The California Association of Realtors® (CAR) provides real estate forms exclusively to members through zipLogix software. But who exactly is in charge of this software — and reaping the benefits of CAR’s hefty membership fees?

This article is Part Two in a series discussing CAR real estate forms. For Part One, see: CAR sues document management program $136 million for unauthorized form use — and threatens CAR members as next

zipLogix: Subsidiary of a subsidiary

Michigan-based software company zipLogix, formally registered as RE FormsNet, LLC, is responsible for the California Association of Realtors’® (CAR’s) highly exclusive zipForm infrastructure. Members and paying non-members of CAR access a password-protected library of trademarked CAR forms through zipForm software.

This information is nothing new. But when considering Joel Singer as CEO of both zipLogix and CAR, the professional relationship between the software company and the trade association is muddled at best, and a conflict of interest at worst.

Additionally, zipLogix confirms on its website it is a subsidiary of Real Estate Business Services, Inc. (REBS) in connection with the National Association of Realtors (NAR). REBS, located in Los Angeles, is fully owned by CAR.

Thus, CAR’s expensive and wolfishly guarded forms library benefits itself as well as its software partner — at the high and unnecessary cost of membership.

This all begs the question: is it worth it to California agents and brokers? Not quite. A recent poll by first tuesday reveals 71% of respondents believe CAR services are worth less than the value of their membership fees.

With this all in mind, why is CAR so adamant to defend its forms from new technology platforms like PDFfiller?

It is the nature of an older beast to lash out when it is backed into a corner, or senses its access to easy food (membership fees) is compromised. CAR is thus likely sensing the trend in open document management software and reacting to defend its monopoly, initiated in 2001, on the California real estate forms market. If it can’t require members to pay for their forms software, they have few tangible benefits to offer — and little income to result from the memberships lost to more accessible software and truthfully free forms.

Sharing is caring, CAR

CAR’s behavior is unsurprising considering its history of attempted dominance over real estate resources. Specifically, CAR’s retraction of its forms materials behind a costly paywall is a strategic move designed to position CAR as the one-stop shop for all California agents and brokers.

CAR previously sold packets of its trademarked real estate forms (then known as WINforms) as a separate product from its membership services prior to 2002. The forms for sale were then on level ground competing with other third-party real estate forms providers throughout the state which were not affiliated with a trade association.

Editor’s note — Full disclosure: this publisher was but one of these third-party providers.

However, CAR then bundled its forms into its membership benefits in 2002, elevating its membership costs — around $40.00 annually — to cover the lost profits from the now-“free” forms. As a significant share of the California real estate professional population is embedded in CAR membership via large brokerage operators, this de-democratized  the forms ecosystem, limiting the field to just one dominant (and very loud) voice — because why pay twice for something you’re given “free”?

This is the same modus operandi recognizable in CAR’s recent attacks on document management software companies dotloop and PDFfiller (although PDFfiller attracted the more severe punch). Limiting resources to specific software providers under dubious allegiance and control of CAR ensures CAR retains the bulk of profit from what ought to be widely shared, quality products for California agents.

“Free” forms for the paying few

Further, CAR propagates a widespread understanding that their trademarked forms are a “free” benefit of membership. Disregarding the above tactics of preserving forms for members as a display of dominance, CAR’s mislead-by-omission attitude toward assumptions that forms are free is ethically shady.

Agents who are required to use CAR forms — whether because their broker who makes that demand is a member, or they’re simply unaware of the alternative — pay handily for the privilege. Although CAR advertises their forms as a “free” membership benefit, the cost of membership is significant and recurs annually. Also, as we’ve already mentioned, the cost of membership increased in tandem with the conversion of forms to a complimentary benefit — coincidentally, of course.

Additionally, agents seeking access to CAR forms without paying membership dues still pay a lofty $799 to $999 for an annual license to use the CAR library. These agents in particular suffer from the misperceived authority of CAR — they’re not paying for (or subsequently shackled to) CAR membership, but still empty their pockets for the fool’s-gold privilege of using CAR forms.

If only there were an alternative to expensive forms locked into an out-of-state software company’s purview…

California forms and specificity

Despite serving real estate agents and brokers in California, zipLogix’s Michigan base lends doubt to the company’s perceived absolute devotion to California real estate law. Forms publishers independent of CAR’s expensive domain and located entirely in California are better suited for the meticulous maintenance of legislative updates, statutory changes and state-mandated additions.

In other words, California agents are best served by forms created solely for California use.

For example, Realty Publications, Inc. (RPI) provides a free library of over 400 forms for use by any real estate agent in California, free of forcibly imposed “loyalty” that in no way benefits the user of the form. RPI forms are frequently and constantly updated to meet California statutes and standards, and require no membership or enrollment to access.

first tuesday is not privy to the exact financial arrangement among zipLogix, REBS and CAR that their pending litigation may well reveal; however, anyone can see the cost of RPI forms at $0 — always — is a better deal.