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Are You Able to Directly Upload Images to Your Local MLS?

In: 
Published: 30/04/2020

Frank writes:

“I have a question for the blog. Do any real estate photographers have their systems set up to automatically upload images to their local MLS? If so, did you have to agree to the same Terms of Service their Realtor members have too?”

Brandon has asked me to post this question, as he’s currently indisposed. I’m not sure if you’ve heard but Brandon’s home town of Fort McMurray, Alberta, is currently closed due to extremely severe flooding (almost four years after it almost burned down to the ground!). While Brandon and his family are doing okay, a great many people have had to be evacuated. I know you all join me in sending Brandon and his family our best wishes.

In terms of answering Frank’s question, I will put it out to the community, as I simply don’t know the answer and it would be unhelpful for me to guess. I will look forward to seeing everyone’s comments. Thank you!

35 comments on “Are You Able to Directly Upload Images to Your Local MLS?”

  1. No, we can't unless the realtors provides credentials and I wouldn't do it anyway. Not my decision to choose what gets posted, I just take them. As for Franks question on rights, if your logged in under the realtors credential or as his assistant, it's still in his court, not yours. The argument against you would be that you where aware of their rules and agreed by doing the uploading. But once again, I wouldn't have any part of it. (I am also a Realtor).

    This is an issue we are not going to win.

  2. Man, hang in there Brandon! I've seen fire and I've seen rain. James Taylor got nothing on Fort McMurray! I agree with Bill. This isn't an issue we're ever going to win. The only way to do it around here is log in with the agent's credentials, which feels totally wrong. I think I may have done this once or twice a long time ago for an agent who was severely technically challenged. Like, she had trouble downloading the photos I sent her and was in a jam because she needed to get the listing live. Most agents should feel wary about handing over their login credentials anyways. That being said, if there were a way that photographers could have their own MLS access and automatically upload photos for a client (and charge an additional fee for this service!), I'm sure some agents would take advantage of that.

  3. Bill

    I wrote and sent my question in too hastily. Lots of things can be done with an api. I'm wondering if any photographers who have a set up their websites with upload/download functionality, have also set their system up to upload images to their local MLS system using the MLSs api.

    Maybe most MLS systems aren't that sophisticated?

  4. Michael,

    Yes, I bet some agents would love that. Part of the concern is that photographers, owners of the photos, would most likely be giving away copyright via the MLSs TOS on upload.

  5. When I have looked into it, I had to join the MLS, and pay fees. I am acyually glad the MLS gives me an excuse NOT to upload for the realtor. I can see that being a horrible log jam in flow. I can see it now "Hello customer, You have to create your listing so I can upload. Please call me back as soon as possible so I can finish your tour"

    Some things sound reasonable but under even minor consideration reveal themselves to be unworkable.

  6. As a REALTOR Broker and photographer, it is not necessarily the agent who does not want you to upload, but the penalties for them letting others use their id and pw for info, plus they should be putting their choice of what goes up AND the order it is placed in the listing. As well, giving you the id and pw allows you to get into the entire system of their clients data, which breaks all kinds of privacy laws. The penalties are not worth the few minutes of time.

  7. No, In order for me to upload photos to the MLS on my own I would need to be an active paying realtor (over $1000/year to be a member). Now I tell the realtor to upload themselves, it’s their job. In the beginning years of my company I would offer to upload on their behalf for additional $25. I would get their login info. Then the local MLS made it illegal to login under someone’s name bc they can track which computer/location so if they see something suspicious or out of the ordinary, then they fine the agent

  8. The Chicago area MLS has a service that lets me upload photos and links to my VT slideshow. I set this up several years ago. I think I paid a one-time $100 fee for the setup. I don't believe I had to agree to any conditions other than affirm that the photos were mine.

    I order all the mls photos by naming them like "8171_DRF07685273.__00" which is the __..

    I zip them and place the zip file (that has the current date in the zip filename) on my website where each hour the MLS service checks for new zip files and uploads them. Also, I add a text file with the link to my website's VT slideshow for that listing.

