Does your web site comply with license law? (OR: Feb. 2011)

by Peg Ritenour
Vice President
Legal Services & Administration

To remain competitive most real estate brokerages today have a website. Additionally, many agents have their created their own individual sites. With the explosion of social media in the last few years, REALTORS have also realized that Facebook, Twitter, linked in and other sites can be a valuable marketing tool.

But your website can also be an area of risk for disciplinary action by the Division for Real Estate and Professional Licensing if it is not set up properly. Below is a brief review of the license law provisions regarding websites.

Internet is advertising

The first thing that is important for REALTORS to understand is that your  website will be considered to be advertising if you are using it to promote your services as a real estate licensee or to market properties. As such, these sites must comply with the license law.

Brokerage name

The first license law requirement is that the brokerage name must be disclosed on the website. Specifically, the brokerage name must be displayed on every “viewable page.” A viewable page is defined as one that may or may not scroll beyond the borders.

The following is an example of what this means. Most websites have a homepage. From the home page the consumer can select several options, including one that says “Find a home.” When the consumer clicks on that icon, a page comes up that asks them to enter criteria for the type of home they are looking for. When the consumer does that, several results appear. To view all of these properties, the consumer must scroll down the page.

Using this as an example, under the license law, the home page, the page for “find a home” and the page with the search results must each include the brokerage name.
However when the consumer scrolls down that list of properties, it is acceptable if the brokerage name goes off the screen.

It should be noted that this duty to display the brokerage name only applies to the pages of your website related to real estate services; it does not apply to any non-real estate related links you may have on your website, such as school districts or chamber of commerce sites.

Prominence rule

The next license law requirement that is important to remember, especially when agents have their own website, is the prominence rule. Under this rule an agent’s name cannot be more prominent than that of the brokerage. When comparing the name of the agent to that of the brokerage, the Division will look at the font size and style as well as the placement of the broker name.

It is also important to understand that only the name of the brokerage as it appears on the brokerage license will be compared to that of the agent. The brokerage’s licensed name does not generally include franchise names (i.e., Century 21, Re/Max) or logos; therefore these will not be included when determining whether an agent’s name is more prominent than that of the brokerage.

Duty to update

Another area where REALTORS must make sure they are in compliance is updating the information on their websites.  Under the license law, outdated or expired information must be updated within 14 days. This would include removing expired or sold properties from your active listings.

In some cases REALTORS use a third party to maintain their website. If so, the advertising rule requires that you must provide timely notice to that third party to update the information.  It is recommended that such notice be provided in a written format, such as an e-mail, so that you can document your compliance with this requirement.

The final point on this issue is that the license law requires websites to display the date on which it was last updated. Thus, there should be a field on your website that shows the date on which such an update took place.

To summarize, there are four basic license law requirements that apply to a website maintained by either a brokerage or an agent:
1. The brokerage name must be included on every viewable page;
2. The brokerage name must be  at least as prominent as that of the agent;
3.  Expired information must be updated within 14 days; and
4. You must include a “last updated field.”

More information on the license law advertising requirements law is included in OAR’s White Paper on Advertising.