I. Definitions and Scope of Policy
- For purposes of this policy, the term “Virtual Office Website” (VOW) refers to a participant’s Internet website, or a feature of a participant’s Internet website, through which the participant is capable of providing real estate brokerage services to consumers with whom the participant has first established a broker-consumer relationship (as defined by state law) where the consumer has the opportunity to search MLS data, subject to the participant’s oversight, supervision, and accountability.
(a) A participant may designate an “Affiliated VOW Partner” (AVP) to operate a VOW on behalf of the participant, subject to the participant’s supervision and accountability and the terms of this policy.
(b) A non-principal broker or sales licensee affiliated with a participant may, with the participant’s consent, operate a VOW or have a VOW operated on its behalf by an AVP. Such a VOW is subject to the participant’s supervision and accountability and the terms of this policy.
(c) Each use of the term “participant” in this policy shall also include a participant’s non-principal brokers and sales licensees (with the exception of references in this section to the “participant’s consent” and the “participant’s supervision and accountability,” and in Section III.10.a., below, to the “participant acknowledges”). Each reference to VOW or VOWs herein refers to all VOWs, whether operated by a participant, by a non-principal broker or sales licensee, or by an AVP.
- The right to display listings in response to consumer searches is limited to display of MLS data supplied by the MLS(s) in which the participant has participatory rights. This does not preclude a firm with offices participating in different MLSs from operating a master website with links to such offices’ VOWs.
- Participants’ Internet websites, including those operated for participants by AVPs, may also provide other features, information, or services, in addition to VOWs (including the “Internet Data Exchange” [IDX] function).
- The display of listing information on a VOW does not require separate permission from the participant whose listings will be available on the VOW.
- Except as permitted in Sections III. and IV., MLSs may not adopt rules or regulations that conflict with this policy or that otherwise restrict the operation of VOWs by participants.
II. Policies Applicable to Participants’ VOWs
- A participant may provide brokerage services via a VOW that include making MLS active listing data available, but only to consumers with whom the participant has first established a lawful consumer-broker relationship, including completion of all actions required by state law in connection with providing real estate brokerage services to clients and customers (hereinafter “Registrants”). Such actions shall include, but are not limited to, satisfying all applicable agency, non-agency, and other disclosure obligations, and execution of any required agreement(s).
(b) The Registrant must supply a user name and a password, the combination of which must be different from those of all other Registrants on the VOW, before being permitted to search and retrieve information from the MLS database via the VOW. The user name and password may be established by the Registrant or may be supplied by the participant, at the option of the participant. An e-mail address may be associated with only one user name and password. The Registrant’s password and access must expire on a date certain, but may be renewed. The participant must, at all times, maintain a record of the name and e-mail address supplied by the Registrant, and the user name and current password of each Registrant. Such records must be kept for not less than one hundred eighty (180) days after the expiration of the validity of the Registrant’s password. If the MLS has reason to believe that a participant’s VOW has caused or permitted a breach in the security of the data or a violation of MLS rules related to use by one or more Registrants, the participant shall, upon request, provide to the MLS a copy of the record of the name, e-mail address, user name, current password, and audit trail, if required, of any Registrant identified by the MLS to be suspected of involvement in the violation.
i. that the Registrant acknowledges entering into a lawful consumer-broker relationship with the participant
ii. that all data obtained from the VOW is intended only for the Registrant’s personal, non-commercial use
iii. that the Registrant has a bona fide interest in the purchase, sale, or lease of real estate of the type being offered through the VOW
iv. that the Registrant will not copy, redistribute, or retransmit any of the data or information provided, except in connection with the Registrant’s consideration of the purchase or sale of an individual property
v. that the Registrant acknowledges the MLS’ ownership of and the validity of the MLS’ copyright in the MLS database
- A participant’s VOW must prominently display an e-mail address, telephone number, or specific identification of another mode of communication (e.g., live chat) by which a consumer can contact the participant to ask questions or get more information about properties displayed on the VOW. The participant or a non-principal broker or sales licensee licensed with the participant must be willing and able to respond knowledgeably to inquiries from Registrants about properties within the market area served by that participant and displayed on the VOW.
