A regional multiple listing service in southeast Florida is now requiring that member brokers and agents state whether or not properties they represent are bank-owned when entering them into the MLS.

Officials with Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-based Regional Multiple Listing Service Inc. (RMLS) say the new "REO" MLS data field — which is mandatory and searchable — was already in the works when a local newspaper reported on Sunday that some banks were telling agents not to disclose their ownership.

The real estate owned (REO) MLS field was implemented Tuesday, two days after the Palm Peach Post reported that a large asset management company that sells homes for Wells Fargo and other banks was instructing agents to list the owner of bank-owned properties as "Owner of Record," rather than naming the bank.

Other MLSs have created data fields for agents to declare whether a property is bank-owned or a likely short sale, although agents are not always required to fill them out. An executive with Premier Asset Services, the company that had asked agents not to name banks as the owners, said the company asks agents to comply with such disclosure rules when they are mandatory.

RMLS — which serves Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties — decided to add an REO field after it was suggested by a user group "several months ago," said Eric Sain, president of the MLS’ board.

"We make every attempt to stay competitive with the demands in the marketplace and (make it) easier for agents to find relative information," Sain said in an email message. "This is one of those implementations. The neighboring MLSs around us already had a required ‘foreclosure-style’ field."

Sain and RMLS General Manager Wes Wiggens said plans for an REO field were already under way before the issue was spotlighted in the media.

"The article in the Palm Beach Post had no influence on the implementation timeline, that was purely coincidental," Wiggens said in an email.

While many MLSs have REO and short-sale data fields, they are often accessible only to brokers and agents logging into the system. Public-facing MLS, broker and agent sites that display Internet Data Exchange (IDX) listings include only a subset of MLS data accessible to agents.

RMLS’ public-facing search site, HomeToFlorida.com, does not offer an REO search field.

Wiggens said the first priority "was to implement the REO field for the benefit of our subscribers and align our database with our data share partners. After they’re comfortable with it we’ll address making the field available to consumers."

Many homebuyers view bank-owned homes as potential bargains, and they typically sell at a discount when compared to nondistressed properties.

Some listing portals partner with RealtyTrac or other data aggregators in order to display information about "distressed properties" that are in some stage of the foreclosure process, but which may not be for sale.

An IDX website operated by the Houston Association of Realtors allows consumers to search active MLS listings for "foreclosures."

Realtor.com recently began allowing users to search for MLS-listed homes that have completed the foreclosure process, identifying such properties through agreements with third-party data providers, including banks.

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