    All my agent clients love this extra service. It saves them much time. Never had any bad feedback. They especially like that the photos will be in place on their new listings while in draft mode before making them active. Once the photos are visible in the listing draft, the agent can re-arrange or remove some if they like, but this rarely happens.

    I am a member of the MLS as an agent, but don't need to be to use this upload service. I believe that VHT does this as well.

  9. Sorry. Your site didn't like my use of the greater-than and less-than symbols in this sentence.

    I order all the MLS photos by naming them like “8171_DRF07685273.__00” which is the Agent ID, Listing number, and image order.

  10. Frank, unless things have changed, the mls api is for sucking data from, not adding to. It's to allow secondary web sites to display current mls data and be updated.

  11. Bill and Michael,

    I imagine each MLS has their own rules and regs? I recently created am MLS spreadsheet listing every spreadsheet in the US. About 700 of them.

  12. Yes!! CRMLS in Southern California here... our local MLS has a photographer program at no charge. You sign the agreement and can indicate exclusive or non-exclusive. I chose the latter, it was nice that they gave us the option.

    The licensing: You are agreeing to the same terms that you typically grant your real estate agents. The CRMLS does have a photographer directory... you can take a look here: https://go.crmls.org/photographer-list/. They do specify that it's also ok to use your typical photography agreement with the agent.

    Pro: I can add photos for my clients, update their URLs for property websites, and replace photos. This is a HUGE value add for my clients who hate the process of downloading and uploading. Or for the agent who wants to go to bed but they are waiting on their 2am photos. If I upload directly, I also get a little relief from the agent wanting to go to bed.

    Pro: Photo control... kinda...I recently spoke with a Realtor who acts as a buyers agent mostly, and she told me of recent buyers who let her know AFTER the listing closed escrow that they want their photos removed from all websites. Via IDX, this is impossible. So in essence, if you want photos taken DOWN you have to address with the operator of the site as the buyer of a home... Dear Zillow, please take down photos of the house I just bought...etc. HOWEVER - If the listing agent, before the sale closes, updates the listing with only one or two photos - this would PUSH that number of photos through the IDX and effectively remove the interior shots everywhere. Where this comes in handy is that if we as photographers can encourage the listing agent to do this as a favor, this would also reduce the chance of our photos being repurposed for other agents in the future! Be aware, there are many agents who are not part of the transaction who don't like this practice because it limits the number of photos available for when they run comparables for new listings.

    Pro - If your client adds you to this "photographer ID" field, even if you didn't personally upload the files, your name remains in the file with those photos. This means for the next agent to come along and sell the home, your contact info is available for a new shoot or possible re-licensing.

    Pro - The directory. I've actually had new clients find me in this list, so I consider that a win.

    Pro - I can upload the correct size photos, eliminating the confusion for the client of which ones to use.

    CONS:
    The access that we are given is very limited to only those items, and we can only add this after the listing is made "live". It would make more sense to load those photos BEFORE you hit publish on the listing... but CRMLS just hasn't granted us access to a draft of a listing. I asked them to lift that about a year ago and they said they would vote on it... but I don't know if that ever came up to get a vote. I haven't followed up.

    Other than this - I don't really have any CONS... I like the ability to help my clients or add property website links for them (this seems to be an area of confusion for some less tech-savvy agents)

  13. The answer for my association is no. Agents can get in lots of trouble for giving out their log in credentials and passwords.

    That being said, I did upload photos for one agent a few years back. He asked me to and I explained what trouble he could get into, but he said as long as I kept my mouth shut and he kept his mouth shut, no one would ever know. And no one ever did.

  14. "for an agent who was severely technically challenged."

    Way back in the 2000's, RE offices were buildings with lots of desks and a support staff to assist agents in getting listings online and help doing comps and finding technical info such as APN's.

    There are still a few of those outdated and outmoded offices around, but many have gone virtual and agents are left to fend for themselves. If you are an agent, it sorta makes you wonder about the value of those broker commission splits vs. doing your time and getting your broker's license.

