Deadline for MLSs to Adopt VOW Policy — February 15, 2009

Dec 3, 2008  |  Michael Wurzer

In his post MLSs Under the Gun, Brian Larson alerts us that all NAR-affiliated MLSs must adopt a VOW policy on or before February 15, 2009, to comply with the settlement in the NAR/DOJ litigation. Brian also provides some excellent checklists to help MLSs, vendors, VOW operators, and others prepare for the new policies. These materials are must reading for anyone involved with MLS data.

For FBS’s customers, the RETS Manager built into the flexmls Web system will help you provide the persistent download required by the settlement. However, as Brian points out, you’ll need to work to define what is confidential data. Importantly, for this purpose, confidential essentially means cannot be distributed in any manner (including printed reports, emails, etc.) to anyone outside the MLS. This is going to be a very, very small set of fields and likely not the same as what MLSs traditionally consider to be confidential information.

One additional item I’d point out is that the MLS needs to provide a way for sellers to specify that they do not want their listing or, alternatively, their address, displayed on a VOW. If the seller does opt-out of having their listing or address displayed in the VOW, they also must sign a document that affirms they understand the listing won’t be available on any of the web sites. Importantly, a question Brian poses and I share is:

Does the MLS have an affirmative responsibility to ensure that none of the data feeds it provides to Realtor.com, IDX sites, syndicators, and other web sites, include the listings or addresses of sellers who have opted out of such displays? In other words, does an MLS act inconsistently with the policy if it distributes listings the seller has withheld under this section to Realtor.com or the like?

That seems like a tall order.

What questions do you have about implementing the policy? Comment here or, better yet, over on Brian’s blog, MLS Tesseract.

8 Responses to “Deadline for MLSs to Adopt VOW Policy — February 15, 2009”

  1. In my view, MLSs and their vendors must effect withholding of listings and addresses where required by the sellers by a positive action. It is insufficient to include a “flag” and rely upon data recipients to honor the request. Where sellers make such requests, before data delivery, the address must be removed or a “not authorized” statement provided in its place. Similarly, unauthorized listings must not be delivered. My 2 cents.

  2. Michael Stuart says:

    I agree with masking the address and having a flag, but the listing (and the sales information when it is sold), should be delivered – so that market analysis and other such use of the data in aggregate is accurate.

    If someone is receiving the data and wrongfully displaying opted-out listing information, you simply turn off their feed. It’s relatively easy to check, using automated software routines to check and see if an opted-out listing is showing somewhere. Just using Google’s search API.

  3. Where sold information is appropriate, deliver the data. But, I am strictly addressing prior to sold data withholding when required by the seller. Who has time to check the myriad of listings via Google or other means and chase down abusers to enforce compliance when the data can simply be withheld until delivery is appropriate.

  4. @Dave,
    I’m not sure whether the MLS can screen seller-withheld listings and addresses from the broker’s data feed. That’s because the VOW policy permits the VOW-operating broker to provide those listings to their clients/customers via other means, including email.

    It might work like this: Consumer A visits Broker X’s VOW and becomes Broker X’s client on it. Seller B has asked that her listing, which meets Consumer A’s requirements, not appear on the Internet. When Consumer A executes a search on Broker X’s VOW, it displays listings where the sellers have not opted out. But it also says, “There is at least one listing that we cannot display to you on this web site. Please click here to have the applicable listing(s) emailed to you.” Consumer A clicks and immediately receives an automated email from Broker X’s server (Consumer A had to register with an email, after all).

    In that example, Broker X is entitled to disclose Seller B’s listing to Consumer A, just as any broker in MLS can probably send an email to a client or customer of the same listing. But the VOW policy does not expressly say whether VOW feeds may exclude listings/addresses of sellers who opt out; only that other brokers may not display them on their web sites.

    Contrast a confidential field or status. If MLS designates a field or status as confidential, the VOW-operating broker cannot disclose it to customers/clients on the VOW, but neither can any other broker in MLS-EVEN ORALLY! I think the MLS could exclude those fields from a VOW data feed. I’ll discuss this further in a couple upcoming posts on http://www.MLSTesseract.com.

  5. Brian…

    Looking forward to your further commentary on VOW compliance. Hopefully, there is no criteria that cannot be met by application of an algorithm before data is out of the control of the MLS. I trust our MLS vendor will readily meet the challenge 🙂

  6. And, it follows that if an MLS is precluded by the seller from providing his/her address, then other means of indicating the address, such as mapping should be restricted… no address, but a map with the street name and a location pin on it or a link to the tax assessor’s data with address information? I think not.

  7. […] News has some comments about the changes. Here are NAR’s faq’s. This guy knows what he’s talking about. Finally here is a spirited debate on the new VOW changes on Agent […]

  8. Peter Toner says:

    Personally I think VOW’s have a greater future than IDX, I posted on that here:
    http://webrealestatetools.com/real-estate-updates/real-estate-search-mls-rules

    For an individual agent to implement a VOW their Principal Brokers permission is required, dinosaur Brokers had better wake up or the tech savvy agents will be moving offices.