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June 2012

Jun. 23, 2012 - Lawsuit

 

“Lawsuit alleges improper spending by former Realtor's* association executive”

 

Not long ago, a few members sued their Realtor association, its board of directors, and its long-time, recently retired executive officer.  The charges: misuse of funds and tampering with the election process.

In addition, the complainants allege that the executive in question verbally abused and discredited those who did not agree with the executive staff decisions.

Now my point in bringing this shocking event to your attention is not to point fingers or undermine anyone’s position in the matter; however, I do feel this is a case study illustrating ample reason for AEs to review their management practices—no matter what the size or sophistication of the association they serve.  Certain practices just can’t be ignored, and these can be stated as rules for which there is no exception.

AEs, listen up:

1.    Always create and leave a paper trail. Always.  Minutes need to clearly reflect the instructions from the board of directors, and instructions by a phone call from the president should always be followed up by a written note or email which records the substance of the conversation.  Then, keep records of these events in a place where they can be accessed and referred to, if needed.

2.    Take no liberties with election processes.  Even though it’s a friendly and non-contested election in a small and congenial association, the staff must treat the event with the same diligence as the most hotly fought governmental battle.  Create a process where every ballot is accounted for, and an independent entity counts the votes.  Even if the vote is a show of hands, count carefully and photograph the voters’ arms in the air.

3.    The big issue has been, and always will be, financial management.  Even if you wouldn’t dream of misplacing a penny, you can be accused of wrong doing and the burden of proof will be on you and your financial management practices.  Don’t sign checks and credit card invoices without proper written authority, and make sure at least one member reviews your expenditures.  You don’t have to have two signatures on checks, necessarily, but a member should review the check register on a regular basis.

a.     Have independent reviews.  Find a third party—an accountant or other professional—to conduct an annual review of the finances and report to the Board of Directors. You may not be able to afford a full audit on an annual basis, but at least have one every two or three years with a review on the intervening years. The Board is responsible for the protection of the association assets: make sure they have the tools to do that job, and at the same time protect yourself from criticism.

b.    Don’t ever hire a family member, and don’t do association business with one.  Sorry about your daughter who answers the phones or your Uncle Fred who sells you the association insurance policy—that looks to members like a conflict of interest.

c.     Make full reports available to members who want them—financial or otherwise.  In this age of social media, transparency is the watchword, and anyone who wants to hold information back from those who want it had better have a darned good excuse.  Figure out a way to deliver financial reports and meeting minutes to members in a way that will satisfy their requests.

I know I sound authoritarian, but that’s because these are authoritarian rules.  If you’re a small association, not having the resources to provide a third-party financial review or impeccable election practices is not an excuse.  You and the directors of your association are liable under law to provide this accountability. 

If your board can’t carry out these basic good management practices, it would be best to merge the organization with one that can.

*The headline is a direct quote.  I can’t help it if the newspaper doesn’t use good basic grammar and punctuation. jwl

 

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Jun. 13, 2012 - The NEW Internet Landscape: A Primer for Realtors and MLSs

  

The Big News

By now the news is out: earlier today the names of applicants for new top level domains (or TLD, the name that follows the dot in an internet address) was released.  Over 1900 applicants hope to gain a branded domain name where previously only 26 TLDs existed.

 

This release date was long anticipated by US Multiple Listing Services, many of whom have banded together to form the MLS Domains Association, a non-profit group which exists to make application for the .MLS domain name and restrict its use only to recognized MLS organizations. The group recruited members, collected funds, gained non-profit status, conducted a feasibility study among consumers and MLS members, and completed the application process with a partner, the  Canadian Real Estate Association.

 

Round One of the process had an application deadline of May 30 and— at long last—the names of the applicants were revealed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).  The Washington Post says, “The list’s release marks the latest phase of ICANN’s long process to remake the landscape of the Internet. Companies who applied for new addresses include Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft as well as prominent firms such as Macy’s and Wal-Mart and Associations such as NAR and AARP.  Each application carried a hefty price tag of $185,000.

 

Also at issue in the domain allocation process is a segment known as the ‘community TLD’. The ICANN wiki defines this as follows: The “Community gTLD is one of the different categories of generic top level domain names (gTLDs) created by the ICANN, which is intended for cohesive, community groups that are interested in operating their own TLD Registry... A good example of community group that represents a clearly defined group of people that maybe qualified to apply for a community gTLD is the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), as this group is well-established and it can demonstrate that it has a continuous relationship with its members.

 

The community TLDs is intended to identify a group which is united in a cause or commonality which extends beyond commercial branding, and which can serve as a uniting force for a shared mission. The US-based MLS Domains Association and the Canadian Real Estate Association have filed a community based TLD, and have also  filed  a second application for a standard TLD, should the strict community-based requirements not be met.

 

Obviously, the TLD process, which has been publicly ignored by the real estate community outside of MLSs, is big news in the internet and online advertising worlds. For a perspective on what the Top Level Domain applications mean to the world of online business, read this article from C/NET News: “Here Comes the Greatest Internet Land Grab in History.”

 

The Applicants

 

Now obviously you aren’t going to want to read a list of all 1930 applicants, but here are the ones relevant to real estate:

 Applied for HOME

HOME REGISTRY INC.

