Step 2 - Manage Risks
Multiple Listing Services are accountable for the highest level of listing data to support a cooperative real estate transaction. This section helps MLSs and supporting implementation teams seeking to deploy green MLS fields based on an approach that maximizes the quality of the data while also increasing accurate usage of fields.
Leading adopters of green MLS fields deploy green MLS fields only after first designing a policy that requires supporting document attachments as a best practice in order to use certain green MLS fields.
This section provides guidance to help MLSs navigate risks, while making the highest-quality data available.
Lack of representation/False representation
There are various risks to home buyers and sellers, to agents and brokers as well as to the credibility of green information and valuation in the MLS. Both a lack of representation and false representation of a property’s' green attributes can result in sellers underpricing or buyers overpaying for a house. Agen
Additionally, exaggerations of green features and certifications can result in a greenwashing of MLS listings and cause a decline in the value and desirability of truly environmentally and financially beneficial building attributes and features. An accurate set of green data fields that are relevant to your MLSs community is the best way to ensure against invalid green marketing techniques. Educating agents and brokers also can mitigate some of the legal risk that a misrepresentation of "green" in listings can create.
Further, the design of the MLS fields and enumerations (a list of options in a field) can be done in a way that allows for extensive detailing of green features that attract buyers, but without an implied or explicit representation that features are green. When a property does have verifiably green features, the MLS should offer some searchable means to promote such attributes.
Vigilance in these areas is important to maintain the integrity of the MLS and to ensure the trust of everyone who uses the system.
A quick way to quality is to design your green MLS plan with two different end-users in mind: traditional real estate agents and appraisers. While many green MLS design teams include a large number of agents or professionals with green training or certifications, the vast majority of listing agents, buyer agents, appraisers and even consumers do not have detailed green backgrounds. Therefore it is critical that any green MLS design be easy enough for any agent to use without any additional training.
Typical problem spots:
• Terms like HERS which do not make sense to the average consumer without an explanation
• Terms like ENERGY STAR which could refer to either a product, a building approach or both
• Numeric fields like one for HERS Index Score where a user may enter a zero to indicate “blank”, not realizing a zero is a very meaningful entry for that field
Some MLS use hover help, URL links to established resources or green highlighting to identify and clarify the enumerations or field values related to green or high-performance homes.
Reviewing the legal concerns that can ensue after any change to the MLS data structure is an important step. In particular, if you are changing existing data to reflect a new "green" connotation, be cautious of erroneously labeling a feature "green" if listing agents and sellers had no intention of such categorization for previously listed properties. For instance, an agent may have described windows with two panes of glass in a listing without intending to claim that those windows were energy efficient.
Keeping a separation of normal features that "may be green" and expressions of "verified green" features, too, can aid in risk mitigation. Plus, a focus on verifiability and a separation of detailed features from expressions of "green" all can contribute to reducing risk.
Green MLS Process and Policy Options
There are several different steps and policies that can be implemented to mitigate such risk. This may include offering a disclosure or addendum document for builders or sellers to use to document green features. An alternative or additional step may be to require document attachment for certain green MLS fields.
The addition of Green Search/Marketing Fields or Specific/Technical Fields can also be challenged by buyers and others. To avoid an accusation of green-washing and misrepresentation, such as for dealing with septic systems, it is prudent for listing agents to have details and documentation of a property's green attributes or an agreement with the seller to support any green claims. For example, the MLS in Traverse City has a voluntary seller disclosure document and places the onus on sellers to properly divulge green features. See samples here.
The MLS in markets like Seattle, Northern Colorado and Chicago, for example, require agents to upload certification documentation within a set number of days from entering the listing. If they do not, the listing is deactivated. If your MLS elects to require some form of confirmation, you may decide to simply remove the green certification from a listing or impose a modest fine for failure to provide whatever documentation you decide is necessary.
Searchability and Statistics
As you are creating your new green data structure, keep in mind how the fields will be used. The most common uses are display, search and statistics. With the display, there are no special concerns other than whether the information fits on the report. Other than limiting field length, simple text boxes that allow the agent to type the desired information are simple for the MLS to deploy and maintain. However, for search and statistics, a text box is far from ideal.
For information like features, certifications and certifying bodies, a pick list is important to ensure consistency. It prevents typing errors, which can result in poor search results. Maintaining the pick lists should be planned for to accommodate the normal churn of features and certifications associated with new features and certifications becoming popular and old certifications and features being retired.
With fields like Green Verification Metric (a HERS Index Score) or Walk Score, a numeric field is preferable. The approach helps to limit errors by only allowing numeric values and also supports numeric range searching. For example, someone wanting properties with a certification rating of 50 through 90 would not be able to perform such a search unless a numeric certification rating field was available.
MLS technical staff or system software vendors should reference the technical specifications already defined for green fields that are included in the RETS Data Dictionary.