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NAR still grappling with real estate listings display on social media sites

Work group will consider revisions outside the scope of IDX policy

WASHINGTON — Policymakers with the National Association of Realtors continue to grapple with proposed rules that would allow brokers and agents to distribute Internet Data Exchange (IDX) listings to mobile devices and social networking sites like Facebook.

A work group formed by NAR to study the issue has twice recommended that NAR’s IDX policy be amended to allow the "electronic display" of IDX listings in places other than broker and agent IDX sites.

NAR’s Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee, which reviews proposed rule changes before sending them to NAR’s board of directors for consideration, balked at endorsing the work group’s recommendations in November. The committee declined again on Thursday to act on the work group’s latest recommendations, contained in a March report.

Some committee members said rules governing the publication of listings on social media sites should be developed separately from the IDX policy, in part because of fears that some brokers may withdraw from the IDX system altogether if they decide multiple listing services will no longer be able to track where their listings end up and ensure that they are presented accurately.

The committee narrowly passed a motion directing the work group to develop policies for the use of social media in publicizing listings separately from the IDX policy.

Currently, agents and brokers are free to publicize listings of properties they represent wherever they see fit, including Facebook, as long as they follow laws and regulations governing advertising.

But many would also like the ability to provide consumers with greater access to IDX listings, which are a compilation of all listings in a given market that brokers have agreed may be published on each others’ websites and on public-facing sites operated by multiple listing services.

Work group member Bob Bemis, CEO of the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service (ARMLS), told MLS executives Wednesday that the work group made "a tragic mistake" by specifically listing examples of electronic display that would be allowed, such as social media sites, Really Simple Syndication (RSS), and applications for mobile devices.

The work group’s intention, he said, was simply to expand the IDX policy so that brokers and agents could display IDX listings in any venue where they were the originator of the content — and not to endorse any particular delivery system, such as RSS.

The prospect of IDX listings being distributed via RSS set off alarm bells in some corners, with brokerage network The Realty Alliance warning in a letter to the committee that such a rule change would allow "anyone to obtain all data in an MLS area with no permission required."

Bemis offered a motion Thursday to strip any reference to RSS, social media sites and mobile devices from the proposed changes to the IDX rule.

"Electronic display subject to this policy includes display on participants’ public websites, and in venues where the participant or subscriber is the originator of and the controller of the displayed content," Bemis’ proposed amendment to the IDX policy read.

"Use of a particular delivery method does not affect, in any way, the application of this policy to the listing content or display being delivered so long as the resulting display conforms to the requirements of the policy. All electronic display conducted pursuant to this policy must comply with state law and regulations, and MLS rules," the proposed amendment stated.

After Bemis’ motion was approved by the committee Thursday, Merri Jo Cowen, CEO of My Florida Regional MLS, expressed doubts that it would mollify brokers’ and MLSs’ concerns about the publication of IDX listings on Facebook.

"Just because we struck the words doesn’t mean the implications have changed," agreed another committee member.

"I wonder if we need to separate the social media component from IDX," Cowen said. A motion to do so was seconded and passed, sending the issue back to the work group for a third time.

Before the motion was approved, Bemis voiced his objections, saying a separate policy governing the use of IDX listings on social media sites won’t solve MLSs’ compliance issues, and will raise another set of issues.

The committee is also working through another controversy — a rule change in November that allowed franchisors to index and display their franchisees’ IDX listings when they have permission to do so. The committee recommended Thursday that NAR’s board of directors suspend that rule change until NAR’s annual meeting in November, so that a work group can consider objections raised by brokerages and brokerage networks.

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