Every few months I get an email asking me to remove photos of the home on the internet after a new owner closes escrow. These aren’t my listings, but they are on my website through an IDX feed, which I’ll explain below.
What’s going on with photos after closing?
Once the home sale closes, buyers sometimes expect that the listing agent remove photos of the home on the internet. Is that the case? No, not automatically, no, not even normally. This is not something like the for-sale sign coming down, and home buyers may be surprised that the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) does not facilitate this after closing.
Recently I’ve done a bit of a deep dive on this topic. Here are a few quick pointers for those of you asking a listing agent or anyone else to remove photos of the home on the internet after closing:
- There are 3 broad categories covering where the listing images show up:
(1) on the MLS itself
(2) on any sites to which the MLS feed syndicates (Realtor.com and many other sites) – this is most of it
(3) and to any other websites to which the listing agent may have uploaded the photographs directly (such as a virtual tour site, their Facebook or other social media sites, etc.).
- After the sale is finalized and the status on the MLS is changed to “closed”, the listing agent can no longer edit anything on the MLS, including which photos are displayed. Any changes must go through the customer support department at MLS Listings.
- NEW: WHILE closing out the sale, though, the listing agent now has the option (as of summer 2022) to make some of the photos “Agent Only” and viewable only on the MLS, not syndicated out. This is a nice option as it keeps the feeds syndicated, but can provide more privacy for the buyers. Info can be found on that here:
- The MLS will not remove photos after closing, but it will agree to turn off syndication to other sites. I just learned this recently myself – it was something I have had done in the past, but apparently it’s no longer an option. If syndication is turned off, the listing will entirely disappear (not just photos). Many listing agents and their brokerages like to showcase their sold listings, and may refuse that request.
- The listing broker is not responsible for removing the images after the sale. And you were told. If you bought a home in California, you likely signed off on the Statewide Buyer and Seller Advisory, which includes this: “Buyer and Seller are advised that Broker has no control over how long the information or photos concerning the Property will be available on the Internet or through social media, and Broker will not be responsible for removing any such content from the internet or MLS. Brokers do not have expertise in this area.” The local purchase agreements both alert buyers to the same reality.
- The photos (and videos, if any) actually belong to the listing agent, who paid for them to be shot. Asking for removal is a favor and not a right.
- Contract update on this issue: As of late December 2021, the new California Association of Realtors purchase agreement states in paragraph 21 that the media (think images, videos, floor plans) belong to the listing agent, and “are not in control of the buyer. Buyer acknowledges that such information will not be removed after Close of Escrow, and Seller and Seller’s Agent shall have no obligation to remove such items.”
- Perhaps you aren’t worried about the pictures, but instead want to know how to remove property details from internet. In California, real estate and sales info is public information. You may be able to limit sites if the syndication is turned off (more on that below), but otherwise there’s not much you can do. The California Civil Code requires that this information be available for 3 years – that’s the law.
What can be done to remove photos of the home on the internet if the listing agent leaves them visible?
There ARE things that can be done to remove photos of the home on the internet – but not by me (if it’s not my listing). There are things you as the home owner can do, though.
First, let’s consider the MLS, since that is where the bulk of the exposure has come from.
While the home is still sale pending, the listing agent has access to changing the information, description, images, etc. on the MLS, however, it is a violation of our MLS rules to remove any photos or data EVER. I just spoke with someone in the compliance department to verify this. I do not believe that most members have any idea that this is the case. We tend to edit comments or images if the sellers object to something, or request something different be presented. I know sometimes my sellers will say “I really don’t like that angle, can you take that image off?”
On a practical level, there’s nothing in the MLS stopping an agent from editing information, comments, or photos when the home is either for sale or under contract, but the person in the compliance department told me just now that they do audit the listings and can fine agents if anything is removed. Asking a listing agent to remove the photos is asking the listing agent to violate the rules of MLS Listings.
Please note: the photos actually belong to the listing agent. Asking for removal is a favor and not a right.
“Remove photos of the home in the internet” – should that be a contingency in the contract?
Should you make it a contingency in your offer that all the photos, except one of the front of the house, be removed in escrow? To me, that doesn’t make sense. The real estate agent who’s listed the house is not a party to the contract – that’s the seller. The contract, addenda, contingencies removals, and related documents are between buyer and seller, not between buyer and listing agent. So no, I don’t think that is appropriate. You could request that syndication be turned off, but you’d be asking the listing agent to do you a favor. More on that below.
