Restricting Access To The MLS

As I’ve written in the past, the real estate industry is full of really weird rules – or maybe they’re not that weird in light of the fact that the intention is often to undermine competition.

One such set of rules pertains to the arcane world of IDX and VOW – two different ways for MLS listings to be distributed across the Internet. The rules regarding these two different protocols are so convoluted that I always need to refer back to my notes to remember what the deal is.

IDX stands for Internet Data Exchange and is also known as Broker Reciprocity. Brokers who participate in this program agree to allow each other to display their listings on each other’s Web sites. When a listing is distributed via IDX it can be shown on any Web site without the user needing to register. However, the local MLS may restrict the display of some data fields and the Web site must display the name of the listing broker. OK…with the exception of the data restriction and the fact that brokers can choose not to reciprocate (why in the world wouldn’t everyone reciprocate?), this seems to be the way things should work. So why is there any other way to do business? Because this is real estate and nothing is simple. Hence, there is VOW.

VOW stands for Virtual Office Web site. The idea of VOW is that the Web site is a virtual office of the real estate broker and therefore the broker has established a client relationship with the visitor – provided the visitor has registered. Once the visitor registers, the broker is allowed to interact with that client just like they would if the client walked in the door of their office. They can show them all the information on any listing, whether or not the listing agent is participating in the reciprocity program. Seems to me to be a trivial distinction in order to show consumers something they should have access to without restriction.

When I first started researching the real estate industry the Multiple Listing Service of Northern Illinois (MLSNI) told me that only 60% of the listings were available through IDX in the Chicago area. Therefore, a Web site operator really needed to get users to register in order to show them all the listings. However, since then MLSNI merged with the other local MLS system (MAP) and in the process IDX became the default process. As far as I know this had nothing to do with the recent settlement between the NAR and the DOJ. Today around 97% of the listings are available through IDX. In other words, registration is really not necessary.

So then why do many broker sites still require registration, often with messages like the following when searching on their Web site?

It looks like Remax is only showing their own listings without registration but requiring registration to see anyone else’s listings, under the guise of MLS rules. Just to be clear, it is a flat out lie that the MLS requires registration – a great way to engender trust.

So why is registration required? Because they want your contact information so that they can follow up with you. We would love to follow up with you also but we don’t want registration to stand in the way of you getting what you want right now. We figure that if you would like us to follow up with you you will contact us.

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