NWMLS (North West MLS) Threatens fines to its own realtors


There is a very intersting debate going on regarding a realtors right to use the phrase "MLS" on their website or in their marketing.

Basically the discussion came about because a member of real estate webmasters who is also a realtor for John L Scott in Washington received an email from the NWMLS (North West MLS) threatening to fine him for using the phrase "Seattle MLS" in his description for his website posted here at REW. The gist of the description went like this:

"At my website you can search all active listings on the Seattle MLS"

My stance on this is that first a foremost, the NWMLS does not own the trademark or have a copyright on the acronym "MLS" nor do they have any claim on "Seattle MLS" as such they are in no legal position to start telling websites not associated with their members (Websites like mine) that I cannot use the phrase "Seattle MLS" - so come and get me NWMLS, I will post that phrase on my website all I want, and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it.

Second of all - in defense of the agent / REW member - I feel he should be able to say "Search the active listings on the Seattle MLS" because he is trying to capture search engine traffic that is relevant to his business and is a benefit to him, his broker AND NWMLS, I mean who do they think pays thier bills? Not only should he be able to optimize for the Phrase "Seattle MLS" because it is a benefit to all parties involved, he should also be able to because it is my opinion that when a user types in "Seattle MLS" they are actually looking for websites that display active homes for sale in Seattle, which is exactly what this agents website does.

The counter argument from the board is that the agent is decieving visitors by using the phrase MLS because NWMLS's definition of the "Seattle MLS" is the entire system used to store and distribute board data including active listings, solds, expired's and much more - so to say MLS is to deceive the user:

CMON NWMLS! - The only people that have that definition of MLS are board members, brokers and realtors. To the general public MLS is that thing they go to in order to search available inventory, as such in order to satisfy the public and maintain cemantic relevancy for search engines, they MUST be able to optimize and market with that term.

Finally, the only reason MLS is a searched term in the first place (And now has a different definition in the publics eyes) is because the Multiple Listings Services, the Brokers and the agents have misinformed the public to the point that now  MLS is a coloquialism or synonym for "Home Search" - so now that it is a matter of public acceptance, you have distroyed the credibility of your argument, you can't just "have the term back" because you have decided you don't like the monster "YOU" created.

My solution - Change your acronym, rename the MLS to something no-one knows about and keep it to yourselves! Don't market it, educate your realtors and brokers not to market it, and it will never become an issue because the phrase will not become a popular coloquialism and then there won't be anyone searching for it, when really they mean something else.

How about NWMLIDN (North West Multiple Listings Internal Data Network)?

There you go! A new, proprietary acronym you can trademark and keep all to yourself.

If you agree with me, and want to support this article, the thread posted here, or the agent listed in the external links please link to this article with the following code:

NWMLS Bullies their own

Perhaps if this article outranks the NWMLS for their own name, they might sit up and take notice that this is NOT the kind of treatment their members expect.


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Good Article! You will have a link from my blog soon!


The NWMLS is a second-rate listing service in the first place. Photos are too small compared with other MLS's and cust. service is poor.


"REALTOR" is a registered trademark of the National Association of Realtors and should be capitalized and, if available, the trademark symbol should be used.

Morgan Carey

What does the trademark of realtor have to do with this story?


Looks like Marlow wants to start something else.

Trevor Smith

Marlow is from the Seattle area with me and a part of the NWMLS. We had a blogument (Is that a word?) anyhow a blog arguement over real estate commissions. When I asked her if fixing real estate commissions should be legal she replied: "REALTOR is a registered trademark of the National Association of Realtors and should be capitalized and, if available, the trademark symbol should be used." I think she is part of the NAR borg collective. "We are REALTOR prepare to be assimilated." (Sorry non-trekies)


Added the link to my Blog. This article reminded me to do some SEO for the term MLS, thanks.

Morgan Carey

Sweet thanks

Calgary Agent

Morgan - Only just read your post on the NWMLS bullies, and what amazes me is how similar the NWMLS Natzis are to our own *cough* CREA.

Joe Kennedy

I agree it's not an optimal rule (there are many rules in life I think are ridiculous), but if the rest of us who belong to the NWMLS have to observed it - everybody should. It's not our fault that someone doesn't know (or obey) the rules.

