There’s a certain adrenalin rush all sellers feel when their home first hits the market and when they see their listing go live online. After weeks — or sometimes even months — of preparation and hard work, they experience a mix of emotions that range from excitement to anticipation and anxiety.
Even if they’re looking forward to their move, selling a home always arouses a deluge of conflicting feelings in sellers. Aside from all the memories they’re parting with, they’re probably also thinking about how they’re leaving a home that’s hard to replicate at an affordable price by today’s standards.
Of course, seeing your own home on the market is like looking into the mirror. It becomes really easy to criticize how things appear in photos compared to how they look in real life — not to mention written descriptions and the features shown on the official MLS listing and subsequent websites. So, to set realistic expectations, here are eight things agents can tell sellers about having their home on the MLS.
1. Photos are not always true to life
As agents, we know that most sellers spend endless hours prepping their homes — both inside and out — for sale. But no matter how good a photographer is, the reality is that photos don’t consistently show a true and accurate representation of the home.
Paint colors may not translate. Cream-colored walls, for example, may look somewhat yellow in photos. Interior and exterior spaces can seem smaller or even larger than they really are.
Photos also draw attention to certain flaws like an aging roof (think: aerial shots), patches of dead grass and cracked driveways. Agents should help sellers understand that photos will not — and often cannot — show a property that’s a 100 percent perfect. This is real life.
Although the power of photo editing can remove nearly every defect and make every home look like a perfect, shiny object, there must be truth in advertising. Sellers shouldn’t ask their agents to conduct “photo plastic surgery.”
Turning a pale lawn into an emerald green carpet of grass or wiping out power lines or utility poles in the background is not permitted. Can you imagine a buyer’s frustration and their agent’s embarrassment when the home ends up looking nothing like it did online? They’ll think they’re at the wrong property!
2. Photo roulette
Speaking of photos, sellers often want to play photo-editor-in-chief when it comes to determining the selection, placement and order of the pictures to be used in a listing. Although this is a highly subjective process, sellers should keep in mind that this is where an agent’s expertise comes into play.
Agents know how to structure and order photos in a way that immediately captures attention and effectively communicates a property’s story. Some sellers may insist on placing a photo of their grand dining room first — but trusting their agent’s judgement here is key.
Ditto for seller judgement calls on eliminating or swapping out professionally taken pictures with those they have on their cell phone from two years ago. Haphazardly eliminating certain photos may do more harm than good. It may lead agents and buyers to question — what is the seller hiding? Why are there little to no photos of certain spaces?
Although not every angle of every room has to be shown, eliminating photos can inadvertently diminish a home’s value. Furthermore, the wrong photo stream can really determine whether or not a buyer decides to proceed further with a property. The first few seconds of an initial viewing mean everything.
3. Rip off and repeat — not!
If a home was listed with one brokerage before and is coming on the market again with a different company, many sellers erroneously assume they don’t have to get their house ready for another photo shoot. They think their new agent can simply use the prior listing’s photos.
However, this isn’t true. What sellers don’t realize is that those photos were paid for by another agent (or their brokerage) and were licensed for use by the photographer hired by that agent for the listing at the time. A different agent can’t simply copy and paste those photos. Doing so would put the new agent or brokerage at risk for serious copyright violation issues — not to mention violation of MLS rules.
Although it’s possible that a prior listing agent could potentially sell the photos to the new agent (subject to appropriate permissions by their photographer), the likelihood of that happening is slim. Not to mention, your new listing agent will likely want to bring in his or her own photographer in an effort to relaunch the listing from a fresh perspective.
4. Wordsmithing the listing
Attention, sellers — your agent cannot write a thesis about your home in the MLS. As much as you could go on and on with pages of descriptions and lists of features, please understand that, generally speaking, each MLS has a few different buckets where descriptions and relevant information are featured on a property listing.
There are public remarks that are seen by consumers and agents alike, as well as private agent remarks that are typically intended for agents’ eyes only. These sections have limits when it comes to the number of characters typed within them, which is why you’ll typically see a lot of creativity with abbreviations.
