Privacy and the real estate sector

Privacy and the real estate sector

by RETS | May 16, 2019
Privacy and the real estate sector

Successful real estate agencies take their privacy responsibilities very seriously.  Agents collect personal information about sellers, buyers, tenants, landlords and other members of the community that they deal with, such as neighbours of listed or managed properties. Agents need to be careful to store this personal information securely, for example, by ensuring their phones and computers have adequate password protection and hard copy information is not left out in public view at Open for Inspections or on agents’ desks.

Agents must consider the privacy of clients and customers when taking photos of properties for marketing or when carrying out periodic inspections of rental properties.  Images of individuals in photographs or video images are treated as personal information under the Privacy Act 1988 where the person's identity is clear or can reasonably be worked out from that image. Images of individuals may also contain sensitive information if, for example, the individual’s racial or ethnic origin or religious beliefs is apparent.

Real estate agents are in a very trusted position when it comes to their clients, who are those people who hire their services via an agency agreement such as a sales authority. This is known legally as a fiduciary relationship. The word ‘fiduciary’ comes originally from a Latin term that means ‘trusted servant’. 

One of the responsibilities a real estate agent has under their fiduciary relationship is to keep confidential personal information about their client, unless there is a legal necessity to disclose information. 

The agent Rules of Conduct from the Property Stock and Business Agents Regulation 2014 states:

7   Confidentiality

An agent must not, at any time, use or disclose any confidential information obtained while acting on behalf of a client or dealing with a customer, unless:

(a)  the client or customer authorises the disclosure, or

(b)  the agent is permitted or compelled by law to disclose the information.

For example, if an agent makes it public information that a seller is going through a divorce, it might prejudice the seller’s position to maximise the sale price, and the buyer might use the information to their advantage in the negotiation over price.

Privacy is not a simple issue when working in real estate, but it is a very important one for an agent’s success.