There is a lot of the conversation these days about REALTOR.com. This may be due in part to the upcoming Special Meeting of the NAR Board of Directors in Chicago in a few weeks, where the fate of Realtor.com is likely to be discussed.
Many people selling real estate today were not in the real estate business when REALTOR.com was created back in 1995. I was lucky enough to be called upon to figure out how to take this technology experiment by NAR to the members and to the world. Some of the “memorabilia” still in my possession will be interesting to many who were around during that period.
In August of 1996, the NAR Board of Directors, summoned to Chicago for a Special Meeting, decided to place the management of Realtor.com with what became (by design) a publicly traded company (Homestore, AKA Move Inc).
My involvement began in 1992, as president-elect of the San Diego Association of REALTORS, when I met Richard Janssen, a local business man. He was building Kiosks to display limited amounts of listing data at some 50 Longs Drug Stores in San Diego County. I thought his idea for exposure of listings was a good use of new technology. Richard had obtained a contract to receive the listing information directly from Sandicor. our regional MLS for San Diego County. It made sense to me to give the public a glimpse of the property data before they went out to actually view the properties. It also looked like a good way for agents and brokers to market themselves.
As the president of the San Diego Association of REALTORS in 1993 I promoted Richard’s concept and company (RealSelect) at the orientation presentations at my association and at the 3 different real estate office meetings I attended each week. I believed in the power of information and making it available to the public.
Richard’s business model revolved around selling agents a one page “bio” displayed on the Kiosks along with the listing information. Interested consumers would “log on” to the Kiosk by entering their name and phone number, which was then provided to the agents with accounts with Richard’s company.
Richard’s idea seemed to satisfy the consumers need for basic information and lead the consumer to the REALTOR (the computers at those Kiosks later became the first REALTOR.com servers).
In January of 1995, at what we then referred to as the NAR Mid-Winter Meetings, in Orlando, I was interviewed by Jim Tebay, the “Field Marketing Vice President” for RIN and two other members of the “RIN Team,” Kathy Hartke and John Schladweiler. Jim, Kathy and John had only been with RIN a few months and they were recruited by Ed Evans, the RIN president, who had only been with RIN about 2 months longer than Jim. All four of them came from Comdesco, a “disaster recovery” company. I was contracted to do a presentation and workshop for the first major RIN event which was put on for the MLSs that had paid RIN $$$ to become “RIN Charter Members.” The event was held at the Drake Hotel in Chicago on March 4, 1995.
It took me all of February to learn all that RIN had done and to put together an all day program…and, contrary to what some may believe, they had done quite a bit by that point. The main consultant and “RIN Technology Partner” was Booz Allen Hamilton. In March of 1995 there was no serious conversation about advertising listings on the Internet. As a matter of fact, the concept was foreign to most REALTORS, and to NAR and RIN Leadership…”make my listing info available to the world on the Interwhat…are you crazy!!” was a common response back then (seems like a million years ago). Great fear was “Public Access to MLS” and listings from an MLS to a public portal “smelled” a lot like public access.
The event was deemed successful and I then became a full time consultant for RIN. My job was to travel and prepare the REALTOR marketplace for technology and what RIN would bring to the market, which at the time, was a proprietary network. I was a “technology evangelist,” socializing the REALTOR population about the coming changes in marketing and the conduct of business.
On August 9, 1995, Netscape went public and the RIN Board of Directors decided the REALTOR organization needed to make a move to the Internet. Part of my charge was then to examine and advise the RIN BOD and staff on the evolving World Wide Web and its advertising potential and to create a strategy for gaining listing content.
Back to Richard Janssen…Richard had an idea as to how his Kiosk technology could be adapted for use on the WWW. Walt Baczkowski, was the SDAR Executive Vice President at the time and a member of the RIN BOD. Walt and I introduced Richard to the RIN Board of Directors. There were few real vendors of Internet services at that time (for the purpose of displaying data on the web) and Richard’s Kiosk idea looked adaptable to this new and growing medium, the www.
The first name for the project of displaying listing information to consumers on the web (which we all now know as REALTOR.com) was “National Electronic Advertising Program.” We quickly shortened it to RPA (Real Property Ads). The first presentation on the subject was done for the Colorado Association of REALTORS (they were a “pilot state”). There were no listings on REALTOR.com at that time and the whole concept was just that, a concept. The presentation slides were acetate overheads of Kiosk screen shots I got from Richard Janssen. I still have those original overheads.
First listings up on the Web on REALTOR.com were from the San Diego County MLS, Sandicor, which Richard had under his Kiosk contract. Next MLS to go up was Austin. Next was Miami. The first name given to online listings was NEAP (National Electronic Advertising Program). We did not want to confuse it with “consumer access to MLS” so we made a point to call it advertising.
RealTalk, our online community, began a few months before REALTOR.com. As a consultant to RIN, it was my responsibility to build a structure for online community and then populate it with people and content. With the help of John Reilly, Mike Barnett, and Jack Harper, we did just that (and when RIN spun off REALTOR.com…we took our little community and put it on a listserv, the predecessor to what we have today).
RIN was formally launched at the NAR Trade Show and Convention in Atlanta in November of 1995 and by mid 1996 about 18 million dollars had been invested by NAR into the RIN project, both “sides” of RIN, the private side which we referred to as the RIN Network Desktop (where most of the money had been spent), and the Public Side which was REALTOR.com (and for which RIN owed Richard Janssen around $1,000,000 in back fees, costs, expenses, etc.
Certain people in leadership and the NAR Board of Directors, under pressure from the press and a few other groups (and based partly on the “bad acting” of the president of RIN, Ed Evans), feared NAR would lose all the investment in RIN and more, so there was a special meeting in Chicago in August of 1996 to decide what to do about the debt of RIN and what to do with the assets.
It was then that NAR decided to change the course of RIN and sell the public side (REALTOR.com) for past money owed to Richard Janssen and RealSelect for future stock in a new company (which turned out in final form to be Homestore, now Move, inc.). NAR subsequently recovered all of its investment in RIN and maintained control over many of the aspects of REALTOR.com based on the 1000 page document you hear discussed on occasion. No one at NAR saw any value in the community we had created, around 500 people, so InternetCrusade set out to build an online community on its own.