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MLS Rules & Regulations/Policies

IDX - what is it all about?

IDX - Internet Data Exchange Data Exchange is a real estate property search (agent or firm) website that allows the public to conduct searches of approved Multiple Listing Service properties in a certain area.

Website users generally gain the benefit of anonymous property searching and review. IDX sites usually provide less detailed information than the full Realtor Multiple Listing Service, limiting the data to that which is deemed publicly accessible. This system benefits both parties. The benefit to realtors is that users of their IDX web site can search freely, establish some confidence, and qualify themselves before contacting the realtor. Many IDX solutions provide lead capture capabilities. The benefits to clients are to save time and refine his target.

Certain rules apply to the real estate companies’ ability to display each detail about a property and specify required disclosures that must be displayed on the website. These "display rules" are set by the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which forms its policy around the recommendations of the National Association of Realtors.


There is some confusion among developers and Realtors® alike as to what is the difference between RETS and IDX. To help clear up the confusion; first, lets start by looking at IDX and what that term means. IDX stands for Internet Data Exchange, and was a mandate from the National Associations of Realtors® that said the “Associations of REALTORS® and their Multiple Listing Services must enable MLS Participants to display on Participants’ public websites aggregated MLS active listing information subject to the requirements of state law and regulation.”

Typically this mandate was answered by providing the MLS participants a link that the participants could frame into their own website. (This method is available to NSBBOR MLS members as a free service from both FAR's (delayed/update via FTP) and InnoVia (real-time data). The other method used to meet this mandate was to provide access to a FTP (File Transfer Protocol) feed of the data, which is commonly now referred to as the IDX feed.   Both of the above solutions pose problems for Realtors® and their website developers. Almost every single MLS’s FTP feed is different, requiring custom coding or custom configuration for each MLS and/or user. FTP feeds are only updated once per 24 hours. The framed solutions on the other hand provide little to no customization in looks or services differentiation between Realtors. Framed pages also have negative impacts on a websites search engine ranking, causing it to be very difficult to market a website.

A newer common and now standard data exchange protocol for IDX information (data feed) is the Real Estate Transaction Specification or RETS. The old standard, an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) Data Push, has to be individually configured by the MLS provider and is no longer supported by the NSBBOR MLS.

Now lets talk about this thing called RETS, that has been getting so much attention lately. RETS stands for the Real Estate Transaction Standard. RETS is an attempt, by NAR and the MLS vendors, to standardize the way that IDX and other real estate application data are provided. While still not a perfect solution, it does offer many benefits over providing the IDX data via FTP. First, RETS is typically setup as a near real time access to the MLS data, meaning that when Realtor® Bob enters a listing into his MLS, it is provided out almost instantaneously to users via the RETS server. RETS also provides a standardized way to determine what data the MLS is providing you, allowing for easier and less time consuming setups for website developers. The RETS standard is still maturing; however NAR, realizing the potential for RETS to improve their members access to the IDX data, has mandated that all Realtor® Associations and their MLSs adopt RETS in 2009.

NSBBOR’s MLS currently offers members the InnoVia frameable links as an included member benefit and RETS is available for a prescribed fee (individual agents, utilizing third party (multiple-agent) IDX personal website solution providers, are required to execute the data request but are exempt from the data fees. The provider is required to pay a fee). NSBBOR no longer supports the FTP data feed.   

So as you can see RETS is just an improved way for the IDX website to access the MLS data. RETS IS NOT IDX!

What is a VOW?

The simplest definition of a VOW is a broker website that allows consumers to access all of the non-confidential information in the MLS after registering with a Realtor.

Virtual Office Websites are really not much different from the websites that brokers offer to consumers today. There are only two significant differences - more data fields and a registration requirement.

More Data Fields

The rules and regulations pertaining to the display of listing information on broker websites across the country vary from market to market. Some markets have long permitted the display of deeper data fields like Sold Listings, Listing History, Tax Data, Price per Square Foot, and Days on Market. However, many markets did not allow this information to be displayed online. Only a member agent or broker could access that level of data by signing into the MLS and delivering the information to their client.

Suffice it to say that MLSs are now required to provide a data feed of all MLS information to any member broker for display through VOWs with a few exception

 - Compensation offered to other MLS Participants
 - Type of Listing Agreement - i.e. exclusive agency
 - Seller/Occupants name and contact information
 - Showing instruction

Registration Requirement

Access to this level of real estate information should only be permitted when there is an expressed working relationship between a consumer and a Realtor. To access a VOW, the consumer is required to register, agree to the terms of use, and agree they are entering in a lawful broker-consumer relationship (broker-consumer relationship as defined by state law). To satisfy the registration requirements, the consumer must provide their name and a valid e-mail address. The password must also expire on a specified date, and the broker must keep the registration information of that consumer for 90 days after expiration.

To satisfy the lawful broker-consumer relationship, the consumer must click to agree to the terms of use, and verify that they will not use the data for any commercial use, and confirm that they have a bona fide interest in the purchase, sale or lease of real estate of the type being offered through the VOW. Nobody - broker, consumer, or the website provider may redistribute any of the information to any third party.

How will VOWs change the agent-customer relationship

With the evolution of Internet Data Exchange (IDX) and literally millions of real estate websites, the consumer has had access to a significant number of sources of property information. VOWs will allow brokers, and possibly agents in markets where agents have been included in VOW policies, to once again place themselves at the center of the consumer’s property search experience.

A broker’s VOW will offer consumers the most comprehensive, accurate and timely real estate information available.

NAR VOW Policy - adopted by NSBBORs

Which Form Do You Need?
MLS Participants and agents licensed with those MLS Participants must fill out the appropriate agreement and register with NSBBOR for any of these options.

Scenario Form Required Signatures Required MLS Fees
Broker/Agent wants InnoVia IDX Links IDX Link Registration Broker/Agent NONE
Broker wants Firm-only MLS data (non-public - in house use via RETS) RETS Server Order Form Broker $225 Setup/$200 Yr
Firm/Office/Agent wants IDX data
(obtains via RETS)
Data Access Agreement
RETS Server Order Form
Broker/Agent & IDX Vendor $225 Setup/$200 Yr*
Agent wants IDX data
(participating vendor obtains via RETS)
Data Access Agreement Broker/Agent & Vendor NONE*
Firm/Office wants IDX data
(participating vendor obtains via RETS)
Data Access Agreement Broker & Vendor $225 Setup/$200 Yr
Firm/Office/Agent wants VOW data
(APV obtains via RETS)
Data Access Agreement
RETS Server Order Form
Broker/Agent & APV $225 Setup/$200 Yr
Participating* vendor wants IDX data
via RETS for servicing multiple members
Standard Non-Participant
Licensing Agreement

RETS Server Order Form
IDX Vendor $225 Setup/$200 Yr

  * Fee exception - 3rd party vendors (Licensees) requesting/using persistent MLS data feeds (FTP/RETS) for multiple-agent services pay a (single) setup and annual data fee as previously established by NSBBOR ($225 setup/$200 annual). However, any eligible NSB agent(s) that wishes to us the RETS Server for a personal URL (3rd party vendor or otherwise) shall not be charged a fee but are still required to submit all required data request forms to the MLS for approval.

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