HobbitsHouse

It took me a few minutes to scroll through photos and match the photo to an address

I didn’t particularly want to find out where Hobbit actor Elijah Wood lives in Austin, but it seems that new Multiple Listing Service tools make it particularly easy.

A well known local brokerage has just unveiled its “Austin Home Sales Price” portion of its website, and I found it only took a minute to learn which part of Austin was the actor’s Bag End.

I’m sure Mr. Wood wouldn’t be keen to find out how easy it is to learn where he lives, and I have a few suggestions for other people who might wish for their homes to be hidden from public view.

How Did I Find Elijah Wood’s Address?

You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out where he lives. There are a ton of “which celebrities live in Austin” sites, and one celebrity page invites you into his $1 million dollar home. It gives details of the size and price of the home, and even the sale month and neighborhood, in addition to a photo of the outside.

Now granted, given this alone, you could cruise along in person or even in google street view and figure out the address, though that would take a little time.

AustinHomeSalesPriceData

Unlocking properties just requires an email address

But given the data of his home and the credit on the photo that says “MLS”, you might wander over to an “Austin Home Sales Price” site and register to “unlock sold properties” and simply enter the size, zip code and approximate price into the search button and turn up the address pretty quickly.

Not exactly rocket science, and probably quite annoying for the actor who presumably doesn’t want thirteen dwarves showing up trick-or-treating at his doorstep every Halloween. Especially if they bring a dragon.

How Do We Maintain Privacy In Real Estate?

Privacy is a concern for all of us, not just successful actors, so how can we do a better job of keeping our private data private?

There are certainly systems for keeping certain data private – keeping names out of publicly searchable databases for example.

If you’re a discrete real estate agent, you can advise your client on keeping things out of the tax records, and make sure that any Multiple Listing System data is geared to protect your client’s identity, especially when they come to sell. And then there’s the use of the MLS in the first place – does this serve your client, or would you be better entering into a transaction without it?

Unfortunately in Elijah’s case, his agent couldn’t do much more than was done as the home he bought was in the MLS.

In this instance I think that the writer at CeleBuzz might have made it too obvious where the actor lives. I’m not sure how they got the license to use the photos from the MLS – my understanding is that the writer would have had to gain the consent of the person who took them to re-use them in their article. In fact the images shown on the website are from a previous sale of the same property, so I’m not sure how they came to be available to the writer.

Do I think there’s anything wrong with the Austin real estate broker websites which share sold price data? Whatever my personal opinion on that, the settlement between the National Association of Realtors and the Department of Justice states that they’re not doing anything wrong. They’re just aiding consumers in their quest for house buying knowledge.

Sherlock Homes Austin wants to help people keep their identities and locations as private as they want to, and to understand the impact of using the MLS to buy and sell homes. 512 215 4785


7 Comments

Gandalf · March 5, 2015 at 8:36 am

Are you saying that Elijahs realtor sold the photos of his house to a celebrity website?

    Garreth Wilcock · March 5, 2015 at 8:42 am

    Hello Gandalf – great name. I hear that J.R.R. Tolkien took the name of the famous Lord of the Rings wizard from Snori Sturluson’s viking epics. What a cool name.

    To answer your question, I’m not saying that Elijah’s real estate agent did anything wrong, or even the seller’s listing agent. While all agents have a duty to protect the privacy of their clients, it looks like the photos of the house are the problem and their publishing on the Celebuzz site, along with enough pertinent data to easily identify the home in question. Now that it has become easier for members of the public to review MLS sales data, it would be wise to consider the implications of using the MLS and also of allowing publishers and writers to promote data that could later be used to identify homes.

Henrietta Worthing · March 5, 2015 at 9:15 am

I think Elijah should ask the owners of celebrity buzz to take down the identifying details from their post, otherwise his home will just be added to the Duck Tours. It isn’t as if he’s living in some ginormous gated estate where he can keep out the weirdos and stalkers – the picture makes it look like a regular home on a regular street.

I hope he fares better than Sandra Bullock with her recent stalker.

    Garreth Wilcock · March 5, 2015 at 9:57 am

    I hope that Elijah isn’t found by anyoe and that little internet loopholes get quickly closed. My intention in this post is simply to point out how careful we have to be to avoid making it so utterly simple to find us.

Garreth Wilcock · March 5, 2015 at 11:19 am

Now theoretically, you can withhold your name from the TCAD public data view. You have to be working for the state, justice or be related to an attorney: http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/taxforms/50-284.pdf, though Sandra Bullock and several others aren’t. There’s an interesting article here about the hidden public data http://www.theaustinbulldog.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=162:appraisal-records-hidden-from-public-view&catid=3:main-articles

Frodo · December 14, 2017 at 11:10 am

Invasion of privacy – makes me The Big Sick

    Garreth Wilcock · December 14, 2017 at 11:35 am

    I agree it’s a serious issue. We like to go over what public information will be available about our prospective clients right from the get go

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