  15. @Aubrey, GAVAR has an associates membership that is $250/year the last time I checked. It's for members that aren't agents such as inspectors and photographers. It allows one to attend meetings, get newsletters and be bound by the MLS rules.

    @Dana,
    The wording is very deceptive on the CRMLS page and I have to believe there is more to it once you sign up and have to start clicking more checkboxes for things you agree to. What's on the page is telling you that "agents" won't have the rights to transfer or use the images they get from you in ways different from the license you give them. It's not covering the rights you give to the MLS, which is the big problem. My customers are already bound by my license agreement when they have me make photos for them. I don't have the CRMLS agent rules, but I'm going to guess that Rule 11.5 is a rights grab given what every other MLS is doing. "No more confusion on who "owns" or "licenses" a photo in the MLS" is right. If you've agreed to be bound by their rules, you own the photo, but they have most of the control.

    The photographer ID is throwing the photographer a bone after they've stripped the metadata from the images which would have your information embedded if you have your camera/photo management software exif data filled out. It's better that the metadata is left in and it's part of the DMCA legislation. Removing it is supposed to be on par with cropped or touching out a copyright notice in the image. It would be nice to see some rulings against infringers that make the infringement "willful" through stripping the metadata.

    It's pretty easy to determine the correct maximum size of image for the MLS. I sit down with my customers when things change and we upload a large image and see what the software crunches it down to. CRISNET is now syndicating 640x480. I'm not sure if that's universal or due to agreements (or lack thereof) with certain consumer facing web sites. I have export presets for Z,T & R along with all of the surrounding MLS's.

    I don't think doing a new photo gallery with just one or two images will wipe out what somebody like Zillow has on hand. They seem to be keeping every image that's gone through their system for every home they can. What may wind up happening is there will be one entry with the full set and another with just the 1/2 even though they are both from the same sale cycle.

    I know agents are keen to have a full set of images of every neighboring home to do comps, but that is making those images that much more valuable as far as a photographer is concerned. The photographer should be compensated or the images should be deleted once the license conditions have expired. I like having images online when I'm looking up a home I've been asked to photograph, but I can do without them as they aren't always a peek into the home as it is today and I'm still having to solve problems in real time when I do the job.

    Agents need to learn the tech side. It's part of the job and while it might be more efficient to delegate some of the tasks if they are busy, they still need to know how to do things like downloading and uploading photos even if they have to slow way down and read through every step. I try to set things up with multiple gallery versions so all they have to do is open the Trulia folder and drag the images to the upload spot and not have to resize/crop or select/organize the images to have them the perfect size for Trulia. I still want the agent to review the images first in case of errors or if there are images they want to pull. I can do those galleries very fast with presets in Lightroom, so I'm adding a bunch of value without it costing me much time. An 8-core Mac with lots of RAM and an SSD rips right through exporting. For me to take the time to upload the photos to the MLS isn't adding value. If the realtor has kids, they could do it with 10 minutes of training.

    The directory does have value in bringing in new customers, but the whole scheme strips your interest in the photos down to very little. Yes, you still own the copyright, but you won't have much in the way of opportunities to make any more than the paltry amount you brought in when you made the images. You may do better making agent portraits at association meetings out of a van traveling around the country. $50-$75 a pop for one or two looks, a minute or two of preset "retouching" and digital delivery. That can be a few hundred an hour for very straight forward photos done with a consistent light setup that gives you acceptable images, but nothing too special. It's the same sort of thing I was doing with Santa photos at the city's holiday village. The exception is we were delivering physical prints on site (4x6 only) and had to deal with kids which takes much longer. They don't take direction and as soon as you point a camera at them they start crying. Still loads of fun, but professional portraits are much easier.

  16. I'm likely one of the few that can say yes to this, with a caveat. I can not upload photos to the MLS that owned by the Realtors. This is the one that has the contract with realtor.com and the various feeds. I can upload to my site, which can be reasonable described as a MLS. The site I control, and one that competes with Realtor.com, Zillow and others.

