WASHINGTON — In a move that would protect the right of brokers participating in data-sharing agreements with other brokers to allow search engines to index their listings, the National Association of Realtors’ Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee has issued a recommendation to revise a 4-year-old policy that might otherwise allow local Realtor boards to bar the practice.

If adopted by NAR’s board of directors Saturday, the policy change would resolve a dispute that arose when the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors — acting on a complaint from a member broker — demanded that real estate agent Paula Henry and her broker take steps to prevent other brokers’ listings from being indexed by Google and other search engines (see story).

The committee recommended that the board revise a 2005 policy statement regarding Section 18.2.2 of the NAR Model MLS Rules and Regulations.

The policy currently requires brokers participating in Internet Data Exchange (IDX) reciprocity agreements to "protect IDX information from misappropriation by employing reasonable efforts to monitor and prevent ‘scraping’ or other unauthorized accessing, reproduction or uses of the MLS database." The committee recommended that one sentence be added to the policy:  "This requirement does not prohibit indexing of IDX sites by search engines." 

The recommendation’s language sought to strike a balance, prohibiting "unauthorized" use of property information based on standards and anti-scraping rules developed by MLSs, while permitting brokers the flexibility to market their properties on the Internet — in particular, search engines.

Jay Thompson, a real estate broker from Phoenix, expressed his support for a policy that maximized the exposure of properties he has listed for sale. "I want consumers to see my information on every site that’s possible," he said. "I want people to find my listings in any way."

Jay A. Seville, a Realtor from Arlington, Va., said "scraping" — the unauthorized use, accessing or reproduction of data from the MLS — is often "difficult to define."

Some other amendments to IDX policy under consideration by the MLS committee were shelved pending further review by a working group, which has yet to be appointed — that will most likely occur this summer but no later than the next NAR summit in November, according to staff executive Cliff Niersbach.

If approved, the enhancements could include allowing sellers the option of cutting off third-party comments or reviews about individual homes, or the display of automated estimates of the market values of these listings, as well as the ability to include hyperlinks to such information.

In addition, these amendments could also require an IDX site to notify its customers that any feature had been disabled "at the request of the seller."

Of the more than 800 MLSs that are operated by or affiliated with Realtor associations, all except four are in full compliance with requirements under the settlement of an antitrust lawsuit between the U.S. Department of Justice and NAR. The deadline for compliance is Sunday, said Niersbach.

Niersbach declined to identify the four, as those MLSs may be brought into compliance before the deadline. "We’re continuing to work with them — and they may have adopted (the requirements) already — they just haven’t told us," he said. The most prominent requirements mandated a new policy for Virtual Office Web sites, which allow brokers to offer a richer set of property information than IDX sites but, unlike IDX sites, require registration for access to this information.

Separately, Bob Hart, a Realtor and chairman of the California Association of Realtors Green Task Force, spoke of the advantages of utilizing alternative energy sources and conservation when it comes to homebuilding and design.

Hart said that while the term "green" is "overused" by just about everyone else, it has scarcely entered the lexicon of real estate brokers across the country. More than 90 percent of buyers and builders, he added, viewed alternative energies as important to the value of their homes — as opposed to 40 percent of Realtors (who) felt it had any importance whatsoever.

Joseph Kirschke is a writer in Washington, D.C.


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