- A participant’s VOW must protect the MLS data from misappropriation by employing reasonable efforts to monitor for and prevent scraping or other unauthorized accessing, reproduction, or use of the MLS database.
- A participant’s VOW must comply with the following additional requirements.
(a) No VOW shall display the listing or property address of any seller who has affirmatively directed its listing broker to withhold its listing or property address from display on the Internet. The listing broker or agent shall communicate to the MLS that a seller has elected not to permit display of the listing or property address on the Internet. Notwithstanding the foregoing, a participant who operates a VOW may provide to consumers via other delivery mechanisms, such as e-mail, fax, or otherwise, the listing or property address of a seller who has determined not to have the listing or address for its property displayed on the Internet.
(b) A participant who lists a property for a seller who has elected not to have the property listing or the property address displayed on the Internet shall cause the seller to execute a document that conforms to the form attached to this policy as Appendix A. The participant shall retain such forms for at least one (1) year from the date they are signed.
(c) With respect to any VOW that:
i. allows third parties to write comments or reviews about particular listings or displays a hyperlink to such comments or reviews in immediate conjunction with particular listings, or
ii. displays an automated estimate of the market value of the listing (or hyperlink to such estimate) in immediate conjunction with the listing,
the VOW shall disable or discontinue either or both of those features as to the seller’s listing at the request of the seller. The listing broker or agent shall communicate to the MLS that the seller has elected to have one or both of these features disabled or discontinued on all participants’ websites. Except for the foregoing and subject to Subsection d., below, a participant’s VOW may communicate the participant’s professional judgment concerning any listing. Nothing shall prevent a VOW from notifying its customers that a particular feature has been disabled at the request of the seller.
(d) A VOW shall maintain a means (e.g., e-mail address, telephone number) to receive comments about the accuracy of any data or information that is added by or on behalf of the VOW operator beyond that supplied by the MLS and that relates to a specific property displayed on the VOW. The VOW operator shall correct or remove any false data or information relating to a specific property upon receipt of a communication from the listing broker or listing agent for that property explaining why the data or information is false. However, the VOW operator shall not be obligated to remove or correct any data or information that simply reflects good faith opinion, advice, or professional judgment.
(e) Each VOW shall refresh MLS data available on the VOW not less frequently than every three (3) days.
(f) Except as provided elsewhere in this policy or in MLS rules and regulations, no portion of the MLS database may be distributed, provided, or made accessible to any person or entity.
(h) A VOW may exclude listings from display based only on objective criteria, including, but not limited to, factors such as geography, list price, type of property, cooperative compensation offered by listing broker, or whether the listing broker is a REALTOR®.
- A participant who intends to operate a VOW must notify the MLS of its intention to establish a VOW and must make the VOW readily accessible to the MLS and to all MLS participants for purposes of verifying compliance with this policy and any other applicable MLS rules or policies.|
- A participant may operate more than one VOW itself or through an AVP. A participant who operates a VOW itself shall not be precluded from also operating VOWs in conjunction with AVPs.
III. Policies Applicable to Multiple Listing Services
- A multiple listing service shall permit MLS participants to operate VOWs or to have VOWs operated for them by AVPs, subject to the requirements of state law and this policy.
- An MLS shall, if requested by a participant, provide basic downloading of all MLS non-confidential listing data, including, without limitation, address fields, listing types, photographs, and links to virtual tours. Confidential data includes only that which participants are prohibited from providing to customers orally and by all other delivery mechanisms. They include fields containing the information described in Section IV.1. of this policy, provided that sold data (i.e., listing information relating to properties that have sold) shall be deemed confidential and withheld from a download only if the actual sales prices of completed transactions are not accessible from public records. For purposes of this policy, downloading means electronic transmission of data from MLS servers to a participant’s or AVP’s server on a persistent basis. An MLS may also offer a transient download. In such case, it shall also, if requested, provide a persistent download, provided that it may impose on users of such download the approximate additional costs incurred by it to do so.
- This policy does not require an MLS to establish publicly accessible sites displaying participants’ listings.
