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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. Here’s what you need to know.

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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).

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

How can you prevent deepfakes trickery?

(EDITORIAL) It’s hard enough to get a complete story about anything, but the use of deepfakes makes that process harder. How can you prevent from being tricked?

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facial recognition deepfakes

Deepfakes are some the latest content entering social media and digital news outlets. Deepfakes are false photos and videos created by artificial intelligence, that at first glance, can pass off as authentic imagery.

Deepfake content appears as a person in a real picture or video that is replaced by someone else’s appearance. The deepfake can then go on to pose as the real person doing or saying things that never happened. As one can imagine, it’s possible the Internet can take one joke too far and unleash a deepfake with insidious motives.

So what are some ways to spot one of these fake videos? One of the telltale signs is the mismatched lighting or discoloration on the person’s face. Another tip is to check for blurring edges around the lips, jawline, chin, and neck where the AI is trying to superimpose the fake image atop the real one. Lip-synching can be tricky, but it helps to watch and listen to how the audio is matching up.

To some, these tips may be pretty obvious, but not everyone is familiar with editing techniques and deepfakes can pop up many places online. As of now there are no reliable programs available to catch these inconsistencies so it’s up to us to pay attention to the media we consume (the zoom tool is a BFF). With AI and software development, this fake content will only become more convincing. Fortunately, companies and even states are taking action to ban deepfakes online.

Some companies are tiptoeing the line of normalizing this kind of technology, and many people seem to be fine with that, so long as it’s for a laugh. The problem with laughing at something that looks real, but is fake, is that that can conversely cause someone to minimize something that is real because the viewer thinks it’s fake. This mentality helps no one, and can only hurt our understanding of the events that happen around us.

Ultimately, and for now, viewers should keep our heads up while online to spot the seams in our reality.

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Op/Ed

Reminisce on the joy of learning in these uncertain times

(EDITORIAL) Many have had to learn new ways of doing their jobs recently and while it can be frustrating, there can also be a lot of joy in adding to your skillset

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learning on the job

There are so many different types of learning in so many stages of life. Some we may not quite remember like learning how to walk in a time in our life that we didn’t even consider giving up. We have other capabilities that still seem clear as day like learning to swim and after several lessons you beg the lifeguard to watch you swim an entire lap across the pool so you could go on the diving board. There was also that time the training wheels came off and Grandma finally let go of the back of the banana seat on your pink bike with white wheels and you were on your first bike ride.

There are easy lessons and some really hard ones. No doubt, there were school subjects that lit us up inside and others that we dreaded – all the while feeling like we were alone and no one else quite knew what we were going through. As an adult, there have been lessons that have to be learned over and over again.

If you went to college and can think back to your senior year, do you remember wondering how you were going to demonstrate you had the skills necessary for someone to hire you and pay you for work? Did you worry that you didn’t really know all the ins and outs and how could you share in an interview that you were the perfect candidate?

Now fast forward ten years or so and hopefully you can stand really proud on all the things you have learned while being in the workforce or a business owner. It seems fair to assume you are familiar with a new software program. You likely have found ways to please customers and/or communicate with your team or boss. In this time, you probably are PC and Mac Proficient as well as now you can lead a webinar on Zoom like the next guy.

Joyful learning is a precious gift in times of boom or bust. As adults and professionals we make too little use of it. While the joy is a worthwhile end in its own right, joyful learning can also be used to ignite individual careers and collective productivity. Sparking learning joy, earning flexibly, and contributing productively are timelessly valuable pursuits, and are being felt especially acutely now.”

This is great advice from the article “The Simple Joy of Learning on the Job” from the Harvard Business Review and there is no better time to really challenge our personal efforts on creating joy at work than in the current climate. There is a lot out of our control but something that we can consider – what would bring us more joy in the daily grind?

Ideas:

  • Make sure everyone in your meetings knows how to create a virtual background on Zoom (because those are way more entertaining than you would ever expect).
  • Give yourself a chance maybe once per week to watch a TedTalk on a creative process around art, film, music, entertainment (or any industry that you go to for comfort).
  • Log in and click around to see if there is anything you want to learn more about on LinkedIn Learning, Udemy or Dabble.
  • Try to attend at least one webinar every six months from the professional organization you are in and have on your LinkedIn profile but honestly just haven’t made the time for it.
  • Consider taking Adobe up on their offer for two months free of Creative Cloud.
  • If you’ve had entrepreneurial desires, is now a time to ask a family or friend if you can help them with anything as they may be shifting their business to include more (or all) virtual offerings?
  • Consider ways to cheer up colleagues by themed dress code for meetings (Hat Day, Team Sports sweatshirt, Halloween costume day) or consider starting/ending meeting with music.

