A homebuyer looks at a listing online.

3 things to know about IDX and listings access 

After Howard Hanna announced it was dropping IDX, the listings feed service has been a hot topic. But how does it work, and why does it matter?

Updated July 13, 2023
3 minutes

Key points:

  • Most listings flow to and from brokerages and MLSs through an IDX feed.
  • Anyone using IDX has the right to display all listings sent through the feed.
  • IDX alternatives include VOW and direct feeds.

Getting a listing online and accessible to consumers is obviously very important to real estate agents, but the systems that make it possible are often taken for granted.

Many listings flow through Multiple Listing Services via the Internet Data Exchange (IDX), a platform that was developed in the early 2000s as real estate agents and brokers recognized the value of displaying listings on their websites.

IDX is built around the idea of broker reciprocity: Anyone who opts into IDX has the right to display the listings of others and vice versa. This exposes listings to a wider online audience — which is good for the seller and their agent — but it also gives buyer agents from any firm access to the listings, meaning the listing brokerage is less likely to control both sides of the transaction. 

Here are three things you need to know about IDX.

Why are people talking about IDX now?

Discussion ramped up a few weeks ago after Howard Hanna announced it was changing the way it distributes listings in the Cleveland area. 

The family-owned brokerage pulled out of IDX, which in effect would eliminate the ability of other brokerage competitors to display Howard Hanna listings. The company will instead use a Virtual Office Website (VOW) and work directly with search portals like Zillow to provide a direct feed.

Competitors' listings will remain on the Howard Hanna Real Estate site, but Hanna listings will only appear on other brokerage sites if they are VOW-enabled — and most aren't.

CEO Hoby Hanna said this change will give his agents more control over their listings, and if it works in the Cleveland area, Hanna believes it could catch on elsewhere.

What happens if a brokerage doesn't use IDX?

If a brokerage opts out of IDX, agents from outside the firm generally won't have access to those listings. That can be a big deal in markets with a dominant brokerage.

The precedent set by Howard Hanna also has broader implications. If Hanna finds that keeping its listings on VOW and establishing other direct partnerships leads to more sales for its agents, it could pull out of IDX in other markets where it operates. Other major brokerage firms are also taking note; if the move proves beneficial for Hanna, additional brokerages might consider making the switch as well.

For consumers, it could mean seeing fewer available homes for sale, particularly if they tend to search on brokerage websites that can no longer display the listings. Buyers who typically search for homes on portals like Zillow, however, would likely see all the listings in that market if the brokerage provides a direct feed.

What are the alternatives to IDX?

While IDX is the most common way listings are fed in and out of the MLS, it is not the only option for listings distribution. 

VOW is not as widely used, but it functions much like IDX in that it creates a connection between an agent and the MLS. One key difference is that it generally requires consumers to create an account before they can access VOW listings. In exchange for registering, consumers get access to more detailed information about the home, such as sales history and price changes. Brokerages who do not use VOW will not be able to receive and display VOW listings.

Brokerages and MLSs can also establish direct feeds, which are not bound by IDX policies, but are facilitated by individual agreements between the parties involved. Zillow, for example, received all of its listings via direct feeds until it switched to IDX in 2020.

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