September 29, 2023 • By Dennis Beaver

Regular viewers of Judge Judy reruns, or Judith Sheindlin’s new show, Judy Justice, may know the two occupations she has little regard for: used car salespeople and real estate agents.

In her opinion, she says, honesty and caring about the customer are not part of their job descriptions.

Before we toss the baby out with the bathwater, let me tell you about a number of real estate salespeople who, when a serious problem was called to their attention, moved with more speed than a roadrunner and resolved a family’s very legitimate concerns.

Our story begins with an email marked urgent from “Thomas.”

Rental house up for sale

“I live with and take care of my elderly mom, ‘Anabel,’ in a lovely little house we’ve been renting for the past several years. It was recently listed for sale with a branch office of one of the nation’s largest real estate companies. The selling agent told us that someone would be out to take photos of the inside and outside of the house that would be posted online.

“On Aug. 31, 2023, at 3 p.m., I was at home with Mom when a photographer showed up and was about to take photos. Before he did, Mom asked him not to show our family photographs hanging on the living room wall or other things that would expose our personal lives to people across the country, especially anyone up to no good.

“Mom also offered to take our photographs down if he requested. He replied, ‘Not a problem. We can blur all those things out. We do this all the time.’ We said, ‘Then go right ahead.’ The gentleman was wearing a white T-shirt with the real estate office logo.”

On Sept. 2, Anabel checked the real estate company’s website to see how the photos of the house looked and was shocked to find that nothing was blurred — all their family photos, contents of the house and even the license plate of Thomas’ car were clearly visible. All these pictures were posted on real estate websites such as Zillow all over the Internet.

“Mr. Beaver, we have reasons to be concerned about the wrong people learning about our family through the photos as well as the things we own, such as expensive furniture, our new top-of-the-line television sound system and so on. This is an invasion of our privacy. Can you help us?”

Seller beware of photos during real estate sales

Photographs are known as the currency of real estate sales. Sellers — and their agents — typically want the home that’s for sale to have maximum exposure on as many websites as possible.

In several states, listing agreements dedicate considerable attention to photographs. The seller can specify that photos must be blurred out to maintain privacy. This is something that needs to be discussed with the listing agent or broker.

Experienced real estate salespeople recommend, where possible, obtaining the seller’s approval before posting interior photos that depict items of a personal nature.

Additionally, a landlord may want to obtain photographs of an occupied rental unit to use in a virtual tour of the property. But common sense — and the law — requires obtaining the tenant’s consent because of privacy considerations before taking and using such photographs.

You might wonder what risks are involved if photos of the inside of my home show up online? Plenty. Photos can reveal details about a tenant that they might like to be kept private; whether the tenant is lower income or appears to have a lot of money; easy-to-access windows that could be used by someone with criminal intent.

Violating the scope of permission is an invasion of privacy

Where a tenant has given permission for photographs to be taken, but specifically required that certain items are blurred out — and that does not happen — then in most states, a suit for invasion of privacy could be filed.

But that takes time, and if the concern is getting those photos taken down now, I do not recommend going the “legal” route. Instead, get someone on the phone who has the ability to order those photos taken offline.

Usually, I’ve found the media relations people at most companies are very helpful.

Not this time. I left a voicemail and sent an email to the corporate headquarters of the real estate company and never got a response.

The real estate agents involved acted at once

My reader did not know which office was handling the listing, and so I reached out to a broker in his area and explained the problem. Within an hour, he provided me with all the relevant names and phone numbers to call.

Not only were those people helpful, but they were appreciative of my call, as the failure of their own photographer could have resulted in a sizable lawsuit — something even the tenants did not want.

And all of this took place in less than 24 hours of receiving my reader’s email. I’m sending Judge Judy a copy of this story.