My Realtor sent my panties into cyberspace

How marketing missteps cost listing agent millions in referral business

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While all the research supports the fact that listing agents should take at least 20 pictures of their listings, the type and quality of the pictures you take is critical, especially if those pictures will be syndicated across the Web. This cautionary tale is a primer on what to avoid doing when you are marketing your listings.

After taking a hiatus from having her house on the market, a seller decided to relist her antebellum mansion for $2.5 million. The house had substantial grounds as well as a full-time staff to manage the property.

The seller is an international real estate expert who also manages multiple technology platforms for thousands of customers who use her services. She is also an expert on listing syndication.

She had tried listing the property with a local broker, but the broker lacked the expertise and the reach to market the property globally. Although the nearest luxury brokerage was 60 miles away, she decided to list with the name brand that assured her of the national and international exposure this property would require.

When the property was listed the first time, the seller paid an architectural photographer to take the high-quality photos you would expect for a property of this magnitude. She sent the pictures to the listing agent.

A few days later, the listing agent made an appointment to take pictures of the gardens.

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A breach of privacy, good faith, and good taste

Unbeknownst to the seller, the listing agent decided to walk through her property and take pictures without her consent. The biggest invasion of privacy, however, was that he went into her master bath where there was some lingerie on the floor. He took photos of that as well.

Rather than publishing the beautiful photos the seller had paid for, the agent published all the interior and exterior photos he took with his cell phone including the lingerie on the floor. When the seller checked the listing on the local MLS, she was aghast to find that her panties had been spread all over cyberspace.

Needless to say she immediately demanded that the pictures be removed from the Web. The listing agent made some lame excuse and said that he would take care of it.

Two weeks later, her panties were still strewn across cyberspace. The seller was livid and demanded that the agent take care of the situation immediately. The listing agent whined about not knowing where her panties had gone or how to get them back.

In an effort to discover which sites had her panties, the seller checked ListHub. Her panties already had had 690 unique views on multiple sites. Making matters worse, her panties had been syndicated across the Immobel network making them available in 13 different languages, as well as visible on Facebook in those languages as well.

The seller contacted the managing broker who wasn’t any more helpful than the agent was. She finally decided that the best she could do was to cancel the listing. At least her panties would be off the multiple listing service and the company website. The challenge, however, was that there was no real way to claim her panties from all those other syndication sites.

Lessons learned

1. The panty clause
When it comes to photographing any type of listing, it’s important to make sure that the house shows like a model. The sellers’ personal effects, including the children’s toys, any type of clothing or other types of clutter, should all be put away prior to taking any video or photography.

In addition, it’s just plain good business to show the photos to your sellers to determine which pictures they would like to include in their marketing. Have your attorney add a clause to your listing agreement that has the sellers approve the photos you use to avoid issues in the future.

That this particular listing agent would opt for iPhone-quality photos when he had access to beautiful architectural photos is incomprehensible. He did not have permission to walk through the interior of the house snapping photos. If he had taken the time to review the photos with the seller, he would never have gotten into this mess that could result in litigation.

2. The panty rider
In addition to obtaining the sellers’ approval on the photos and the videos that you shoot, it would be smart to also add a rider that explains what listing syndication is as well as the various sites to which the sellers’ listing will appear.

3. What those panties cost the agent
This seller had referred a $7 million listing to this company and was about to make another referral for $11 million. As of this time, the seller’s panties are still out there on sites she can’t even begin to track. She has canceled her listing; the sellers on the $7 million property are canceling their listing; and the $11 million listing will be referred elsewhere. That’s a pretty high price to pay for sending panties into cyberspace.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of the National Association of Realtors’ No. 1 best-seller, "Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success." Hear Bernice’s five-minute daily real estate show, just named "new and notable" by iTunes, at www.RealEstateCoachRadio.com. You can contact her at Bernice@RealEstateCoach.com or @BRoss on Twitter.

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