    We initially put the up and the agent can then reorder or remove photos. For the most part, they go with what we do.

  17. Houston Texas here. Yes we can.

    You have to join our local MLS as an associate member, pay $250 dues once a year, AND sign a "Media Submission Form". It completely transfers ownership of the photos to the local MLS and gives them an unlimited indefinite license to use the photos however they want.

    If you do those things, they'll give you a login to upload photos yourself.

  18. Sean & Dana,

    So, if I understand correctly....the MLSs you are talking about are getting you to 1) transfer all rights to them and 2) getting you to do the work a Realtor should be doing and 3) you are paying $250/year for the privilege?

  19. "It completely transfers ownership of the photos to the local MLS and gives them an unlimited indefinite license to use the photos however they want."

    This is a contradictory statement. If transfer ownership of the photos means transfer of copyright to the mls, then the mls does not then need a license to use photos which they own. I suppose "ownership of the photos" could technically mean ownership of the image files, in the same way that one might acquire ownership of a photographic print, which does not by itself confer ownership of the copyright to the party acquiring the manifestation of the photo. Please be clear.

  20. In summary, my portion of agreement w my MLS

    1. ) RE: Rights Transfer: I hold the rights. I do grant rights to the MLS to use the images as a non-exclusive license - yes, in perpetuity. I did sign an agreement to this, and understand the implications if the MLS decides it wants to sublicense an image that I uploaded at 1024px wide... go for it. I'll be very honest here, if I have an award winning beauty of an image that I don't want to share, my client and the MLS in succession won't be receiving it to begin with.

    2.) RE: Getting me to do the Realtors' work - Not that many agents need me to do this. Something that takes me 10 minutes to help a client out when they may be on an appointment or sleeping is a service maybe other photographers won't provide. Maybe 2x a month? MAYBE? I have some long-time clients who are very loyal - I'd like to think that they're loyal because I take their success as my success. I also track their list price, sales price and DOM, not for reports or marketing, but because I genuinely love seeing them do well. I don't expect everyone to understand this...

    3.) RE: Payment - I don't pay for my access. (LOL, that's subjective, nothing is "free" and I get that.) I know the MLS isn't being altruistic.

    “I have a question for the blog. Do any real estate photographers have their systems set up to automatically upload images to their local MLS? If so, did you have to agree to the same Terms of Service their Realtor members have too?”

    To answer the question clearly - My system is not set up to automatically upload images for my clients. I do this as-needed. My ToS with the MLS are a rights granted, non-exclusive, perpetuity. There is not a section 11.5... Yes, it's a rights grab but the non-exclusive bit with me retaining "ownership" was OK w me.

    I have more issues with posting great images on FB/Instagram than I do posting a picture of a sink in the MLS.

    @Ken - I don't offer Santa photos, LOL. I get where you're coming from but I'm mindful of what I share with any agent, any client, any online upload platform... I do consider my business more of a service than an art, but if I have a Van Gogh, I promise it's not on Facebook OR in a listing. 🙂

  21. Frank, you got it. What a bargain, right!

    David, here's the exact language:

    "Service Provider does hereby grant to HRIS an irrevocable, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicensable and transferable license to use, reproduce, modify, resize, adapt, prepare derivative works of, distribute, and display the Content, at HRIS’s discretion, and to modify, add to, or strip out the metadata contained within the Content."

  22. The other problem with the way our MLS is setup is that the agents sign the same form and language for media when they onboard. So our MLS thinks they own rights to every photo and media uploaded to the site, regardless of what the license between photog and Realtor says.

    So if I send photos to my client with a non-transferable license, and they turn around and upload photos to MLS granting them rights, legally my issue is with the Agent for violating the license. The way the system is setup puts the agents in a very dangerous spot, and most aren't even aware and have no understanding of the issue.

