Guest post by VAR member Tina Merritt

I recently read a blog post by Norma Toering entitled, “Please Remove My Home from the Internet“.  In her post, Norma describes the enormous amount of effort she recently went through to remove all traces of a former listing she had marked as “sold”.  In my opinion, Norma went above and beyond her duties as an agent.

The situation got me thinking though….what ARE our duties as agents with regards to former listings on the Internet?

According to the VREB:

All online listings advertised must be kept current and consistent as follows:
a. Online listing information must be consistent with the property description and actual status of the listing. The licensee shall update in a timely manner material changes to the listing status authorized by the seller or property description when the licensee controls the online site.
b. The licensee shall make timely written requests for updates reflecting material changes to the listing status or property descriptions when a third party online listing service controls the website displaying the listing information. 

OK, so by now we all know that we’re supposed to keep our internet listings updated.  But, what does the future hold for this?  Here’s where I’m coming from:

In June 2010, Agent Annie lists 321 Main St. in Richmond.  Annie is a great agent and does a fantastic job marketing her seller’s property on the Internet.  She registers the domain name for the address, creates a single property website, uploads the pictures to Flickr, creates a video on Youtube, etc., etc. etc.  The property sells and Annie makes sure to mark the property “sold” on all of her internet marketing efforts.

Fast forward now to 2015.  The current owners of 321 Main St. in Richmond want to sell their home.  The agent who helped them buy their current home, Albert Agent, did a great job keeping in touch with them over the past five years and they hire him to represent them now as a seller’s agent.

When Albert embarks on his Internet marketing efforts for 321 Main St., he is surprised to see Annie’s name everywhere when he searches the property address on Google. He tries to register the address as a domain name; however, Annie still owns it.  In fact, even though Annie correctly marked the property as “sold” on all of her Internet marketing, she now has 5 years of Search Engine Optimization history for the property address of 321 Main St. She owns the number one result for that address.

After a couple of weeks on the market, the sellers check on Albert’s marketing efforts by Googling their address.  They are very disappointed to see Annie’s information come up first on Google along with the previous listing.  They ask Annie to remove all traces of the old listing; however, she refuses stating that it is neither a licensing nor code of ethics violation for her to keep the information up as it is accurate.

So, what are our legal and ethical obligations as Realtors® and licensees?  Will there be battles in the future over this?  What is the agent’s responsibility if a property owner, who was never the agent’s client, requests to have all mention of their former listing removed from the Internet?