MLS Data Licensing...Your Future in Real Estate Sales Depends On It

MLS Data Licensing...Your Future in Real Estate Sales Depends On It

MLS Data Licensing...Your Future in Real Estate Sales Depends On It

MLS Data Licensing...Your Future in Real Estate Sales Depends On It

MLS Data Licensing...Your Future in Real Estate Sales Depends On It

MLS Data Licensing...Your Future in Real Estate Sales Depends On It

MLS Data Licensing...Your Future in Real Estate Sales Depends On It

MLS Data Licensing...Your Future in Real Estate Sales Depends On It

MLS Data Licensing...Your Future in Real Estate Sales Depends On It

​​​​​​​Saul Klein
April 29, 2022

How familiar are you with “Data Licensing” and Data Licensing Agreements? Three typical data license agreements are:

IDX - Internet Data Exchange
VOW - Virtual Office Web Sites


When a residential real estate licensee is asked what they consider to be the most important business tool in their business, almost exclusively the answer you will hear is the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).MLS data was for years protected by the industry and coveted by the rest of the world. In the mid-1990s, limited amounts of listing information became available through national aggregators such as

It is now being assumed by many that all the data should be made available to all consumers and what was once considered national electronic (Internet)advertising is drifting slowly towards national electronic (Internet) access by the public. What was unthinkable 15 years ago is now being touted as the future and woe to anyone who tries to stand in the way of “progress.”The Internet has created a “Paradigm Shift” in MLS and as such, it is instructive to remember that when a paradigm shifts, everyone goes back to zero...your past success guarantees nothing when a paradigm shifts. As a matter of fact, your past success can block you from seeing the future. The question is whether that future includes unfettered consumer access to all the MLS data (on all brokers’ websites) or subsets of data as agreed upon by local brokers in local market areas.

The Internet has resulted in once-dominant MLS vendors now fighting for market share and a transition from legacy to browser-based Internet systems with Internet access for agents and access and dissemination of listing (and sold) information to consumers.

How Does IDX Differ from VOW (and should it?)

The distinction has been made by some in the industry that IDX is advertising and that VOW is the dissemination of information. The drawing of that line between advertising and information is not as easy as many in the industry would have us believe.


  • Are subject to the same MLS Rules as a “bricks and mortar” office

  • Proponents state that a VOW is the same as a “Bricks and Mortar” office(theory)

  • The visitor, by virtue of onsite registration, becomes a client

  • Allowing the public, by providing contact information (non-standardized as to amount and type), to conduct searches of all MLS listings and obtain much of the information contained in the MLS.

  • VOW Participant can (arguably) display all MLS listings without permission of the listing broker, as VOW is the distribution of information (much like faxing information to someone or providing a “client copy” of MLS data so the theory goes), and it is not advertising (see some regulations on definitions of advertising, which seem to refute this theory and would thus require the listing broker’s permission to be included in another broker’s VOW).

  • All listing information details can be displayed, including comments (theory and practice at this point with few regulations written on VOWs)

  • MLS was not created with the intent that consumers should have access to all the content. The “first wave” of public display required fields to be agreed upon by participating brokers. The argument centered on “who owned the data”

Justification for Unfettered Public Access by Web Surfers

  • The client copy does not contain the name of the listing broker

  • Internet is just a new way to provide information and is no different than having someone come into your office for information

Justification for Limiting Access by Web Surfers

  • When someone comes into your office, do you give them your user name and password to the MLS? If not in your office, why would you on the Internet?

  • Justification for Limiting Access by web surfers

  • Too many properties to choose from is confusing

  • Certain information contained in an MLS is confidential and compromising; it could put the seller at a negotiating disadvantage, violate privacy, put people at risk(physical)


  • A VOW is not the same as a “Bricks and Mortar” Office, so different rules are necessary

  • MLS allows for agent search, not consumer search; certain MLS information is confidential and should remain confidential.

  • Some listing brokers have unsuccessfully argued as follows: Listings have marketing value and brokers should have the ability to opt in or out when it comes to the display of their listings on another broker’s website. Brokers do not allow other brokers to place for sale signs on their listings so they should be able to decide if they want the marketing power of their listings to help their competitive market and sell current and future services. Listing information is valuable and brokers can still be in control...just because there is an Internet does not mean brokers have to give up control of listing data.

  • The bottom line is that listing brokers cannot pick and choose which listings to include–it’s either all or none.

  • Sellers should have the right to opt out of the Internet display of their property.

  • There is no evidence that the property the buyer finds in an Internet search is the property the buyer fact, the property purchased is probably the property found by the agent in an agent search.

  • Polls and surveys are often suspect and may reflect the wishes and/or bias of the surveyor rather than the surveyed. Have you ever seen the results of a survey and wondered who in the world was surveyed?

  • Agents should only be allowed VOW or IDX sites if their brokers approve

  • Comments section of MLS should not be made public and any comments should be examined.

There is much to consider by all interested in MLS and the time to participate now at your local association and MLS...this is not a drill. As Shakespeare wrote: There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat; And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures.


Saul Klein

Saul Klein is widely recognized as the real estate industry’s first Internet Evangelist. He was selected by the National Association Of REALTORS® as one of the “25 Most Influential People in the Real Estate Industry” in 2003, and has been selected as one of the “100 Most Influential Real Estate People” by Inman News in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, 2012, 2013.



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