When I read Bridget Frederick's post about VOW websites, I gave up trying to construct my own. Most of the information I wanted to cover she has, only she writes better and is more thorough. One disclaimer: I am skeptical NAR or the Justice Dept. are totally sure how this will shake out, and that the rules will change as everyone adjusts. So keep an eye on this in the near future.
It seems there's lots of confusion about what a VOW is, how if affects each of us, and whether or not the new rule changes mean that we have to spend money to make changes. So, I'm writing this Blog post to help clear up some of the confusion.
First, what is a VOW? A VOW or Virtual Office Website is defined by the new NAR VOW rules as a 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 Listing Information". More simply, a VOW is a website where we can perform, in the virtual world, any of the same brokerage services as those that we perform in the real, tangible world.
In fact, the parity rule is in effect, which basically says that anything you can do in the tangible world you may also do in the virtual world. (Well, almost anything but this blog won't go into all the specifics.)
If you are currently operating a VOW then you will have 180 days after your local MLS adopts the new rules to make your VOW compliant. If, however, you do not already operate a VOW then you are not mandated to make any changes or to implement such a site. With the new rules that have come out of the DOJ/NAR settlement, the IDX websites are unaffected.
SOLD Data: One of the big questions has been, "Does a VOW have to display Sold data?" The answer is simple. If Sold data is publicly available in your jurisdiction then the VOW should display Sold data. For instance, here in Baton Rouge, sold prices are easily obtained in the Public Record at the Clerk of Court's office. Since is a matter of "public record" here, we had to adopt the rule that sold data would be available on our VOW's.
Expired, Pending, and Withdrawn: This information may or may not be displayed depending on the rule adopted by your local MLS. My local MLS chose to make this unavailable. Personally, I take issue with this decision (but I was one lone vote). After making this unavailable to VOWs, my MLS decided that, to comply with the Parity Rule, we would no longer be able to produce a public report of Expired, Pending, or Withdrawn listings. Since our MLS rules do not allow us to provide "Agent" reports to the public we are technically unable to give Expired, Pending, or Withdrawn data to the public in either the tangible world or the virtual one - this seemingly complies with the Parity Rule. However, I maintain that while I may not legally provide the report to the public, I can print an agent report for a client's review in my office. And, since this is something they would only be able to review in my office in the tangible world and not in the virutual world, there is a problem with this policy adoption based on the parity rule. I think this one will come up for discussion though my local board again in the coming year.
Seller's Rights: The rules also provide for the protection of the seller's rights. Sellers may "opt out" in either of two ways. They may choose not to have the property listed on the Internet or they may elect not to have the address of the property on the Internet. The newly adopted rules include a form for the seller to utilize to may either of these elections.
Brokerage Opt Out: One last thing that I think is important to cover. In the world of IDX a brokerage may "opt out" of partipating; however, the VOW rules do not provide for a participant to "opt out". So, with a VOW your participant does not have the option of keeping their listings off other companies' VOW sites.
I think the adoption of the new VOW rules is an overall great step into the future. Many people have been dreading (and still dread) this new advent in real estate brokerage services. Some think that you have to be limited service broker in order to operate a VOW, but let me just say that a VOW will fit into any of your business models. And, as the rest of the world moves more and more into virtual realm so must we follow. If you want to set up a VOW, I suggest that you do some planning first. Don't just rush in. Write down what you expect your VOW to accomplish and how it will look and feel to an end user. Create the Web Architecture of your Virtual Office Website just as you would if you were about to construct a brand new office building. A great deal of planning can save you a lot of heartache in the future.
Now go forth and be prosperous in this new digital age of real estate!