Q: We bought our current home six months ago, but the presale marketing photos and information are still available on many real estate sites, along with the final sale price. Is there any way to have those photos and information pulled down either by us or by the seller’s real estate agent?
A: You’re not alone in wanting to protect your privacy online. Lots of new homeowners are upset that their home information is available on numerous websites after the sale closes.
The data can be extensive and often includes the dates of sale, the price paid for the home every time it has sold, the size of the home, number of bedrooms, bathrooms, garages, lot size, home size and other amenities. Then there are the pictures. Many sites show the listing photos for a property, even after the property has closed.
These photos frequently go through the home on a room-by-room basis. Some sites have virtual tours or video of the home. From a buyer’s perspective, it’s great. Photos, virtual tours, 3-D tours and video give a prospective buyer a good idea of what the home looks like without actually having to visit the home. But once the home changes hands, having those images and videos can make a homeowner feel exposed and vulnerable.
On the one hand, these sites have become essential marketing tools for real estate agents, brokers and homeowners. Today’s buyers expect to see as many pictures and virtual tours as possible in deciding whether to buy or even look at a home. We assume that you looked at this home online (more than 90 percent of home buyers start their search online) and made use of the many online features that the listing broker may have placed online for use by Internet users.
There are two important questions to consider: Who owns the listing information and who can request that the listing be deactivated and the information removed?
Like so much else that’s online, in some ways that information about your home stays online forever. Some information is of public record (including the price you paid and the taxes you owe) and will stay online whether you like it or not. Other information will come down, but it may be six months or so after the closing.
Several years ago, there were some lawsuits against some of the big online players relating to photos that were kept on their sites long after the closing. Ultimately, the big online players lost their ability to keep photos of homes online forever. Today, once a home is sold and the deal closes, the photos and video of the home shouldn’t be available on the website, although the property itself will be there, along with the interior details, price paid and real estate taxes owed.
You should soon see the interior photos of your home and some of the exterior photos of your home will come down shortly. If the photos are up on the site of the listing broker for your home, you should call them up and request that they remove those photos from their site. On the other hand, if the photos are up on Zillow, Trulia or other housing sites, litigation in the past made it clear that those sites only had access to the photos under user agreements during the listing of the home, and those sites usually end up removing those photos shortly after the sale of the home and the listing is closed. We’d think that at six months, you’d be at the time limit for when those sites should take down those photos.
The key questions relating to the photos is who took the photos, who owns the rights to the photos, and has the owner of the photos given consent to keep those photos online? Most real estate companies allow online listing companies to use the photos during the listing period. Once the listing is over, the listing information termination should disseminate over the Internet, ending the time those photos are shown. But as we have come to know, once something goes on the Internet, gone doesn’t mean gone forever.
If you find that the photos are still showing up long after the closing, you may be able to “claim” your listing on Zillow and make the listing private.
Finally, when it comes to your name, if you live in a state where your name is listed in the public records, your name will become attached to the property and people searching your property address will end up knowing that you own the home (unless you live in one of a handful of states where you can purchase the home using a land trust). If they search even a little bit, they'll even find out what you paid.
It's probably not the answer you were hoping for, but you're smart to keep pushing for more privacy online.
Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them through her website, ThinkGlink.com.