VOW Virtual Office Website for Real Estate: SUMMARY All You Need to Know

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VOW stands for Virtual Office Website.

A Virtual Office Website (VOW) is a web site that is
used to conduct business activities.  VOW used as a real estate web
site allows the public (specifically registered users) to conduct
business (example: searches of approved Multiple Listing Service
properties) in a given area under certain conditions.  A VOW should be thought of as an extension of your brick and mortar real estate office.

Site users have to provide personal information before they can
actually look at listings, sold data, etc.  Also, Realtors who use VOW
can choose to “opt out” from the local Multiple Listing Service, which
means that these Realtors’ properties will only be displayed to people
who have signed in with the VOW.

The benefit to REALTORS is that registered users of their VOW web
site become customers under contract. Registered users gain the benefit
of more detailed information about each property and can generally see
all available properties, including sold data (if the sold data is
public information).

The VOW allows the public to:

  1. provide contact information
  2. agree to become a bona fide customer / client
  3. get a password protected private account
  4. describe property interest(s)
  5. and then conduct searches of all available Multiple Listing
    Service real estate listings, sold data, etc in a certain area (the
    area(s) being represented by the Broker office).

As of early 2006, the VOW policy had been replaced by a new Internet
Listing Display policy created by the National Association of Realtors. 
HOWEVER, On May 27, 2008, NAR and the U.S. Department of Justice
reached a favorable settlement, concluding a two-year DOJ investigation
(followed by two and a half years of litigation) regarding NAR’s
multiple listing policy as it pertained to the display of listings from
the MLS on brokers’ virtual office Web sites, or VOWs.

Important changes to the NAR MLS policies and model rules require action by all MLSs no later than February 15, 2009.

Summary of VOW policy by NAR applicable to Participants’ VOW

  1. 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).
  2. A Participant’s VOW must obtain the identity of each Registrant and
    obtain each Registrant’s agreement to Terms of Use of the VOW, as
    follows:

    1. A Registrant must provide his or her name and a valid email address.
      The Participant must send an email to the address provided by the
      Registrant confirming that the Registrant has agreed to the Terms of Use
      (described in subsection c below). The Registrant may be permitted to
      access the VOW only after the Participant has verified that the email
      address provided is valid and that Registrant received the Terms of Use
      confirmation.
    2. 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 email 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
      email address supplied by the Registrant, and the username and current
      password of each Registrant. Such records must be kept for not less than
      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, email 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.
    3. The Registrant must be required affirmatively to express agreement
      to a “Terms of Use” provision that requires the Registrant to open and
      review an agreement that provides at least the following:   [After the
      Registrant has opened for viewing the Terms of Use agreement, a “mouse
      click” is sufficient to acknowledge agreement to those terms. The Terms
      of Use Agreement may not impose a financial obligation
      on the Registrant or create any representation agreement between the
      Registrant and the Participant.  The Terms of Use agreement shall also
      expressly authorize the MLS, and other MLS Participants or their duly
      authorized representatives, to access the VOW for the purposes of
      verifying compliance with MLS rules and monitoring display of
      Participants’ listings by the VOW.]
      1. That the Registrant acknowledges entering into a lawful consumer-broker relationship with the Participant.
      2. That all data obtained from the VOW is intended only for the Registrant’s personal, non-commercial use.
      3. 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,
      4. 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.
      5. That the Registrant acknowledges the MLS’s ownership of, and the validity of the MLS’s copyright in, the MLS database.
    4. An agreement entered into at any time between the Participant and
      Registrant imposing a financial obligation on the Registrant or creating
      representation of the Registrant by the Participant must be established
      separately from the Terms of Use, must be prominently labeled as such,
      and may not be accepted solely by mouse click.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. A Participant’s VOW must comply with the following additional requirements:
    1. No VOW shall display listing or property address of any
      seller who have 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
      email, 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.
    2. 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 NAR Seller Opt-Out Form. The Participant shall retain such forms for
      at least one year from the date they are signed.
    3. With respect to any VOW that:  [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 subparagraph (d), 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.”]
      1. 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.
      2. displays an automated estimate of the market value of the listing
        (or hyperlink to such estimate) in immediate conjunction with the
        listing.
    4. 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.
    5. Each VOW shall refresh MLS data available on the VOW not less frequently than every 3 days.
    6. 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.
    7. Every VOW must display a privacy Policy that informs Registrants of
      the ways in which information obtained from them will be used.
    8. 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®.
  6. 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.
  7. 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. 

Summary of VOW policy by NAR applicable to Multiple Listing Services MLS:  

  1. A Multiple Listing Service shall permit MLS Participants to operate VOWs.
  2. An MLS shall, if requested by a Participant, provide basic
    “downloading” of all MLS non-confidential listing data; Confidential
    data includes only that which Participants are prohibited from providing
    to customers orally and by all other delivery mechanisms; Confidential
    data is explained in this summary.
  3. The NAR Policy does not require an MLS to establish publicly accessible sites displaying Participants’ listings.
  4. If an MLS provides a VOW-specific feed, that feed must include all
    of the non-confidential data included in the feed EXCEPT for listings or
    property addresses of sellers who have elected not to have their
    listings or addresses displayed on the Internet.
  5. 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.
  6. An MLS may require that Participants (1) 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 (2) 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.
  7. An MLS may not prohibit or regulate display of advertising or the
    identification of entities on VOWs (“branding” or “co-branding”).
  8. An MLS may not prohibit Participants from enhancing their VOWs by
    providing information obtained from sources other than the MLS (example
    being additional technological services, such as mapping functionality).
  9. An MLS may not restrict the format of data display on a VOW or
    regulate the appearance of VOWs, except as provided in generally
    applicable rules.
  10. An MLS shall make MLS listing data available to an AVP for the exclusive purpose of operating a VOW on behalf of a Participant.
  11. An MLS may not prohibit, restrict, or impede a Participant from
    referring Registrants to any person or from obtaining a fee for such
    referral.
  12. Requirements That MLSs May Impose on the Operation of VOWs and Participants.
    1. 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:

      1. 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:

        1. Expired, withdrawn, or pending listings.
        2. Sold data unless the actual sales price of completed transactions is accessible from public records.
        3. The compensation offered to other MLS Participants.
        4. The type of listing agreement, i.e., exclusive right to sell or exclusive agency.
        5. The seller(s) and occupant(s) name(s), phone number(s) and email address(es), where available.
        6. Instructions or remarks intended for cooperating brokers only, such
          as those regarding showing or security of the listed property.
      2. 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.  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.
      3. 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.
      4. 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.
      5. 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
        100 listings or 5% of the listings in the MLS, whichever is less.
      6. Any listing displayed on a VOW shall identify the name of the listing agent.
    2. An MLS may also impose the following other requirements on the operation of VOWs:
      1. 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.
      2. A maximum period, no shorter than 90 days and determined by the MLS,
        during which Registrants’ passwords are valid, after which such
        passwords must be changed or reconfirmed.
    3. 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
      that (i) such information be searched separately from listings obtained
      from other sources, including other MLSs, or (ii) if such other sources
      are searched in conjunction with searches of the listings available on
      the VOW, require that any display of listings from other sources
      identify such other source.

     

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