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Real Estate Photographers - Don't Be A Party to Agents Breaking MLS Rules

Published: 29/10/2012
By: larry

I've talked to a number of real estate photographers in the last few months that are working for agents that seem to be confused or unaware of their MLS rules. I say that simply because a couple of things these real estate photographers are doing are explicitly against the rules of the MLS that I've been a member of for 10 years.

Here are the two things I'm talking about:

  1. Shooting a property when the listing agent nor the home owner is present: Sounds fairly benign right? But the Seattle area MLS has had a rule for the 10 years I was a member that says once the listing agreement is signed (typically before the photographer is engaged) the listing agent must be present at all times on the property with any "contractor" they let in the property. Yup, it's pretty clear that a real estate photographer is a "contractor". Not only that, but for all the time I was a member the Seattle area MLS had a $5,000 fine for any agents caught violating this rule.
  2. Uploading photos directly to the agents' MLS account for them: Most agents hate uploading photos to the MLS and many don't even know how to do it. Consequently, our real estate office had a office assistant that had a special MLS account that allowed her to create listings and upload photos for any agent in the office. Also, some agents have assistants that they delegate the job of uploading photos and entering listing data to. But the rules at my MLS have always been clear; MLS members are not allowed to give their MLS account and password to anyone else... like a photographer!

It's easy to understand that agents want to delegate these jobs. And as a real estate photographer wanting to provide good customer service, these are two of the first jobs you are likely to get sucked into in the name of giving good service. I'm not claiming that these two things violate the rules of all MLSs. I'm just saying these two things violate the rules in at least one large MLS in the US and it's highly likely they violate rules of many other MLSs too. So I recommend that if you participate in either of these activities, only do it with the blessing of local MLS. Don't just ask the agent about it, call your local MLS and ask them for a copy of their rules on these issues. 

10 comments on “Real Estate Photographers - Don't Be A Party to Agents Breaking MLS Rules”

  1. I don't get #1. As a long time member of the association and now the association executive of the local board, I wonder how an association can dictate how a broker or even an agent in the broker's office can or must conduct business. If the broker and seller agree that it's okay for a contractor to be in the house without the presents of the agent, then that's up to the principles in the transaction (broker & seller), not the association. I'm just trying to figure out how this rule hasn't been challenged by its own members.

    This might be just one more reason for the owner to hire the photographer.

    I understand #2. I would expect all MLS's to have this rule. In our association, the agent's non-licensed staff can get MLS logins at not cost. I would expect this to be true in most MLS's though I've never conducted a poll. It might be possible for each client (agent) to create a staff login for the photographer. This would mean the photographer would have a different login for each agent they shot for; sounds like a pain to me. The best situation would be for the photographer to have an MLS login that would allow him to upload for multiple agents.

  2. We were on a shoot a few months ago outside Seattle WA with the agent and home owner present. After 15 minutes the agent said he had to leave. Boom he was goners!

    This made both my wife and I uneasy but we let him go since this was our first shoot for this agent. The agent is our representative to the home owner, leaving us there should never happen. Since we had already started and the home owner was still present we pressed forward with the shoot.

    Twenty minutes later the home owner says she needs to head out - to a local bar!! HUUUUUUH????!!!! We still had a good 30 minutes of shooting to finish up and were NOT comfortable being in her home alone!! We informed said home owner that leaving was a really BAD idea. She agreed to stay the extra minutes while we wrapped up HER shoot. Take note this home was still lived in with a full set of belongings and pets....

    This exposed us all to a lot of needless liability.

    This could of all been easily avoided had the agent not left...

    I disagree with you Lee. The rule makes perfect sense to me as a contractor. The RE agent is what covers our butt in the event that something goes wrong.

