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Delta Media Group Blog


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Is your website compliant?

When was the last time your brokerage reviewed your website to review liability, compliance, and risk avoidance? If you answered anything above a twelve-month timeframe, it is most likely time for another review. There is a wide ranging and ever-changing set of important review topics that your website needs to be in compliance with in order to avoid future issues and potential problems so a website review is something your brokerage cannot take lightly. You can contact an attorney knowledgeable in this area to have them review your website for possible legal concerns. Another approach would be to do most or all of the review in-house. Regardless of the approach your brokerage takes, to assist you, we have developed a step-by-step guide to help you begin the review process for those that are new or who have struggled to achieve this goal in the past.

In-House Approach

Tip One(1): Utilizing Free Key Resources:
To help reduce the cost of these types of important and preventative risk avoidance activities, many State Association of REALTORS® provide member assistance and many offer free legal hotlines or online assistance for you to use in your website review. In addition, many MLS’s have MLS rules coordinators who generally are willing and happy to assist your brokerage with your MLS rules questions and compliancy reviews. Utilizing these resources before and after your website review (gathering information on what to look for prior to and then following up with these resources after your website review has been completed) seems to be the key toward a detailed, cost effective and efficient website review.

Also, many of your REALTORS® may already sit on or participate in one or more REALTOR® committees such as Fair Housing, MLS, Legislative, and/or Professional Standards. These agents and brokers would be another excellent free resource and they should be asked to either advise or join your review of your website (see the assembling of a review team section below). Note: Even if you do not have any active REALTORS® participating on committees currently that may assist you, it is never too late to help them start participating for future reviews. Most associations are desperate for reliable volunteers and often it is as easy as simply asking the right person (board executive or President).

Step One(1): Assembling a Review Team:
Setting up a plan for who will examine your website is the first step toward a successful review and better brokerage piece of mind. It seems most efficient if you are doing this in-house, to implement a review team approach to analyze your website. However, before you assemble your review team, it helps to know some common review areas, which include but are not limited to the following: NAR Code of Ethics, MLS Rules and Local/State/Federal real estate advertising regulations and property disclosure laws. Also, areas such as Fair Housing (HUD), copyright/content right infringements (including photos (graphics)), written content, links, Metatags, and consumer related disclosures/ disclaimers are also important areas to have reviewed.

An ideal review team would consist of three(3)-to-eight(8) members, depending on the size of your brokerage. The larger the brokerage is (number of agents), the more individuals should participate as the general rule of thumb (more content will most likely need to be reviewed as a result of more agents). Ideally, there will be a team leader appointed for your review group, which typically is the broker, office manager or equivalent. Before the meeting, a team leader should organize, assemble and familiarize themselves with any regulations, laws or guidelines available that relate to the review areas identified. During the meeting, the team leader should keep the meeting on track and moving toward identifying areas that will need to be reviewed with the various resources identified in Tip One(1).

Good News and Bad News About Website Reviews
The good news is that after you complete your first website review, future reviews should be far less time consuming. Now the bad news, plan for a minimum of three(3) to four(4) hours of time per person for your website review team for the first review. Additionally, the team leader should plan for twice that amount (a minimum of usually six(6) to eight(8) hours of preparation time) for the first meeting and then another two(2) - four(4) hours of additional time to further research and/or resolve any issues found.

Step Two(2): Setting Up a Review Meeting
Before you panic by the sheer number of potential review topics to be covered during your review, one of the best review strategies we have heard about is the use of a simple two-prong website review strategy, to effectively get things accomplished.

Number One(1) : Ask each review team member to spend a minimum of two(2) hours on your brokerage website a day or two(2) prior to your review meeting looking at specific areas where they have good knowledge or experience with. Example: A REALTOR® who belongs to a MLS committee, would be great at reviewing your website disclaimers, property search results screens, IDX logos and full listing display search results to see if they follow MLS rules and regulations. An agent with your brokerage that is a member of the professional standards committee may be a good person to look at your website for any potential Code of Ethics or Fair Housing issues. Finally, we think it is important to make sure you clearly delegate and let everyone know what his or her area of responsibility are ahead of your meeting.
Hint: Schedule a review meeting in writing (email is a great tool) and give team members ideally a week (no more than ten(10) days) notice prior to the time of the meeting.

Number Two(2): After the team has had time to complete their individual reviews, the review meeting should follow which is usually a two-hour meeting where the team can all be assembled together in a room (ideally using a computer which is connected to a projector or large monitor) that will allow your team to review and discuss any issues that the team has found. Then once your meeting is over, assemble all feedback received, review them with the appropriate resource authority (please be sure to use the proper resources to review any concerns) and then contact Delta Media Group Support (support@deltagroup.com) with any website changes that require design or programming modifications that cannot be addressed through the Deltanet.

Attorney Review Approach

As you know, time is money and definitely, that applies to legal issues and reviews. Therefore, the more information you can gather before approaching an attorney to review your website, the better and then logically the less you should expect to pay. In preparation of a meeting with an attorney to discuss this review, we recommend that you first find any internal types of documents not easily accessible by the average person. Example: Contact your MLS (MLS’s if your brokerage has more than one IDX data feed available) to obtain a copy of their MLS IDX/VOW Rules and Regulations and a copy of the NAR Code of Ethics to take with you to the meeting. The next step would be to re-familiarize yourself with your website, reviewing and then correcting easy to fix areas like old copyright dates so your legal dollars can be spent wisely on areas you cannot easily find and correct yourself. Also, it is a good idea to make sure factual information about your brokerage (addresses, phone numbers, affiliations etc) are all correct and up-to-date prior to your meeting.

In addition, it is a good idea to locate and bring with you proof of ownership of the URL’s associated with your website and proof of ownership/permissions that you have, granting use of web content including any copyrighted information or materials that you have applied for or purchased like photos. Also, it is important to locate and make copies (take the original and at least one additional copy) to take with you of any contracts or agreements signed relating to your website. Finally it is a good idea (thinking about saving time and money) to make a list ahead of time of key people the attorney can contact in case he/she has any questions about your website content. It is recommended to include a list of contact information (names, phone numbers and email addresses) from your Local Board of REALTORS®, MLS’s that you belong to, as well as your State Association and National Association of REALTORS®. Once your legal review has been completed, please contact Delta Media Group Support (support@deltagroup.com) with any website changes that require design or programming changes that cannot be addressed through the Deltanet. It would also help that you include any written information provided to you by the attorney explaining the changes requested.

Tip Two(2): Making Future Website Reviews Easier
Another tip is to look for opportunities to hear or review website related topics. If you attend NAR meetings or State Association meetings, you will often find good speakers or meetings that deal with website and related topics. Also, look for meetings with the State Division of Real Estate, MLS issues, HUD (Fair Housing) and legal/legislative briefings that can help you keep up to speed and be aware of changes that your website needs to address.

Tip Three(3): Don’t Forget to Review Agent Pages
A common area that is often missed by brokerage website reviews, is to overlook agent website pages that are an integral part of the broker website. It is important to review each agent page to make sure an agent has not used content or phrases on their individual pages, which may put your brokerage in non-compliance or legal jeopardy. One area to look at is the term “MLS” as many MLS’s are strictly monitoring the use of this word. Example: Some MLS’s are prohibiting the phrase “Search the MLS” as they feel that this term may be misleading to the user of the website.