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?

Every Industry Is Facing Disruption of Some Kind. How About Real Estate?

I just finished reading a white paper by the founder of Dotloop (part of Zillow Group) with the catchy title, “The End of the Traditional Real Estate Brokerage.”

The premise of the document is that unless a brokerage adopts that company’s “end-to-end collaborative platform,” it is destined to fail.  Hmm…. Is my successful brokerage, Golden Real Estate, destined to fail?

Basically, the argument is that mobile and digital technology is disrupting every industry and is also disrupting real estate.

“Disrupting,” however, implies winners and losers. I prefer to say that technology is revolutionizing real estate (as indeed every industry), but I see no end to Golden  Real Estate as a small, some say “boutique,” brokerage.

In my two decades as a Realtor (i.e., a member of the National Association of Realtors, not merely a licensed real estate professional), I have seen major transformation of the technologies, tools and software made available to brokers.

When I first got my license and joined the West Office of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Lakewood, we wrote our contracts on 3-ply NCR forms created for each of the many documents required in a real estate transaction. We used typewriters to complete them, or pressed firm with ballpoint pens.

Nowadays, virtually every agent uses on-line contracts. In our market, CTM eContracts is dominant in providing these contracts, and the integration of documents by agents on both sides of every transaction is impressive and… revolutionary. We love it!

Occasionally I will received a contract from an out-of-area agent, as I did just last week on one of my listings, that is not on CTM and uses a third-party e-signature program, DocuSign, for signing each document. (CTM has e-signature capability built into it, and it works great.)

Showing service technology has also evolved beautifully. The near-universal vendor in our market is ShowingTime, and it’s great how they have simplified the process of setting multiple showings, with well-timed route planning and management of feedback requests.

REcolorado, the Denver MLS, is introducing a replacement showing service called BrokerBay, which will have some further enhancements (and be included in our MLS fees), but it will have to be spectacular to be better than ShowingTime.

The MLS itself has been radically improved in the quarter century since it became web-based, and, as with their showing service proposal, continues to do the heavy lifting for us brokerages so that we have only the task of learning new ways of operating.

Despite these changes, I don’t think the in-person model of working with buyers and sellers is up for displacement, merely rapid and ongoing improvement.

Most Feedback Requests Ask Unproductive Questions

Just a few years ago, there were several services which handled showings of homes for sale so that listing agents and their offices didn’t have to handle showing requests themselves.  Each of those showing services would send email feedback requests to the showing agent beginning right after the showing.

Last year, a company called ShowingTime bought Centralized Showing Service (which we used) and now virtually all brokers are utilizing that one company to send feedback requests to showing agents and to forward responses to listing agents and their sellers.

As I’ve written in the past, the best feedback request is one which asks a single question — “What’s your buyer’s feedback on this listing?” — and provides an open text area for the response.

Instead, ShowingTime’s default email asks a few stock questions such as rating the showing “experience” and saying whether the listing price is high or low. It looks like this:

Asking the buyer’s opinion of the price is useless and not smart — if I were submitting a contract I’d say it was high even if it’s not. If I were previewing the house before listing a competing home for sale, I might say it’s too low. Here’s the custom feedback template I created for all my listings:

Agents can change the default to one question with open text, but it’s not easy to do.  I had to ask support how to do it.

Here are the instructions for readers who are agents using ShowingTime: 1) Log in to ShowingTime. 2) On the left, expand “Feedback” 3) Below “My Feedback,” click on “Form Design & Settings.” 4) Enter name of your template. 5) After making any changes to the Settings, click on the tab “Feedback Form.” 6) Click on “Add Free Text Question.” (You can enter more than one.) 7) Click “Save Changes” 8) Click on Preview Survey to make sure the form you designed is the one that will be sent to all showing agents.