  3. Not comfortable being alone at home? how old are you? 6?
    I don't get it. Rule #1 is stupid. If I'm hiring a professional photographer why should I be present at shooting? why losing my time when I'm paying somebody else to do the work for me?
    I'm rarely present. I've better things to do like finding buyers for the listing instead of being there doing nothing.
    Sure sometimes I'm present but that is always just to talk to the home owner nothing more. When the house is empty I never go there. Why would I? I just discuss what I want the photographer to do over the phone. If any issue comes up people can just call me.
    Don't known how it works in USA but here everyone has an insurance that covers your work. So if a photographer or the agent breaks something the insurance will cover it. I had very few cases where this actually happened and everything was solved in days without any problems.
    If I had that rule #1 I would never hire a photographer.
    As an agent I always delegate everything I can. I've people that insert listings in the MLS for me. Sure I known how to do it but that's really not important stuff of the business, this is, it doesn't give me more clients or work or everything, it's just something that needs to be done that supports the business.. Anyone with some basic training can do it. It's not that hard. Granted I review all the listings before publishing to make sure everything is how I want. Just the same with the photos. Sometimes I don't even upload all the photos just because I don't want. I've absolute control over everything. I've to be.
    #2 sounds ok but what if the photographer is also an agent assistant?
    I trust in the professionals that I work with just like my clients trust me.

  4. #1. Is a nuisance rule that with the MLS just being a busy body. Breaking that rule has no effect on the MLS, good or bad. I've left cable guys, plumbers, electricians etc service my house without me or my wife at home and they never mentioned a problem it or or cite a trade organization rule about it.
    Rule #2 makes perfect sense to protect against abuse of their service by a single user. Though a single agent delegating their account to a single assistant to upload images seems more inline of the spirit of the rule than a single office assistant who has an account yet services the needs of many agents.

  5. In our association(RMLS in the Twin Cities, MN), contractors who cater to the REALTORs in this market can get an electronic key to gain access to the property. if an electronic lockbox is used. If you are an appraiser, inspector or photographer, there is no rule in our market that says the REALTOR MUST be there. I happen to be a REALTOR, so I would be covered anyway.

    Sounds like in Seattle, the association wants to create value by mandating to-do list actions for REALTORs, but I could be wrong...

  6. We shoot more homes alone than with either an agent or owner present. We really prefer it, because then we can plan the shooting time to match our trip rather than the owners or agent schedule. Since most of the owners are at work during the day, this saves them from having to take time off work.

  7. Rule #1 has nothing to do with being scared or being 6. It is a liability. How would you as the photographer like to be sued by the homeowner because the day you were in the home something was stolen and they blame you? I have a hard time getting the Realtors to understand this but I will not go into a home alone anymore. Ive learned the hard way!! ( a dog got left out and i nearly got bitten)

  8. I am a Realtor in North Idaho who does my own professional quality photography. I much prefer to do the shoot with no one home. If they are home they want to talk and it's hard to concentrate. When someone is present I tend to do the shoot quicker and the quality is lower.

    We have to meet contractors at the listing to let them in- big trouble if we loan out our electronic key. Having to stay there is insane! If there is some painting or drywall repair it could take days!

  9. I'm in southern Idaho, and I just looked over the MLS rules. Couldn't find any info about this subject, oddly enough. Regardless, I won't shoot a non-empty home without agent/owner present. Too many problems can come up. Theft, damage, pets, etc. I do prefer the agent to be there, because they know what they will use and don't haggle me to shoot things that the homeowner did as a pet project but will never see the light of day on the MLS.

  10. "It is a liability. How would you as the photographer like to be sued by the homeowner because the day you were in the home something was stolen and they blame you? I have a hard time getting the Realtors to understand this but I will not go into a home alone anymore. Ive learned the hard way!!"

    Just being in the home is a liability. After doing this for 8 years and shooting 10,000+ properties, I can tell you that being accused of stealing is extremely rare. It has never happened to us. It is also one of the reasons that having liability insurance is a must.

    Aggressive dogs are another issue. However, handling dogs (pets) is part of the job, even if the owner is present. The owners may or may not restrain the dog or the dog may not belong to the home owner. Given all the dogs in the area, we really have few issues with them. Maybe once or twice a year and those are generally minor.

    The hassle of making sure that either an agent or owner is present far, far exceeds any issue we have with either of the above.

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