NAR policy the Short Hills MLS, in its discretion, may charge the principal of Apex Realty MLS participation fees based on the number of brokers affiliated with Apex Realty, even if some of the brokers don’t intend to use the Short Hills MLS.  Some MLSs use this approach in charging MLS fees.  On the other hand, other MLSs use a “waiver” approach that would permit a waiver of MLS fees for those brokers affiliated with Apex Realty who certify that they do not and will not use the MLS. So, the answer to your question depends on which policy is followed by the Short Hills MLS that REALTOR® Alvarez wants to join.

HOWEVER, as a result of changes approved at the NAR convention last November, all MLSs must, by July 1, 2018, have a “waiver” policy that will permit a firm’s principal to pay MLS fees based only on the number of brokers affiliated with the firm who choose to use the MLS, provided that the principal can demonstrate that the brokers who don’t want to use the MLS belong to at least one other MLS.  Thus, to use your hypothetical case, assuming that the principal of Apex Realty can demonstrate that all the brokers in the firm belong to the Tall Trees MLS, and assuming that the principal is also a member of the Short Hills MLS, REALTOR® Alvarez can join the Short Hills MLS without MLS fees being charged to the principal of Apex Realty based on the other brokers affiliated with Apex Realty.

Of course, the other brokers with Apex Realty would only be authorized to receive and use data from the Tall Trees MLS, and their unauthorized access to and/or use of MLS data from the Short Hills MLS could lead to sanctions against the principal of Apex Realty and termination of the MLS subscription waiver.

In a related policy change, if a brokerage firm has multiple offices, an association MLS may only assess MLS fees, dues and charges to the office(s) of the firm that have independently decided to join and access that MLS, regardless of whether the offices are located within or outside the association’s jurisdiction.   Those offices which join the MLS are the only offices that will be authorized to use that MLS’s data and services.  This policy change also goes into effect July 1, 2018.

If you want more information about this policy change, the National Association of REALTORS® has created an FAQ page with questions, answers, and video tutorials.

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