by Peg Ritenour
Today, it is not uncommon for agents and their brokerage to have an internet presence. A REALTOR’s website can provide significant marketing opportunities, but with these opportunities com risks. It is imperative that REALTORS effectively manage these business risks by adopting procedures to insure compliance with all the legal requirements for real estate advertising. This includes compliance with fair housing, copyright, antitrust, and the sometimes overlooked license law requirements. The FAQs below address some of the license law advertising requirements.
Q: Is my website considered advertising that must comply with the license law advertising requirements?
A: Yes. All license law advertising requirements apply to a licensee’s website on which your services and/or real estate is being promoted.
Q: My agent has a web site. Is the brokerage name required on that site? Is it only required on the “home” page?
A: Yes, the brokerage name must be displayed. Moreover, the license law requires that the brokerage name be included on every “page” of the web site. A page is defined as one that may or may not scroll beyond the borders of the screen.
Q: On my web site I have a section that includes my listings. Depending on the number of listings, the user may have to “scroll” down the page several times. Does my brokerage name need to be on the screen as you scroll?
A: No. The provisions of the rule defines a web page as one that may scroll beyond the borders of the screen. Therefore, it is sufficient to have the broker or brokerage name at the beginning of the page where you start displaying your listings, even though as you scroll down the page the broker’s name goes off the screen.
Q: My brokerage name is displayed on a banner at the top of my web site so that it appears at all times. However, if someone prints out information about listings on my site, that banner is not included on the print out. Is that okay?
A: Yes. The Division has indicated that you will be considered in compliance with the advertising rule even though the brokerage name does not appear on “print outs.”
Q: Can the agent’s name be more prominent than that of the brokerage?
A: No. Ohio license law prohibits an agent’s name from being more prominent than that of a broker in any type of advertising. This requirement applies to the Internet as well as to yard signs, newspaper ads, fliers, etc.
Q: When determining if an agent’s name is more prominent than the brokerage name, will the Division factor in the brokerage logo or franchise name?
A: No. The Division will compare the size and prominence of the agent’s name to that of the brokerage’s name as it appears on the brokerage license. Logos and graphics are not part of the broker’s name, nor is any franchise name (i.e., Century 21, Re/Max, etc.).
Q: My web site includes links to the local Chamber of Commerce, a restaurant guide, area maps, etc. Do these pages need to include the brokerage name?
A: No. This requirement only applies to those pages of your web site that involve the advertising of real estate services, such as listings of properties or agent profile pages. It would not apply to the links you have described since they do not involve real estate services.
Q: How often must outdated or expired information be updated on my web site?
A: License law requires that outdated or expired information be updated within 14 days.
Q: What happens if the company I use to maintain my web site doesn’t delete or update the information within 14 days?
A: License law clearly states that if you use a third party to maintain your site, it is your responsibility to notify that company in a timely manner so that the 14 day time frame can be met. It also requires you to notify this third party company in writing of such changes–either by mail, fax or electronic means. As long as you can show that you provided timely written notice to your third party company you will not be in violation of this rule, even if the webmaster failed to effect the change within 14 days. The key is to make sure you don’t wait until the 11th or 12th day to notify your webmaster of necessary changes. Instead, do it right away, do it in writing and keep a copy of that dated notification.
Q: License law requires licensees to indicate on their web site the date on which the information was last updated. Does this mean I need to include a “last updated” field for every piece of information on my web site, or can I just include a general statement that it is updated daily or weekly?
A: The rule does not go so far as to require a “change” date for each piece of information. Instead, you only need one place to indicate the date on which any information included on the site was changed. However, a general statement that the site is updated daily, weekly, etc. is not sufficient, according to the Division. Instead, the actual date a change was made must be indicated.
A complete review of all advertising requirements can be found in OAR’s White Paper on Advertising.