The NAR IDX Enhancement work group… Here’s a post that your average home buyer or seller could probably care less about (though really, you should. Things like this could ultimately affect the way you search for homes on-line or your agent markets your home for sale on-line).
The Back Story
To make a long story short, back in May the real estate interwebs were all a buzz about a”¦ let’s just say “highly questionable””¦ decision by MIBOR (Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors) that decreed Google and other search engines were “scraper sites” and that an Indianapolis agent was violating rules by having an indexable home search solution on her web site. This resulted in the search being shut down. Sounds silly, and it is, but it happened.
That agent (Paula Henry) and I were asked to attend the National Association of Realtors (NAR) midyear meetings and address our concerns with the Multiple Listing Issues and Policy Committee. The Committee modified the policy, agreed to it, got it passed by the Executive Committee and unfortunately, a single member of the 900 member NAR Board of Directors (not coincidentally, a member of MIBOR) via a parliamentary procedure sent the proposed changes to the IDX policy back to a “work group” for further discussion and clarification.
NAR’s IDX Rule Changes Need More Study, is a good article on the initial days of the controversy and what happened at the midyear meeting. The comments are definitely worth reading.
After the midyear meeting in Washington, D.C., the NAR was gracious enough to invite me to sit on the MLS Committee and join the work group, so off I jetted to Chicago for Monday’s meeting of the “IDX Enhancements Work Group”.
So what happened in Chicago?
I’m not at liberty to write about exactly what was discussed in the meeting. Let me be crystal clear here. This is not because the NAR is trying to hide anything. Trust me, if they were, I’d say so. It’s because the final language of what the work group is recommending to the committee isn’t set yet, nor has it been delivered to the full MLS Committee. To post the interim language here would be a disservice to everyone. There were some very senior members of the NAR leadership team in attendance, and they had no issue with letting me write about the general outcome of work group’s discussion.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that the work group does not establish NAR policy. They draft (in sometimes excruciating detail) recommendations that are then sent to the full committee. That committee will then discuss and vote on these recommendations in the NAR annual meeting in November, then it goes to the “Executive Committee” and assuming passage there, it’s off to the full Board of Directors for their approval.
I must say that I was impressed with the people that composed the work group. There were brokers, association and MLS executives, and a cross section of NAR leadership from legal to technical departments (technically, the NAR leadership weren’t workgroup members. I’d call them “advisors”). This was a very sharp, very dedicated group of people that were obviously serious about their duties and kept both the NAR membership, and the real estate consumer public in mind throughout the meeting.
For the love of Pete man, get to what was discussed!
Two items were on the agenda for the meeting: 1) Proposed enhancements to the Internet Data Exchange (IDX) policy; and 2) Indexing IDX information by search engines.
The morning was spent discussing enhancements to the existing IDX policy. Much of this was to better align the IDX policy with the VOW (Virtual Office Website) policy. Significant discussion took place surrounding two major items of concern, the display of user-generated comments about a seller’s property and Automated Valuation Methods (AVM’s) ”“ automated / electronic home value estimates ”“ of home listings. Providing the sellers with a way to opt out of these two areas was the chief topic of discussion in this regard. The general consensus was that home sellers should be able to “opt out” of having this sort of information shown side-by-side with their listing data. (I am grossly over-simplifying here as I try to convert 2 hours of discussion into a single paragraph.)
The second subject of morning debate was advertising and co-branding on IDX search page results. There have been issues in the past with some folks having deceptive or misleading advertising / co-branding on their web sites. This is obviously (I would hope) not good. I was surprised to learn that there are some MLS’s out there that prevent any co-branding on IDX display pages (for co-branding, think of the all-in-one brokerage/lending/title shop, or where you join with a third party – like a listing aggregator – and display their logo and yours). While I’m not a fan, at all, of single agents doing two jobs like agent/lender, there are many brokerages that combine real estate services under one roof. Seems odd to me that some MLS’s would prohibit this sort of advertising, but to each their own I suppose. What this does demonstrate is the difficulty in crafting one national policy to cover hundreds of local MLS’s and their nuances. It’s not easy folks, believe me.
What about the indexing? Tell us about the indexing!
The afternoon was spent discussing the subject of search engine indexing of IDX listing data. Those that have followed this topic know my position on this matter is crystal clear ”“ we’ve got to allow search engines to index home listing information. Got to. To prevent it would be”¦ well, I don’t have the vocabulary to explain what preventing search engine indexing would be. Crazy? Asinine? Just plain stupid? Let’s just say there is no valid reason I can comprehend to require agents and brokers to prevent search engine indexing of listing data. In fact, the only way to truly do that would be to pull every agent/broker home search off the Internet and revert to keeping listing printouts in a three-ring binder. In other words, we’d have to fire up the flux capacitor and head back to 1983.
Again, I can’t reproduce the exact language that the work group will be sending on to the MLS Committee, but suffice it to say that I was very pleased with the end result. I think, assuming it gets past the Board of Directors this time, that the new policy language will be advantageous to both the NAR membership, and more importantly, to real estate buyers and sellers. It will, in short, do the right thing. But it’s not policy, yet.
So what is next?
The recommendations of the work group will be collected, collated and codified and shipped off for the full MLS Committee to review and act on at November’s meeting in San Diego. Assuming the MLS Committee approves (and I suspect they will ”“ they did at Midyear), the suggested policy changes go through Executive Board review and then to the NAR Board of Directors for a vote on final passage. This time, the subject matter has been dissected and discussed at length, so hopefully the BOD will approve and we can put this whole sordid mess of whether or not IDX listings can be indexed to bed.
This was my first real experience at the national level of how things get done inside the NAR. While the wordsmithing down to the comma level was tedious at times, it was very interesting to observe and participate. To be honest, I was all prepared to go to battle and knock some heads to convince people that indexing listings is the right thing to do, but it wasn’t really necessary. The workgroup “got it”. Now we just need to help the Board of Directors “get it”.
Any BOD members reading this (and I know some are), I’d appreciate your support in helping push these changes in November. If you need any help understanding the nuances, please don’t hesitate to contact me.