This article is not meant to imply that everyone needs to learn a new coding language or how to pull insights on big data (albeit those things may interest you too). The idea here is to find our joy again and bring it in to our new workspaces which for some of us, that means at home.

If you feel you may have lost your sense of joy, this Design Your Life Workbook has really user-friendly design thinking prompts to help you journal and think through what brings you joy – or even remind you what were things that brought you joy that didn’t necessarily equate to work. It was created for a Career Exploration class at Stanford. The authors also just published this book: Designing Your Work Life: How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work.

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Op/Ed

You lost a rockstar employee – don’t lose the band too

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Bands lose lead singers all the time, and sometimes are the better for it. Your business can rally too in the wake of losing a star employee.

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Smiling rockstar employee accepting paper from off screen.

Turnover is one of the largest expenses a business may have to prepare for; a study by Employee Benefits News estimates that the dollar amount is equivalent to a third of an employee’s annual salary. Indirect costs arrive alongside this, which can include the loss of employee knowledge and added expenses to invest in searching for a replacement. The recruitment process can be lengthy and has many steps and phases, and hiring may require paying bonuses, higher salaries, or providing additional benefits.

As many as 40% of employees quit in their first year, and when all is said and done, it might be 50-70% of that employee’s salary might suddenly be lost.

This can present a large problem if a top performing and well liked employee – what some recruiters might call a rockstar employee – leaves. Under the worst scenarios, it can cause a domino effect; remaining employees might begin to question why that person chose to make their exit, and this may manifest as a series of departures. From a management standpoint, this is catastrophic, and can lead to missed deadlines, an increased burden on the remaining staff, and generally result in less quality output.

Contingency plans should be in place to help mitigate this situation, and all companies should – at some point – consider what their best options are to stop a destructive downward spiral. Jokingly – if a little morbid – this is sometimes referred to as the bus factor, which literally confronts this question by asking what happens if ____ were hit by a bus tomorrow? After all, if your critically vital employee suddenly could not show up again – literally never again – what can you do to prevent cascading effects?

Let’s consider the best things to do in this situation in order to prevent insert-your-favorite-natural-disaster-term-here when you suddenly learn your unicorn is on their way out.

Ask Questions and Listen

First and foremost, it’s best to ask the rockstar employee why they are leaving and make a sincere effort to understand their decision. The benefits of exit interviewing are known and can help immensely in this area. Even under the best circumstances and with an employee leaving without any negative reasons, there is likely still something they’d like to see improved, and this can be applied to those who remain.

Speaking of those remaining employees, it’s best to talk with them as well. Be transparent and genuine – ask about current moods and morale, get their perspective on the situation, and how they think it might affect their work moving forward. If the exiting employee did give any advice about improving the work environment, you can inject this into these follow-on conversations to see if others share that opinion, and then use those overlapping patterns to understand what to do immediately.

Surveys can be sent out as well, and this might provide a quick response and some metrics to go on. This should be used in conjunction with interviews and one-on-one conversations. During these engagements, listen intently, acknowledge any issues that may have been uncovered, and explain that you are committed to ensuring a smooth transition and will proactively address any problems that have been revealed.

Futureproofing

Reassure employees that their work is meaningful and recognized as vital and important, and commit to finding a replacement in order to prevent concerns that an increased workload will remain in place for an extended period of time. This will require taking introspective looks into the current workplace and its metrics, and then channeling these into efforts outwardly. In other words, the future is still bright, and all the brighter with their contributions.

It’s likely that employees may start to look at their work pessimistically – “Why should I stay if what we’re doing couldn’t keep ___ here?” This is why management must act quickly to assess the situation and provide direct answers. Explain that goals are still attainable and emphasize each employee’s importance.

Happiness

Perhaps the most abstract – yet arguably most significant – thing to worry about is the overall happiness of employees, and how to best continue this in an upward trajectory. There are plenty of ways to do this, with many revolving around frequent check-ins, seeking out ways to improve skillsets through education, and providing – if possible – promotions now that voids exist. After all, if there is an open opportunity within the organization, it will likely bolster the entire team to see someone move into a new position (and provide inspiration).

Engagement is key. There is no substitute for this – employees want to be heard, want to know they matter, and will respond to such efforts positively. In addition to the strategies above, it might be a good time to consider morale boosting events while redoubling efforts to improve the workplace.

Conclusion

Focusing on what to do now with plans in place will help provide a solid head start. Engage and speak with (not just to) employees, understand their concerns, and actively respond to anything that repeatedly emerges from such conversations. Reassure by shifting focus toward the future of the company, and maintain employee happiness by being transparent and considering ways to reorganize hierarchy through promotions.

When a favorite employee leaves, there’s always going to be a rippling effect throughout the office. Turnover cannot be fully avoided, but there are several ways to cushion the blow and continue to move forward in an efficient, agile manner.

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