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Op/Ed

Privacy issues and real estate listing photos (+ how to get yours removed)

(REAL ESTATE) Listing photos are the currency of real estate sales, but understanding the process can be complex.

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real estate listing photos

In the real estate world, photos sell. Everyone loves a complete set of listing photos…

Buyers love previewing homes on their phones and computers.

Sellers generally want their home to have maximum exposure to as many websites, agents, and potential buyers as possible.

The loss of privacy is often overlooked in the excitement of the moment. I live and work in California. Your state may vary slightly, but if you are a public recording state like CA, this advice should transfer.

Sellers, Buyers & Listing Photos

We’ll discuss the following:

  • How do real estate listing photos get to the internet?
  • What a seller agrees to about photos and online photos.
  • Disclosures about online privacy/photos that a buyer may see.
  • What a buyer/seller typically agree to in their purchase contract.
  • What rules govern photo and info display on websites?
  • What happens to listing pictures when the home is sold?
  • What can you do?

How do real estate listing photos get to the Internet?

Typically:

  1. The seller signs a listing agreement.
  2. The broker uploads photos into the local MLS (Multiple Listing Service) and makes a representation about ownership and licensing/distribution that is authorized by the listing agreement or other document. Sellers can opt out of this but typically don’t.
  3. The local MLS distributes the listing compilation (photos, info) to brokers. Sellers can opt out of this but typically don’t.
  4. The local MLS distributes the listing compilation to third-party companies such as Zillow or syndication companies that, in turn, redistribute the listings to a wide variety of real estate websites. Other feeds go to individual agents or some brokerage websites at a fee. Sellers can opt out of this but typically don’t.
  5. The local MLS is obligated to give a copy of the listing to realtor.com per a separate agreement.

What a seller agrees to about photos and online photos

Most listings in California use the CAR residential listing agreement, which clearly explains what the seller is agreeing to, who owns the images, and what control a broker has (none) after those images are entered into the MLS and syndicated to third party sites. Here are relevant excerpts:

CAR Residential Listing Agreement

PHOTOGRAPHS AND INTERNET ADVERTISING:
A. Seller agrees (or if checked___, does not agree) that Broker may photograph or otherwise electronically capture images of the exterior and interior of the Property (“Images”) for static and/or virtual tours of the Property by buyers and others for use on Broker’s website, the MLS, and other marketing materials and sites. Seller acknowledges that once Images are placed on the Internet neither Broker nor Seller has control over who can view such Images and what use viewers may make of the Images, or how long such Images may remain available on the Internet. Seller further assigns any rights in all Images to the Broker and agrees that such Images are the property of Broker and that Broker may use such Images for advertising, including post sale and for Broker’s business in the future.

B. Seller acknowledges that prospective buyers and/or other persons coming onto the property may take photographs, videos or other images of the property. Seller understands that Broker does not have the ability to control or block the taking and use of Images by any such persons….Seller acknowledges that unauthorized persons may take images who do not have access to or have not read any limiting instruction in the MLS or who take images regardless of any limiting instruction in the MLS. Once Images are taken and/or put into electronic display on the Internet or otherwise, neither Broker nor Seller has control over who views such Images nor what use viewers may make of the Images.

Disclosures about online privacy/photos that a buyer may see:

CA Statewide Buyer and Seller Advisory (approx 13,650 words over 14 pages of dense text):
Page 13 of 14:
…Buyer and Seller are advised that Broker has no control over how long the information or photos concerning the Property will be available on the Internet or through social media, and Broker will not be responsible for removing any such content from the internet or MLS. Brokers do not have expertise in this area.

CA Buyer Representation Agreement – Exclusive (rarely used in SF)
INTERNET ADVERTISING; INTERNET BLOGS; SOCIAL MEDIA: Buyer acknowledges and agrees that: (i) properties presented to them may have been marketed through a “virtual tour” on the Internet, permitting potential buyers to view properties over the Internet, or that the properties may have been the subject of comments or opinions of value by others on Internet blogs or other social media sites; (ii) neither the service provider(s) nor Broker has control over who will obtain access to such services or what action such persons might take; and (iii) Broker has no control over how long the information concerning the properties will be available on the Internet or social media sites.

CA Buyer Representation Agreement – Non-Exclusive
INTERNET ADVERTISING: Buyer acknowledges and agrees that: (i) properties presented to them may have been marketed through a “virtual tour” or the Internet, permitting potential buyers to view properties over the Internet; (ii) neither the service provider nor Broker has control over who will obtain access to the service or what action such persons might take; and (iii) Broker has no control over how long the information concerning the properties will be available on the Internet.

I could not find any language in the CA Buyer Representation Agreement – Non-Exclusive/Not for Compensation with regard to this issue.

