If you are just starting out in real estate media, then it is quite likely that you may be unfamiliar with several terms that can really be the downfall of good communication with your client, or they can build trust in your competency as a services provider. Although these terms may be interchangeably used in different regions with local lingo, for the most part these terms and their definitions are going to help you communicate more effectively with your clients whether they are commercial, residential, or even retail clients. In fact, retail clients have another entirely different vocabulary that you may encounter on any creative brief from a client, so check out these few terms and start saving them to memory...
Going live is the date that your client hopes to have the listing show-up in the MLS and across all third-party websites if they are trying to reach the widest audience possible. It's the date that the sale price and the details will all be revealed and the clock starts ticking for the realtor. This date is the number one thing you should be asking your client about when you are booking a residential real estate shoot. Everything works backwards from the going live date. By going live this means that the property has been entered into the MLS, get's "launched", and then will be syndicated out to all of the places that a listing might show-up. This would be the MLS itself, and then of course across multiple media outlets such as Redfin, Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com to name a few.
If your client wants to go live by, let's say, Wednesday, then you would want to schedule them for a Monday or Tuesday shoot so you have time to get photos processed in enough time for them to have everything uploaded in time to make the schedule for that week's Broker's Open/Tour.
Some Realtors don't input the data into the MLS themselves and have admins for this, so they may need media the day before the property is going to go live. You should also know and gauge your client's technical aptitude at this point as well, because a) they may need their brokerage to help them and those admins can get backed up or b) they don't know how to upload the media themselves. I have had many clients over the years that really struggle with images and "Print" vs "MLS" sizes, and so they will need extra time to make the deadlines that they have set for themselves. Working backwards from the going-live date, or "launch" date, will help you both communicate better about expectations. It can also help you prioritize which media to work on first, because maybe the thing you thought was a 24-hour turnaround might not be needed for 3-4 days, so that's really helpful information to have (especially if you're not sure if media is needed back the next day and it's late on a Friday night and you don't want to bother your client to get the answer to a question to which you should have already had the answer).
Apart from the going live date, and the dates of the first open houses, the next most important date is to know when broker's opens happen in the cities where you do your most shoots. A Broker's Open also known as the Broker's Tour, is about a half a day when the new listings are available for Realtors to tour before they hit the market. This is when a new listing will either make or get cut from the short-list, and the more brokers that show-up for a tour, typically the more likely it is that there will be high demand for that property once it has its open house and is going to be ready to take offers. For example, in Berkeley, CA the Broker's Open happen on Thursdays, whereas in neighboring Oakland, they take place Mondays, but on Tuesdays in Alameda. This means that the stress level of your client in wanting to have at least a single photo back by the night before the broker open (so they can show-up to realtors as "coming soon", is going to be extremely high! You can anticipate this, and even be a great ally to them, by providing a single image the night before a broker's open, even if you won't have media back until the next day after the tours. And you can anticipate when they might need that media if you think about where the listing is located an how that will be impacting them. You can even check out the whole list of what's "On Tour" by reviewing what's happening at your local Association of Realtors website like this one for the BridgeMLS.
So the MLS is still a bit of a mystery, because there are so many different MLS providers all over the country, and real estate media professionals usually don't have any access to them other than deep links to specific content, but MLS stands for multiple listing service - and it may be named differently in different regions. The local ones here are the mostly defined by county, but with places like San Francisco having their own (San Francisco Association of Realtors), and the East Bay is represented by the BridgeMLS - which spans Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. Within those counties there are yet further distinctions between the different associations of Realtors depending on your address. The BridgeMLS has a great infographic and map of California showing the different MLS regions that helps to make sense of it all. For example, Hopscotch Interactive is headquartered in Contra Costa County, so we are an Affiliate Member of the Contra Costa Association of Realtors, but our clients are spread out between Marin County, San Francisco County, Contra Costa County, Alameda County, and beyond and so we get questions a lot about how to add something to the MLS as if there is only one way and we always say we aren't quite sure, because things are configured differently everywhere. This is also where the backend infrastructure can really hold people back (especially innovative media providers!), because the MLS may only have 1-2 fields for links and so this really limits the cool things we can showcase when a listing goes live through the normal channels. This is an area ripe for disruption from technology, but it would seem that the switching costs are still quite high, because from the outside looking in, it seems that the majority of the innovation comes from the 3rd party providers who simply try to do more with what the MLS makes available.
