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Perspective: Stop Virtual Office Website (VOW) Policy

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There’s a great article at Inman News today about Virtual Office Websites (VOW). Many real estate agents and offices are against VOWs. Personally, I am not, because I am all for giving as much information as possible to the consumer.

A quote from the article:

The National Association of Realtors has fought tooth and nail to protect entrenched old-school brokerage companies from the perceived evils of unfettered virtual office Web sites (VOWs), which display information about for-sale homes listings on the Internet. It’s been a good fight, and NAR has made the best effort that Realtors who supported restrictions on VOWs could have hoped for, given the difficult and sensitive circumstances of this complex and controversial issue. But now, under threat of a U.S. Department of Justice antitrust lawsuit, it’s time for NAR to call it quits and get out of the VOW regulatory business.

NAR’s detailed VOW policy, which was first adopted by the association’s board of directors two years ago, was misguided from the outset. It was too complicated; it attempted to reconcile too many conflicting interests; some of the rules were so protectionist that they seemed to invite an antitrust investigation; and worst of all, it was too late to the market even at that time. VOWs already existed in May 2003 and, as some Realtors themselves have observed, NAR’s policy was a futile attempt to shut the proverbial barn door after the horses had fled or put the proverbial genie back in the bottle after the three ill-conceived wishes had been granted.

I think what a lot of real estate agents don’t like about Virtual Office Websites is that another REALTOR in town would have their listings on their website. For example:

Mike Davis has a listing at 123 Any Street in Des Moines. Mike Davis, of course, is with Coldwell Banker. John Smith at XYZ Realty puts information about my listing on his website; in fact, John Smith puts the entire MLS on his website.

That’s a very unofficial example of what a Virtual Office Website (VOW) is.

Morally, what is wrong with that, as long as John Smith is dislosing that they are not his listings? After all, isn’t that what the public wants and needs? The ability to see everything for sale, not just one company’s listings?

And how does Mike Davis suffer in this example? After all, it’s more advertising for my listing. Isn’t the goal to get the listing sold?

Even sillier, in the Des Moines real estate market it’s perfectly okay to for me to email a customer or potential customer any and all listings in the MLS, no matter which real estate agency has the homes listed. In fact, I don’t even have to include the listing REALTOR’s name with the listing!

Why is emailing the listings acceptable, but having the listing on a website not acceptable? What’s the difference?

The short answer, in my opinion, is that a lot of real estate agents and companies do not want to give the public access to the MLS.

A lot of real estate agents want to “double dip” their listings; they want to sell their listings themselves. That’s human nature, of course, but it’s better for the consumer in most cases to use a good buyer’s agent and for the seller and the buyer to be represented by different agents.

Real estate companies are competitors, sure. But we are also supposed to be working together in the best interests of the public. That means encouraging — as much as possible — other real estate companies to sell our listings.

But NAR doesn’t seem to like the above scenario, and some major players in the Des Moines real estate market don’t seem to, either. They don’t perceive it to be good for them. And until that changes, the best that I can do as a good buyer agent is to email listings to people.

But I believe that times are changing. And this is supposed to be about what is good for the consumer, not us.

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