SAN DIEGO — The National Association of Realtors’ board of directors adopted a new policy Monday making it clear that real estate brokers can allow search engines like Google to index property listings displayed on their Web sites under data-sharing agreements with other brokers.

NAR’s board of directors approved several changes to the association’s Internet Data Exchange (IDX) policy as it wrapped up the group’s annual meeting in San Diego.

SAN DIEGO — The National Association of Realtors’ board of directors adopted a new policy Monday making it clear that real estate brokers can allow search engines like Google to index property listings displayed on their Web sites under data-sharing agreements with other brokers.

NAR’s board of directors approved several changes to the association’s Internet Data Exchange (IDX) policy as it wrapped up the group’s annual meeting in San Diego.

The changes included the deletion of language that previously obligated real estate brokers participating in a multiple listing service (MLS) to employ "reasonable efforts" to protect listings from "scraping," or unauthorized duplication by third-party Web sites.

New language prohibits MLS participants from using listing data for any purpose other than display on their Web sites, but clarifies that they don’t have to protect listings from legitimate search engines like Google, which collect information from Web sites and store it in internal databases to make searches faster and more relevant.

The IDX policy, which dates to 2005, sparked a controversy in March when NAR staff issued an interpretation that equated search-engine indexing with scraping.

Citing NAR’s interpretation of the policy, the Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors ordered real estate agent Paula Henry and her broker, Mike Taylor, to prevent other Web sites or search engines "from scraping or reproducing" MIBOR IDX listings.

Critics said search engines should be allowed to index brokers’ IDX sites that are authorized to post MLS listing data because it helps them show up higher in search-engine rankings (see story).

Web sites can be coded to make it easier or harder for search engines to find listings, and Henry, like many brokers, displayed listings on a site optimized for search-engine indexing.

The challenge for NAR’s MLS policy committee was to draft rules that could be used to prevent unauthorized data scraping by third-party sites while still allowing indexing by search engines like Google.

The IDX Policy — Multiple Listing Policy Statement 7.58 — was amended to delete the following sentence: "Participants must protect IDX information from misappropriation by employing reasonable efforts to monitor and prevent ‘scraping’ or other unauthorized accessing, reproduction or use of the MLS database."

In addition, a new sentence was added to the IDX policy: "MLS participants may not use IDX-provided listings for any purpose other than display on their Web sites. This does not require participants to prevent indexing of IDX listings by recognized search engines."

The IDX policy was also amended to allow sellers to request that IDX Web sites disable features such as automated valuations or third-party comments associated with their listing, or hyperlinks to automated valuations or comments on other sites.

IDX sites are free to notify users when such features are disabled at the request of the seller.

Other changes to the IDX policy included cutting the maximum permissible time between downloading and refreshing MLS data from seven days to three. …CONTINUED

IDX operators will also be required to provide users with a means of informing them about errors in listings, such as a phone number or e-mail address, in order to correct or remove any factual errors. IDX operators won’t be obligated to change information that is based on a "good faith opinion, advice, or professional judgment."

Also at Monday’s board meeting, Errol Samuelson, chief revenue officer for Realtor.com operator Move Inc., gave an overview of work that’s being done to improve the site’s search capabilities, including a "predictive search" feature that provides suggestions as users type in a geographic location.

Type "Las" in the search window, for example, and a list of cities that begin with Las, such as Las Vegas, appear in a drop-down list. Enter "Las Vegas," and the search function suggests neighborhoods within the city in the drop-down list.

Improved search faceting is also in the works, allowing users to see the number of search results with various characteristics, such as the number of bedrooms, and to filter their results without conducting another search.

Samuelson said the new features can be explored on a beta site: http://beta.realtor.com.

Cathy Whatley, NAR’s representative on the Move board, said data protection was the most important issue when Realtor.com launched 14 years ago, and remains so today.

She warned that unlike Realtor.com, other sites that aggregate listings often employ "terms of use" agreements that allow them to resell data to other sources. Brokers and MLSs that sign those agreements and send listings to such sites may be jeopardizing their copyrights, she warned.

While Realtor.com had "huge problems" with customer service when it launched, there’s a different dynamic in place today, Whatley said. She said Realtor.com’s customer support staff made 350,000 outreach calls to users this year, to see if there were issues they needed help with.

NAR’s board also approved a $4 million advertising campaign in December and January to raise public awareness of the homebuyer tax credit. The credit was recently expanded to a larger group of homebuyers, and extended to apply to homes under contract by April 30.

December and January are typically "dark months" for NAR ads, the communications committee said in recommending that NAR inform consumers of the latest changes to the tax credit legislation.

Also Monday, NAR’s board installed Tucson, Ariz., broker-owner Vicki Cox Golder as 2010 president. A Realtor for 35 years who specializes in commercial, farm and land sales as owner of Vicki L. Cox & Associates, Cox Golder succeeds Charles McMillan.

Realtor Ron Phipps from Warwick, R.I., was installed as 2010 president-elect, meaning he is in line to be president in 2011. The broker-president of Phipps Realty in Warwick, Phipps specializing in residential brokerage and has been a Realtor for more than 30 years.

NAR’s nominating committee selected South Miami, Fla., Realtor Maurice J. Veissi as candidate for president-elect on the 2011 slate of candidates, and Gary Thomas of Aliso Viejo, Calif., as the candidate for first vice president. The nominating committee’s slate will be elected at the 2010 Midyear Legislative Meeting in Washington, D.C.

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