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  • Rob Larson

Private Photos in Real Estate Listings


Real estate listing agents delete photos from the MLS in impactful numbers today. At some point in the life of listings, such as at closing, agents delete the seller’s home photos to protect the privacy of the consumer. This is often requested by both sellers and buyers.


This results in the members of the MLS and other professionals losing access to critical information that photos add to a listing. For example, a comparable listing without photos makes it difficult to create valuations and CMA reports. The main reason agents give for deleting photos is to prevent public viewing on broker and large consumer websites.


Rather than deleting this important information, though, the Permission field can provide a solution to the brokerage community and their consumers.


Permission Field


Located in RESO’s Data Dictionary Media resource, the table of information commonly used to express and share photos, the Permission field is a picklist of options like Public, Private, etc., that express the desired permission or rule to be applied to individual photos. This field can also apply to documents and other media, though this post will focus only on photos.


As an alternative to deletion, an MLS or other system’s photo modification workflow could include the option to call a photo “private.” Other options in the Permission field are possible, but for the sake of this use case, we will stick to the notion of public and private. The configuration would allow the “private” photo to be seen by professionals but hidden from public or consumer view.


Public vs. Private


Let’s take the stance that your photos are currently “public” and, thus, the Public option in the Permission field would require no business rule changes. Private, however, has multiple considerations depending on your scenario. IDX, VOW, syndication, data shares and ancillary products (beyond the MLS system) are important to keep in mind when reviewing and designing handling for the desired effect.


Filter vs. Sharing Rules


To implement this mechanism and hide private photos from public sites, there are two possible routes. Filtering, likely the simpler to accomplish, could be completely internal to the MLS or data provider. When a photo is flagged as private, the data provider simply filters the photo from their data licensees’ feeds.


There may be situations where the data licensee provides services to both the professional and consumer. VOW is one such example. Other professional tools have potential public and private aspects as well. Sharing the Permission field and setting the expectation that the data licensee will handle the public/private rules becomes necessary.


Contracts


Language in the contract between the data provider and data licensee is necessary to ensure that the licensee will correctly handle private photos. This might not be necessary if the provider is filtering private photos from a licensee that only produces IDX websites. It also may not be necessary when a licensee provides services that are for professionals only. VOW, farming tools and many other services have both public and private aspects to them. Contractual language to ensure the licensee follows the business rules of the provider is necessary to ensure compliance in these cases.


A Simplified Use Case


Joe’s MLS has been getting complaints from members about how some photos were removed from closed listings, making their CMA work more difficult. Other members have also complained that their consumers are pressuring them to remove photos of the interior of their home for privacy reasons. This puts Joe’s MLS in a position where they are unable to satisfy all members.


Further, Joe’s MLS is taking calls from members to delete photos on closed listings because the member forgot to remove them before closing the listing. As a solution, Joe’s MLS adds a new Permission field to their photo input workflow. The member has the option to select “Public” or “Private” on every photo they input. Joe’s decided to default all photos to Public but allow members to change them to Private.


The Rules Committee for Joe’s MLS met and created a rule that any photo set to Private would be withdrawn from consumer view only after the listing was in Closed, Canceled or Expired status. They also added a “Help” function to the system and updated their training to make sure members knew the effect of selecting Private on a photo.


Joe’s MLS updated their data licensing contracts with all licensees providing professional products, stating that if a photo was set to Private, they must withdraw the photo from any public view their product might have. They did not change their IDX contracts.


Joe’s MLS added the new Permission field to all photos, backfilling them all to “Public” to get them started. Since their IDX websites received Sold status, they configured their IDX data feeds to filter Private photos on listings in Closed status. They didn’t need any handling for Canceled or Expired statuses, because those were not included in their IDX feeds.


Joe’s MLS worked with each of their licensees who had professional tools. They updated their media feed to include the new Permission field, got amendments signed on their contracts and helped the vendors understand where to show and where not to show private photos based on the listing’s status.


Later the next year, Joe’s MLS set up a data share with an adjacent MLS. Part of that new data share required them to work with their neighbor MLS to adopt the same utility to ensure their private photos were being handled correctly.



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