Tucson, Ariz.-based Long Realty has a sleek new consumer-facing mobile app for Android, iPhone and iPad that surfaces data from multiple listing services (MLS) including information typically reserved for agents like details about recently sold homes.

Brokerages can typically share MLS data associated with active listings with consumers freely on their websites and mobile applications.

But to share more in-depth MLS data like recently sold homes, price changes and pending sales, they need to set up virtual office website (VOW) agreements with the MLSs they work with, and have consumers follow a registration process.

Long Realty, a HomeServices of America company, wanted VOW data in the app so it could compete with some of the other popular mobile offerings in the real estate space, said Kevin Kaplan, vice president of marketing and technology at Long Realty.

“It was important for us because Zillow has sold data,” he said.

Third-party listing portals like Zillow and Trulia typically rely on public records from county assessors for information on past sales, which can lag by weeks or months.

While Zillow and Trulia are able to add that and other layers of data on top of listings on their sites, Long Realty’s app gets VOW-associated data updated from MLSs every 15 minutes, Kaplan said.

When users first access the app, they see active listings from the shared pools of listings — Internet Data Exchange (IDX) — from the MLSs Long Realty is a member of.

Only after consumers register to access VOW data by providing their name and email addresses do they see the richer data set, including pending and recently sold homes up to a year back.

“It’s the first hybrid (IDX/VOW mobile) app I’ve seen,” said Aaron Kardell, founder and CEO of Minneapolis-based MobileRealtyApps, the mobile app tech firm Long Realty brought in to help build the brokerage’s first native app.

Kardell said the VOW integration was a custom add-on to the app, which can be branded at the broker and agent level. Having developed the app for Long Realty, however, MobileRealtyApps — named the most innovative real estate tech startup in 2012 by Inman News — will be able to bring the technology to other companies. It’s worked with 73 companies to date, Kardell said.

“I think VOWs are underused,” Kaplan said.

So does Victor Lund, founding partner of real estate consulting firm WAV Group, who recently republished several posts he wrote on VOWs in 2009.

Lund points out that the rules for VOWs — part of a 2008 settlement resolving an antitrust suit brought by the Department of Justice against the National Association of Realtors — allow brokerages to display nonconfidential MLS information, but not:

  • Expired or withdrawn listings.
  • Compensation offered to other MLS participants.
  • Type of listing agreement, i.e., exclusive agency.
  • Seller/occupant’s name and contact information.
  • Showing instructions.
  • Sold data — but only in those states where that information is not considered part of the public record. If the information is public according to a state’s law, then sold data must be included for display on VOWs.

Tech-focused brokerage firms Redfin and ZipRealty operate websites and apps integrated with VOW capability. They’ve been popular with consumers, capturing the fourth- and sixth-most traffic from mobile devices to real estate-related websites in March in the U.S., according to Experian Marketing Services (both Redfin and ZipRealty allow consumers to access non-VOW data without registration).

Long Realty, with 1,300 agents and 41 offices in southern Arizona, is a member of ZipRealty’s “Powered by Zip” referral network. But Kaplan said only a handful of its agents — about 30 — have access to Powered by Zip leads and customer relationship management tools.

“WAV Group fully expected that brokers (after the 2008 DOJ-NAR settlement) would immediately adopt VOW websites to counter the advantage of ZipRealty, Redfin and others. But it did not transpire,” Lund wrote.

Long Realty’s website currently does not have VOW functionality, but it plans to backfill that capability in the next few months, after it solidifies the operation in its app, Kaplan said.

He said five of the eight MLSs Long Realty is a member of — about 95 percent of its coverage area — have signed VOW agreements with Long Realty, and agreements with the rest are in the works.

The new app has other notable features including full integration with Long Realty’s website and its customer relationship management platform.

It also sports MobileRealtyApps’ innovative HomeSpotter augmented reality technology, which allows users to scan an area with their smartphone’s camera to discover nearby homes for sale.

Video promoting Long Realty’s new app.

Are you thinking about integrating VOW into your business? What do you think? Send us a note below.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that about 300 Long Realty agents participated in the Powered by Zip program. The number is closer to 30.

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