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Practical Guide To Understanding The MLS System - For Real Estate Photographers

Published: 11/06/2014
By: larry

RMLSJust a few days ago I got a great suggestion for this post. The suggestion was to explain the Multiple Listing Service (MLS ) system in the US (it's probably very similar in other countries) because:

"There is so much mystique about this with new RE photographers, it seems that most of them think this is some sort of natural phenomenon that hasn't been figured out by science yet, or something. Few understand that these are websites that are administered by humans."

Why do you need to understand your MLS?
Because MLSs are a services/associations that your clients belong to that regulate and control how text and photos about properties for sale are distributed. MLSs control all of the rules used to carry out real estate transactions in a given area. As a photographer the most important part of the MLS rules you need to understand is rules regarding photos like to finding out what the technical specs for photos are, and the rules regarding watermarks, branding, For Sale signs, and whether the first photo has to be an exterior, etc.

How to find your local MLS website?
The first step is to find the website of your local MLS. The reason you want to do that is that the MLS website will have contact information that will allow you call them up and ask questions. Some MLS sites will have some photo rules that you can just search through and find what you need but most don't so you have to call them and ask. I'm in the process of making a US MLS directory that has a link to most or all MLSs in the US but I just started today and it has a ways to go to be complete. So below are some instructions to find the MLS that your clients belong to:

  1. Use Google to do the following search string: "mytown mls". So if I search for "Salem OR MLS" Willamette Valley Multiple Listing Service is on the top line of the search results. This only works because Salem is a small town that doesn't have a bunch of sites trying to get good SEO for the word MLS.
  2. If I do the same search in Seattle ("Seattle MLS") the NWMLS site (the actual MLS site for all of King County, WA) doesn't even show up on the first few pages. However if I do a search "Seattle Area Multiple Listing Service" the NWMLS site comes up on the 5th line. You get the picture.
  3. Beware that in large metro areas there are a lot of real estate sites trying to rank high for the term MLS. MLSs tend to be county oriented because property tax records are kept by counties and sales have a natural affinity to tax records.

Call up your MLS and ask for their rules concerning photos
Call up the MLS, tell them you are a real estate photographer and ask them to email you their rules for photos. The thing you want to know is what should the photo dimensions be, what is the maximum file size, what are their rules for branding, virtual tours, the first photo of the listing etc.

Stay cool - don't flip out when you find that rules are totally insane
Many MLSs say that the act of uploading photos to their MLS transfers the copyright to the MLS. As we've talked about many times before this is not true according to Joel Rothman an IP lawyer... you don't need to personally fix this problem and alienate customers in the process, just understand their point of view. This problem will eventually fix itself. Some of these MLSs like WVMLS here in Salem have been operating since the 1940's and haven't changed much since then.

In any given location your clients may be members of more than one MLS
Where I live in Salem, Oregon there are two MLSs WVMLS and RMLS and some agents belong to both and others belong to just one. This is true in other locations too. Don't ask me to explain it. It's just the way it is! Most MLSs will have a map some place on the site that explains what counties they serve.

As I said above, I'm working on a MLS directory but it is far from complete. If you have info on your MLS that I don't have in the directory please leave a comment on this post or on the mls-directory page and I'll add it to the directory. Collectively we can build a pretty good directory.

14 comments on “Practical Guide To Understanding The MLS System - For Real Estate Photographers”

  1. My experience is that they'll also give you absurd file size requirements...which can safely be ignored. I think Paragon (MLS for my area) has a file size requirement of something like 89kb. I pay attention to the pixel dimensions (because I don't want the MLS's software to do the resizing for me) but I deliver file sizes more like 300kb or more, and it's no problem. I think most MLS systems are about 20 years behind the rest of the world when it comes to technology.

  2. The RMLS in MN just changed their rules on copyrighting, noting a recent legal action, and now requires the agent to note if the photos/remarks were taken by a NorthstarMLS subscriber or professional. That will then determine which, if any, watermark is placed on the photo for copyright and then who is responsible to take legal action if the photo is taken illegally for other marketing purposes. This information was just released yesterday so the rules and regulations has not yet been updated, but here is a link to the RMLS Rules and Regulations...

    Rule 3.2 addresses the timeline for photo entry. Rule 5.4 addresses the photo content. Rules 10.1, 10.2, and 10.3 address copyright issues.

  3. Hello Larry,

    Great list that you are compiling. Here's the org link for the "My Florida Regional MLS" (MFRMLS) that is in your list.

