In response to my request for readers to supply topics for MLSTesseract, I received this:

“[W]e have a real estate portal site currently providing IDX for a participant of our MLS. The portal site also happens to be a licensed brokerage in our state, but not a participant in our MLS. We have provided IDX data and there have been several issues with the display of data, etc. Now the question comes up about the legitimacy of providing a licensed brokerage without participatory rights full access to our MLS data if they were to request to be an AVP for a participant?”

NAR’s VOW Policy provides: “A Participant may designate an Affiliated VOW Partner (“AVP”) to operate a VOW on behalf of the Participant, subject to the Participant’s supervision and accountability and the terms of this Policy.” Policy I.1.a.

The key provisions of NAR’s VOW Policy relating to affiliated VOW partners or AVPs appear in Section III.10 of the Policy. The policy provides that MLSs may not “prohibit Participants from designating particular entities as AVPs except that, if an AVP’s access has been suspended or terminated by an MLS, that MLS may prevent an entity from being designated an AVP by another Participant during the period of the AVP’s suspension or termination.” Policy III.10.h.

So, to answer the question from the reader: I believe a participant in MLS can designate anyone to be an AVP for the participant, and the MLS generally has nothing to say about who the AVP is. Some examples of possible AVPs.

  1. A licensed real estate firm that operates purely as a referral-only model. It could build VOWs for brokers “free of charge” but then charge the broker a referral fee upon the closing of a transaction.
  2. A national portal. Imagine any national entity that would like real estate data behind it. In presentations, I use the example of the Home and Garden Network. HGTV has a real estate web site at FrontDoor could seek out a broker in every market, build a VOW for the broker, and then collect all those VOWs under a single, co-branded umbrella site (much the way so successfully gathers the IDX sites of RE/MAX affiliated together under one umbrella). This is what I refer to as a “roll-up” or “drill-down” site. (BTW, I have no knowledge of any plans by HGTV to do this – it’s just an interesting possibility.)
  3. Another MLS. A neighbor MLS could offer VOWs to your participants. The other MLS could then host a regional portal, connecting consumers to the VOWs (and listings) of brokers in your MLS – kind of an uber-public-facing web site.
  4. The Chamber of Commerce. Your local Chamber could offer VOWs to your brokers and bundle them together under the Chamber’s regional portal.

What’s more, there is no limit on the number of AVPs with whom a broker can work. Section II.7 of the Policy provides: “A Participant may operate more than one VOW itself or through an AVP. A Participant who operates a VOW itself shall not be precluded from also operating VOWs in conjunction with AVPs.”

But remember, in each case, the VOW – the part of the web site that shows your MLS’s listings – belongs to your participating broker, and it has to be “branded” to indicate that. Otherwise it would be deceiving the consumer with regard to which broker she’s entering a brokerage relationship with. Co-branding, is still permitted, though. Section III.7 of the Policy says: “An MLS may not prohibit or regulate display of advertising or the identification of entities on VOWs (‘branding’ or ‘co-branding’), except to prohibit deceptive or misleading advertising or co-branding.” It continues, “For purposes of this provision, cobranding will be presumed not to be deceptive or misleading if the Participant’s logo and contact information (or that of at least one Participant, in the case of a VOW established and operated by or for more than one Participant) is displayed in immediate conjunction with that of every other party, and the logo and contact information of all Participants displayed on the VOW is as large as the logo of the AVP and larger than that of any third party.”

An implied question in the reader’s request is “Under what circumstances can the MLS terminate an AVP’s access?” I need to think about that one for a bit.