Earlier in the spring our friends at the Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO) examined the changing landscape of Open Houses (traditional “in person” and in vogue “virtual”). In this well-thought-out blog post they explain the rationale for updating and clarifying the language we use in Open Houses and Virtual Media so that we can communicate quickly and consistently with each other and also to consumers.
Today, we’d like to bring you up to speed on the critical topic of Virtual Open Houses by examining:
- the terms and the technology – what you should do as best practices going forward;
- updates on the most current rules for including this kind of information on your listings; and
- a new FAQ that finally provides some answers about how syndication portals use this data.
Open Houses, Virtual or Otherwise
Open Houses in the MLS have always had a type indicator. Up until recently, you have probably only used “In Person” for your Open Houses as this was the most common practice. The second value in the dropdown is called “Virtual” and this is what gets picked up by Zillow, Realtor.com and most other major portals. This of unused setting for your Open Houses is now a critical change you should adopt if you are planning to host the virtual open house as a live stream.
Open House + In Person = Traditional Open House (RESTRICTED)
The baseline (non-virtual) case is where agents and prospective buyers come to your listing. Currently, these are heavily restricted, if not unpermitted, and require the use of various forms – such as the PEAD – in California. Do not create an In Person Open House for any listing in any county that has restrictions in place.
Do not assume that because you can add an In Person Open House to the MLS that it is business as usual, it is not. Consult information from www.sfarcovidupdates.com and state and local guidelines for the most up-to-date information about showings. The earliest that doing an Open House by Appointment will be possible in San Francisco is mid-July assuming there are not other changes mandated to us by the state or county.
Open House + Virtual = New Live Stream
Live Stream is the newly popularized case where you will be hosting the presentation of the listing virtually but still with an element of it being in person (as it is not simply a recorded playback). Using the terminology from the RESO blog: a “virtual open” Live Stream is a real-time interactive digital open house at a scheduled time where an agent can communicate with potential buyers via a live video service.
This should be your default case for creating an Open House for your listing in San Francisco County (and many other surrounding counties) until restrictions are lifted.
Creating a Live Stream “Virtual” Open House
The fields provided are mostly self-explanatory, but there’s nothing quite like a concrete example to really solidify the understanding. Here is a listing where the “type” field of an upcoming Open House has been set to “virtual”:
Set the time parameters for when you’ll have the virtual “running” – so in my example, I plan to start my GoToMeeting host session on my laptop a few minutes before 3:00 p.m. so that agents and potential buyers can connect at 3:00 p.m. The link I’ve provided launches the GoToMeeting client instance where I plan to stay “live” for 30 minutes, ending at 3:30 p.m. Finally, I’ve added a comment that may variously display on reports and exports in the MLS system.
Virtual Media Links, Branded or Otherwise
Virtual Media links should contain recorded tours, but NOT Live Streams as described above. The various types of virtual media you can assign to your listing in the MLS have specific functions. You should avoid reusing the same URLs in multiple fields with the goal of hoping that something gets through – this temporary emergency practice was tripping up many partner systems. Importantly, consumers who want to attend a true live stream open house shouldn’t be provided a link to a pre-recorded virtual tour.
There are many types of Virtual Media links you can provide – how do you choose what links to put where? Let’s start by breaking down each type with accurate definitions.
This is the well-understood default case for virtual tours. Usually this is a “branded” style of a pre-recorded virtual tour that you provide so that anybody can watch the video on demand. This is branded, so aggregator sites (like Zillow) would show it, but brokerage-operated sites (like Redfin) would NOT.
Exactly like the Virtual Tour above, but, importantly, an unbranded tour does not contain ANY broker or agent/team branding either as logos at the beginning, signage during, or in a final frame. You would create this so that cross-brokerage data sharing (IDX) can still show your Virtual Tour without being concerned about mismatched branding between the site and the video content.
Only use this for adding a single property website with a dedicated vanity URL. You would insert the vanity URL that points exclusively to your subject listing in this field, and nothing else.
There are many reasons you may have audio-only content about your listing. It is useful to the visually impaired, or you might link to a podcast episode where you talk about this listing.
Any link to pre-recorded video content which is NOT a Virtual Tour can be put here. Perhaps you have a video about the area around the subject listing that conveys a feel for what it’s like to live there, or a video highlighting why moving to this area is a good idea.
There are several excellent 3D/VR representations of listings available today. You might use Matterport and would like to include the user-driven, interactive, exploration of your listing from that product. Many of the largest listing data websites will look for recognized 3D/VR vendor URLs and will display them differently to indicate that it is available.