    Do I sue my own client if anything ever happens? Seems like a bad business choice as far as reputation goes.

  23. Sean, that language does not constitute transfer of copyright to the MLS or anyone else. If the mls "owns" anything, it is an image file itself, not the copyright. I will note that, as far as I know, most MLSes allow their members to withdraw the photos from being displayed on the MLS, though I believe the image files will still remain indefinitely in the MLS databases.

  24. @Sean, that text is you (or somebody) granting all of the value in the images to the MLS if you agree to it. The latest judgement involving Instagram shows what can happen and how the courts will uphold the ToS. I make photos MY clients can use to sell homes and get more listings. I'm not making images to enrich non-customers.

    Ultimately, it's the agent that may be sacrificed at the alter since they've made an agreement they weren't permitted to make. There will have to be some cases to see if a judge/jury decides they've been taken advantage of or if they get stuck with the hot potato. I'm not sure that MLS's are going to back down unless they start hemorrhaging members. I can see top agents representing high value homes doing just fine without the MLS. I'm not so sure that the bread and butter middle market agents that handle more volume have much of a choice. Would a darkhorse RE advertising site step up with a non-rights grabbing contract? Consumers will use whatever portal(s) they can find to shop for a home and not care about the brand name on it. It's the non-public facing information catalog behind the scenes that's more valuable for agents.

  25. @David, While that language does not transfer a copyright, it basically gives then all the rights that the owns has for the image. The license allows them to do whatever they want with the image and cannot be revoked. They can grant other the right to use and display the image and charge for such usage, they can modify and copy the image, they can transfer that license to anyone they choose. In short, there is nothing short of selling the copyright that the copyright owner can do that they cannot. Based on that wording, it doesn't matter if the agent chooses to use the image or not, the MLS can do what they wish with it.

    As for removing an image file from a server; for all practical purposes it is almost impossible to remove a single file completely. Most servers have backups, and generally you can't remove a single file from a backup. They are just not designed that way. In addition, most of the images servers will use CDN systems which will place the file on hundreds of servers.

  26. Neal & Ken,

    "Would a darkhorse RE advertising site step up with a non-rights grabbing contract? Consumers will use whatever portal(s) they can find to shop for a home and not care about the brand name on it. It’s the non-public facing information catalog behind the scenes that’s more valuable for agents."

    Darkhorse? Interesting thought. Maybe this darkhorse needs to be an aggregator also?

    Can an agent list a home on the MLS (an NAR requirement, I believe) without uploading more than the Front elevation photo?

    If the agent does not upload photos to the MLS, the aggregators will not be able to get them, correct? If so, that defeats one of the benefits of the MLS to agents, no?

  27. The local Mls here allows for the photographer to join their system at no cost. They are put on a preferred photography list for all agents to see and choose if they want (they can pick someone outside the list as well). The advantage for the agent is that those photogs on the list can load the agents photos without giving their login info.

    Bottom line, yes Frank, you do have to agree with the same terms realtors do.... I have come to the decision that these are just temporary products that after a month online will get trashed. I will pick my fights and that means that if I see a image that I love, I will go through the process of registering it. But, I am not going to waste my resources on 1000's of images that are shot

  28. @Frank,

    "Can an agent list a home on the MLS (an NAR requirement, I believe) without uploading more than the Front elevation photo?"

    I don't know about every MLS, but the ones around me only require that a front exterior photo is posted for every listing. There is an exception if the seller completes and exclusion form. They can prohibit photos being posted, the listing from appearing on the MLS and a sign being posted on the property. They can also require that no advertising is posted before a certain date. MLS's usually require the photo(s) to be posted within 48 hours of the contract being signed, but if the seller needs more time to get the property ready for the sale, they can postpone the images being taken and going up. This is good for agents as they aren't going to want to put time into coaching the seller before the contract is signed. It can take a week or two for owners to declutter and clean after an agent works with them on what needs to be done. I suggest to my customers that they have the form ready and emphasize that putting the work in could be worth $10k or more. Even if it doesn't bring in an over-asking offer at a time like now when my area is a buyer's market, it could get the property sold much faster.

