Sellers Who Value Their Privacy & Security Can Make Their Home Visible Only to Agents

A recent email newsletter from our Denver MLS, REcolorado, to us members explained how sellers, through their listing agents, can literally sell their homes without their neighbors knowing about it — although your neighbors may ask why so many people are visiting your home, one after another!

To quote that newsletter article, “Whether they are a celebrity, in witness protection, or simply concerned for their safety, protecting the seller’s privacy is the primary concern.”

Although not mentioned in that article, it starts with the yard sign. There’s no requirement that you have a real estate sign in your front yard.

As you probably know, Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, NextDoor and virtually every real estate website downloads its listings from the MLS, but your listing agent can opt out of such syndication, which also keeps it off REcolorado.com except for its logged-in members. However, the listing will still be emailed to buyers who have alerts set up by their agent.

There are lesser degrees of privacy available.  For example, a seller may be okay with displaying their home on public-facing websites, but only allow logged-in agents to see their address. That’s another option available to agents when they enter a listing on REcolorado.

Sellers also, of course, can dictate what interior pictures are shown of their home — or ask their agent to have no interior pictures at all.

As you probably know, it is recommended that sellers leave their home during showings and inspections, but I’ve had sellers who insisted on staying home during showings.

Recently, I had a husband and wife who insisted on being present for my open house. That’s okay, although unusual. The husband worked from home and insisted on keeping his home office locked to all visitors. We had a picture of his office on the MLS, and it was included in my video tour, but during showings a picture of the room’s interior was posted on the locked door to his office.

If you have video cameras installed inside and outside your home, that’s okay, too. To comply with privacy laws, you only need to post a warning sign visible to all visitors that video and audio surveillance is in use at this property. Adding that warning to the “broker remarks” on the MLS provides proof that you did notify all visitors, through their agent, of the video and audio monitoring present in your home. (The MLS system keeps a record of each and every change to the MLS listing, allowing you to prove that the warning was there from the beginning and not added later.)

If you don’t want your agent to install a lockbox containing the key to your home, that can be arranged. Just have the showing instructions say, “Seller will let you in and then step outside during the showing.”

Speaking of lockboxes, I recommend against the kind of lockboxes with dials, because anyone can look at the lockbox while it is open and see what the code is. That’s why we only use lockboxes with push buttons.

Electronic lockboxes are becoming more common in our market. The most common brand is SentriLock. Electronic lockboxes record the time when each agent enters and leaves the home, and showing agents can only use their access code for the approved date, not come back a second time without asking for a second showing.

Normally, we don’t tell the seller the code to the lockbox, because we don’t want the seller to give that code to a friend or cleaning person without our knowledge. However, I have on occasion given that code to a seller who wants to remove the key overnight.

I don’t want readers to get the impression that security is a big problem in our market. In two decades of listing homes, I have never had an incident where a visitor (including at open houses) stole something from one of my listings. Every licensed real estate agent has been fingerprinted and had a criminal background check done on them when they were licensed. They could lose their license and livelihood if they were later convicted of a felony. They would also put their license in jeopardy if they were to give a lockbox code to a buyer.

It should be noted that our showing service, ShowingTime, makes sure that no unlicensed person is able to get showing instructions for our listings. When an agent calls to set a showing using their own phone, ShowingTime knows from Caller ID which agent it is so they don’t have to check if they’re licensed. (They greet me by name when answering my calls.)

ShowingTime offers several options for allowing showings of your home. You can specify what hours you want to block showings, and these rule can vary by date or day of the week. 

You can also specify lead time for showing requests. One hour is a common lead time requirement, but some listings require prior day notice. In other words, your listing agent can pretty much set any rule you want regarding showings, and that rule is computer enforced, meaning the rules will not be violated due to human error.

Do you have other concerns?

Abuse of Lockbox Access Is Serious But Rare

Access to listed properties has changed significantly over time. Long before I became a real estate broker, an agent wanting to show a listed property might have to go to the listing office to sign out the keys and bring them back after the showing. That approach would certainly not work in today’s market where 10 or more showings might be scheduled in a single day.

Then we saw the introduction of lockboxes, usually with alphabetic dials, like those padlocks on high school lockers. When I first confronted one of those lockboxes as a new agent, I had forgotten which way to turn first, and I took way too long to open the lockbox. It was quite embarrassing. They don’t teach that skill in real estate school!

Lockboxes with numeric push buttons are more common now, and they are my favorite for two reasons. First, you can open them in the dark, since you remember where each button is located. Second, no one will know what the code is by looking at it after you open it. Lockboxes with dials allow a buyer to look at the lockbox after it is open and memorize the code for unauthorized use later on.

Agents should never allow their buyers to know the lockbox code, nor should they give it to another agent, inspector or vendor without approval from the listing agent. Writing the code on a listing sheet or other paper which could be seen by the buyer is a no-no.  I record the code for individual showings on my iPhone where only I can see it.  If I’m showing several listings, I print out the agent instruction sheet for me, giving my client a version which does not have the lockbox codes.

Abuse of lockbox or other access is a serious matter that can subject a broker to suspension or loss of his/her license.

Electronic lockboxes are struggling to gain acceptance in our market, although they are quite common in other markets. These boxes will only open for agents when they are allowed access, preventing them from returning on another day or at another time without additional permission. Codes are unique for each showing agent, allowing listing agents and their sellers to know exactly when each agent came and left.

The main reason electronic lockboxes have not caught on here is that abuse of the mechanical lockboxes has been quite rare. We have insurance to protect our sellers from losses related to unauthorized access, but in two decades as a listing agent, I have never filed a claim, just as I have never had a loss sustained during an open house.