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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 different from the websites that brokers offer to consumers today. There are two significant differences - many more data fields and a registration requirement of your name and a valid e-mail address (registration information is kept strictly confidential and never sold to 3rd parties - guaranteed no spamming).

What is a VOW and how can it help buyers and sellers?

Everyone is aware that consumers are using the Internet as the cornerstone of finding a home to buy. Year after year the influence of the Internet is measured by many - including the 2008 National Association of REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers Study which reports:

 33% started their home search by looking online for properties for sale - 38% if a Repeat Buyer, 27% if a First-time Buyer

 87% claim that they used the Internet as an information source - 89% if a Firsttime Buyer and 86% if a Repeat Buyer.

 81% found the Internet as a useful source of information.  It is clear that brokers and agents must meet consumer demand for property information online if they are to have success in marketing homes to today's homebuyer.  Regular REALTOR websites fall short of displaying all of the information available in the MLS. With a VOW (Virtual Office Website), brokers may now obtain a data feed from their MLS that contains ALL NON-CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION AVAILABLE. This represents an enormous opportunity for Brokers and agents to differentiate themselves from other websites by providing homebuyers with the best website listing content available.

Google shows 88 Million real estate websites that are available to consumers rising from the wake of buyers going online to view property information. The battle for online superiority rages in every corner of every neighborhood of every city in the Nation between two different types of websites:

(1)  Regular REALTOR websites offering consumers very limited property data fields requiring the consumer to have to contact the agent for a deeper level of information needed that is very important to them as they look to purchase a home. 

(2)  VOW websites offering homebuyers access to their local MLS through
their real estate professional. A broker may now obtain a data feed of all nonconfidential information in the MLS and make that information available on their Virtual Office Website. Consumers will be able to view information that is very important to them as they look to purchase a home. They can view days on market, tax information, sold history and price changes. The real estate professional providing the information can provide better information than other websites and provide it through branded communications helping the agent to nurture an automated, online relationship with a buyer with the buyer being in control.

As a result of a settlement between the US Department of Justice and the National
Association of REALTORS®, brokers now have a powerful new marketing tool at their fingertips.  Brokers who are members of a MLS can now provide more comprehensive information to their customers than any non-VOW REALTOR® websites can feature. They can now offer a data feed of all MLS listing information to their clients via a Virtual Office Website (VOW).

Consumers are hungry for more and more real estate information. They are not only looking for active data, but any information that will help them get a better gauge on the local real estate market and neighborhoods they are interested in. They are looking for as much accurate, comprehensive and current information available. What better to serve their information needs than the complete listing database from ALL MLS member companies than having in-depth access to their local MLS, which has the greatest depth of real estate informationn available anywhere.

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 exceptions:

A. Expired, withdrawn, or pending Listings
B. Compensation offered to other MLS Participants
C. Type of Listing Agreement - i.e. exclusive agency
D. Seller/Occupants name and contact information
E. Showing instructions
F. Sold Data - but only in those states like Texas where that information is not considered part of the public record. If the information is public according to your state law, then Sold Data must be included for display on VOW.

Registration Requirement

The settlement between the DOJ and NAR recognized that 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 only their name and a valid email address. The password must also expire on a specified date, and the broker must keep the registration information of that consumer for 180 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 improve the consumer's real estate experience?

A broker's VOW will offer consumers the most comprehensive, accurate and timely real estate information available.  Because of the quality of information offered to consumers through VOWs, customers will be less likely to spend much time on non-broker websites offering less listing information. In mature VOW markets like San Francisco, more than 50% of all transactions were to registered VOW consumers.

WAV Group Consumer Research uncovered a very strong desire for consumers to participate in VOW websites. Both buyers and sellers value the depth of information available to watch market trends and find the right home Home sellers using VOWs are pricing their homes more realistically. Buyers using VOWs are working closely with their agents reviewing listings that match their search criteria all under the supportive hand of their real estate professional.

A Virtual Office Website is one of the most valuable tools a real estate professional can use today to provide the depth of information today's real estate consumer is looking for.

Progressive REALTORS that are serious about meeting the consumer's demand for technology solutions for the consumer's real estate needs have found that having a VOW website is an excellent way to create and grow relationships with consumers that will lead to future transactions.

Why do VOW's make sense for today's real estate consumer?

