We Bought Our Home Years Ago. Why Is It Still on the Internet?

Why are all those staged photos and information about your home still open for all to view online, along with the history of the home’s pricing? If you haven’t looked since you bought your home, it’s likely to be easy enough to find. Just do a search for your address.

Whether the internet puts your home in a laughable light, fails to show its real current state, or makes you feel exposed to friends and “frenemies” who might be snooping, you might not be thrilled about the exposure. Just how long is all that information going to hang around the internet? Can you take it off?

To an extent, you can change your home’s information online. Here, we explore what the internet says about your home, and steps you can take to control the narrative.

The World (Wide Web) Knows More About Your House Now Than It Did Before Covid. Here’s Why.

A home’s online descriptions can be surprisingly thorough. The history of transactions and pricing, size of the property, complete floor plans, features of every room and every amenity… For many homes, this all shows up in public, for the world to see. These days, virtual tours through that show every nook and cranny are commonly posted on real estate sites. Viewers can get a pretty good grasp of a person’s financial situation, just by doing an address search.

Back when you were searching for homes to buy, perhaps you appreciated the internet’s capacity to help you shop, compare homes, and get a feel for what it would be like to actually live in the homes you liked best. And buyers are getting more detailed information all the time.

Following the Covid tech boom, the National Association of REALTORS® lauded an “incredible array of available technology” available for virtual staging. Virtual house tours became the norm. Highly sophisticated virtual showings were created, using 3D property apps like FloorPlanOnline and Matterport. These tools began to offer prospective buyers the experience of exploring the house, just by browsing online.

But once a buyer owns the home, all that fantastic imagery now seems more like a digital privacy issue. 

How Does All That Data Get There in the First Place?

Traditionally, the source of the picture-posting is the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). When a homeowner wants to list a home for sale through a real estate agent, it’s the MLS that first enters the data for the listing, and the related images. From there, the system automates the spreading of all the data to real estate platforms like Redfin, Trulia, Realtor.com, Compass, Zillow, and dozens more. Those companies have their own systems of platforms, so the distribution of data just keeps going.

Sellers are happy to have their homes showed off to a sprawling online audience. And a seller’s real estate pro has plenty of incentives to aggressively market homes through a constellation of social media platforms. Today’s agents have technology in their hands to do a lot with imagery. Ideas like showing the exterior and interior of a home using drones, for example, coupled with social media channels like YouTube and TikTok, can give agents plenty of ideas for virtual open houses.

Licensed agents and brokers who subscribe to the MLS have the ability to post their listings on official sites, and to take them down, or set dates for them to expire. So, more can be done while the home buyer’s agent is still in touch with the seller’s agent than years later.

But even if the buyer is extremely proactive — say, by making the home sale contingent on deleting the data — it’s important to keep online realities in mind. By the time the marketing is done, there are too many platforms to track. And there is a tangled web of data ownership rules, relicensing chains, and privacy policies in the mix.

It’s Possible to Remove Your Info From Redfin, Zillow, Etc. – To an Extent.

A homeowner can change the availability of a home’s posted details. If you own a home that can be viewed on a real estate site, you can create a profile on that company’s platform and claim the home.

If, for example, photos and tours of your house are on Zillow’s website, you can create a Zillow account. When you’re signed in, you can edit your property’s information. Specifically, you would:

  • Follow Zillow’s steps to claim ownership of your home’s page.
  • From your owner’s profile, navigate to the “edit facts” feature.
  • Upload media, remove images, reorder images, or edit information.
  • Save your changes before navigating off the page.
  • Sign out of the platform, then review the updated public profile of your home.

Here are the Redfin® platform’s step-by-step instructions to take similar actions.

Zillow, Redfin, Trulia, and other sites also offer customer service numbers for help with real estate webpages. And they can help owners switch properties’ pages from public to private. Regardless of the action taken on these platforms, though, the MLS itself will still hold the data in its archives.

You might decide to claim your home’s profile on a real estate site and work on the profile. Perhaps you’d like to show a redecorated den, or the new kitchen tiles. In any case, once you go to sell, your own agent will help you update the home and post the newest relevant information. Your page will not be, and isn’t allowed to be, an unchanged version of what your seller’s agent submitted back when you bought the home.

On the Internet, It’s Not Easy Living Off-Grid.

It’s hard to be incognito. Very hard. Zillow doesn’t just receive, republish, and update data sent from the MLS. The company also publishes aerial maps and Google street views, plus photos of some curb-view images of home exteriors.

But a lot is available to the public in any case. The internet just makes all this stuff easier to look up.

Depending on your state’s public records statutes, your name may be connected with your property pages. This enables people searching names, addresses, or phone numbers to know where you live, when you bought your home, your purchase price, or mortgage and rent data. Taxes are open records at the county assessor’s office. Sale transactions are filed for posterity with the county recorder of deeds. Data such as home value, price per square feet — it’s all part of the public records.

Data privacy will evolve, but in reality, we live in the age of online information. The only way to stay incognito would be to avoid ever owning real estate in your personal name at all.

Supporting References

Deeds.com: Buying a Home? How Covid-19 Has Changed the Game (Apr. 20, 2020).

Zillow®: How Do Photos of My Home Get on Zillow?

Zillow®: How Do I Add or Remove Photos of My Home?

Zillow®: How Can I Remove My For Sale by Agent Listing?

Jeanne Sager for Realtor.com®: How Do I Get a Real Estate Listing Removed From the Internet? (May 22, 2022).

Elizabeth Weintraub for The Balance: How to Remove Old Photos of Your Home for Sale From Websites (updated Jan. 6, 2022).

Photo credits: Andrea Piacquadio and Ketut Subiyanto, via Pexels.