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September 15, 2019

Do Online Photos Disappear After a House Sells

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2179 Saint Clair - Kitchen
The kitchen from my sold listing on Saint Claire in Simi Valley

What Happens to the Listing Photos Once a Home Sells?

Those beautiful images that caught your eye and led you to buy the house of your dreams... do they stay on the internet forever or can I remove them once I own the house? The short answer is "mostly no, with a little bit of yes."

The Nature of the Internet

The general wisdom of Computer Science professionals and Internet Security practitioners is that once something is posted on the internet, it is there forever. Between search engines caching results, to screenshots, to the Internet Archive, to other people's equipment, there are a lot of ways for whatever you post to be captured and kept forever.

To give you an idea of just how far and wide photos of a home can go, I'll take one of my listings as an example. Photos get placed into the MLS, I also utilize Realbird, WikiRealty and Active Rain. In addition to those, I also publish the listing to social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Gab, Ello) and a host of blogs in multiple countries. That doesn't even begin to account for the syndication partners!

What is Real Estate Syndication?

In Real Estate syndication is when a listing is automatically published to a second site, by the nature of it being on a particular site. For example, when a listing is input into the MLS, it is syndicated to Realtor.com, Re/Max, Redfin and all the major real estate firm's websites. It also goes to ListHub, which transmits the listing to around 100 other sites, many of which have "child sites" that they further transmit to. With ListHub alone, which in Ventura County every Realtor gets automatically, your listing is syndicated to approximately 500 websites!

In addition, there are several other syndication services out there which Realtors pay to access. I personally use RealBird, which I find to be the most feature rich of the tools out there. That site syndicates my listings to another 20+ sites, some with child sites. On top of that, I pay to get my listings put onto Zillow Group's 8-10 websites. I also create and distribute videos of the listing as well as other marketing materials to a specialized sites.

By the time I'm done marketing a home for sale via syndication, I've put it on around 600 websites!

Is that all? NO! There is also a technology called IDX, which is what drives the home search portals on agent websites. When last I checked, my listings went on agent websites all over Ventura County, Los Angeles County, Orange County and into San Bernardino County! The last count I had of this was a over THREE HUNDRED MORE WEBSITES!! That brings my total distribution to around a potential of 1,000 websites!

What Do Listing Photos Get Used For After a Sale?

That's a very good question. The two main things they get used for are agent marketing and comparables

Agent Marketing

Despite what people think about the real estate industry, we actually do need to sell more than one home a year. In order to attract more clients, we often use the photos we've taken of our listings to attract that next listing. In addition to our "just sold" mailers, they also serve as an example of the level of marketing the agent does and is often part of the presentation when on a listing appointment. They can even be used as part of an article, like the one at the beginning of this article.

Comparable Sales

You've often heard the term "comps" or comparables." These are homes that are similar in size and makeup to yours. When trying to determine an appropriate price to list a home at, or an appropriate price to offer on a listing, photos of comparable sales are crucial. They help agents and appraisers determine the quality of the house and it's upgrades, which plays a key role in determining a price or value. Without these, it would be impossible to properly price a home, leading to a potential for sellers to under price their home and for buyers to overpay for a home.

How to Get the Photos Removed

The conventional wisdom is to ask for the marketing photos to be removed as part of the offer. The problem I have with putting this into the offer itself is that the offer is a contract between the seller and the buyer and the Realtor is not a party to that contract. Therefore, I do not see it as appropriate to make this request via the residential purchase agreement. If anything, the buyer should ask their agent to ask the listing agent to remove the photos prior to closing. The worst time to ask, is after the sale has closed escrow. At that point, it's against MLS rules to touch the listing record. In fact, in Ventura County the MLS system locks us out and only the association staff can make changes, after several approvals... including theirs!

What Rights Does a Buyer Have?

Essentially the buyer has no rights to the photos or to demand their removal. The photos are the property of the agent, and depending on contract terms may also be the property of the Brokerage and of the Photographer to use as they see fit. In addition, the photos are not of the new owner's house. They were taken at the time of the prior owner and show that owner's possessions. In fact, the seller signs in the listing agreement, as shown below, that the agent and Broker may use the photos during and post sale.

Do Online Photos Disappear After a House Sells 1
Residential Listing Agreement

What Does the California Association of Realtors Legal Team Have to Say?

Funny you should ask. I had this come up twice where after close of escrow (one time almost a year later) the request came in to remove the photos. CAR Legal was brought in to consult and their stance was that the listing agent was under no legal obligation to comply with the request and that the buyer (now new owner) had no legal rights over the photos in question. Further more, in the Statewide Buyer and Seller Advisory, shown below, it states that " Broker will not be responsible for removing any such content from the internet or MLS."

Do Online Photos Disappear After a House Sells 2
Statewide Buyer and Seller Advisory

For the above sale where CAR Legal had to get involved I did a simple Google search of the property address. The house had been listed three times within the last five years and photos and listing information were available online for each of those past listings within the first 60 search results. Some of these photos were on servers that were no longer being managed. There is also the possibility of finding exact model matches that have video tours and even floorplans.

What Can a Privacy Conscious Individual Do?

While I do paint a gloomy picture, I did say at the start of this article that there was a "little bit of yes" for removing photos. Some sites like Zillow and Redfin will allow you to remove the photos... in exchange for you creating an account with them and being sent their marketing.

Removing Photos from Zillow

Zillow has a pretty straightforward removal process. You need to create an account, then claim the house as yours and then edit the photos. A full step-by-step set of instructions is available on Zillow's site here.

Removing Photos from Redfin

The process for removing photos from the real estate brokerage Redfin's site is similar to that of Zillow. Click here for step-by-step instructions.

Removing Photos from Realtor.com

As of the date of this writing, there is no method for an owner to remove photos from Realtor.com Your best option is to contact them directly and request removal.

Removing Photos from Estately

You've likely never heard of this site, but it's one of the 100 or so that ListHub directly shares listing data with. Per this page, they refuse to remove any information unless it is inaccurate.

Removing Photos from Other Sites

The good news is, is that once a home sells it will likely automatically be removed from the majority of realtor IDX websites and syndication sites within six months to a year, assuming there are no technical glitches. As far as other portal sites (Realtor.com, Homes.com, etc.), your best option is to contact their customer service department directly and request removal. You may need to verify that you actually are the home owner.

In Conclusion

We've examined why having accessible photos of a property post sale is important, we've looked at the shear size of the default distribution network and additional paid networks. We've also looked into agent's responsibilities in California and what options the new owner has to remove the photos.

Have you had any experience with removing photos? Sound off in the comment section below.

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