    The darkhorse would be an aggregator, but if they only asked for and received rights to store, display and make minor alterations to fit the display design of the web page, that would be ok with me. Instead of selling image rights, they could sell advertising and charge agents a nominal fee for a listing being posted. I really don't want to see a MLS or aggregator licensing images to third parties including agents that may have picked up the contract one of my customers lost. I charge the new agent for a license and I'm not giving away that right to anybody else. I also don't discount the price. I sometimes charge more.

  29. Ken,

    "The darkhorse would be an aggregator, but if they only asked for and received rights to store, display and make minor alterations to fit the display design of the web page, that would be ok with me. Instead of selling image rights, they could sell advertising and charge agents a nominal fee for a listing being posted. I really don’t want to see a MLS or aggregator licensing images to third parties including agents that may have picked up the contract one of my customers lost. I charge the new agent for a license and I’m not giving away that right to anybody else. I also don’t discount the price. I sometimes charge more."

    I think this is what Zillow is doing with all it's apps and the MLSs allowing photographers to upload. Photographers are becoming direct contractors to them. I would think the tour companies are going to have to become the direct contractors to them also soon enough(?). But that just makes it even more obvious they are an unneeded layer/middleman.

  30. Jerry Miller....."I have come to the decision that these are just temporary products that after a month online will get trashed"

    Sorry, but you are incorrect!!!! The images are permanent!!!! In permanent use!!!!!

    Don't take my word for it. Go to realtor.com put in an address of any property you have photographed that was sold and has been off the market for six months.

    At the six-month mark for any property being off the market realtor.com updates the front page of the website and re-displays every single photograph regardless of photographer that it has in its database for that address.

    I've seen as many as four and five photographers images on a single address being read displayed.

    Zillow is already using its inventory of photographic imagery as a stock resource selling or bartering usage outside of the real estate industry. Search bob vila for 12 vintage bathroom's that never go out of style. One of my images is on his site but the other 10 are credited to zillow. Bob Vila is not a real estate agent, He is a do-it-yourself TV celebrity having been broadcasted This Old House for At least 30 years.

    It's not temporary. Every one of your images are being used by real estate aggregators for their own profit after the houses been sold. Of which you are not being paid for that usage. You can blind yourself or lie to yourself by thinking it's temporary, but it's not. If you're okay with this ongoing usage, I am not going to criticize you, that is your decision because, it's your work and I support you in whatever decision you make...... But please make your decisions from knowledge.

  31. @ Jerry Miller, Mike Boatman is right. Virtually all of your photos that you create for agents are still being used and the aggregators are profiting from that use. I used to feel the same as you in that "once the home sold or is no longer being marketed for sale then the photos are of no value" to anyone. That couldn't be further from the truth. Thanks to Mike Boatman for pointing that fact out to me over a year ago.

    And what's worse than the aggregators profiting from the use it is also resulting in others "stealing" our photos from them for their monetary gain. Trust me, our photos are not just temporary products. They live a life forever and are not being trashed. Instead of you making additional income from the use of your photos there are plenty of others that are.

  32. Jerry

    Boatman, Kerry et al are for real. Imagine recouping thousands and thousands worth of usage rights that have been STOLEN from you.

  33. Just a follow up on the form to postpone the requirement for listing photos.

    I pulled up one I have on the computer and its title is "Authorization to Exclude Listing from Multiple Listing Service". It's also labeled the "SELM" form by some organizations. Some are simple and others are very complex depending on how hard the MLS wants to make it to keep people from doing it.

    Many agents I work with aren't familiar with the form until I point it out to them. They have been taught that the photos MUST be posted in 48 hours regardless of what condition the property is in and the wishes of the seller. I don't want to lose work if I can't get to a property immediately and I enjoy making photos of homes that aren't a complete disaster.

    This is a bit of a side issue, but I thought I'd follow up since I mentioned it.

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