Privacy Laws and Your Real Estate Practice


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Privacy Laws and Your Real Estate Practice

by Darity Wesley

Every year a barrage of “Privacy Notices” are sent from credit card and insurance companies, accountants and other businesses that collect information about you. Do you wonder why you receive these notices? They are sent in compliance with a Bill passed by Congress called the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act or “GLBA.”

Like most of us, you may be too busy or too disinterested to read these multi-page, micro-print privacy notices. What you should know, however, is that protecting the information of clients these days extends beyond banks and financial institutions to most businesses, including and especially those in the real estate profession.

In California , the Online Privacy Protection Act (2003) states that any operator who collects personally-identifiable information from a California resident through an Internet website or online service for commercial purposes, must post its privacy policy on its website (and comply with that policy). Almost every other state is considering such legislation.

What does this mean to you? We don’t need to tell you how the Internet has changed the real estate business. The National Association of REALTORS® reports in its 2004 study “Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers,” that 93 percent of homebuyers use the Internet to look at homes; 22 percent use it to get neighborhood information. Figures released in 2005 show record numbers of buyers and sellers using the Internet to search for homes and to see what their homes are worth.

Technology vs. Privacy
Wireless PDAs, transaction management software and the electronic transfer of documents, among many other new technologies, extend the possibilities for interruption, misuse and inappropriate access to your client’s data. Technology has made sensitive data more available then ever, and whether you know it or not, your clients have serious concerns about what you do with their information. If you don’t believe it, simply think back to the recent consumer outcry against spam and telemarketing.

Congress passed “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing” Act (CANSPAM) in 2003 as a result of a demand for government regulation of commercial email by consumers, the primary purpose of which is, “commercial advertisement or promotion of products or services.”

Consumers are challenging the use and misuse of data at all business levels and are demanding government regulation. Business executives, agents, appraisers and all professionals in the real estate industry should realize that this is an important area of consumer service which needs to be addressed.

Got Privacy?
Do you have a plan to balance your need for information with the privacy concerns of your clients? Is your privacy policy posted on your website? Are you protected from potential liability by instituting Fair Information Practices?

If you answer yes to all these questions, then answer this one: Are you using your leadership in the area of privacy and security to your marketing advantage?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the agency charged with enforcement of these regulations. They have increased the review of rules and guidelines and have stepped up enforcement for non-compliance. FTC has folks who “surf the net” every day to check websites for compliance.

Privacy is a simple as ABC:
A – Always do your best to protect your client’s information.
B – Be sure to tell them what you are doing with it.
C – Convey this clearly and conspicuously.

Darity Wesley is CEO and Legal Counsel for Privacy Solutions, Inc. a San Diego based consulting firm. Her team of Privacy Gurus® is helping the real estate industry change the way it thinks about privacy and the information security. She can be reached at (619) 670-9462 or (

Related Story
Appraisers & Gramm-Leach-Bliley – by Pat Butler
Most appraisers have heard of GLB (Privacy Act) but few understand their obligations under the Act.

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