Less than half of those responding to a recent Inman News poll feel the real estate industry is being responsible enough about protecting consumer privacy.

Of the respondents, 40 percent said the industry is being responsible about consumer privacy, while about 29 percent said it is not. Almost as many – 26 percent – said they weren’t sure. About 9 percent specified ‘other’ in answer to the question.

A few survey respondents elaborated on their answers, with a couple mentioning problems they’ve seen surrounding privacy.

“Too often, personal papers (tax returns, financials, etc.) are left in an office after being copied for submission to a lender or…I’ve seen divorce decrees, credit reports and other sensitive materials in the open,” wrote Mike McCutcheon with Coldwell Banker NRT.

Another person complained, “There is no underwriting process to assure that procedures are developed and employees…are trained in the area of protecting information.”

Privacy has become a hot issue across all industries. But the average real estate transaction involves mounds of personal data: tax records, employment history, credit reports, marital status, financial records, current and past residence addresses, rent receipts and criminal records. That makes protecting consumer privacy even more of a concern.

The number of privacy laws being passed is expected to increase, but it can be difficult to enforce even those that are already on the books. Some groups, such as the National Association of Realtors, are trying to address the issue. The association launched a Realtor Secure certification program last year that sets standards for data security. In order to receive certification, companies must complete a self-review, select a third-party evaluator from a list and undergo a final approval and certification by the association’s Center for Realtor Technology.

One respondent offered an example of how she handles sensitive private information.

“I made it a habit very early in my career not to get involved in the private matters of my clients, such as salaries, tax records, etc,” wrote Martha Hale of RealtySouth in Birmingham, Ala. “I refer them early in the transaction to a mortgage lender and ask them one question: Do you qualify for the price of home that you are wanting to look at and can you give me a pre-approval letter stating so? That’s all I need to know! I happened to handle the move of the top execs of one company and did not want to be accused of disclosing each other’s salaries. So not only did I not ask, I specifically told them that I did not want or need to know. It has been my policy ever since and I have never had a contract fall through from lack of qualifying for a loan.”

***

Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to samantha@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 140.

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