Pitfalls, Gotchas and Caveats
One potential for errors we have uncovered is the re-use of identical links in Open House and in multiple spots in Virtual Media. Various websites that take data from SFARMLS are confused by the practice of URL re-use and produce undesirable or unpredictable results. Going forward, it’s important that listing agents are careful about using URLs that match the described functions above, and only using them once where appropriate.
An Important Update to Our Rules
Starting June 17th, and going forward, we are asking SFARMLS members to suspend the behavior of including links in the Public/Marketing Remarks field. Many of the largest syndication portals (such as Zillow) and brokerage listing websites (such as Redfin) have mechanisms in place to remove content that contains URLs.
Because we are now aligning the Open House + Virtual mappings with their systems, and those systems are implementing changes that correctly show the Virtual Open Houses more prominently, we are strongly recommending that you use these newly clarified instructions for adding URLs to your listing.
Making it crystal clear:
Put URL to Virtual Tour in Public Remarks = No (use Virtual Media)
Put URL to Virtual Open in Public Remarks = No (use Open House + Virtual)
We will be sending Courtsey & Compliance emails regarding this return to the original rule and will not be processing violations (but will be assisting with corrections). We will make sure we start highlighting this regularly on our various communication channels.
Zillow will completely drop your carefully crafted public remarks if their algorithm detects unwanted content. This means that the inclusion of URLs (or any other HTML code) will trigger this block. The listing is then given boiler plate text by Zillow so that their UI does not look broken.
Avoid using URLs in public remarks to stop this from happening (there is no effect of links in private remarks, which we’ve confirmed Zillow does not parse or use). We are engaged with Zillow on entirely stopping the practice of text replacement, or injection, for any reason.
Realtor.com looks at your links in Open House + Virtual (Live Stream) and will put proper logos and links in for the following recognized platforms that they help support:
Not included in their supported list is Instagram or Facebook “live” type links. On the Virtual Media side, Realtor.com stores only two of our types: Virtual Tour (branded) and Unbranded Tour. All other types of Virtual Media are NOT picked up on the Realtor.com listing site.
CloudCMA’s New “Live” Feature
Not a Virtual Tour or Open House per se, the new Live feature in Cloud CMA provides a way to present CMA information interactively with a client. As we shift our focus toward delivering services over the wire, we encourage you to check out this new feature of Cloud CMA that enables you to work remotely with this important suite of tools. If you already know how to make a traditional Cloud CMA report, you will know how to make a Cloud CMA Live.
No additional training required and it’s already available in your member benefit account!
What’s the difference between “Branded” and “Unbranded” virtual media?
The “Branded” (default) Virtual Tour can contain your broker or agent/team branding information. The “Unbranded” version should not contain any logos or identifiers. Your Branded Virtual Tours will show up on listing portals such as Homes.com, Realtor.com, and Zillow, but IDX sites and Brokerage sites (such as Compass and Redfin) will typically use the Unbranded Virtual Tour so that they are not displaying competing brokerage logos and branding on their websites.
What was going on with replaced description on Zillow for a while?
While we temporarily removed the restriction on URLs in Public Remarks, Zillow continued to remove such text blocks when URLs or HTML content were found, triggering some type of auto-text in their system. We’re helping them unwind this content from any listings where this happened and are talking to them about preventing it completely going forward.
If I put multiple types of open/tour information in my listing, how does Zillow choose what to display?
On Zillow’s site, the Open House information and the Virtual Media information do not cross-over. They look at the next upcoming Open House to display and can tell the difference between an In Person or Virtual tour.
For Virtual Media, they take only the “best” link, in the following order of priority: 3D Showcase, Virtual Tour (implies branded), Unbranded Tour, Video, and Voiceover. If you put a Matterport URL in the 3D Showcase field, and a Virtual Tour (Branded) and also a Voiceover link, only the 3D Showcase would be stored and shown on Zillow.
Why hasn't SFARMLS simply removed the "In Person" option from Open Houses if they are not allowed anyway?
Our members work in many counties of the greater San Francisco Bay Area, reaching as far north as Novato, as far east as Placer and as far south as Monterey. Not all of these counties have restrictions as tight as San Francisco. In these areas we are still trying to provide normal permitted functionality and we do not have an elegant way to block In Person just for certain counties by listing address. We must believe that our members will act responsibly and ethically - and trust that you will do.
Can I still put URLs in the Private (Agent-Only) Remarks?
Yes, you can and should still put appropriate URLs in the private remarks field. Please be aware that SFARMLS does not control, or influence, what applications do with the links or URLs in this field. If you are concerned about the way something in your private remarks is being handled on a particular site, you should contact that vendor or site operator to get an understanding of what they are doing.