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Associations, please set minimum standards for MLS photos

MLS photos make the industry look badly

real estate photoI’m aware that writing this could fall on deaf ears because no one here has possibly ever uploaded terrible pictures to the MLS, but the few ears I’d like to reach today are the local Association Executives, most notably those on the MLS committees. A call for minimum standards for all MLS photography starts with one MLS at a time.

We’ve been writing about and discussing this topic for years, and yes, it’s like beating a dead horse, but nothing has really changed, so we’ll bring it up again, this time with actionable standards.

This isn’t a pipe dream, this is a possibility. Some boards have begun implementing minimum standards but the industry has a long way to go. For example, the MLS in Austin, Texas requires that photos be uploaded within a specific time frame whereas other cities have listings that never even have photos uploaded and there is no consequence.

While policing the MLS is already a massive undertaking for boards, having minimum standards for photography is a natural minimum standard for the industry.

good and bad mls photography

What standards should be the bare minimum?

I’d personally like for boards to be able to punish any listing with bad lighting or too few images, but that’s too harsh and unrealistic. There are some minimum requirements, however, that are reasonable and realistic:

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  1. Photos must be uploaded within 48 hours of being listed as Active. If a listing isn’t fully ready to be marketed, it shouldn’t be. Period. 48 hours is generous.
  2. Photos must be at least 500 x 500 pixels as most MLS feeds are syndicated to third party aggregators that cater to consumers who have become accustomed to viewing large professional images in other industries when shopping for products.
  3. All photos must be a minimum resolution and no pixelation must occur. This should curb people taking pictures with their 1992 brick phones.
  4. We must implement minimum requirements of coverage. All listings must have a photo of the front of the home, the kitchen, the living room, at least one bedroom and bathroom, and the back yard. With this standard, listings with a shot of the corner of an empty square room as the only image should be eliminated.

What other minimum standards do you believe MLSs should enforce? Currently, the majority of MLSs have no minimum standards which is nothing short of sad. What does it say about our industry? Not much, if you ask me. Many, many AEs read AG, so speak up, they’re reading!

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

50 Comments

50 Comments

  1. Joe Loomer

    April 13, 2010 at 11:35 am

    We had a saying in my Navy days – “PITS” – which stood for “Pie In The Sky.” Most common useage was in response to some cokamamie idea that would never fly past the skipper. Unfortunately – I think this kinda falls in that category. Although a minimum standard for format and exterior photo is certainly something every board should already have (our requires a photo within 48 hours too), extending that requirement to more than one picture will take time.

    I’d recommend a minimum standard for editing public remarks, but I enjoy Gwen Banta’s posts too much to even contemplate a world of succinct and well spelled MLS entries.

    Perhaps simply passing on the Realtor.com statistic of 300% more views for properties with at least six photos will help.

    Navy Chief, Navy PRide

  2. Matt Stigliano

    April 13, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    @LaniAR – When are you going to run for Supreme Chancellor for Association Standards? Let me know, I want to be sure I’m first at the polls.

    I’d settle for poor photography if we could just get the obvious fixed first. Use the slots you’re given, show me something that makes me want to see the property, full size (if they’re tiny in the listing, they don’t magically blow up when I click them – small is small), decent resolution, no sideways shots (my neck hurts), no artist renderings if it’s an inventory home, keep your kids out of my way (I’m selling homes, not child slavery), and I don’t need to see your thumbs, fingers, or flash-covered face (I can see what you look like on your business card).

  3. Gwen Banta

    April 13, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    Together we may get the word out, Lani…but guidelines are only as good as the brains that interpret them. And standards of excellence are only as as “excellent” as the taste of the standard bearers. What makes a good photo good? How many photos have you seen with reflexions of the agents in a window or mirror, or junk (including an agent’s briefcase or purse) on the counter…or (my personal favorite), people looming the background in weird poses? How does one teach common sense? But I agree – excellence is always worth striving for.

    • Benn Rosales

      April 13, 2010 at 3:56 pm

      You know what I say Gwen? If an agent is charging 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10% one can afford a professional photographer, right? I don’t think the min standards Lani listed are off the mark, in fact, I think it’s an easy start in the right direction…

  4. Jason Vondersmith

    April 13, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    I say leave it without standards. Doesn’t that give the agents that care to take nice photos, in good lighting, and more than just the exterior, a competitive edge? If you’re an agent who is taking bad photos you are doing a disservice to your client. That bad service is exactly why someone would choose a better agent who provides better service. Without the bad we are all ordinary. Standards would make us all ordinary. Bad photography provides more leverage for a better agent, when the listing with 3 dark photos expires.