    This is the list of the 15 Florida realtor organizations that use that MLS. I noticed several like Greater Tampa and Pinellas county are in your list. Both orgs use MFRMLS.

    These are the MFRMLS rules and regulations which govern pictures, branding, copyright, etc

  4. It's been my professional fantasy to convince my local mls that they can make more $ by offering higher photo size upload plans to their members. I talked to the local IT admin at my MLS and he told me "we would have to buy hundreds of more servers". Amazon web services anyone?

    But hey they have been making money comfortably for years using this ancient system so there is going to be a resistance to change.

  5. Hi,
    Thank you for visiting this subject. I have a background in Advertising, mainly producing TV commercials and product photography, this year I have opened up my own company and have invested heavily in video and photography equipment appropriate for real estate walk throughs, hoping this will be a nice addition to our services and use of existing talent and equipment. In developing this branch of the company I have had much confusion over the MLS, my local MLS is GSREIN MLS in southeast Louisiana. Their last website update was in 2001 (that's before Katrina…ha!) their website is full of broken links and when you call they are a bit confused to why anyone who is not an agent would be calling them. I was unable to get preferred photo dimensions and or video file formats and sizes. The only information they could provide was don't brand and don't use Youtube. I was also told that I (not being an agent)was not authorized to upload to the MLS . I asked if there was a way for me to get approval to do so on behalf of agents and I was told no. Is this correct? Doesn't sound right to me but I am planing on going into the local MLS office to have a face to face meeting to get more information…seems like my first attempts on the phone were disappointing to say the least. We also plan to create property websites and will have VP servers for the video/photography hosting instead of youtube. Thank you for your help I realize each MLS is different but it would be great to understand some general concepts on how MLS's function.

  6. I'm "The Enemy" - i.e. a Realtor® and a former officer on the local MLS Board. There aren't many professional photographers in this area that do Real Estate work (actually, I don't know of ANY, but...). I don't know if we even have the ownership rule, BUT I know that during the 3 years I was on the Board, the issue NEVER came up. I'm now on the Board that over-sees the MLS Board, and still no issues in the last 2 year. So, as mentioned in the article, don't sweat it.

  7. It should be also noted that some areas have MLS systems that are privately owned. In those cases a private company is paid to post and advertise the photos. Such sites may exist separately, as a replacement for or in tandem with a Realtor related service.

    It should be noted that the Board of REALTORS and the MLS board are separate entities and that NAR does not run NAR owns the domain name, the site is ran by

  8. "It should be noted that the Board of REALTORS and the MLS board are separate entities"
    Depends on how the Local Boards are set-up. Our Board has THE Realtor Board as the "Last Say" with the MLS Board having to get certain things ok'd by the THE Board. On other Boards, the MLS is a Committee inside THE Board, and not separate. I'm sure there are plenty of variations as per "power" and organization all over the country.

    RDC (Realtor dot com) is independent from NAR and trying to compete with Zillow and Trulia. It's biggest advantage is MOST of the time, more updated and accurate info. Realtors can go directly to the RDC site to upload photos, so they may not have to be re-sized as much as with some MLS set-ups. So keep that option in mind as a photographer in that you still may have better options for your photos to look their best.

  9. Thanks Scott!,
    They use Paragon here, and I've been sticking to the 125kB requirement... now I need to test it out at ~300kB+ as you suggested. Longest dimension is 1280px, so resolution has been pretty good but the compression has been horrible. In some cases LR can't compress it enough so I have to reduce the size down to 1024,960, or even 800px to make meet the file size req't.

    Thanks for the tip!

  10. CRMLS in California uses the Matrix system and this system will be the only system in California. At least that is the intention.
    It all started in the LA area. Photographers can join the group of Affiliates at a cost of $130 per year, just like Title Reps and Contractors or Mortgage lenders. The head quarters of the Matrix MLS system is located in San Dimas.

  11. Also the Matrix MLS system give the Realtor the option to upload 32 pictures and they use an auto-compression system.
    The first picture has to be one from the front-outside home. Sign on property is not allowed on the picture. Matrix also use a watermark system.

  12. The Matrix system started about 10 years ago in the San Gabriel Valley by about 10 Boards and one was the Citrus Valley Board of Realtors in my home town Glendora. During those years I was a permanent member of the MLS committee to help improve the system. In the surrounding areas of LA and Orange County were several small boards with small computer systems, who were looking for less cost and a better marketing tool. Around 2010 Matrix were covering nearly whole Southern CA and many Realtors have expanded their working area.
    Around that same period the CAR was looking also for 1 MLS to cover whole CA and MATRIX became their choice.

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