In response to U.S. Justice Department antitrust concerns, the National Association of Realtors has withdrawn a previous controversial online listings policy that allowed brokers to hold back property listings from select competitor Web sites.

NAR instead has adopted a new policy, which does not allow for a selective restriction of online listings.

The U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division launched an investigation of the old policy nearly two years ago. The Justice Department disagreed with the provision that enabled brokers to withhold home listings from Web sites they did not approve of, but NAR had insisted that brokers should retain control of where listings are displayed.

The new policy, known as Internet Listings Display, reaches a compromise and does not enable selective restriction as was previously allowed under the now-defunct Virtual Office Web site policy, NAR said.

“The policy treats all MLS members equally yet respects the rights of property owners and their listing brokers to market a property as they see fit. This response to the Department of Justice’s concerns has resulted in a better policy for all concerned,” said NAR President Al Mansell of Salt Lake City.

“The policy does not discriminate against any brokerage model, including discount brokers,” he added.

The new policy consolidates and replaces two previous NAR policies for online listings display – the VOW and Internet Data Exchange policies – to create a single, unified policy governing the online display of all property information originating from the more than 800 multiple listing services owned and operated by Realtor organizations.

All Realtor-operated MLSs will be required to comply with the new policy by July 1, 2006.

All MLS property listing data available for display will automatically be available to all MLS members unless a member notifies the MLS in advance that he or she does not want to participate in Internet Listing Display. In that case, none of the listings he or she enters into the MLS will be available for display on other brokers’ Web sites nor will he or she be allowed to display other brokers’ listings on his or her own Web site.

A broker who has elected to “opt out” may not reverse that decision for 90 days.

This provision, known as “blanket opt-out,” was part of NAR’s previous Internet Data Exchange policy and has been in force by hundreds of MLSs for three and a half years. It has been widely accepted by the industry and very few brokers have chosen to opt out, according to NAR.

The policy adopted today contains an entirely new feature that allows brokers who have opted out of displaying their listings on competitors’ Web sites the opportunity to make an exception at the direction of a particular seller who wants to have his or her property displayed on the Web sites of all other members of the MLS.

The VOW policy was enacted in 2003 but became the subject of an ongoing antitrust investigation by the Department of Justice, which caused NAR to postpone repeatedly its mandatory adoption date. Mansell said the new policy results in part from the discussions NAR has held with the Justice Department over the past four months.

The association opened negotiations with the Justice Department in May after reports that the department was moving toward a lawsuit against the association.

NAR shared the new policy with government attorneys before making it public. “We trust that they will agree with us that the ILD policy is fair and pro-competitive. NAR believes the new policy serves the interests of consumers, Realtors and MLSs, and addresses the concerns expressed by the Department of Justice,” he said.

The establishment of a single policy governing brokers’ display of all MLS data on the Internet also will make it easier for MLSs and the real estate industry to comply, Mansell said.

The IDX policy, which has been in effect since Jan. 1, 2002, authorized participating real estate brokers to advertise on their public Web sites the same MLS information on local properties accessible by consumers on the sites of national aggregators like Realtor.com. The VOW policy was developed later and enacted in May 2003, but mandatory implementation by MLSs was delayed due to the Justice Department investigation. It addressed issues specific to VOW sites, which may deliver more detailed information about listings and which require visitors to register by entering an e-mail address and receive a password prior to accessing MLS listing data.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to jessica@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 133.

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