- If an MLS provides a VOW-specific feed, that feed must include all of the non-confidential data included in the feed described in Subsection 2., above, except for listings or property addresses of sellers who have elected not to have their listings or addresses displayed on the Internet.
- An MLS may pass on to those participants who will download listing information the reasonably estimated costs incurred by the MLS in adding or enhancing its downloading capacity to enable such participants to operate VOWs.
- An MLS may require that participants:
(a) utilize appropriate security protection, such as firewalls, as long as such requirement does not impose security obligations greater than those employed concurrently by the MLS, and/or
(b) maintain an audit trail of Registrants’ activity on the VOW and make that information available to the MLS if the MLS has reason to believe that any VOW has caused or permitted a breach in the security of the data or a violation of applicable MLS rules.
- An MLS may not prohibit or regulate display of advertising or the identification of entities on VOWs (branding or co-branding), except to prohibit deceptive or misleading advertising or co-branding. For purposes of this provision, co-branding will be presumed not to be deceptive or misleading if the participant’s logo and contact information (or that of at least one participant, in the case of a VOW established and operated by or for more than one participant) is displayed in immediate conjunction with that of every other party, and the logo and contact information of all participants displayed on the VOW is as large as the logo of the AVP and larger than that of any third party.
- Except as provided in this policy, an MLS may not prohibit participants from enhancing their VOWs by providing information obtained from sources other than the MLS, additional technological services (such as mapping functionality), or information derived from non-confidential MLS data (such as an estimated monthly payment derived from the listed price), or regulate the use or display of such information or technological services on any VOW.
- Except as provided in generally applicable rules or policies (such as the REALTOR® Code of Ethics), an MLS may not restrict the format of data display on a VOW or regulate the appearance of VOWs.
- Subject to the provisions below, an MLS shall make MLS listing data available to an AVP for the exclusive purpose of operating a VOW on behalf of a participant. An MLS shall make MLS listing data available to an AVP under the same terms and conditions as those applicable to participants. No AVP has independent participation rights in the MLS by virtue of its right to receive data on behalf of a participant or the right to use MLS data, except in connection with operation of a VOW for a participant. AVP access to MLS data is derivative of the rights of the participant on whose behalf the AVP is downloading data.
(a) A participant, non-principal broker or sales licensee, or AVP may establish the AVP’s right to receive and use MLS data by providing to the MLS a writing in which the participant acknowledges its or its non-principal broker’s or sales licensee’s selection of the AVP to operate a VOW on its behalf.
(b) An MLS may not charge an AVP, or a participant on whose behalf an AVP operates a VOW, more than a participant that chooses to operate a VOW itself (including any fees or costs associated with a license to receive MLS data, as described in Subsection g., below), except to the extent that the MLS incurs greater costs in providing listing data to the AVP than the MLS incurs in providing listing data to a participant.
(c) An MLS may not place data security requirements or restrictions on use of MLS listing data by an AVP that are not also imposed on participants.
(d) An MLS must permit an AVP to download listing information in the same manner (e.g., via a “Real Estate Transaction Standard” [RETS] feed or via a “File Transfer Protocol” [FTP] download), at the same times and with the same frequency that the MLS permits participants to download listing information.
(e) An MLS may not refuse to deal directly with an AVP in order to resolve technical problems with the data feed. However, the MLS may require that the participant on whose behalf the AVP is operating the VOW participate in such communications if the MLS reasonably believes that the involvement of the participant would be helpful in order to resolve the problem.
(f) An MLS may not condition an AVP’s access to a data feed on the financial terms on which the AVP provides the site for the participant.
(g) An MLS may require participants and AVPs to execute license or similar agreements sufficient to ensure that participants and AVPs understand and agree that data provided by the MLS may be used only to establish and operate a VOW on behalf of the participant and not for any other purpose.
(h) An MLS may not:
i. prohibit an AVP from operating VOWs on behalf of more than one participant, and several participants may designate an AVP to operate a single VOW for them collectively,
ii. limit the number of entities that participants may designate as AVPs for purposes of operating VOWs, or
iii. prohibit participants from designating particular entities as AVPs, except that, if an AVP’s access has been suspended or terminated by an MLS, that MLS may prevent an entity from being designated an AVP by another participant during the period of the AVP’s suspension or termination.
