Update: On Saturday, May 16, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Board approved the four MLS policy changes outlined below, with no amendments and no discussion.

WASHINGTON — The competition for consumer eyeballs is fierce in online real estate, and third-party portals are winning. But agent and broker real estate sites may get a leg up if national policy recommendations for multiple listing services get final approval this Saturday, May 16.

On Thursday, a committee of the National Association of Realtors passed four policy changes at NAR’s midyear conference, the Realtors Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo. Most of the changes build on policies approved in November that freed broker and agent websites from restrictions that don’t apply to third-party portals like Zillow and Trulia — allowing brokers to commingle listing data from different MLSs, for example.

All Realtor-affiliated MLSs (which include the vast majority of the nation’s 850 or so MLSs) must comply with NAR’s MLS rules.

NAR’s Multiple Listing Issues and Policies Committee passed a policy amendment that will give brokers (also known as “MLS participants”) another capability that third-party websites have long had: All MLS participants will be able to supplement their display of Internet data exchange (IDX) listings with property information from other sources on the same Web page — so long as the sources of the information are clearly identified and the information is clearly separated from the data supplied by the MLS.

This was previously something that MLSs had the option to offer, but they were not required to do so.

The change could allow brokers to significantly expand the information they provide to consumers with each listing on their sites. For example, Zillow’s listing detail pages currently display an estimated mortgage payment, price and tax history data, comparable homes, popularity on Zillow, mortgages, home expenses, neighborhood market statistics, Walk Score, Transit Score and nearby schools with ratings from GreatSchools.org — in addition to the company’s controversial home value estimate, the “Zestimate.”

Another policy change that aims to make brokers’ lives easier is a requirement that MLSs must respond to requests for IDX feeds within five business days, barring certain extenuating circumstances. This does not mean that an IDX feed must be approved or denied within that time, simply that an MLS has to communicate with a broker about the request within five days, said Bill Lublin, the committee’s 2014 chairman.

This is to remedy a problem that some brokers have reported: not hearing anything from their MLS after submitting a request for a feed, said committee member Chris Carrillo, CEO of Wisconsin-based Metro MLS.

“What this does is this benefits the MLS and the brokerage community by saying these requests should fall into a consistent policy,” Carrillo told the committee.

Sometimes, MLS committees approve broker feed requests only at monthly or bimonthly meetings, Carrillo said. But the policy change stipulates that brokers fulfill two main requirements: the broker requesting the IDX feed is an MLS participant in good standing, and the vendor and participant will display IDX information according to MLS rules.

If the request complies with those two requirements, “then what is there for a committee to discuss?” he said.

The vast majority of broker feed requests MLSs get come from vendors the MLS has already approved for other brokers — the vendors already know what the display rules are, Carrillo said. Therefore, MLSs should be able to respond to those requests within five days, he said.

“Extenuating circumstances” might apply to new vendors that must be vetted, according to Carrillo.

One of the policies approved by NAR’s board of directors in November required MLSs to allow brokers to display a minimum of three years of sold listing data on their non-password-protected websites — but only if the sold data is already publicly accessible. In the May 14 meeting, the committee defined “publicly accessible” as “available electronically or in hard copy to the public from city, county, state and other government records.”

The fourth policy amendment stipulates that changes to MLS policies made by the NAR board become effective on Jan. 1 of the year following their approval and gives associations and MLSs 60 days to adopt policy changes locally. Previously, changes had to be made only when a new annual NAR Handbook on Multiple Listing Policy was published, but there was no specific time frame attached for local adoption.

Because of technology advances, NAR is able to notify associations and MLSs of policy changes within a much shorter time, according to committee member Rachel Wiest, vice president of operations at Triangle MLS.

The four policy changes now hear to NAR’s Executive Committee, which will issue recommendations to NAR’s nearly 850-member board of directors. The Executive Committee may choose to recommend they be approved “as is,” approved with amendments or sent back to NAR’s MLS advisory board. The NAR board will vote on Saturday, May 16.

Here is the text of the policy recommendations:

  • Participants shall not modify or manipulate information relating to other participants’ listings. MLS Participants may augment their IDX display of MLS data with applicable property information from other sources to appear on the same webpage or display clearly separated from the data supplied by MLS. The source(s) of the information must be clearly identified in the immediate proximity to such data. This requirement does not restrict the format of MLS data display or display of fewer than all of the available listings or fewer authorized fields.
  • Requests for IDX feeds/downloads must be acted on by the MLS within 5 business days from receipt, barring extenuating circumstances related to an individual’s qualification for MLS Participation, and review of the participant’s and vendor’s use of the IDX information consistent with MLS rules, in which case an estimated time of approval or denial must be issued.
  • “Publicly accessible” as used in MLS policy and MLS rules, means data that is available electronically or in hard copy to the public from city, county, state and other government records. MLSs must provide for its Participants’ IDX displays publicly accessible sold information maintained by the MLS for at least the last three years.
  • To ensure consistent, uniform understanding of and compliance with the multiple listing policies of the National Association, all changes incorporated into the National Association’s Handbook on Multiple Listing Policy become effective January 1 of the year following their approval by the NAR Board of Directors of the National Association of Realtors. Unless specifically provided otherwise by the NAR Board of Directors, associations and multiple listing services shall have sixty (60) days from the effective date of new or amended policies to adopt them locally.

Email Andrea V. Brambila.

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