DotHome Inc. (http://www.radixregistry.com)

Go Daddy East, LLC (http://www.godaddy.com)

Charleston Road Registry Inc.

Lifestyle Domain Holdings, Inc.

Baxter Pike, LLC

DotHome / CGR E-Commerce Ltd http://dothome.net

Uniregistry, Corp. http://www.uniregistry.com

Merchant Law Group LLP

Dot Home LLC US

Top Level Domain Holdings Limited http://www.tldh.org

 

Applied for HOMES

DotHome, LLC

Applied for REALESTATE

New North, LLC

Uniregistry, Corp. http://www.uniregistry.com

dotRealEstate LLC

Top Level Domain Holdings Limited http://www.tldh.org

 Applied for REALTOR

 Real Estate Domains LLC

Applied for REALTY

Dash Bloom, LLC

Fegistry, LLC

 Applied for MLS

CREA (2 applications—community, and commercial)

Afilias LTD IE/EUR

Applied for PROPERTIES

Big Pass, LLC

 Applied for PROPERTY

Steel Goodbye, LLC

Uniregistry, Corp. http://www.uniregistry.com

Top Level Domain Holdings Limited http://www.tldh.org

 NAR Applications

NAR members received notice this week that their association has indeed made application for three top level domains. The press release states that “NAR, through Real Estate Domains LLC (RED), has filed with ICANN for the .REALTOR TLD. RED was created for the sole purpose of applying for and operating the .REALTOR TLD. NAR has also submitted applications for the .realestate and .home top level domains through a partnership of its wholly owned subsidiary, the REALTORS® Information Network (RIN) and DotHome, LLC.” (Press Release, 6/12/2012)

 

  “NAR has also entered into an exclusive marketing partnership with The Canadian Real Estate

Association (CREA), the exclusive licensors of the REALTOR® mark in Canada. REALTOR®

members of CREA will also be able to use the domain, making .REALTOR truly North American

in scope.”  (Press Release, 6/12/2012)

 

Multiple Applications

NAR has applied for three TLDs in partnership with CREA.  The US MLS organization (MLS Domains Association) has joined with CREA to apply for one TLD but in two different categories.

And several requested real estate-related TLDs have contenders.

 Multiple applications, by the way, aren’t unusual: several companies have announced intentions of filing for many domain names—Amazon has filed for 76 domains, and Afilias Limited (which has filed a competing request for the MLS domain), has filed 26 applications.

In the case of multiple qualified requests for names, the conflicts will be resolved either through partnerships, negotiations or bidding.

 

What’s Next?

Government Computer News summarizes the process: ICANN plans to publish the names applied for on June 13, which it is calling "Reveal Day," on its icann.org website, which will initiate a number of processes. It will open a 60-day public comment period and a seven-month period to file formal objections to a requested name. An initial review of applicants and their requested names will begin in July. If there are no formal objections, no problems with the name are found in the initial evaluation, and the applicant has the operational, technical and financial capabilities to operate a gTLD registry, the new domain could be allocated in December or January.

How successful applicants will administer their domains will vary.  

 

NARs plans for the REALTOR TLD: from the press release and Q and A on NAR’s website, one must assume that NAR plans to offer the TLDs to Realtor associations and their MLSs, the ISCs, and NAR approved licensees.  NAR says, “This opportunity to use .REALTOR will be available to 500,000 members at no charge for one year.”

 

The press release continues, “Once approved, NAR plans to distribute additional information on how and when domains in the new extensions will be made available….Domains in the new extensions would be available for registration to REALTOR® members (agents and brokers); local and state REALTOR® associations; association multiple listing services; affiliated institutes, societies and councils; and other NAR-approved licensees.

 

“NAR is currently planning to provide the first 500,000 members who register with a complimentary 1st year subscription to one domain name.  Members would be able to secure a .REALTOR domain using their name on a first come first served basis. Further details, including pricing for additional domains and other related products will be announced at a later date.”

 

If the .MLS domain is awarded to the CREA and the MLS Domains association, US MLSs who belong to the MLS Domains Association will be awarded their requested domain names.  There are three points to note, however: (1) a small group of requested names will have to be adjusted to reflect the international nature of the .MLS gTLD, (2) the MLS Domains Association effort will cover broker-owned MLSs while the NAR domains will be limited to 'NAR-approved' organizations, and (3) the duplicate application from Afilias for the .MLS gTLD must be resolved. (Afilias is the second largest domain services provider in existence today and in June of this year announced that it will be applying for a total of 305 top level domains.)

 

Disclaimer

 It’s no secret that I’ve been an advocate of the MLS Domains Association from the beginning, and that I currently serve as its Vice President.  To my mind, it doesn’t take much to see that a ‘dot MLS’ domain with usage limited to MLS operations only is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reach out to real estate industry professionals and to home buyers and sellers, and unite behind a branded product, the MLS.  There are, of course, many schemes being proposed to capitalize on the MLS as a reliable data source, but having a recognized domain name that carries with it the reputation of integrity and completeness—there can be no better marketing tool.

 

MLS organizations that haven’t joined the MLS Domains Association and reserved their space in the new internet landscape should pay an immediate visit to the MLS Domains Association website and join its efforts!

 

  


 

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A behind the scenes look at organized real estate--what works in an association, what doesn't, and what a long time AE sees as challenges facing the industry from the viewpoint of its professional organization.

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