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Real estate agent, secret agent

Posted by Rona Fischman  July 1, 2010 02:34 PM

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I have shown properties listed by Ann Foley, the suspected Russian Spy, but I did not know her.

Ann Foley’s arrest as a suspected Russian spy made me think about the spying a real estate agent could do for some foreign government. Is being a mild mannered real estate agent a good cover for being an international spy? Well, maybe. There are some opportunities to spy that go along with the job:

1. Agents go into many houses. What would stop her from riffling through a desk or computer while pretending to show the house? What would stop her from planting surveillance equipment?
2. Agents gain facility at looking up public data. That could come in handy.
3. Agents get to know people in a fairly personal way. Did she have clients who worked for the U.S. Government? Or worked on government projects through M.I.T. or Lincoln Labs?

I have long imagined that a real estate agent would be a great detective fiction character. An agent spends a lot of time seeing how people live and trying to extrapolate information about what a house says about its owner. I do it to get ideas for the negotiation; someone else could do it to help topple a government or solve a murder mystery. I just never thought about real estate agent as a spy before. It’s just too Cold War.

Sellers rarely think twice about having MLS-registered agents showing their house, with or without their seller’s agent being there. Most sellers expect their neighbors to come spy at the open house. No one expected Ann Foley, mild mannered (alleged) secret agent.

Is the public justified in their trust that agents will follow the rules? MLS rules, as well as NAR rules, require that agents take good care of the properties they show and the processions therein. Considering that so many agents show so many properties to so many would-be buyers, the incidences of theft and damage are very few. We may never know about the incidences of spying.

Sellers, have you ever felt spied on by buyer’s agents (or seller’s subagents)? Did putting your house on the MLS feel like a violation of your privacy as well as a way to advertise you home for sale?

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About boston real estate now
Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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