Real Estate Red Flags: A Lesson in Property Data, Security, and Privacy Concerns

Real Estate Data Privacy and Security in question

As a youngster, I was taught that if I didn’t have anything positive to say, then I shouldn’t say anything at all. However, I’m going to break from that seemingly superseded tradition and voice an opinion, and lesson, that I feel some of our readers could benefit from. I stress before continuing that this is an opinion piece and not meant to be an attack on New Zealand’s real estate industry, but more of a precaution we should all be making when researching our next potential property purchase.

This article is going to be a bit of a journey around the houses, so just go with it. The point I’m trying to make will hopefully be clear in the end. last week I was doing a personal review of a paid subscription-based Australian and New Zealand focused property website that real estate agents and consumers could use to understand a house’s characteristics, sales history, and potential value. This online platform can list the basic details of your house including: location, number and type of rooms, land size, pictures of the inside and outside of your house (gained from past real estate listings), listing history, ownership details, and estimated value, amongst others. A lot of this information, as I understand it, is supplied by real estate companies and other public organizations.

As part of my research, I looked up my house and was alarmed to see that very little of the information gathered was accurate. In fact, in my case, only the location and ownership details were correct, and this inaccurate information is potentially being used to determine my property value that real estate agents themselves could be conveying to potential purchasers. I know this happens because I was talking to a local agent only a few days ago who used this very website as a means to reinforce the asking price of some development land that I was interested in.

and politely asked them to remove my data from their website, and their response was NO!

I must say that I’m concerned, in fact, very concerned that real estate agents, and others, are either selling or giving my information away to third parties without my knowledge. And the fact that this online property tool is making money from my data without my knowledge is equally alarming. When I’ve agreed to list a property in the past, I don’t recall giving permission for these companies to resell or distribute my property information or images to third parties. And if I unwittingly did, then I certainly had no idea where this data was going or what it was going to be used for.

So, in my bemused state, I contacted this online company and politely asked them to remove my data from their website, and their response was NO! So, is their standpoint legal, responsible, and fair? I guess it depends on what country you live in, because, in Europe, I believe this is illegal and can result in serious repercussions for that company.

Oh yes, I forgot to say that they even copied data from one of our own company websites without our permission, which to me shows a blatant disregard for data ownership and copywrite here in New Zealand.

If you’re unfortunate enough to be a friend or colleague of mine, you’ll know I’m not the biggest fan of New Zealand’s real estate industry. I feel the commission fees are extortionate (some charging 4% or more), and I don’t know of any other industry where the vendor pays for their own marketing for the agent to benefit from such high rewards. In my opinion a good real estate agent should have a carefully curated database of potential buyers and do everything possible to accurately represent the property. No opinions given, just repeat verbatim what the vendor has told them. Again, in my opinion it’s 100% the responsibility of the purchaser to do their research before potentially making the biggest investment in their lives.

So, here’s my point, can we truly rely on the data we read on these websites? For me, the answer is a definitive No. Get independent help, do a thorough assessment. Spend what you need to make sure you have the best possible information to make the most informed decision you can. It may just save you from making a very big and costly mistake.

can we truly rely on the data we read on these websites?

As for the company that I have informed is misrepresenting my home, well, in New Zealand, I’m not entirely sure what our data privacy rights are. This is something for which I shall seek legal advice. For anyone thinking about putting their house on the market, I advise thinking twice about whether you want to put internal images of your house online for everyone to see for eternity. I feel this is not only a privacy risk but also a security risk, as it might attract unwanted interest. Security is a topic that my private clients care more about than ever, so consider both your security interests and those of your potential buyers too.

Yes, I agree, you can’t sell a secret. However, in my opinion, a good real estate agent should be able to prompt interest in your property with outside shots alone, and then tell the full story in a controlled environment. But what do I know anyway? I don’t use real estate agents to sell my properties anymore, so interpret that as you will. Good luck