Franchise cos. get green light to index listings

No NAR policy on agent, broker RSS feeds of IDX listings

NEW ORLEANS — Realogy Corp. and other real estate franchises will be permitted to index their franchisees’ Internet Data Exchange (IDX) listings when their franchisees grant permission, the National Association of Realtors’ board of directors has ruled.

In a separate decision at NAR’s annual convention, a proposal to amend NAR’s IDX policy to expressly authorize agents and brokers to deliver IDX listings to mobile devices and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter via Really Simple Syndication (RSS) was derailed at the committee level.

While agents and brokers are largely unrestricted in displaying information about for-sale properties they are directly representing, and franchise companies, too, may have their own policies allowing them to display their franchisees’ listings, NAR has many rules governing the use of IDX listings, which are pools of listings contributed by brokers who are members of a particular multiple listing service.

Only brokers who have entered into reciprocal agreements allowing other brokers to display their listings may display IDX listings. In many markets, most if not all brokers participate in IDX because having a comprehensive set of listings — not just their own — draws consumers to their websites.

In addition to displaying IDX listings on their websites, some brokers and agents have also begun using RSS to stream listings to mobile devices and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

NAR began receiving inquiries from MLSs about the practice this year, and NAR staffers said that while the desire to use RSS listings feeds as extensions of an IDX website appeared to be consistent with the intent of NAR’s IDX policy, there was no specific language in the policy allowing it.

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A workgroup was created to study the issue and propose solutions. The workgroup concluded that NAR’s IDX policy should allow the display of IDX listings, not only on participants’ websites, but on social media sites through the use of RSS feeds.

Because many agents and brokers are already engaged in the practice, and because some MLSs have policies allowing it, the workgroup recommended that NAR change its IDX policy immediately, upon approval by the group’s board of directors.

Changing the IDX policy, and making that change effective immediately, would require Realtor-affiliated MLSs to amend their rules to allow brokers and agents to use RSS to feed IDX listings to mobile devices and social media.

But after issuing a report on the workgroup’s findings, NAR heard from some MLSs about the difficulties they would have in implementing the policy.

As a compromise, the workgroup and NAR staffers proposed that the IDX policy be amended to allow MLSs to adopt rules allowing RSS listing feeds immediately, but not requiring those who don’t have such rules in place to do so until Jan. 1, 2011.

That compromise did not go far enough for MLS executives who voiced their objections at Saturday’s meeting of the NAR Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee.

"I’m very much against RSS and social media distribution," said Mike Bentson, information technology manager for the Spokane Association of Realtors. "Phones are OK, but I don’t believe any broker or agent has the right to distribute another (broker’s) listings without their permission."

Bentson said one problem with RSS syndication of listings is that it could allow people who are not members of the MLS — and who are not a party to IDX reciprocity agreements — to distribute listings. IDX reciprocity agreements allow brokers to display the listings of other participating brokers in their market on their own websites, and vice versa.

"I need the teeth to stop what’s going on in my market," Bentson said. "Agents are coming to the MLS screaming that (others using RSS) don’t have the right to publish listings."

Steve Byrd, chief technology officer for the Carolina Multiple Listing Service, said allowing listings to go out to mobile devices and social media site via RSS would make it difficult to monitor for compliance with IDX policy.

IDX policy requires listings to be refreshed at least every three days, Byrd said, but "tweets and social media posts last forever."

There’s also a question of how much — or how little — information will be included when listings are distributed via RSS. Minimum disclosures required on IDX sites — such as the name of the listing firm and listing agent — may be lacking when listings are posted on Facebook or Twitter, he said.

"We don’t like mandates," said Cindy Butts, CEO of the Maine Association of Realtors, which operates a statewide MLS, Maine Real Estate Information System Inc. (MREIS). Butts argued for giving MLSs the option of allowing RSS feeds of IDX listings, saying it raised an "enormous if not impossible compliance issue."

Someone could create a mobile application for individual clients, and there would be no way the MLS could see, or police, the listings going to it, she said.

Terry Tolman, the association executive for the Realtors Association of Maui, said a "local option would be key" for MLS support to a policy change.

But a motion to give MLSs the option of implementing a policy allowing RSS feeds of IDX listings to mobile devices and social media sites failed.

Bob Bemis, CEO of the Arizona Regional MLS, said it was a mistake to try to deal with the issue within the context of NAR’s IDX policy.

"It’s pretty clear that we have two different methods of distributing listing data," Bemis said. "I think the proposed solution is not the right answer. This is not an IDX issue."

With the advent of social media and other advertising channels, "We run the risk that participants who now embrace IDX would opt out of that program" because of uncertainties about what would happen to their listings if they were being fed to social media sites via RSS.

What’s needed, Bemis said, is a social media policy — the idea was met with loud applause by attendees.

In the end, the committee sent the idea back to a work group, which will also examine current MLS policies, with the goal of aligning all data-use policies and considering whether a comprehensive data-use policy is feasible.

IDX indexing by franchise companies

The committee did approve another amendment to the IDX policy that will permit real estate franchises to index their franchisees’ listings, with franchisees’ permission.

Alex Perriello, president and CEO of the Realogy Franchise Group, pitched the idea at NAR’s midyear meeting in May.

Perriello said all brokers would benefit from such a move because their listings would be exposed to consumers drawn to franchisors’ larger websites.

At the time, Mike Jewell, chairman of the MLS Issues and Policies Committee, said any rules allowing such practices would have to be drafted to prevent a "virtual franchisor" from claiming the right to index listings.

In the same way that Bemis expressed concerns that allowing RSS feeds of IDX listings could hurt participation in IDX programs, Jewell said brokers might stop providing listings if the rules did not protect their interests — IDX participants can choose to opt out of sharing their listings with other member brokers.

In amending the IDX policy to allow the display of IDX information by real estate franchises, the MLS Issues and Policies Committee approved an amendment that defines a "real estate franchisor" as "a company granting real estate brokerage franchises under the franchisor’s trademarks pursuant to a franchise disclosure document meeting applicable Federal Trade Commission rules."

The amendment to the IDX policy includes a number of limitations:

  • Initial search results that provide minimal information — so-called "thumbnails" — are exempt from disclosure requirements such as the name of the li-sting firm, listing agent, and routine disclaimers that the information provided is deemed reliable but is not guaranteed accurate.
  • Consumers must be able to link directly to a detailed, "full view" listing display that complies with an MLSs disclosure and display rules. Inaccurate or incomplete information must be promptly corrected by the franchisor at the request of the MLS that’s the source of the listing data.
  • No advertising may appear on pages displaying IDX information, and IDX listing information may not be "modified, manipulated or permanently retained" by franchises.

NAR’s board of directors approved the amendment today in a voice vote, without discussion.


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