VOW – Virtual Office Website Policy as set by NAR-National Association of Realtors

Policy governing use of MLS data
in connection with Internet brokerage services offered by MLS
Participants (“Virtual Office Websites”)

I.  Definitions and Scope of Policy.

1.  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 nonprincipal 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 nonprincipal broker or sales licensee, or by an AVP.

2.  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.
3.  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).
4.  The display of listing information on a VOW does not require separate permission from the
Participant whose listings will be available on the VOW.
5.  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.

1.  A Participant may provide brokerage services via a VOW that include making MLS active 2
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:

a. 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.
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 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.
c. 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:

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 or3
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’s ownership of, and the validity of the
MLS’s copyright in, the MLS database.
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.
d. 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.  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.
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:

a.  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.
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 year from the date they are signed.4
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 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.”

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 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.
g.  Every VOW must display a privacy Policy that informs Registrants of the ways in which
information obtained from them will be used.
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®.

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.5

III.  Policies Applicable to Multiple Listing Services.

1.  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.
2. 
An MLS shall, if requested by a Participant, provide basic
“downloading” of all MLS nonconfidential listing data, including without
limitation address fields, listings 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 paragraph 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. 
3.  This 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 described in paragraph 2 above 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”), 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.
8.  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 6
technological
services (such as mapping functionality), or information derived from
nonconfidential 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.
9.  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.
10.  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 (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 RETS feed or via an 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.7
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
(a) for reasons other than those that would allow an MLS to suspend or terminate a
Participant’s access to data, or

(b) 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

(a) if the AVP is no longer designated to provide VOW services to any Participant,

(b) if the Participant for whom the AVP operates a VOW ceases to maintain its status with the MLS,

(c) if the AVP has downloaded data in a manner not authorized for Participants and that hinders
the ability of Participants to download data, or

(d) if the associated Participant or AVP has failed to make required payments to the MLS in accordance with the MLS’s
generally applicable payment policies and practices.

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.

IV.  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:

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 email address(es),
where available.8
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 100 listings or 5% of the listings in the MLS, whichever is less.
f.  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:

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 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. 9

EFFECTIVE DATE:

MLSs have until not later than [90 DAYS AFTER ENTRY OF THE FINAL JUDGMENT] to
adopt rules implementing the foregoing policies and to comply with the provisions of section III
above, and (2) Participants shall have until not later than 180 days following adoption and
implementation of rules by an MLS in which they participate to cause their VOW to comply with
such rules.

Seller Opt-Out Form

1.[Check one]a. [Check here]  I have advised my broker or sales agent that I do not want the listed
property to be displayed on the Internet;  or
b. [Check here]   I have advised my broker or sales agent that I do not want the address of
the listed property to be displayed on the Internet.
2.  I understand and acknowledge that, if I have selected option a, consumers who conduct
searches for listings on the Internet will not see information about the listed property in response
to their search. 
___________
initials of seller

 

 

 

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