What a buyer/seller typically agree to in a Purchase Contract

Most purchase agreements used in California have language saying the buyer and seller expressly agree that the sale and associated information are to be reported to the MLS.

The Parties hereby grant to the San Francisco Association of REALTORS® Multiple Listing Service (“MLS”) the right to publish and disseminate the sales price, terms of this Contract and other information about the Property and authorize their respective Brokers/Agents to submit such information under the applicable MLS rules.
— San Francisco Purchase Agreement

Brokers are authorized to report to the MLS a pending sale and, upon Close Of Escrow, the sales price and other terms of this transaction shall be provided to the MLS to be published and disseminated to persons and entities authorized to use the information on terms approved by the MLS.
— CAR Residential Purchase Agreement

Whose rules govern online photo display?

Brokers/Agents
Three entities make the rules about what agents and brokers can display on their websites:

  1. The local association (in our case, the San Francisco Association of Realtors/SFAR)
  2. The state association (California Association of Realtors/CAR)
  3. National Association of Realtors (NAR).
  4. Most state associations have adopted NAR’s model MLS rules in order to obtain liability insurance through NAR, and local associations adopt their own rules in line with the state and national model rules in order to also have access to the same liability coverage. To mix several metaphors: That’s the carrot that keeps this herd of real estate cats vaguely glued together.

    Local SFAR rules stipulate that:

    SFAR MLS Rules/Regulations 2018
    …By submitting photographs to the MLS, the Participant and/or Subscriber represents and warrants that it either owns the right to reproduce and display these photographs or has procured such rights from the appropriate party, and has the authority to grant and hereby grants the MLS and the other Participants and Subscribers the right to reproduce and display the photographs in accordance with these rules and regulations.

    Zillow, Trulia & other 3rd party websites
    The use of photos by private companies is governed by their licensing agreement with the entity that provided the photos, as well as any other site-specific privacy or user policies. In general, if a third-party website — such as Zillow, Yahoo, realtor.com, Facebook, or any other non-broker/agent website with real estate listings — is getting a legitimate data-feed, they are also getting a perpetual license to display/use the images. As I said, privacy policies vary widely, so I’m not going to post them all here.

    What happens to the listing when the sale closes?

    The real estate industry spent years resisting the publishing of sales data on the internet, but in 2018 NAR updated its policy to prevent state or local associations from blocking brokers or agents from displaying historical sales data going back to the arbitrarily chosen date of January 1, 2012*. When a sale closes, an agent typically has 1- 3 days to report the closed sale to the MLS with sales price and other terms of the sale.

    *California is a public records state for real estate transactions. Some states (Texas, for example) record real estate transactions privately, and information about the sale is not available in the public record. The NAR policy says that if you are in a public records state, you can’t be prevented from displaying sold data, but in states like Texas where real estate sales aren’t public record, the NAR policy doesn’t apply and sold data can continue to be withheld from display.

    And that’s what happens. When the sale closes, the pictures all remain and the listing is updated with the sales price. The entire property used to be removed from the IDX feed, but now it no longer typically is. Same thing with third-party websites.

    What can you do?

    There’s no official place to go for requesting removal of photos. Usually, the brokers you worked with or the local MLS where your property is listed are the best places to start.

    After the sale has closed:

    • Contact the local MLS and request removal of the public display of your home’s interior photos.
    • Ask the MLS if this change will remove them from the IDX/broker feed or if additional calls are necessary?
    • Contact brokerages/agents that have your sold data displayed and make the same request.
    • Contact 3rd party sites like Zillow, Trulia, etc. and claim the home as an owner and then request removal of photos.
    • Want exterior photos removed? Be sure to request that. You can also have your home’s exterior obscured on google maps.

    The painful tip we don’t want to share, but… before the sale has closed:

    I hate to share this tip because it devalues the MLS for all participants using it for comparable sales valuations – but here’s the trick… When in contract, but before the close of escrow ask the listing agent to remove all of the photos with the exception of an exterior (generally required by MLS rules).

    Again, removing interior photos (which do the best job of portraying overall condition/layout) dramatically hurts the value of the MLS. However, it vastly reduces the number of sites you need to contact after closing to remove property photos.

    In summary

    Rare is the house listed for sale that no longer is immediately published all over the internet. Sellers grant their brokers the right to take and publish photos. Brokers publish those photos primarily in their local MLS, which then distributes them to a number of brokerage and agent websites, as well as 3rd party real estate websites.

    The public display of sold data means interior home photos are likely to linger on the internet forever unless an owner actively requests their removal.

    Removal of photos is subject to a variety of policies, but most companies tend to cooperate. If you’d like your photos removed, the best place to start is with the brokers involved in your transaction prior to the close of the purchase.