When a listing goes live on the MLS it will normally be syndicated to a variety of other media outlets and platforms such as Zillow, Redfin, etc. The National Association of Realtors defines syndication as a marketing term as follows: "Syndication commonly refers to an agreement between a broker and a third-party to advertise the broker’s listings on non-MLS websites. The syndication agreement's scope determines how the broker’s listings will be displayed on the Internet and where the listings will be displayed by the third-party." In other words, it's where the listing is broadcast to and where it will show-up outside of the MLS itself. When media is added to the MLS, this is typically what happens to it, depending on the settings that get specified. You will get the question from clients who want to know when something will show-up on Zillow, and to know what they have to do to get their media on there, and usually the answer is just wait about 15 minutes - 1 hour. Unless they did not allow syndication, then the APIs (integrations) between these providers and the MLS will then share that data and it will be pulled directly from the MLS into Zillow. A hot tip is to always "favorite" your properties before they hit the market, because that way you'll get a notification and can revel in the awesomeness of your media, can track and see how a property does and if it sells for a lot over asking, or you can also see if something doesn't look quite right and it can be a great way to do additional quality control over your media delivery. We had this situation this week where we delivered a floor plan and noticed it wasn't added, so we asked the realtor and they had been too busy to tell us, but they actually weren't using it, because it had too much detail of the exteriors and they wanted it simplified. Sometimes you can use the syndication to your benefit by using it as a quality assurance and quality check.
"BRANDED" vs "UNBRANDED"
You may be confused about this, and why this question comes up, and why you feel like you're doing double the work sometimes to deliver branded vs. unbranded media to a client, but the MLS has really strict rules about realtors promoting themselves and if they are caught in violation of this it can actually result in a fine - I have heard of a realtor being fined $1500 by not abiding by the unbranded requirements from their MLS - so it's serious - and you will want to make sure that you understand what media needs to be branded, and what media doesn't need to be branded for your clients like social media reels/shorts and Instagram stories.
Branded is usually what it sounds like - it includes the Realtor and brokerage logo and contact information, and it also will include the realtor themselves. The sky is the limit, but some brokerages have their own style guides that you will want to follow, but typically this is where the Realtor gets to show off in an awesome video and with all of their personalization in the media. That is the same for tours and websites - branded will include the brands and additional info and text. Unbranded is exactly the opposite, it's the same content normally, but with all of the logos, text, and even sometimes the realtor themselves, redacted from all content.
On the MLS there is usually a link for a branded vs. unbranded website or content, so you will want to always make sure and deliver it with that distinction if it's a website, Matterport link/tour, or video. In fact, some clients have the same kinds of rules about unbranded content, because they can then use it to rebrand everything and get the media out to an even wider audience. For some high-profile properties they may be looking to push the media to big news outlets like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc. You'll want to make sure you're ready for your client to have all of that media at their fingertips and to make sure that they have all of the chances to get the biggest marketing push for their content! You can easily distinguish between an MLS friendly and unfriendly link by always reading the links closely. However, not all of them are foolproof. Here's an example of the difference between a URL for a website and then a URL from a Matterport model that is ready for the MLS - the URL parameters read really differently, so you'll want to familiarize yourself with the meanings so you can quickly tell the difference and troubleshoot something that may wrong with your delivery. For most people &MLS=1 would not really mean that much, but to someone who has looked at a lot of URL parameters, they would know that it means that it is set for the MLS as opposed to &MLS=0, which would be the same as branded.
Unbranded for MLS:
Unbranded for MLS:
So these are some of the very basic concepts for you to be able to navigate the deadlines, lingo, and differences between some of the media that we work with every day in real estate marketing. Hopefully this will help you understand why your clients may have a particular date in mind, and also why they may seem immovable about the dates that you will be shooting for them.
By getting ahead of the conversation with them and asking about what is needed (branded vs. unbranded) and figuring out what their go-live date is, you will save yourself a lot of grief when booking, producing, and delivering media to your clients!
Good luck and let us know your thoughts in the comments below. We know there are many more definitions and nuances to the above, but we hope this will help you understand the few key phrases that you will probably hear over and over again in your business as a real estate media producer. And if you liked these insights, please head over to our YouTube Channel (and subscribe) where we share lots of other valuable tips and insights, and you might find a video or two that helps answer a question that you have about your business. And you can always follow us as well on Instagram @HopscotchInteractive. Thanks and have a great day!