  5. Chris

    April 13, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    Sometimes this isn’t the broker’s fault. While not a residential MLS, we send our photos to LoopNet who then degrades them to get rid of our digital watermark.

  6. Erica Ramus

    April 13, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    I say we don’t need MORE association guidelines, just smarter agents! I have a collection of rotten MLS photos pulled from our association that I want to post somewhere. One last week is just of a front porch close up (are we selling just the porch?). One is of a long path and a huge expensive house, but you cannot see the house because the photographer shoots the windy path and the house is a tiny spec on the MLS. Hysterical! I love the number of shots with the car’s side mirror in it (get out of the car) and the ones taken at dusk so you cannot see the house except as a shadow.

    • Fred Romano

      April 14, 2010 at 10:32 am

      I agree with Erica, no more rules, we have enough! In my case, my clients send me the photos of their homes. I do the best I can to edit them if they are too dark or tilted. These are the things that may set me apart from other flat fee companies. I do take pride.

  7. Jason Sandquist

    April 13, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    Maybe there should be a simple *report* button right next to the photos with a $1000 fine (just a start) slapped to the agents account. That should put a stop to the mediocrity pretty quick.

  8. Mike

    April 14, 2010 at 7:07 am

    I’ve been on my soap box for years on minimum # of photos. If the client truly does not want interior photos, (very rare), then it will only be permissible IF the buyer declines in writting in the listing addendum. When I see 1 or zero photos, I immediately think, “lazy agent”. How do the banks, for instance on the ROE’s tolerate it? They are handing listings that most surely will sell to agents that can’t be bothered to market them professionally. The truth is, most asset managers don’t bother to verify photos, and don’t care. A short sale or traditional seller should be on top of this though.
    It also affects appraisals. I’ve been burnt twice recently by sold comps that had no photos. I of course called the appraiser and asked how he could determine interior condition when he had not seen the inside of the comp?
    -Mike O’Hara

    • Matt Stigliano

      April 14, 2010 at 7:17 am

      Mike – Your comment about REOs is not lost on me at all. This has been a real aggravation for me. If the CEOs knew (or cared) how poorly some of their listings were marketed, they’d have a fit. I see many builders in this light as well – especially when there’s an exclusive listing arrangement with one agent/broker/company. Want to help move those homes off of your inventory? Give them the marketing touches they deserve.

  9. Sam Chapman

    April 14, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Standards are only as good as the agents who are members of the Board. I’ve seen terrible photos, wrong directions, innacurate data and rediculous remarks. I would love to see better photos, but if the Board can’t enforce existing standards, why set more?

  10. Benn Rosales

    April 14, 2010 at 11:09 am

    All four of these recommendations can/should be automated.

    1) the listing expires if no photo is active w./in 48hrs automatically.

    2) the upload fails if it fails the minimum pixels/size standard

    3) If photos are 300dpi they pass the upload, this allows some room for resizing by automated systems

    4) The data entry system could simply ask the listing agent for (specifically labeled) front, kitchen, bathroom, etc as a suggestion- this is automated training.

    These are very simple system tailored suggestions unlike the subjective rules we get from most boards. This isn’t about being competitive in the market place, it’s about the image of the entire industry as traditional. If as an industry it doesn’t continue to raise it’s own standards, then we can expect others to do it for the industry while beating the industry over the head with its failures to find simple solutions to issues that impact perception.

  11. Larry Lohrman

    April 14, 2010 at 11:43 am

    It’s great to hear agents discussing the subject of improving the photography on their listings! The truth is that as an agent, once you get sellers to the right listing price, you can’t afford not to have professional looking photography. For reasons I don’t fully understand, agents have difficulty understanding the importance of marketing photography. Sellers understand the importance of photography though.

  12. Jacksonville Real Estate

    April 14, 2010 at 11:59 am

    some of these standards do exists.More needs to come to improve the listings.

  13. Karen Goodman

    April 14, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    I don’t think we need the MLS boards giving us rules on the content of photos. I do like the idea that an image that is too small would not upload, just as an image that is too large can’t upload. I know that you can do it with file size; I’m not sure about pixels.

