WASHINGTON — Multiple listing services should have the option of requiring their members to submit photos with listings, Realtors serving on a policy committee recommended today at the National Association of Realtors Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo.

Although many MLSs have had mandatory photo policies in place for years, in recent months NAR had begun informing some that the trade group’s policies did not expressly grant them such authority.

The Council of MLSs, a group representing MLSs, Realtor associations and MLS vendors, maintained that while that might be the case, there was nothing in NAR’s policy prohibiting MLSs from requiring that photos and property disclosure forms be submitted with listings (see story).

Realtors serving on NAR’s Multiple Listings Issues and Policies Committee agreed with the Council of MLSs on both points today.

After debating the finer points of mandatory photo policies — such as whether they should apply only to residential listings and whether only exterior photos should be required — the committee approved a statement of policy that would largely leave such issues up to local MLSs.

The policy statement approved by the committee, which will be referred to an executive committee for a possible vote by NAR’s board of directors Saturday, states: "Multiple listing services may, as a matter of local discretion, require submission of a reasonable number of photographs or other graphic representation that accurately depicts listed property except where sellers expressly direct that photographs of their property not appear in MLS compilations."

The committee amended a previous version of the policy statement, which stipulated only that MLSs could require exterior photos. The committee deleted the word "exterior," and also added language allowing for "other graphic representation" of a property, such as drawings, to accommodate homes not yet built.

Although there was some debate among committee members about the specific language of the policy statement, none spoke out against granting MLSs the authority to require photos. Some Realtors and MLS executives in the audience at today’s meeting expressed their dismay that NAR staffers had ruled otherwise.

Cliff Niersbach, NAR’s vice president of board policy and programs, said that in retrospect, NAR staffers should have sought further guidance from the committee before informing MLSs that they could not maintain their mandatory photo policies. "I messed up," Niersbach said in explaining the process through which NAR, having signed off on such policies in the past, reversed itself.

In the process of conducting annual reviews of local MLSs rules, he said, a question came up among NAR staffers about the number of pictures that an MLS could require with each listing. After consulting with legal staff, NAR concluded that photos and property disclosure forms were not an integral part of listing contracts, and that MLSs could not require them at all.

A strict reading of NAR’s model MLS rules would not obligate brokers to submit any information beyond what’s requested on the property data forms that are used to enter listings into the MLS, NAR maintained.

"I think there is a need to have a policy that specifically gives MLSs authority to have the (photo) requirement … to give them justification, and to give NAR ability to defend if there’s a challenge," Niersbach said.

The committee also approved a statement of policy that would provide NAR backing for MLSs that choose to require that property disclosure forms be submitted with listings. The statement, which must also be approved by the board of directors to become effective, reads:

"Multiple Listing Services may, as a matter of local discretion, require submission of all legally required seller disclosure information except where sellers expressly direct that such disclosure documents not be disseminated through (the) MLS."


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