MLS Listing Photos vs Buyer Privacy.

November 14, 2019

“Double-Edged” Technology

Advances in technology and the availability of inexpensive, studio quality video have proven to be a boon for home sellers in a tech savvy market like Silicon Valley. The advent of Matterport 3D virtual tours, hosted video presentations, and detailed floor plans enable sellers to excite potential buyers about their home long before they ever actually step foot in it. Top Realtors who understand that you can't just put a sign in the front yard and expect the home to sell are embracing these technological advances to elevate their listings above their local competition, and this will only become more prevalent when our local market starts to slow (and it will.)  When we actually return to a balanced market, top-notch marketing will become a necessity, not a luxury.

Sellers love the technology because it shines their home in the best possible light, and buyers love the technology because they can get a much better understanding of the home (and neighborhood) before they ever commit to seeing it.  It's a win-win, right?

Not necessarily so.

After the Close.

There's a joke that goes something like this:  “What's the difference between love and the internet? The internet is forever.”  Ask anyone who has ever posted a regrettable photo on the internet — once it's out there, it's incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to scrub it clean.  This phenomenon applies to just about anything posted on the web, including real estate photos and videos, and it's becoming increasingly problematic for buyers of real estate.

You see, all of those wonderful high-definition photos and videos that buyers so cherished when they were purchasing the house are now on display in perpetuity for anyone to see, and that creates all kinds of privacy concerns for the new owner of the house.  Who in the world wants to have the detailed layout of their brand new house just a couple of clicks away for anyone to see?  The videos and 3D tours are even more invasive.

Home buyers are finding out after they close on their new home that it's incredibly difficult to wipe the “storybook” about their home from the public view.

It Starts with the MLS.

The heart of the matter is the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and how they handle the information you use to market your home.  As soon as a home listed on the MLS, all of the details about the home (including photos, virtual tours, and videos) are pumped out instantaneously to hundreds of third-party websites that play in the real estate market.  This includes legitimate buy/sell brokerages like Redfin who are members of the MLS, as well as “value-add” websites like Zillow and Trulia that purchase the data feed from the MLS to “re-market” homes on their own sites. And those are just the main players — there are literally hundreds of other websites that have access to the same data feed, which means photos of your home spread faster across the internet than a bad rumor on TMZ.

This is obviously an unintended downside of what was originally a noble idea of utilizing leading-edge technology to market a home, and new privacy-minded home owners are finding out that fixing the problem is challenging at best.


Unfortunately, there is no “solution” to expunge real estate marketing collateral from the internet and the public eye.  Once it's out there, it's out there.  But there are steps that home buyers can take to at least minimize the exposure of their new home, but it takes some footwork — and timing is also key.   Here are a couple things you can do:

  1. Remove the Photos from the MLS.  You can ask your agent to request that the listing agent remove the photos from the MLS.  This change in the data feed then propagates out to many of the aforementioned websites automatically, thus partially solving the problem.   Listing agents generally comply with this request, and can remove most of the photos, but there are some restrictions.  First, the MLS requires that there be at least one exterior picture of the home with every listing — that's generally not a big privacy concern.  The bigger issue, though, is that the photos must be removed before the sale closes escrow and listing status is changed to “SOLD”.  Once that happens, the MLS will absolutely not remove any photos of the property.  The problem is that most home buyers don't think about these privacy issues until after they've purchased their home, and by then it's too late.
  2. Contact Websites Directly.  Most of the dominant sites such as Redfin and Zillow are generally amenable to removing photos from their site once you verify that you are the owner of the home.  It takes some time and effort, but most agents and buyers that I've spoken to about this issue have had success getting photos pulled from these sites.

The bottom line is that when you buy a home, there's no way to totally remove the digital fingerprint of your home from the internet.  But there are definitely steps you can take to minimize the exposure and maximize your privacy.

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