Morgan Carey

Posted by Phil Van Eynde, ABR, CRS, Broker Associate: You guys are a stitch! Most of your entries feature misspellings and/or incorrect grammer. These are not the "brainiacs" of the world you are quoting here. That aside, mostly your respondents appear to be a bit angry, or simply misinformed. When a person is a subscriber to a service it is always inappropriate to attempt to characterize ones self as the source of the information gathered and offered by the information provider. It is a bit like quoting a source, or using otherwise published materials, and not using footnotes to properly credit the source of the quotation. In this case, however, the situation is particularly reprehensible in that the motive is the very greed and self enrichment you quote as being the reason for its justified existance. Not only is no credit given to the MLS as the content originator but the person offering the "scam" claims, in the title to his internet offering, the MLS identity that is the name of a culturally empowering organization. This then is not only stealing the content without footnotes but it is rather like identity theft. (an aside: can you just imagine your indignation if another person were to represent himself as you and make claims in your name?) Truth and honesty in advertising is important in our society because it, advertising, is the engine that drives public perception and information dissemination. The initials MLS, when presented together mean, quite literally, MULTIPLE LISTING SERVICE. The young identity thief is not PROVIDING the information..... HE IS SIMPLY REGURGITATING THE PLAGARIZED INFORMATION. As you can tell I do not empathize with your posture that the MLS's of the world are beating up the "poor little waif" who is reprenenting himself to be the MLS. If these "poor little waifs" choose to represent themselves as MLS identities, or equivalents, it is a must that they drop out of the MLS they belong to, accumulate the information themselves, package the information for publication on the WEB or elsewhere, identify themselves to the public in a proper manner (even as "Seattle MLS," if legal) and then go make a profit. I highly doubt that this message is one that will make your blog site, but, you do have my permission to publish it.


I have been an agent for over 25 years. All the offices in our area belong to the nwmls. I can't hang my license in an office unless I belong or they fine the broker. Seems like a restraint of trade. I am a commercial fisherman and on a boat 5 months a year but they still make me sign up for a year. I don't think it is legal to force me to sign up. Phil


So, let me get this right. A website operator put the phrase "........Seattle MLS' on their site and the NWMLS is a bit ticked off about it? I'm not sure if they should be ticked off, however, I wonder if there is actually a 'Seattle MLS'. I never heard of such a service. Maybe the link should be taken down because its misleading to the public. Exactly what is the Seattle MLS? Seems like the NWMLS has a case (weak), but the person posting that link is obviously trying to take advantage of the MLS acronym when in actuality there is no Seattle MLS. Get over it and go sell a house.

Gary Ashton

Wow...what are the auto fines for? Is this still all about using MLS on a realtors web site. if this refers to Austin how to the members that have an IDX solution provided by MLSFinder.com deal with that scenario. The more this MLS battle goes on the more embarrassing it gets to be part of associations that bullying it's members over a term that is considered to be part of the public domain!

Penny Weigel

I run across this constantly, When I THINK I am looking at the MLS - which is a free site, no registration required, it turns out to be a realty or realtor. I am just looking! As you can see from my email address, I live no where near Washington state, but may move there in a couple of years. I don't need to schedule an appt or leave a # to be reached. I am only TRYING to get a feel for real estate there in the different areas. IF I find something interesting closer to the time I am ready to make a move - THEN I will contact a realty. Its called shopping!


It is funny that no one cares that the MLS is trying to prevent Agents and Brokers from lying and decieving the public. If you advertise "Search the active listings on the Seattle MLS" this is a lie and deceptive -which sadly seems to be common amongst RE professionals. The MLS only shares listings where the seller has agreed to internet advertising. So you dont have all the actives - only the MLS has that.


I have been in the NWMLS subscriber arena since the 90s. Each decade the rules get more restrictive with each passing year. I do not agree with all the rules coming down the pipe. Somehow, the general public came under the impression that they can have the same access to data that paying members of the NWMLS have. This has been brought on by real estate professionals just trying to drive traffic to their sites with the use of "free home searches". It is most likely our own fault, as Realtors, real estate professional, even the NWMLS, that the public has this impression. It is a little "late" in the game to now try to "protect" data on property listings since you can go to most real estate web sites and search for current properties for sale using IDX. I agree that the NWMLS is over stretching, when it comes to deeming the term "MLS" as their own. This should get interesting in the next 5 years has the internet usage becomes even larger. The NWMLS, I do not believe, has a right to tell a non-member, of the NWMLS that they can't use the term MLS. They do, however, have in their rules that a subscribing member cannot use the terms "search the mls", "MLS Search" or anything to that effect. So it's not like the John L Scott agent who was using the term Seattle MLS, didn't know that he or she wasn't suppose to use that term, even in key words inserted into tags on the web site. I too, have been told to remove MLS terms from my web site. If I understand your blog right, the agent was promoting his web site using the term Seattle MLS, which would be against the NWMLS rules. You can say "Search for Seattle Houses for Sale" or anything to that effect. Your site, to my understanding didn't receive a letter from the NWMLS, only the Realtor. With the NWMLS, a subscribing member either complies or they get fined. Most likely another person in the real estate field turned this agent into the NWMLS, after reading this agent's posting on your web site. This is generally how NWMLS finds out is when another agent complains. Opps, did I just give away a "secret".

Therese O'Neal

OK! Let's stop complaining and do something about it!

I just became a Realtor in the state of Washington, from the Houston Association of Realtors in the state of Texas.

Frankly, the NWMLS is quite dull! I couldn't tell it was an MLS site when I first saw it! It needs some improvements; the design and colors aren't vivid and catchy enough! it is too plain.

In my former Association, though the fines were automatic, we received warnings to avoid them, so that's a good thing about the MLS.

Yes I agree that the value of the MLS site has been greatly depreciated, since everyone and their cousins are allowed to surf it without a Real Estate license! That just devalues our worth to the general public, and we aren't really needed, yet we keep paying these high fees, just to stay in business!

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