Often, public remarks spill into private remarks as there is simply not enough room in the public remarks section to include all that needs to be said. Some MLSs have a more generous agent-only section, in addition to a separate section for showing information or instructions. There are also supplements that do allow for additional information, and you can also upload documents like a survey, floor plan, seller’s disclosure and more.
That said, sellers should once again trust their agents’ judgement as to how they word things. What you, as the seller, think should be emphasized may not be relevant from a marketing perspective. Your agent knows what words and phrases engage buyers and their agents. Agents know how to create interest and excitement, while balancing that with a realistic view of the home.
For example, agents won’t likely say “turnkey or “move right in” if a seller’s home hasn’t been updated in 20 years. Saying “totally remodeled” is likely not the way to go, either.
And speaking of words — when inputting a property into the MLS, there are numerous fields that can be selected. These fields show a variety of the home’s features, ranging from the type of construction (frame, concrete block, etc.) to fireplaces (wood-burning, gas, etc.) and everything else in between.
Although these fields have evolved over the years to include things like smart home or green-energy features, there isn’t an exhaustive list of every potential amenity in the property. Agents select a property’s features from these lengthy lists by essentially checking boxes. Sellers need to understand these fields are hard-coded and that their agent can’t really change or alter any of those descriptors.
For example, there might not be a field for “California island,” but instead, you’ll find “kitchen island.” So, if your home has a California island, your agent can describe that in the agent remarks, but has to check the box showing that the kitchen has an island.
The debate over terminology can often be subjective as well. In this case, once again, sellers need to trust their agent’s decision to select features that are most reflective and accurately describe the property.
5. Access denied
MLSs are a complex database that consist of a lot of rules, regulations and procedures for how information is inputted, managed and maintained. It’s also a time-sensitive database that’s continually changing as new listings are added, sales are reported closed, price changes happen, properties go under contract and others that can’t be shown are pulled off the market. All to say — accuracy is key at all times.
Sellers often assume they can turn their MLS listing on and off like a light switch. Are you hosting out-of-town guests and don’t feel like having showings for a few days? Are you facing a very busy week and would rather take a couple of days off? Well, guess what? When sellers want to press pause on showings for more than a day, their agents have to change the listing status in the MLS.
Listing agents can’t just tell agents who request appointments, “Sorry, the home can’t be shown today. Try again another day.” Depending on the particular MLS, agents may have to change the status from “active” to “withdrawn,” “hold” or something similar.
What a seller may not realize is how agents and consumers will see the listing. When a listing changes status, it’s not only reflected in the MLS, but also across numerous websites, including the most popular ones that consumers often look at, such as realtor.com and Zillow.
When a status is changed to anything other than “active,” agents and buyers are likely to lose focus and interest. They may even forget about it entirely. After all, this is a rolling database that has new inventory, price and status changes continually pumped into it — and attention spans are short.
A withdrawn listing will drive buyers to other options. Sellers risk eliminating buyers who would’ve otherwise wanted to see the property. That said, things do happen during the course of the listing, and there may be a situation in which the property can’t be shown and warrants have to be withdrawn. However, continuously withdrawing a home, putting it back on the market and taking it off again raises a red flag that something may be wrong with the listing.
6. Photo removal
Some sellers think that when a property goes under contract, the listing photos can be removed. Although they may be with some restrictions, that could be the most foolish thing an agent can do. Going under contract does not mean things are a done deal.
If anything, the process is just beginning. At that stage, there’s simply an offer with terms and conditions that have been accepted. Anything can happen. There are no guarantees — no matter how solid the buyer might appear to be.
Removing photos can raise eyebrows and seriously compromise the ability to find another buyer if things don’t work out with the buyer in first position while the property is under contract. What’s more, if an appraisal is involved, it could damage the appraisers’ ability to reference those photos when completing their report.
