NAR weighs rules for mobile IDX listings

Rulemaking for social media postponed again

WASHINGTON — A National Association of Realtors advisory committee that helps set policies for multiple listing services nationwide is recommending MLS rule changes that would give brokers and agents more freedom to push shared pools of listings data out to mobile devices.

At a meeting Thursday, NAR’s Multiple Listing Issues and Policy Committee once again put off making a recommendation on the publication of Internet Data Exchange (IDX) listings on social media sites like Facebook. The committee did put forward suggested rule changes that would allow abbreviated listing data to appear on platforms like Twitter.

Although brokers are largely free to publicize listings they represent as they see fit, IDX listings are shared pools of listings data for entire markets, subject to local MLS rules. Most MLSs follow NAR’s lead in adopting rules.

For mobile devices, the MLS policy committee recommended that NAR’s board of directors approve changes to NAR’s model MLS rules that, if adopted by Realtor-affiliated MLSs nationwide, would prevent MLSs from restricting their members from distributing IDX listing data using mobile apps.

The committee unanimously approved the following IDX policy changes: a new definition of websites and mobile apps where IDX listings are displayed; how "control" is determined for these IDX listings; and an option for IDX listing information of 200 characters or less to appear without full IDX policy-related disclosures if a link is provided that connects directly to a full, policy-abiding listing.

The full NAR board of directors will consider the fate of the committee-suggested IDX policy updates Saturday, at the conclusion of NAR’s midyear conference.

For listings not on a broker’s own site, the unanimous committee policy approval provides a new definition of an IDX listing participant’s "website" and other media, such as mobile applications. The term "electronic displays" substitutes for both in the policy language and the term "others’ websites," which caused concern for its fuzzy meaning, was stricken from the final iteration of the policy recommendation.

"Electronic display subject to this policy means displays on participants’ public websites and displays using applications for mobile devices that the participants control," reads the recommended policy update.

One of the keys to this section of the suggested lDX listings policy change is the definition of "control," said Merri Jo Cowan, CEO of My Florida MLS, one of the largest MLSs in the country. The policy update clarified when the owners of an IDX listing are liable for the accuracy of the listings under their "control."

Control of an IDX listing in the recommended policy would be defined as either "actual," when a listing appears on a broker-run website or electronic display, or "apparent," when a broker’s listing appears on a third-party display. The broker would retain "the ability to add, delete, modify and update information as required" by IDX policy.

Without this recommendation, said Cowen, "It was like the Wild West." If passed by the full board, this recommendation will make clear to brokers which IDX listings appearing on websites and mobile apps are the responsibility of the broker to maintain accurately and which are not.

The committee also recommended that NAR open the door — and clarify the rules — for IDX listing info appearing on Twitter, in text messages, and in other abbreviated listings platforms. For IDX listings of 200 characters or less, full disclosures (as specified by IDX policy) would not be required when messages link directly to a form of the listing with the full IDX listing policy-abiding information.

As for other social media, the IDX listings world will have to wait a little longer to begin publishing in that realm, which led to some frustration by committee members. This will be the fifth time the committee will consider what to do with IDX listings and social media.

"If we send this back," asked one committee member to the committee leadership just before the vote, "what are we going to discover that the other four groups didn’t?"

"There’s not a universally accepted definition of what [social media] is," responded Cliff Niersbach, staff executive of the committee. "It’s hard to put it in a box," he said, and, thus, the committee needs some more time, so the policy can be more effective the first time.

The committee, then, unanimously voted to hold over consideration of a social media IDX policy until its next meeting this November.

Regardless of the growing popularity of social media, a broker survey conducted this January by Clareity, a real estate consulting company, showed a roughly even split of the 697 respondents on whether they wanted other brokers to display their IDX listings on social media sites like Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter.

This split might explain the hesitancy of the committee to make a decision; there are a lot of people to disappoint on either side of the issue.

Another action by the committee:

The committee approved, for local MLS option, the inclusion of MLS-approved lockboxes that provide timely access to properties where a lockbox has been approved by seller and occupant. Apparently, real estate agents in some locations with many real estate-owned (REO) properties (like California), are experiencing difficulty in getting timely access to listed properties. This policy amendment, which passed just barely, aims at addressing this.


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