The Federal Trade Commission is taking a close look at a multiple listing service policy in Texas that prevents the display of some for-sale property listings at home-search Web sites including Realtor.com, AustinHomeSearch.com and Internet data exchange Web sites through which local brokers share listings online.

The Federal Trade Commission is taking a close look at a multiple listing service policy in Texas that prevents the display of some for-sale property listings at home-search Web sites including Realtor.com, AustinHomeSearch.com and Internet data exchange Web sites through which local brokers share listings online.

David M. Foster, CEO and president for the Austin Board of Realtors, which owns the Austin/Central Texas Realty Information Services local MLS, said last week that the FTC has asked the association to provide information about its MLS policy, which was approved in February and recently enacted. “We are supplying information to them,” he said.

“Since this policy originally comes from the National Association of Realtors, we’re confident that there is nothing amiss. We get our MLS policy directly from (the national association).” The Austin board represents about 6,500 Realtors in Central Texas. “We are confident of the outcome,” Foster said of the FTC investigation.

Some other MLSs owned by local Realtor associations have also adopted or are considering policies that restrict exclusive agency listings from appearing on Realtor.com and other Web sites. Exclusive agency listings allow an agent to list and market a property for sale, and also allow the seller to personally seek out a buyer for the property. And if the seller finds the buyer, the seller is not obligated to pay a commission to the real estate agent. This for-sale-by-owner aspect of the listings has prompted some local MLSs to adopt more restrictive policies.

Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Justice Department officials also have investigated a National Association of Realtors policy on the sharing of online property information. In addition, Justice Department actions this year have spurred two states to overturn restrictions on real estate rebates. And officials from both agencies have opposed Realtor-backed laws passed in several states that set minimum-service requirements for real estate agents and brokers, such as the presentation of all offers and counteroffers, and negotiating and answering questions on behalf of their clients.

“Our policy…simply stipulates that if a Realtor has an exclusive agency designation with the client, (the Realtor) won’t be allowed to feature that home on (the Web sites),” Foster said. “We’re not in the business of free advertising for our competitors.”

Ray Larcher, executive vice president for the Raleigh Association of Realtors and president and CEO for the association-owned Triangle MLS, said the MLS has considered new rules relating to exclusive agency listings but is awaiting any action on the matter by the Justice Department.

Steve Cook, a National Association of Realtors spokesman, said that local MLSs set their own policies.

And Erin Campbell, spokeswoman for Realtor.com, which is operated by Homestore through an affiliation with the Realtors association, said Realtor.com is neutral on exclusive agency listings policies. “It is up to the MLS to decide whether these listings get displayed or not, and we only post the active listings that MLSs send to us,” she said.

The Austin Board of Realtors announced earlier this year, prior to enacting the new listing policy, that about 1,500 of 8,500 – or about 18 – percent of active, single-family property listings in the Austin/Central Texas MLS, were under exclusive agency contracts.

The announcement states that the change in policy “was prompted by concerns that exclusive agency listings cause confusion among prospective home buyers who observe homes being marketed simultaneously in Realtor-represented and for-sale-by-owner capacities. Allowing exclusive agency listings to be publicly posted is also in conflict with the objectives of AustinHomeSearch.com and IDX Web sites.

The new policy provides that members of the local MLS can continue to enter exclusive agency listings in the MLS for other members to see.

Foster said that according to MLS statistics this week, there were about 250 exclusive agency listings in the local MLS out of about 10,000 listings, and he said about 109 different company offices in the MLS area have used exclusive agency listings.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said of MLS restrictions relating to exclusive agency listings, “We are aware of those policies but have no further comment.”

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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