Although appraisers do go out, physically walk through a property, and take pictures and measurement, their photos are likely not as comprehensive. Plus, because they’re going in numerous properties per day each week, do you really want to chance your listing’s details getting omitted, overlooked or having a valuation issue?
Then, there are the sellers who want their listing photos removed from the MLS and all subsequent websites once the property closes. Not so fast. This is not as straightforward as it sounds. First of all, many MLSs have a minimum number of photos that must remain once a listing is reported closed, and some do not allow photos to be removed in their entirety and impose fines for doing so.
Why? Well, because the MLS is more than just a database of properties for sale. It’s an essential resource tool utilized by agents, brokers, appraisers and a plethora of affiliate organizations to provide accurate information regarding insights into market data. An MLS also provides property valuations that assist sellers with accurately pricing their properties for sale, in addition to helping buyers determine what to offer.
As a seller, imagine if your agent pulled comparable sold properties with little to no images to try to establish a reasonable range of market value. It would be like throwing a dart. Lack of information can hurt everyone in this scenario.
It hinders an agent’s ability to properly advise sellers if making changes, updates and repairs is a good decision when comparing the condition of other properties and what they sold for. Sellers could end up leaving money on the table, and buyers could potentially be ill-advised about offers.
When it comes to removing listing photos from several hundred websites that listings syndicate out to, that’s a behemoth of a topic with no easy answer. Some MLSs have agreements to wipe them from particular sites but not others, and in many cases, the listing photos remain in perpetuity.
In most cases, because the photos come straight from the MLS listing feed, deleting them on an ad-hoc basis may be nearly impossible. That said, some sellers have legitimate concerns about safety and security when it comes to showing the interior of their home.
The best way to handle this situation? As an agent, have a discussion with your sellers from the get-go regarding the display and syndication of photos. Make sure to set and manage proper expectations upfront about what can and can’t be done as well as the timing of it all. Sellers just need to understand that playing photo monopoly is not as easy as they might think.
7. Syndication sync
Sellers need to understand that MLSs have various syndication arrangements with several hundred websites that publish their listings across a variety of websites. As such, every website has its own display format for listings.
In other words, not every field or listing description may translate over in the same way as it appears in the MLS. A seller may think an agent can go in and change things they see on these websites. However, due to that syndication, listing data is typically locked in and can’t be changed.
This is particularly true with Zillow. A listing’s data feed typically overrides what may have been shown for a property on Zillow before the property was listed.
8. Days on market, price changes and listing histories
This is another hot-button topic of discussion when it comes to a seller’s home. Sellers typically want to minimize or erase the days on market (or any history thereof if previously listed) when their home was previously on the market.
In reality, sellers can’t change their days on market or wipe out histories as to what their property may have been listed at varying points in time (or if it went under contract and came back on the market).
Again, MLSs have rules and regulations, and a lot of this kind of information is not in the listing broker or agent’s control to alter it in any way. Homes that were previously on the market and relisted as a “new” listing may have their days on market count set back to zero, depending on how long they were previously out of the MLS (such as a year ago or more).
However, if a property was relisted immediately after, or within a few weeks or months of expiring, the original days on market may appear off to the side of the listing as CDOM, or what’s otherwise known as “continuous days on market.”
Listing histories reveal a range of prices from highs to lows as to where a seller may have been in their pricing journey and could send a signal to other agents and buyers as to their motivations (or lack thereof). It may also show if a home had previously been under contract.
Different MLSs vary as to how much historical information is shown. While listing histories are just that, and market dynamics are continually changing, sellers often think an agent can wave a magic wand and make histories disappear.
Listing a property on the MLS — while representing it accurately and truthfully — can be a complex process. It’s also a much more involved task than buyers and sellers seem to realize. Considering the tremendous efforts made over the years for data accuracy and integrity, agents may need to do a deep dive with their sellers to explain what is and isn’t possible when setting up a listing.
Cara Ameer is a broker associate and global luxury agent with Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. You can follow her on Facebook or Twitter.