Matt Fuller brings decades of experience and industry leadership as co-founder of San Francisco real estate brokerage Jackson Fuller Real Estate. Matt is a Past President of the San Francisco Association of Realtors. He currently serves as a Director for the California Association of Realtors. He currently co-hosts the San Francisco real estate podcast Escrow Out Loud. A recognized SF real estate expert, Matt has made numerous media appearances and published in a variety of media outlets. He’s a father, husband, dog-lover, and crazy exercise enthusiast. When he’s not at work you’re likely to find him at the gym or with his family.

Op/Ed

Your career depends on you, and the mentors you select

(EDITORIAL) Moving up in your career can be dependent on your drive to be better, but improving does depend on who you choose to teach you

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career mentor

Remember when you were younger and were encouraged to join extra-curricular activities because they would “look good to colleges”? What if the same were true for your career?

While applying to a university may be a thing of the past for you, there are still benefits to having extra-curricular activities that have to do with your career. Networking is a major piece of this, as is finding mentors who will help point you in the right direction.

These out-of-office organizations or clubs differ for every industry, so for the sake of this article, I will use one example that you can then interpret and tailor towards your own career.

The Past President of the national Federal Bar Association, Maria Z. Vathis, is someone who has taken the extra-curricular route throughout her entire career, and it has paid off immensely. Working as an attorney in Chicago, Vathis joined the FBA shortly after beginning her legal career and now is the Past President of the almost 100-year old organization.

She started working her way up the ladder of the Chicago Chapter of the association, and eventually became the president of that chapter. At the same time, she was also becoming involved in the Hellenic Bar Association, and would eventually become national president of that organization, as well.

“Through these organizations, I was fortunate to find mentors and lifelong friends. I was also lucky enough to mentor others and to have opportunities to give back to the community through various outreach projects,” said Vathis. “As a young attorney, it was priceless to gain exposure to successful attorneys and judges and to observe how they conducted themselves. Those judges and attorneys were my role models – whether they knew it or not. I learned how to be a professional and how to work with different personality types through my bar association work.”

Finding people in your industry – not just in your office – can be of great help as you go through the journey of your career. They can help you in the event of a job switch, help collaborate on volunteer-based projects, and help collaborate on career-advancing projects (like writing a book, for example).

And all strong networks often start with the help of a mentor – someone who has once been in your shows and can help you handle the ropes of your new career. Most importantly, they’re someone who you can seek advice from when you’re faced with someone challenging – either good or bad.

“I have been unbelievably fortunate with my mentors, and I cherish those relationships. They are good people, and they have changed my life in positive ways. I still draw on what they taught me to help make important decisions,” said Vathis. “My career success is due in large part to the fact that my mentors took an interest in my career, had faith in my abilities, and supported me while I held various positions in the organizations. Not only is it important to continue having mentors throughout your career, but it is important to recognize that mentors come in all shapes and sizes. You never know who you will learn something from, so it’s important to remain open. Also, after you become seasoned, it is important to give back by mentoring others.”

When asked why it’s important to be part of organizations outside of the office, Vathis explained, “To build a book of business, you need to be visible to others.” She also stresses the importance of putting yourself out there for new affiliations and challenges, because you never know where it may lead.

If you’re unsure of how to start this process, try asking co-workers and other people in your professional life if they have any advice or recommendations of organizations that can help advance your career. Another simple way is to Google “networking events in my area” and see what speaks to you. In addition, never be afraid to reach out to someone with a bit more experience for some advice. Take them out to coffee and pick their brain – you never know what you may learn.

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Op/Ed

Open letter to Realtors: Let your freak flag fly and quit judging each other

Tattoos are more and more acceptable in many fields of business, industry, and service. There still seems to be a gap in places like law, and real estate

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tattoos real estate

When most people think of Realtors, it’s easy to think of the boring headshot that seems to accompany them. You know the type: Boring suit, smarmy grin, some tagline about how they’re going to find you a house. Some Realtors, however, have set out to break that mold. One example is Justin Mercer.

Hailing from Arizona, Mercer goes by the title “The Tattooed Realtor.” It’s a name he’s definitely earned – Mercer sports tattoos everywhere from his hands to his face. And he looks awesome. Honestly, it’s about time more people start letting themselves live authentically, instead of trying to look like what society says they “should” look like.

Sure, Mercer has gotten plenty of strange looks, but he owns his appearance. In fact, he hands out fake tattoo stickers to kids and has a pen shaped like a tattoo machine for clients and visitors to use. The approach is interesting, but it helps break down the stigma surrounding face tattoos in fun ways.

His tattoos have also provided unique opportunities. For instance, Mercer has begun to land several acting roles! According to Mercer, he’s been in films, television, and even music videos. It’s a pretty neat perk to come from being visible and open.