    The place for the rules that you indicated would be at a brokerage level. A brokerage could decide that they expect everything coming out of their office to meet a minimum standard.

    The St. Louis area MLS rules on photos are no people or animals in photos, and no contact info/advertising on the listing agent/brokerage. We can upload zero photos or 99 photos. Oh, and they just added a link on every listing so that you can report a violation on a listing with one click. I’m thrilled about that addition since there are so many agents who break the rules — not updating the status within 48 hours, putting contact info in the public remarks, etc.

    Ultimately, it is the seller’s decision if they are willing to hire an agent who doesn’t properly market their home. Eventually, there will be online ratings of agents everywhere, and agents who don’t do a good job won’t be able to find listing clients. Let the marketplace solve this problem, not regulations.

    • Benn Rosales

      April 14, 2010 at 1:27 pm

      Images are proven components of ‘data’ – any data is not the goal, the best and most accurate data is. Minimum standards get a minimum set of data points.

  14. jlynch

    April 14, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    At a listing appointment two days ago the seller put two listing sheets in front of us of townhomes in the same community. Then asked, what’s wrong, and what would you do different.

    One photo had snow (we have not seen snow for a long time – in fact all the rain has washed it away.) dark photos, and they both had shot of just the front door. We told them we would feature the unique living room and gave them an example of our feature sheets from home we have sold.

    We learned that the quality photos and marketing materials we have is what caused them to call us in the first place. The agents that have standards will develop a name/brand for having quality marketing. They will be most successful.

  15. Shawday Bentley

    April 14, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    This is fantastic! And what everyone needs to hear. It’s sad to say that my husband and I have had many laughs at photos on the MLS. Especially the ones that are $600,000 listings that have been on the market 200+ days and have 2 bad photos with horrible lighting. It’s humorous and sad at the same time. I agree with you that those should be punishable! =)

  16. Carol Grape

    April 14, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    The Denver area mls (Metrolist) has some pretty good standards. The photos are to be 640 pixels wide by 480 pixels high (standard proportions for most cameras) 72dpi, which is good on all computers. The agents can upload 10 photos – the first photo does have to be the front of the home. The only problem is – only the first 5 photos go to the public website recolorado.com – which most agents don’t know. The reason for that is so agents who use idx on their websites do have an edge over those who don’t.

    Most agents also don’t know that only the first 4 photos go to Realtor.com, unless you have a showcase listing where you can add up to 25.

    For Metrolist you can load up the photos prior to posting the listing. Many don’t but as the market has been tighter the last couple of years more realtors are getting them in asap.
    If you do not have a photo in the listing the listing just states “photo not available”

  17. Missy

    April 15, 2010 at 8:44 am

    We have them but not as extensive as your great suggestions. However, they are not enforced.

    I am always looking at homes in Nashville, as a potential buyer, I don’t even stop and look if there are no photos.

    I don’t think I am any different, do you?

  18. Justin Adams

    April 15, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    I think it’s highly unlikely that standards like this will be enforced (although for real estate photographers it would be nice..) In reality, I believe that the market (home buyers and sellers) will determine what photos agents ultimately post. Agents who market their properties better with photos and virtual tours end up selling more homes and gain a larger footprint in their respective markets. In time, these agents will generally succeed more than those who do not market well, and therefore by default higher photography standards will prevail..

  19. Susie Blackmon

    April 16, 2010 at 5:19 am

    #RTB

  20. Doug Scott

    April 16, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    As a member of the Houston Assoc. of Realtors, (www.har.com), I can state that the local MLS does have several rules in place as relates to photos, minimum of 6, (there’s room for 16), must be in place within 10 days. I will have to admit that having a 48 hour minimum is way to short. As a busy realtor, and a photographer, I will shoot anywhere from 150 to 250+ photos of a listing. Then from those, choose 16 to 20 photos, run them through Photoshop, create the wording for the photos, make brochures, and a two virtual tours, one for MLS and one for YouTube. Add to that time, all the other phone calls, hassles,etc. and a 2 day time span can easily stretch into 3 or 4. I’m usually on MLS with One photo the same day of listing, but the other 15 photos, if done right, takes a little time.

