VOW Virtual Office WebsiteWAV Group is conducting research to discover if there is any broker in the United States who has pulled out of IDX and only offers a Virtual Office Website to consumers. Presumably, it would be a large enough broker who would display their listings publicly without the need to register to the site. If consumers wanted to see other broker listings, they would need to register. No other broker would be able to display that brokers listings to the public. If you know of such a site here in America, please direct me to it and you will be handsomely rewarded.

My loving relationship with Virtual Office Websites (VOW) dates back to about 2005 when MRED was called MLSNI. You see, the Chicago area had a local custom whereby brokers could elect to exclude some other brokers from obtaining and displaying their listings via Broker Reciprocity or IDX. To obtain access to all of the data, consumers would need to register to the brokers VOW.  Consumers gladly registered to access all of the listings, get more property information like sold listings, and lead generation rates for that area were far higher than other regions of the county.

Around 2005, Listingbook launched their VOW solution in partnership with MLSs. One of the most popular posts ever published on the WAV Group website was titled “Listingbook is a must have for every MLS.” Even today, agents may have access to a VOW solution combined with email marketing, contact management, flyer program and  a host of other agent productivity tools for free. Listingbook was one of the early pioneers of Freemium Pricing for MLSs whereby some functionality of the solution is offered free with permission to publish advertising. Premium subscription has more features and removes advertising. VOWs have one thing in common, they allow all non-confidential MLS data to be displayed to the consumer online if they are registered to that agent’s website. In a way, I think that Listingbook stalled many technology companies from developing new, innovative VOW solutions for agents. Its hard to compete with a free product offered in partnership with the MLS.

The ability to access all MLS data, including sold listings, days on market, and price changes over time make VOW solutions very appealing. It did not take long for some inspired brokerages like Zip Realty, Redfin and others to leverage VOW data in ways that enabled them to gain an online advantage over brokers who only published IDX data. These new online brokerage models posed such a threat to traditional brokerages that some MLSs prohibited access to the full MLS data. The United States Department of Justice caught wind of this anti-competitive behavior and threatened action against MLSs and the National Association of REALTORS. The settlement between NAR and the DOJ led to the formation of VOW rules and regulations. The settlement also required every MLS in the nation to write a letter confirming that VOW data is available to any Participating Broker Subscriber to the MLS who requests it. WAV Group delivered presentations around the county about VOW and the DOJ settlement. The information is still the same, and you can brush up on the finer points by viewing the presentation. NAR/DOJ Settlement and the Impact to your Business.

WAV Group also published a 5 part series on Virtual Office Websites:

Part 1. What is a VOW and how can it help you grow your business?

Part 2. How to use a VOW to generate new customers.

Part 3. Using your VOW as a buyer’s tool

Part 4. Sell homes more quickly with a VOW website

Part 5. Maintain long-term customers with VOW websites.

WAV Group fully expected that brokers would immediately adopt VOW websites to counter the advantage of ZipRealty, Redfin and others. But it did not transpire. CoreLogic’s AgentAchieve is perhaps the most well adopted broker VOW solution. Intero, Coldwell Banker NRT Northern California, Prudential Fox and Roach, Realty Executives, Raveis and others are enjoying the benefits – but they mostly use it as an agent desktop productivity tool that just happens to have VOW data. Wolfnet, Delta Media, Homes.com, and others have VOW/IDX combination sites that also seem to be very popular. I particularly like Wolfnet’s product as it displays the VOW field names like “Days on Market”, but you need to “unlock” the feature to view the data. You can see a sample on Century 21 Hometown’s website.