That’s not to say it’s always easy for Mercer; he’s gotten a lot of pushback for his appearance. Even from within the industry:

Really, this says more about his detractors than Mercer himself. Why should tattoos stop someone from being a good real estate agent? In fact, why should tattoos stop someone from being a good anything?

Frankly, we’ve gone way too long subscribing to the idea that looking professional must mean trying to fit in. Who’s to say someone with pink hair, numerous piercings, or, in Mercer’s case, facial tattoos, isn’t fit to do their job? In fact, one of the great things about standing out is the ability to make like-minded customers feel at ease. There’s less fear of judgement when your Realtor looks like you.

Sure, no industry is going to change overnight – Mercer’s pushback is proof of that. But things are changing for the better. It’ll be an exciting day when everyone, no matter if they’re a doctor, lawyer, or real estate agent, feels comfortable enough to live authentically. And an even more exciting day when fellow Realtors don’t take to Facebook to trash a fellow professional for their appearance (isn’t there a saying about glass houses)?

In the meantime, congratulations to Mercer and those like him –– for pushing ahead in this relatively new frontier.

Here’s an adorable family photo, embracing the look:

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Op/Ed

Why the Millennial money anxiety? Our wealth is shrinking faster than past generations

(EDITORIAL) Boomer bank accounts are next on the list of institutions the millennials will kill! There’s plenty of reasons why but is there a way to avoid a generation war?

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millennial angst

Is ‘We’re hella poor’ the inverse of ‘I walked uphill, both ways, in bread bag shoes’?

Maybe there’s something to that old-time religion ‘death and life are in the power of the tongue’ stuff after all. Because I swear, if I have to read one more accredited, empirical study about how yes everyone who grew up with frosted tips and those weird, tiny sunglasses really is as poor as they say, I’ll be hospitalized with Terminal Sigh Syndrome.

Seems like starting a preemptive GoFundMe might be a good idea, because the stories are going nowhere faster than any given water-treading public school teacher. New data from the U.S. Government indicates that wealth is shrinking faster for the Millennial generation than any other in the past.

We’ve been through this for the past decade. College costs are up. Housing costs are up. Fuel costs are up. Employed experience requirements are up. Yet wages are being held down like employers nationwide are ride or die chicks gone horribly wrong. Bubbles are expanding and thinning every which way you look, and level 0 economics students can suss out how effed we are.

The cry heard through all of age group 23-38 has been rising like our sea levels. Now, with the Federales’ information blast on generational wealth and lack thereof adding to the pile, “inflation porn” just took on a whole new, SFW meaning.

But it’s not safe for work is it? No one’s work is safe. No one’s money is safe. Even The Man® says so.

Think the implications of these volumes upon volumes of findings only spell doom for the young and the fundless? Think again, dear reader.

I’m already seeing it now, and so are you. Fast food places are proudly sticking ‘Start at $10, $12, $15’ per hour next to their hiring signs. Apartments are running move-in specials for years on end, and pushing resident referrals like they were caught in a Scentsy scheme.

Smell that? It’s desperation.

People around my age, people with the dwindling modal income of people around my age, and the poor Gen Z’ers watching my generation yell at their grandparents are getting wise. We know that our apartment complexes aren’t at capacity. We know that no one else can take this demanding job without our skills. Sure, we’re stuck. But the adhesive is beginning to trickle upwards.

This is what’s going to happen to employers:

They will have a workforce of well-off, well-educateds who will leave you after the raises don’t come because they have access to the best financial advice, and a safety cushion.

They will be bereft of admin, cleaning, and maintenance staff, because the younger generation can’t afford to live where you need them.

They will have to accept that this means they’ll either lose time by doing things like booking their own flights, or they’ll have to suck it up and start paying people more.

This is what’s going to happen to landlords:

Their properties are going to stand empty longer.

Non-disparagement lease clauses are going to get ignored just like they ignore busted mailboxes.

They will have to accept that this means they’re losing money as less moneyed people flee the areas they concentrated their buying in, and moneyed people end up not filling the gap because those areas are ‘for poors,’ and their investments will stop making returns.

No matter how you feel about the issues, the fact remains: The combination of degree creep, economic inflation, wage stagnation, rising costs of living, lack of thorough public services, and us ‘snowflakes’ being BLASTED with trustworthy news about all of it on such a regular basis means you either are or are dealing with a generation constantly on the edge, and increasingly collaborating on locating outs instead of competing for crummy ins.

The crabs have stopped trying to climb each other out of the bucket, and we’re daring the cook to put his hand in here and make our claw-clickin’ day.

And unless our elders and richers are reaching out with a good salary/benefits/non-crumbling countertop attached to some tongs, these paranoid pincers are going to nip ‘em up GOOD.

We’ve got all the documentation. The pudding is 100% proofed, and ready for flambéing.

Howsabout we throw a match, and get it off the table already?

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