Editor’s note: Victor Lund is a founding partner for WAV Group, a real estate consulting company.
By VICTOR LUND
As a result of a settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Association of Realtors, brokers now have a powerful new marketing tool at their fingertips.
Brokers who are members of a multiple listing service can now provide more comprehensive information to their customers than any non-MLS-member Web site can feature. They can now offer a data feed of all MLS listing information to their clients via a Virtual Office Web site (VOW).
Consumers are hungry for more and more real estate information. They are not only looking for active data, but any information that will help them get a better gauge on the local real estate market and neighborhoods they are interested in. They are looking for as much accurate, comprehensive and current information as available.
Who better to serve their information needs than Realtors? The MLS has the greatest depth of real estate information available anywhere. VOWs can help the industry capitalize on the strength of MLS and property databases. They can help keep Realtors at the center of the real estate transaction instead of encouraging consumers to go to third-party non-Realtor Web sites for their real estate search needs.
What is a VOW?
The simplest definition of a VOW is a broker Web site that allows consumers to access all of the non-confidential information in the MLS after registering with a Realtor.
Virtual Office Web sites are really not much different from the Web sites that brokers offer to consumers today. There are only two significant differences — more data fields and a registration requirement.
The rules and regulations pertaining to the display of listing information on broker Web sites across the country vary from market to market.
Some markets have long permitted the display of deeper data fields like sold listings, listing history, tax data, price per square foot, and days on market. However, many markets did not allow this information to be displayed online.
Only a member agent or broker could access that level of data by signing into the MLS and delivering the information to their clients.
Suffice it to say that MLSs are now required to provide a data feed of all MLS information to any member broker for display through VOWs, with a few exceptions:
- Expired, withdrawn, or pending listings
- Compensation offered to other MLS participants
- Type of listing agreement, such as "exclusive agency" or "exclusive right to sell"
- Seller/occupant’s name and contact information
- Showing instructions
- Sold data — but only in those states like Texas where that information is not considered part of the public record. If the information is public according to your state law, then sold data must be included for display on VOW.
- Registration requirement
To satisfy the registration requirements, the consumer must provide a name and a valid e-mail address. The password must also expire on a specified date, and the broker must keep the registration information of that consumer for 180 days after expiration.
Nobody — not the broker, consumer or the Web site provider — may redistribute any of the information to any third party.
How will VOWs change the agent-customer relationship?
With the evolution of Internet Data Exchange (IDX) — another type of online real estate data-sharing system that does not require registration — and literally millions of real estate Web sites, the consumer has had access to a significant number of sources of property information.
VOWs will allow brokers and possibly agents to once again place themselves at the center of the consumer’s property-search experience.
A broker’s VOW will offer consumers the most comprehensive, accurate and timely real estate information available.
Because of the quality of information offered to consumers through VOWs, customers will be less likely to spend much time on non-broker Web sites that offer less listing information. In mature VOW markets like San Francisco, more than 50 percent of all transactions were to registered VOW consumers.
Both buyers and sellers appear to value the depth of information available through VOWs to watch market trends and find the right home. Home sellers using VOWs are pricing their homes more realistically. Buyers using VOWs are working closely with their agents reviewing listings that match their search criteria — all under the supportive hand of their real estate professional.
The new challenge for VOW operators is to stay attuned to the behavior of real estate clients as they perform their research using their sites.
Historically, agents have prepared a specific set of information for their buyers and sellers to review in their decision-making process. The new process will be more conversational, both online and offline. The customers are likely to be doing as much or more research as the agents. This will challenge agents to be as well-informed as the clients. A good VOW product will support agents by providing visibility into the behavior of their customers.
Virtual Office Web sites are one of the most valuable tools a real estate professional can use today to provide the depth of information today’s real estate consumer is looking for.
Victor Lund is a founding partner of the WAV Group, a real estate consulting company. This guest perspective is reprinted with permission of the author. The original post can be viewed here.
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