During the pandemic when Americans found themselves glued to their screens on Zoom calls and streaming Netflix, many also went Zillow-surfing, checking out house prices and interior photos.
But, we probably never gave it a thought that if we could have our way with real estate listings, scammers could probably do the same thing.
When a home goes on the market, a realtor races to MLS (multiple listing service) to get photos and 3-D tours of the house inside and out, including furniture, appliances, furniture, floor plans, and often personal items like artwork, memorabilia, and exercise equipment.
But criminals can check to see if those photos show any vulnerabilities, such as rear entry doors with glass panels, or other potential ways to break into a house.
Here’s where things get risky
Unfortunately, when a home gets sold, those photos usually stay up on a site like Zillow, extending those risks even further.
“There are many risks when you allow photos to remain on public websites. One, thieves may be scouting homes looking to see what if any, outdoor security devices a home may have,” Maureen McDermut, a Realtor with Sotheby's International, told ConsumerAffairs. “You can zoom in close and tell if the home has a video doorbell, or spot security cameras mounted on the home's exterior.”
Of course, if you are trying to sell your home it only makes sense to have your home's photos up on Zillow, McDermut said. Fellow realtor Tom Barron says that after the home sell, the buyer should consider asking Zillow to remove any photos of the home.
If you are not actively selling your home, having photos of the interior of your home online doesn't add much value. If you are concerned about your privacy and would like to get those photos removed, here are a few things you can do to get them taken down.
Getting home photos off Zillow, Redfin, Realtor.com, Google Maps, Bing Maps
If any homeowner is concerned about these risks, ConsumerAffairs found two ways to tackle the problem. One is a simple two-minute video from realtor Tom Barron who walks you through the process.
Barron also shows how you can remove your house from Google and Bing Maps if you want to really lock down your privacy.
Tech expert Kim Komando also offers a bullet point version on her website that lays out the steps for Realtor.com, Redfin, and Zillow like this:
At realtor.com/myhome, just type in your address and click “Claim Your Home” on your home’s profile page.
Then, log into your Realtor.com profile at realtor.com
Go to your owner dashboard under the My Home tab and near the bottom of the page, click the Remove Photos button you’re all set.
Sign up for a Redfin account and claim your home
Log into redfin.com.
Go to your Owner Dashboard using the drop-down menu under your name in the top-right corner of the page.
The next step is to click on your home.
Click Edit Photos, then Hide listing photos.
Click “Yes, Hide Photos” when that message pops up.
Komando’s steps for removing your home’s photos from Zillow are a bit more involved and when this reporter tried to remove the photos of our home, our property didn’t even exist on Zillow, but maybe you’ll have better luck.
Go to zillow.com/sellerlanding/claimyourhome and type in your address to find your home. Then you must verify that you are the legal owner by selecting your name from the drop-down list. Once you’ve claimed ownership, you can start removing photos from Zillow:
Sign in to your Zillow profile.
Click on the profile icon, then select Your Home from the menu option.
Click on the tile for your home to load the property page.
Once you have claimed your home, click on the Edit Facts icon from the Owner View of the property page.
To remove a photo, click on the X in the corner of the photo.
Or, to remove a photo, click on an individual photo and click Remove Photo.
To remove all photos, click Delete all photos.
Save your changes by clicking the Save Changes button at the bottom of the page.
If you run into problems removing photos, Komando says you can submit a request to Zillow for help using this form.
Want your data deleted completely? Zillow can go that far if you like. Just follow the instructions here.