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Know the Law/Users/adamp/Desktop/Stuff for FAR/Magazine Assets/SEPT08/images/knowTheLaw

NAR, DOJ Agree on MLS Policy

The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) has reached a favorable settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, resolving the litigation between them over the display of listings from the MLS on brokers’ virtual office Web (VOW) sites. The final order validates NAR’s long-standing Internet data exchange (IDX) policy and strengthens the membership rules governing multiple listing services.

“This is clearly a win-win for the real estate industry and the consumers we serve,” says NAR President Richard F. Gaylord.

The order caps a three-year long battle between NAR and the Justice Department, which filed a lawsuit against the association in 2005 calling it anti-competitive for brokers to have unlimited say in where, and how, their clients’ listings are displayed on other brokers’ VOWs.

The final order expressly provides that NAR does not admit any liability or wrongdoing, and NAR will make no payments in connection with the settlement. The terms of the agreement preserve and strengthen the MLS as a means for broker-to-broker cooperation intended to serve real estate professionals who list or sell property in that MLS. “This will ensure that MLSs are used for what they were originally intended to do, which is help real estate professionals find buyers for people who want to sell their homes,” says Laurie Janik, NAR general counsel.

NAR will be reinstating an updated version of its VOW policy, which governs the use of MLS data for brokers who offer brokerage services online by requiring customers to register with the brokerage before they can search for homes. The revised policy continues to protect the rights of sellers who do not want their property or their property’s address displayed on the Internet, and also protects sellers from having false information about their listings appear on the VOWs of a member of the MLS. Among other things, the revised policy requires brokers hosting others’ MLS data on their site to turn off features—such as home value estimates and blogs—surrounding a listing at the request of the seller.

The revised policy comes at a time when brokers appear to be moving away from the VOW business model. “The response to VOWs hasn’t been great because consumers can find sites throughout the Internet on which to gather information without having to register their name and contact information,” says Mark Lesswing, NAR chief technology officer.

Reprinted with permission of the National Association of Realtors®.