The National Association of Realtors has appointed a Phoenix-based broker-owner and blogger who’s been critical of NAR’s stance on search engines indexing for-sale listings to a committee that’s recommended revising the policy.

"I don’t know who is crazier, (NAR) for asking me to serve on the Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee, or me for accepting their offer," Jay Thompson said on his blog, The Phoenix Real Estate Guy.

At issue is whether NAR’s policy governing online listings that brokers share through Internet Data Exchange (IDX) reciprocity agreements give local Realtor boards the authority to require that their members block search engines from indexing other members’ listings.

The policy, originally intended to protect listings from being duplicated or "scraped" by third-party listing sites, drew little notice when it was adopted in 2005. But in March, NAR was drawn into a controversy when association staff members ruled that search-engine indexing is tantamount to scraping.

That ruling was cited by the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors (MIBOR) in a March 27 cease and desist letter to real estate agent Paula Henry and her broker, Mike Taylor, demanding that they employ "mechanisms or techniques" to prevent other Web sites or search engines "from scraping or reproducing" MIBOR IDX listings. MIBOR said it was acting on a complaint from another broker.

Critics, including Thompson, said NAR’s IDX policy was never intended to apply to search engines like Google, which collect information from Web sites and store it in internal databases to make searches faster and more relevant.

"My stance is clear — search-engine indexing is not evil, it’s good for agents and brokers and more importantly real estate consumers," Thompson said on his blog.

Many real estate brokers and agents want search engines to index IDX listings because they believe that will improve their search-engine rankings and make it easier for consumers to find them. Others say it’s fine for brokers and agents to make their own listings accessible to search-engine spiders, but that NAR’s IDX policy requires them to protect other brokers’ listings from "unauthorized use."

After the controversy erupted, NAR paid Henry’s and Thompson’s expenses to travel to the group’s midyear conference in Washington, D.C., to address the association’s Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee. On May 14, the MLS Committee recommended amending the IDX policy to clarify that brokers may allow search engines to index IDX listings.

But NAR’s full board, acting on a motion introduced by MIBOR directors, voted to kick the issue back to a work group for further review. With the MLS Committee and board not scheduled to meet again until November, the existing interpretation of NAR’s IDX policy will stand at least until then (see story).

In a biweekly newsletter to member brokers, MIBOR said the language proposed by the MLS Committee "was developed hurriedly and that not enough time had been spent to air the issue and possible implications of such a change among the participants of the listing service."

MIBOR will reconvene its own policy committee to explore possible alternatives, spokeswoman Claire Belby said.

MIBOR and NAR staffers have said it might be hard to reword the IDX policy so that it permits search engines to index IDX listings while still protecting them from unauthorized duplication, or scraping, by third-party sites.

Thompson said NAR deserves credit for offering him a spot on the MLS Committee.

"It says they are at least willing to try to get things right, and this has not always been the case," Thompson wrote.


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