By Kathy Bevan

Just over a year after launching Internet Data
Exchange (IDX), there are now over 51,000 users making almost 600,000 ‘page
hits’ on the London and St. Thomas Real Estate Board (LSTREB) program. Equally
important to the board, 90 per cent of their members’ offices are participating,
representing 95 per cent of board listings.
IDX allows co-operating brokers
to display each other’s listings on their websites. LSTREB became the second
board in Canada with an IDX program – Vancouver set up its MLS reciprocity
program in 2001 – with its “soft launch” in February 2003 and its official
launch eight months later. The board approved IDX the year before, but its Data
Management Task Force wanted a thorough review of the options available before
putting it into place.
“All IDX programs are not created equal, nor do any
two exactly mirror each other,” says Peter Hoffman, chair of the task force and
one of the key drivers behind LSTREB’s IDX initiative. “We had to re-examine and
reconfirm or alter existing policies in light of IDX. We had to make decisions
regarding disclaimers, property search mechanisms, thumbnail contents, virtual
tours, framing and feature sheets.”
In discussions with the Real Estate
Council of Ontario, the board firmed up the visual look of its IDX program. It
had to include a site that would not deceive or confuse the public; the listing
office had to be clearly displayed; listing data must be “framed” within the
page, and could not be altered in any way; up-to-date data was essential; and it
needed a clear disclaimer explaining IDX.
To keep the look of the framed
listing data consistent and prevent personal marketing from appearing within the
frame, the board decided not to include a virtual tour option. A new clause for
securing the permission necessary from co-operating brokers to display each
other’s listings was added to board listing contracts. LSTREB’s IDX program
shows the listing broker’s name; listing salesperson’s names do not appear.

The goal was to set up an IDX program that would be equally beneficial to
small and large brokers and their salespeople, and that would make it very easy
for consumers to stay on one site while accessing the listings of all
co-operating brokers.
“The challenge for real estate boards is how to ensure
that members maintain first contact with consumers in the online real estate
transaction. IDX provides boards with a way to do just that,” says Hoffman. “It
means the consumer no longer has to leave Realtor X’s site to see Realtor Y’s
listings, then go from there to Realtor Z’s site to see what she has posted. In
a nutshell, IDX means all data, all the time, everywhere.”
Consumers
clicking on to a participating Realtor’s website can gain online access to 95
per cent of LSTREB’s listings – all without having to leave the Realtor’s own
web page. LSTREB listings linked to IDX are all “framed” on the Realtor’s web
page, and consumers wanting further information are directed to contact that
Realtor.
“It levels the playing field for co-operating brokers,” adds
Hoffman. “A small broker can have as much listing data on his or her site as a
large company, and having a large amount of data ups the stickiness quotient of
your website, meaning that a potential home buyer who comes to your site as a
consumer is far more likely to end up as your client. The trick becomes driving
the consumers to your site first.”
The sites set up by brokers and
salespeople don’t have to be “rich” ones to capitalize on the linking
opportunities offered by IDX, but the space outside the framed LSTREB data gives
Realtors who create more dynamic web pages the chance to fully market their
services to consumers. The listing data within the frame itself comes directly
from LSTREB and cannot be altered.
The instant download aspect of data
loaded on to Realtors’ IDX-linked websites has proven to be one of the program’s
strongest selling points.
“This IDX doesn’t depend upon mls.ca – the data
displayed on IDX comes directly out of the MLS database for each of the board’s
co-operating brokers, in real time,” says Jason Lo, vice-president of real
estate technology at Filogix Inc., the board’s Celerity technology and IDX
provider. “Realtors enter the MLS data, it appears in real time, looks great,
and is a no-brainer to work with.”
The look of IDX listing data is similar
to the way LSTREB listed properties on its own website before IDX was launched.
Since the launch, the board has been actively promoting its members’ websites,
as well as the importance for members to keep abreast of new technology that
makes IDX a powerful visual tool for Realtors.
“Leading-edge Internet
technology – that’s where our consumers are, and the Realtors who are there too,
are getting the business,” says LSTREB executive officer Betty Doré. “The
consumer looks to the local real estate agent as the expert, and finds the most
up-to-date information through IDX.”
Lo also sees IDX as the natural
evolution of technology that gives Realtors the ability to meet Internet-savvy
consumers’ needs. “Even two years ago, people would ask me, ‘IDX – what’s that?’
Now more people are embracing it,” says Lo. “This is only the beginning of new
ways to empower Realtors to attract consumers through technology.”
Not every
member of LSTREB has a ready embrace for IDX, however. Independent broker/owner
Robbie McNaughton, of McNaughton Realty Ltd. in Glencoe, prefers to do business
the way he has for the past 14 years – by phone and in person. “In the city, the
agents live on the Internet, but that’s not the case out here in the country,”
says McNaughton. “I was taught the old way of doing things and it’s hard to
change.”
LSTREB president Ken Harper, another industry veteran,
enthusiastically supports IDX. “I’m real old and I’m busier than I’ve ever been
in the past 20 years,” says Harper. “IDX makes it easy for an old guy like me to
compete. I wish this technology had been in place when I first started out – I’d
be rich today!”

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