The digital age makes it easy to start a home search, thanks to countless websites that feature real estate listings. If you recently bought a home, you likely appreciated having easy access to those online photos as you considered your purchase. I know my husband and I did when we bought our home two years ago.
But you know what I didn't enjoy? Finding out that dozens of interior photos of my home were still visible on one of the biggest real estate websites around.
To be fair, our house is correctly listed as off the market. But it's still there online, available to be viewed by the public. I immediately set out to get the photos taken down from that site, as well as anywhere else those images might be still lingering. Here's what I discovered.
Removing photos directly from the major sites
First, some good news: It is possible to remove your photos from sites like Trulia (NYSE: TRLA), Zillow (NASDAQ: ZG), and Realtor.com.
I was happy to find that only exterior photos of my home were on Trulia and Zillow. But there were 50+ interior shots still on Realtor.com, even though it's clearly listed as not for sale. If you find yourself in a similar situation, here's what to do:
- Create a free account on the site or log on to your existing one.
- "Claim" your property.
- Head to the owner view/dashboard.
- See if you can delete the photos from the dashboard. There is a "Remove Photos" button on Realtor.com. On Zillow or Trulia, if you can't directly remove the photos, you can usually email the customer service team for assistance.
When I clicked the delete button on Realtor.com, I was informed that it would take one to two business days to delete the photos. It didn't happen. Without my nudging the customer service team, I received an apologetic email a few days later, saying that they were a bit behind and would take care of it soon. Fair enough.
Home photos and the MLS
Now for some bad news: I googled my address and found out that my home is listed on other sites. Luckily, all but one had just exterior shots. But StreetEasy.com had photos of the inside of my house. I blamed the multiple listing service (MLS).
The MLS makes it convenient for real estate agents to spread the news far and wide about active listings. It's easy to update the status of the homes as they are sold or have prices accepted; agents can actually get fined if it's not done in a timely manner. But unless the agent requests to disconnect the listing from other sites, you've got a 24/7 open house online. And it turns out agents can't remove the photos because MLS listings are considered archives and are used to analyze comps.
I was determined to try anyway. I fired off an email to StreetEasy.com's customer service. The response: "Landlords with StreetEasy agent/manager accounts can now contact our Support Team via chat." I was disappointed, thinking that I would have to give up and contact the original listing agent for help.
But then a curious thing happened: I checked the site again the next day and the photos were gone. It worked! I searched Google again and didn't see any more interior photos of my home, except on Realtor.com, whose reps promised me they're working on it.
Are my home's photos still out there floating around the MLS? Yes. While I can't prevent agents from looking at my home in MLS when they run comps -- that's their job, after all -- I do feel better that I was able to get my photos down from StreetEasy.com and (hopefully) from Realtor.com.
The bottom line
There are many, many online home listings. But the active ones are what homebuyers are looking for. If your home's photos are still out there floating around the internet, know that they will probably remain hidden when homebuyers search active listings in your area. For peace of mind, though, you can always claim your property on the bigger sites and see if you can remove the photos yourself. If that doesn't work, a friendly email or chat request could do the trick.