    What I wish MLS photo rules would state is that no pictures of commodes will never be allowed, particularly when the lid is up. I never shoot a bathroom, and never, ever a commode. Tour the Houston photos sometimes and count the number of times some one will hang a camera over a commode and take a photo, and then post it on MLS. Ugh!

  21. Paul Sivley

    April 17, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    Any agent who won’t support minimum standards either is using pro photos and knows they have a leg up in sales (I understand this viewpoint) or isn’t doing what they should for their clients. Agents know that shoppers looking online who see a dingy image move right onto the next listing, assuming the house is dingy.
    Images should be shot by a camera 10 megapixels or greater, be 700 pixels on long edge minimum, should be lit with strobes if it’s interior imagery, should be relatively noise free, should be sharp from front to back, lit not just in front, but through the image, be free of reflections of the photographer or his/her lights/flash, and so on. These are some of the standards required by stock photography agencies, because they know it’s what’s necessary to sell the images. Why not for sales of real estate?
    Hiring a pro should be a split expense between broker and selling homeowner.
    Paul

    • Karen Goodman

      April 17, 2010 at 7:58 pm

      I use a professional photographer on most of my listings, and take pictures myself that would meet all of the standards suggested here.

      I disagree that the MLS associations should regulate this, and I disagree that all agents against it aren’t taking care of their clients or willing to pay a photographer.

      I simply believe that this is an area that the market can take care of itself. It won’t be long before consumers won’t hire those agents that put up poor quality photos. And the current problem with high numbers of REO listings won’t last forever.

      On the other hand, I think a brokerage has every right to set some standards for the agents who under their name. This should be a brokerage or agent decision.

  22. anthonys indianapolis homes for sale

    April 18, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Couldn’t agree more. I’m always amazed when I see a listing on the board without photos. What kind of agent gets a listing and then doesn’t even bother with what is one of the most important details of the selling process? And who are the home sellers who put up with these agents?

  23. Margaret Oscilia

    April 19, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    If they regulate that, can we please regulate the number of dark, out of focus and horrible photos there are presented too? Recently I was asked to view a home online in order to give a home staging estimate (the home was several hours away). It was a $1,000,000 and the photos were so dark I have to copy them into another program and modify them to see the architecture. Low and behold in one of the dark corners was a beautiful fireplace. I begged the owner to change agents when we staged the property . . . but they don’t see a reason to. The staging will be wasted without professional photography!

  24. Fred Glick

    May 1, 2010 at 8:44 am

    Join me on the Thursday of the Legislative Mid Year conference at NAR at 9AM for the MLS committee meeting.

    I intend on bringing this subject up and have you able to file an ethics violation for agents that do not post photos….and waste our time.

  25. Mike Galdi

    May 1, 2010 at 9:42 am

    Bad pictures usually come with lame descriptions , all make for expired fodder or use in my expired , FSBO presentation

  26. Jackie

    May 24, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    I am interested in determining what educational requirements are necessary to be a real estate photographer. Do you have to take special classes and is it required that you be a licensed real estate agent

  27. karl hoelscher

    July 27, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    I agree – but – at the same time – it is kinda sad that this has to even be talked about

    I would be like having to set the minimum requirements on how many wrinkles you can have in your suit when meeting a client or how many food stains on your suit you are allowed

    “professional looking photography” should go hand in hand with the Professional image Realtors projects for themselves!

  28. Ronny Geenen

    July 30, 2010 at 1:45 am

    I started my photography in the Netherlands as a hobby specializing in close ups and macro. I am now a Realtor for about 23 years and a member of the MLS committee for the last 4 years. I have offered Realtors in my office to take pictures and ask them to tell other Realtors outside our office that I will take also pictures for them. I give them 25 pictures on a cd and they pay me $90. Our MLS requires a mandatory submittel within 48 hours at least on picture and we are allowed to download 25. The system will reduce the pictures, you only have to upload them. In our last month meeting I submitted a plan to make it mandatory to upload 5 pictures within 48 hours. I want one from the front, one from the back, one from living/family area, one from the kitchen and one from a bathroom.
    The Real Estate agents were in favor, but a couple brokers did not like it.

  29. Fred Glick

    July 30, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Ronny,

    The brokers that don’t like it are going to find out that the newer agents will not go to them or leave them

    They will then be holding their 18-50 lenses all by themselves!

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