After close of escrow, it’s more complicated. MLS Listings addresses the question here (taken from the rules):
May I delete photos or property information upon sale of the property?
No. No data may be removed from the MLS compilation other than by the service. Although a listing may be removed from display in the MLS compilation of current listing information, all data submitted to the MLS will remain in the database for historical and other purposes approved by the service.
Why doesn’t the MLS allow the listing agent to remove photos of the home on the internet?
Appraisers, Realtors, and their clients do need to see the condition of comparable properties so that each one can better understand home values. If you are a homeowner trying to get your property’s images taken down, I bet you also appreciated seeing the comparable properties’ interiors. How long is this really useful? I would say at least 6 months. I don’t know why the MLS thinks they need to be visible indefinitely.
Some home owners ask us to “remove my home from mls”, but that is both not allowed and not possible.
What about syndication?
To remove photos of the home in the most complete way, but still won’t cover every site, you may want to request that the listing syndication be shut off. The MLS customer support staff will help with this if the listing agent makes this request.
The downside for the listing agent is that not only do the pictures disappear, so does every scrap of information on the home, including the address. That may not sound bad to you, but many listing agents and their brokerages showcase their sold properties via syndication, as this is a ton easier than hand-entering all of the details and photographs one by one. In recent weeks I’ve had buyers ask me to make the request to listing agents, and they have declined since it causes the info on their sales to disappear.
For those of us with profiles on Realtor.com, we like to display what was sold over the last 24 months so that our clients know where we are active – heck, that we are active at all! To shut off the syndication feed is damaging to us. (Zillow allows us to upload our sales directly, by hand, but if a consumer isn’t looking there, that’s no help.)
Some listing agents may say OK, though, so it’s worth asking. Please note that some of the large commercial sites may continue to display the pictures even after syndication is cut, as they download the info and pictures when received. On Zillow, agents can upload sales info independently of the syndication feed, too.
What other options are there to remove photos of the home on the internet?
The next step is tedious but seems to work with many sites: you go to the website in question, create an account on that site, claim the home as yours, and request that the images be removed. Input your address into a web search engine and take each site in order. Basically you need to create an account for each one, state that you own the property, and request that the images be removed. Many, but not all, sites will comply.
Here are some links to get you started for a few of the websites with the most traffic.
- Instructions for Redfin remove photos request
- How to remove pictures from Zillow
- Trulia – if you remove from Zillow, they will be removed from Trulia also
- Instructions for Realtor.com – find your home, then claim it, and then you can edit the description and images
This is not a terribly satisfactory solution, though, as listing syndication goes out to countless sites, and sometimes those sites further syndicate to others. Even so, if you can hit the major players, that should take care of much of the internet traffic looking at your home.
Also, I wondered how to remove photos from Estately but I have not found a process that will work with that one.
Are there other sites to scrub?
The listing agent may also have uploaded photos to her or his own social media sites, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or any other number of sites. You could politely ask the agent to remove those, but before doing so, take another look at your search engine results. If you Googled your address and they didn’t come up, why bother?
The seller’s Realtor likely has a virtual tour site which has nothing to do with syndication. The majority of listing agents will not want to strip out any sold properties but you can ask. At least on the virtual tour, they have the control to remove floor plans, interior photos, etc. without removing all data. (But again, this is a favor they might do for you, not something you have the right to demand.)
Further, the sales person working for the seller may have a website or blog (or several) with direct uploads of photos, videos, floor plans, and so on. None of those will be impacted in the slightest by either removing images from the MLS during the pending period or by stopping the syndication feed. For many reasons, those real estate professionals probably won’t want to remove the images, but, as always, you can ask.
There will always be more places to hunt down. Some homeowners want to get Google’s street view blurred. (I chuckle when I see it, as Google is not the only provider of street views, they are only the best known.) And what about satellite views? Where does it end?
Closing thoughts on scrubbing the images or data from the web
Do you remember, most likely as a child, hearing the tale about gossip being like the feather pillow with its feathers blown away by the wind? In that lesson, the point was that gossip can never be un-done, because it spreads too far to collect it all back. (If you don’t know this educational parable, do click on the link above.)
So too with the information on a home sold with the use of the internet. The marketing efforts are so thorough (at least by most real estate professionals) that it is nearly impossible to get all of the photos, and the data, eliminated. If you want to remove photos of the home on the internet, you will be able to make a dent in it, but it is likely that the job will never be 100% completed.