According to the Swanepoel 2009 Trends Report, "It's crucial to make sure that your customers trust you
before you enter into the world of making an offer on a property." "The goal is to create an on-going, non-pressured dialogue with the prospect." "This is best accomplished by "not providing just the basic information they can get from any number of other sites."  VOW's are a great method for accomplishing this important goal.  Historically, in agent/consumer relationships the flow of information was one way - the agent would find the information for the client and send an email or a link. Progressive, ethical REALTORS differentiate themselves using a VOW to provide many high-touch services. With a Virtual Office Website, the
flow of information is bi-directional. VOWs can help create a conversation with

One agent using a VOW commented, "Clients really appreciate the "insiders look" at the MLS data. They like to educate themselves about the market and VOW's allow them to do this with the best information available."  Most important to consumers is their ability to be "in control" of gathering information.

By accessing the local MLS information through a virtual office website, you will be able to see the most accurate, comprehensive and timely property information - the same information that I review as a REALTOR® to find listings for buyers and to prepare home valuations

Buyers and Sellers registering with a VOW, regardless of their "move status," can view listing history to understand price changes, days on market and other information that will show trends in the marketing of a home. 

In today's information starved society, Real Estate information is attractive to
everyone. From nosey neighbors to serious buyers, all of the MLS data is available for agents using a VOW to gift to their prospects.

The Lee County Alabama Association of REALTORS syndicates it's listings on some of the most visited and major, national real estate web portals.  These web portals include Realtor.com, Trulia.com, Zillow.com, Hotpads.com, Frontdoor.com (HGTV), Vast, Oodle, and Google.

Sell Homes more Quickly with a VOW Website

The value of a home is exactly equal to the amount a willing seller and a willing buyer agree to at a given point in time. It can sometimes be difficult or impossible to convince a seller of the a realistic asking price , especially if they purchased their home within the past few years.

Virtual Office Websites can help you work more successfully with a seller by allowing them to watch the local market dynamics along with you. The pivotal concept is that if both the agent and the seller are looking at the same information, they should derive a similar opinion on how to price a home, or at least have a shared set of facts to enhance their positions. Here are a few tools that VOW's offer to help increase the chances of selling a home:

Set up Daily Alerts: By using a Virtual Office Website as a sellers tool, real estate listing agents can inform their client on a daily basis about economic factors that will impact the asking price of their home. Sellers can be notified whenever there is price change, new listing, or sale activity that may influence their listing price. Be sure to watch the inventory with your seller and converse with them about market activity. This will assure your seller that you are informed and vested in the market impacting their home value.

Client CMA Tool: Agents have always been at the center of doing research in the MLS to share with their client as the foundation of developing the opinion of the value of a home. With a Virtual Office Website, the home seller is also afforded access to the same information used by agents. Sellers can build their own CMA by running a search on a broker or agent VOW. The difference with a VOW is that the CMA is dynamic - it can be updated each day with changes in active inventory and sold inventory. This dynamic approach to CMA will allow you and your seller to discuss any alterations in asking price that may be necessary.

Market Conditions: Virtual Office Websites put more information into the hands of sellers in a way that allows the agent and the client to agree to reasonable changes in sale price. If a seller is interested in selling a home in 60 days and the average days on market for a similar property is 260 something must give. Either the seller will need to get lucky or provide an incentive to buyers. If the seller is expecting $360 per square foot and the market for comparable homes is not exceeding $250, the likelihood of selling the home is pretty low. VOW websites offer key market statistics like days on market and price per square foot that will help agents set realistic expectations for their sellers. Allowing the seller to access this key information will lead to the development of an informed seller and a more accurate listing price.

Open House Notification: With open house notifications, sellers can go and visit listings that are comparable to their listing to gain first hand knowledge of other homes that buyers may be considering in the same area or price point. Since a VOW can provide consumers with open house electronic invitations that closely match the properties they are interested in, it can be an excellent marketing tool for the listing agent and a real value to the Seller.

The same principles of working with sellers that apply to your old regular REALTOR website hold true for your virtual office website. An agent's goal is to provide opportunities to engage a consumer to help them stay informed about market conditions that impact the value of their home.

With Virtual Office Websites, the opportunity for new forms of engagement with your customer become available that keep the servicing agent in the center of the online behavior. With VOW, these new features of consumer engagement emerge:

Agents and clients can leave notes or remarks for each other about competitive listings.

Agents and clients can modify search criteria to include or exclude listings

Open House Notifications invite sellers to look at competitive listings


Maintain Long-term Customers with VOW

Even if they are not actively planning to sell, homeowners are always intrigued by listing activity in their local market. Today, homeowners are more likely to call the listing agent on the sign to get information about a listing in their neighborhood.  A virtual office website can change that cycle of behavior by automatically notifying your prospect or client through your VOW of five key factors:

New listings in their area

Sold listings in their area

Market conditions in their area

Average days on market for comparable homes

Average price per square foot for comparable homes

Excerpts taken from "Roadmap To Using VOWs In Your Business"