(i) Except as stated below, an MLS may not suspend or terminate an AVP’s access to data:
i. for reasons other than those that would allow an MLS to suspend or terminate a participant’s access to data, or
ii. without giving the AVP and the associated participant(s) prior notice and the process set forth in the applicable provisions of the MLS rules for suspension or termination of a participant’s access.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, an MLS may immediately terminate an AVP’s access to data:
i. if the AVP is no longer designated to provide VOW services to any participant,
ii. if the participant for whom the AVP operates a VOW ceases to maintain its status with the MLS,
iii. if the AVP has downloaded data in a manner not authorized for participants and that hinders the ability of participants to download data, or
iv. if the associated participant or AVP has failed to make required payments to the MLS in accordance with the MLS’ generally applicable payment policies and practices.
- An MLS may not prohibit, restrict, or impede a participant from referring Registrants to any person or from obtaining a fee for such referral.
IV. Requirements that MLSs May Impose on the Operation of VOWs and Participants
- An MLS may impose any, all, or none of the following requirements on VOWs, but may impose them only to the extent that equivalent requirements are imposed on participants’ use of MLS listing data in providing brokerage services via all other delivery mechanisms.
(a) A participant’s VOW may not make available for search by or display to Registrants the following data, intended exclusively for other MLS participants and their affiliated licensees:
i. expired, withdrawn, or pending listings
ii. sold data, unless the actual sales price of completed transactions is accessible from public records
iii. the compensation offered to other MLS participants
iv. the type of listing agreement, i.e., exclusive right-to-sell or exclusive agency
v. the seller(s) and occupant(s) name(s), phone number(s) and e-mail address(es), where available
vi. instructions or remarks intended for cooperating brokers only, such as those regarding showing or security of the listed property
(b) The content of MLS data that is displayed on a VOW may not be changed from the content as it is provided in the MLS. MLS data may be augmented with additional data or information not otherwise prohibited from display as long as the source of such other data or information is clearly identified. This requirement does not restrict the format of MLS data display on VOWs or display of fewer than all of the listings or fewer authorized data fields.
(c) There shall be a notice on all MLS data displayed indicating that the data is deemed reliable, but is not guaranteed accurate by the MLS. A participant’s VOW may also include other appropriate disclaimers necessary to protect the participant and/or the MLS from liability.
(d) Any listing displayed on a VOW shall identify the name of the listing firm in a readily visible color, and reasonably prominent location, and in typeface not smaller than the median typeface used in the display of listing data.
(e) The number of current or, if permitted, sold listings that Registrants may view, retrieve, or download on or from a VOW in response to an inquiry may be limited to a reasonable number. Such number shall be determined by the MLS, but in no event may the limit be fewer than five hundred (500) listings or fifty percent (50%) of the listings in the MLS, whichever is less. (Amended 11/17)
(f) Any listing displayed on a VOW shall identify the name of the listing agent.
- An MLS may also impose the following other requirements on the operation of VOWs.
(a) Participants displaying other brokers’ listings obtained from other sources, e.g., other MLSs, non-participating brokers, etc., shall display the source from which each such listing was obtained.
(b) A maximum period, no shorter than ninety (90) days and determined by the MLS, during which Registrants’ passwords are valid, after which such passwords must be changed or reconfirmed.
- An MLS may not prohibit participants from downloading and displaying or framing listings obtained from other sources, e.g., other MLSs or from brokers not participating in that MLS, etc., but may require either:
(a) that such information be searched separately from listings obtained from other sources, including other MLSs, or
(b) if such other sources are searched in conjunction with searches of the listings available on the VOW, that any display of listings from other sources identify such other source.
V. Effective Date
MLSs have until not later than February 16, 2009 to adopt rules implementing the foregoing policies and to comply with the provisions of Section III., above, and participants shall have until not later than one hundred eighty (180) days following adoption and implementation of rules by an MLS in which they participate to cause their VOW to comply with such rules.
See Appendix A for Seller Opt-out Form.
Appendix A: Seller Opt-out Form